Any advice for China Travel?

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Aug 3rd, 2004, 12:34 PM
  #1
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Any advice for China Travel?

My husband and I are going to China in Oct 2004 for about a month. Plan to travel independently and make arrangements when we get to Beijing for in-country travel and hotels.

We speak NO Chinese, so need access to English guides. Our current plans include Beijing, Datong, Xian, Guilin, Chengdu...maybe Dali and Hohhot.

My questions are:
1)Are these locations I listed above worthwhile or are there better ones?
2)Should I rely on CTS when I get in country to make further travel arrangements?
3)Assuming a positive answer to no. 2, should I make ALL the travel arrangements for the entire month when I get to Beijing or make them as I go along?
4)Any comparisons between air/train/bus travel in country and why I should choose one over the others?

Thanks, Enkimo
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 01:21 PM
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>We speak NO Chinese, so need access to English guides.

No you don't: they'll only muddy things. You need decent background reading, a couple of good guide books, and a mild sense of adventure.

>Our current plans include Beijing, Datong, Xian, Guilin, Chengdu...maybe Dali and Hohhot.

Unenterprising, except for Hohhot, which isn't a particularly lovely or interesting city. Scrub Guilin (tourist rip-off central), leap over Chengdu, and do more rural destinations in the southwest.

>2)Should I rely on CTS when I get in country to make further travel arrangements?

Absolutely not. Deal with smaller independent agents away from big hotels and expat areas, as you go.

>3)Assuming a positive answer to no. 2, should I make ALL the travel arrangements for the entire month when I get to Beijing or make them as I go along?

Make them up as you go along, unless you really like spending more than you need to and intend to give up from the start the very flexibility that's one of the main benefits of independent travel.

>4)Any comparisons between air/train/bus travel in country and why I should choose one over the others?

Only answerable on a destination to destination basis. Plane is obviously quickest, train is an experience in itself and saves on hotel bills since most journeys are overnight, and buses are often (in the east) aircon Volvo/Mercedes/Daewoo or wannabes, with attendants, which are on some routes quicker than trains. In other parts of China they are decrepit minibuses which may carry livestock as well as you. But mostly in the kind of places you are likely to go, they are the former.

Peter N-H
http://members.shaw.ca/pnhpublic/China.html
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 02:51 PM
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My wife and I are doing roughly the same trip only in September. We only have hotel reservations for when we get to Beijing, and beyond that will plan as we go. You definately will need to have back up plans for any of the places you plan to visit should they not pan out as advertised, or just be too far. We hope to see the Hanging temple near Datong but may do as others have done and take an overnight train from Beijing to Datong and then an overnighter back to Beijing to continue our trip via the air. Hope also to go to Lhasa but need a backup plan in the event we don't get the permit or do get the permit but have altitude sickness. We speak No chinese though my wife is studying a little if only to show effort. A lot of my planning has come from this and other WEB sites with much imput from PeterN_H. Hope he is right. Wish us luck.

Gary
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 03:34 PM
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Of course, I do not know your ages nor do I know your state of health.

But here are a few suggestions:

1. Because you will be going into areas where either Mandarin or Cantonese is spoken, I would not worry much about speaking either language. But have someone put into writing the following phrase: I am sick and need a doctor.

2. Take along a good supply of liquid hand disinfectant.

3. Do your utmost to keep your hands away from your mouth and eyes.

4. Wash your hands frequently. Dry your hands on a paper towel (which you take with you).

5. Take along a supply of Immodium AD and a supply of Cipro (requires a doctor's prescription and have it filled before you leave).

Your health comes first. All else goes down the chute once you become ill. Because you will not be with a group, indeed you will be on your own.
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Aug 3rd, 2004, 03:41 PM
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One more thought: only drink water from sealed bottles. This precaution is simple, cheap, and vital.

Brush your teeth using this water.

Take along some soda straws so that you can drink canned or bottle drinks and not put the cans or bottles to your lips.

It's not just that you will encounter some sanitary conditions that are poor. You will likely run into bacteria that your bodies have not had generations and generations becoming accustomed to. I speak from sad experience.
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Aug 4th, 2004, 03:12 AM
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Hi

My wife and I went to China in March last year and we had a great time. We did Beijing, Xi'an and Hong Kong and we used both train and plane to get around. This was an independent tour and I think it worked out pretty good. I have posted a trip report and pictures on my personal homepage gardkarlsen.com. Maybe you can find some useful information there

Regards
Gard
Stavanger, Norway
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Aug 4th, 2004, 04:18 AM
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Hey, Enkimo, now excited are you about going to China now having read the above posts?!! Don?t worry, its not as bad as any of the above posters make it sound. Whew! USNR makes Howard Hughes look like a normal guy. SARS notwithstanding, China is not really any dirtier or more germ-filled than most places.

As for your itinerary, go where you want to go, don't worry about being "unenterprising". Its like telling someone who has never been to the US and wants to see Washington DC, the Grand Canyon and New York that they should go to Maine or Savannah instead because they are so interesting and beautiful. Of course they are; but Washington, the Grand Canyon and New York are pretty damn interesting and beautiful too, and on a first trip that is probably where they want to and should go. On your first trip, go where you want to go, or where you want to go because you may never go back. There is a reason Beijing, Xian, Guilin, etc high are on everyone's list: because they are good places to see.

