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Beijing: Tour guide needed and how many tours?

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Beijing: Tour guide needed and how many tours?

Old Sep 17th, 2008, 02:41 PM
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Beijing: Tour guide needed and how many tours?

I have just received some great advice and comments on weather-now wondering about sightseeing in Beijing...Are tour guides necessary? I have friends who are planning a trip too, and they have scheduled tours for most of several days with their travel agent; will this be too much?

Thanks for your input!
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Old Sep 17th, 2008, 03:50 PM
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Tour guides are completely unnecessary in Beijing.

Those booked from overseas will in particular charge far too much, and, particularly if they are properly licensed, the view of Beijing that they will give will be very far from the truth (although if they have simply been through the Chinese education system they won't know much about their history at all--it isn't entirely their fault.) Other than overcharging in general, there's also the problem with them taking kick-backs from sights (except the very big names), restaurants, and in particular shopping, although also on most other services you may book with them.

Read widely before you leave home. Bring authoritative reading materials with you when you come. Get the characters for your chosen destination from your guide book or have someone at your hotel's reception desk write them down. Jump into a passing cab, show the characters, and reach your destination for typically US$3 or so. Spend as much time as you like there, get an authoritative description from the materials you've brought (rather than guide nonsense), then flag down a taxi to the next place: another US$2-3. Or use the ¥2 flat rate (US$0.30) metro system. Maps, signs, and announcements all have English.

One day tours are worth taking for some sights well out of town, simply for their convenience, but those booked from overseas or at the reception desks of better hotels are outrageously priced compared to real costs. Several sections of Great Wall can be reached by public bus with little effort and very little cost, for instance.

In short, tour guides are unnecessary (and in many cases downright harmful), and you can easily get round Beijing by yourself.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 17th, 2008, 05:10 PM
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I was just in Beijing, and as Peter says, it is easy to get around, and fairly inexpensive. You can easily do the sites on your own.

Alternatively, like I did, you may have a short amount of time, and want to use the services of a guide. I enjoyed my knowledgable guide, and the stories she told me about China. For the cost it was well worth while, but again, to each their own.

Richard
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Old Sep 17th, 2008, 07:25 PM
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We took only one tour, to the Ming Tombs and Great Wall, which cost Y160 pp including lunch and at that wasn't bad value. (I should add that we weren't staying in one of the more central western tourist style hotels and so inadvertently got the Chinese price - a German couple told us they'd paid Y300 pp by virtue of having booked at the Howard Johnson hotel.) You do have to put up with a few shopping stops, but it's no big deal as long as you don't buy anything.

On our other days we took cabs to and from the places we wanted to see. They cost a pittance and we found the drivers invariably honest and reliable - as long as you stick to properly licenced cabs (the unlicenced cabs tend to lurk around popular tourist spots like the Summer Palace and use touts to scare up business. Just ignore them and go to the rank).

Don't go without a good guidebook.

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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 07:25 AM
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If you like doing soft adventure, no guide necessary. It is very easy to reach those sights, but if you are interested in some more history about those sights, a good guide is necessary.
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 10:18 AM
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> but if you are interested in some more history about those sights, a good guide is necessary.

If you are interested in some more history about Beijing's sights you'll need to bring some decent reading materials as reliable information is largely unavailable in China. Beijing guides have little accurate knowledge of their own history, and if properly licensed have been to classes to be taught the official view to give to foreigners.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 11:14 AM
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Am currently reading Forbidden city by Geremie R. Barme. It's a fascinating read, even if I get confused by all the temple names.
I plan to do the Forbidden City and Summer Palace by myself. Have hired a guide for the flea market, but that is more for companionship and translations.

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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 11:46 AM
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Neil Oz
What guide book do you recommend? I was told things change so fast, that guide books are out-dated soon after they are printed?
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 11:57 AM
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NYwoman: Make sure to get to the "dirt" market early! It