Peter NH speaks some Mandarin, I believe, so he may forget how daunting it can be for someone who does not speak the local language to get around and ask questions. It is daunting (I live in Zurich and it is not fun sometimes trying to get around with my very limited Swiss German), so don't expect too much of yourself. If you want an English guide for a sight, get one. That being said with a good guidebook and an understanding of at least some of Chinese history and culture, you don't need guides that much. I have used a guide, the rented audiotape and a guidebook on three different visits to the Forbidden City, and got a lot out of each experience, so it is really up to what your preference is.

Independent travel takes a bit more organization and work on your part, but is more fun, IMO, and entirely doable in China. So far, you plans look good.

Note that October 1 is a holiday in China and most everyone has an entire week off. As the holiday is on a Friday this year, it may be that the week of September 27 will be the week long holiday, but I don't know for sure. To be safe, I would plan to arrive on or after October 7 or so.


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Aug 4th, 2004, 04:43 AM
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I agree with a few suggestions listed by USNR:
1. Diarrhea is not an unusual problem for people that are new to the country simply because their immune systems are not built for the new environment. So bring Immodium with you makes sense.
2.Do not drink tap water, this is true even for local Chinese.
3.Always have some tissue papers with you because many toilets do not supply them.
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Aug 4th, 2004, 08:17 AM
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I agree with everyone and I disagree with everyone, well, up to a point.

You should take the basic health precautions when travelling anywhere. Check the CDC list of shots that you should take before even going over to a particular country.

In China, you should add on another layer of precaution. USNR is correct in all the recommended precautions, if, for nothing else, than just to stay healthy. Earlier this year I got sick in China from being out all day in rainy and stormy weather with no appropriate clothing protection - yes, it's NO fun being sick. So, take whatever precautions you can to stay healthy. To the list already mentioned, I would add: eat well-cooked and hot food, avoid salads, and drink lots of bottled water.

And Cicerone is correct too: don't go so overboard in your precautions that it ruins your trip. Exercise common sense and you'll be fine.

And Peter is correct: you don't need CITS except on rare occasions. Deal with the independents if at all possible. The problem is one of language as Cicerone has pointed out. A good compromise is to deal with an independent agent who speaks English - these will most likely be in the ex-pat or popular tourist areas.

The one exception to avoiding CITS is Datong. There's a Mr. Gao in the CITS office at the RR station. He can be very helpful - for a fee (seemingly, it's this fee that Peter objects to most of all). However, it can sometimes be worth it. The CITS office in Datong sells a tour for about 100 yuan per person, this is fixed price tour of the Yungang Caves and the Hanging Temple, with transportation and an English speaking guide. You probably will not be able to do too much better trying to arrange your own transportation and the effort required for such self help is not worth it, since most people in Datong do not speak English. On the other hand, if you speak some Japanese... (just kidding!). They will also provide the same tour for somewhere around 250 yuan, including tickets and lunch. You don't need to pay for the more expensive tour, as your guide will take you to the ticket window and you can purchase your own ticket(s). Lunch will also be provided and you just pay the restaurant yourself after lunch (believe it was 15 yuan per person). You save quite a bit by going with the basic tour.

Mr. Gao will also help with purchasing RR tickets for you. This is a BIG help as the RR agents are totally non-cooperative (at least for me) and the signs are either not there or in Chinese. Mr. Gao WILL charge a fee. Make sure you ask him what his fee is going to be. You can also - delicately -negotiate that fee downward. Hand over only enough money for the RR tickets and his fee; otherwise, he will cream off the top for other unexplained "expenses".

China is a big country with lots of people and it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be honest, especially when most folks there are very poor when compared to your "wealth". If it's any comfort, the dishonesty touches the local people as well as tourists. So, here's another precaution - watch your wallet, especially around helpful, English-speaking agents! 90-95% of the people you meet will be honest; just watch out for that minority!

Another precaution: make sure you have a lot of Chinese money. The places that you are proposing to go to usually don't accept foreign ATM cards. If you are arriving in Beijing, load up on Chinese cash there. In other words, be prepared to spend nothing else but Chinese currency for the balance of your trip. The exchange rate is stable, so that you get the same rate wherever you go. No need to shop around for a better rate, as in other countries.

Get large denominations. You can always go to a local bank and exchange for smaller denominations.

Wear most of the large denominations in your money belt, tucked inside your clothes. Violent crime is rare in China. The kind of "crime" that you have to watch out for is soft stuff, like agents "creaming" off the top.

Use common sense and you'll have a great time! Enjoy your trip!
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Aug 5th, 2004, 06:41 AM
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Actually I myself don't bring any medicine with me when I travel to Asia. But I do know quite a few people got sick (minor problems like cold and diarrhea) in China. I myself had a stomach problem in Korea (and that occured at Hotel Shila!) once. That's why I think it's wise to be a little bit cautious for people that are coming to the region for the first time. Definately don't get overboard.
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Aug 7th, 2004, 05:28 AM
  #11
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Thanks to everyone for their input. We are arriving in China well after the national holiday and are looking forward to our trip. Plan on booking in-country travel and hotels as we go along and we will wash our hands regularly!
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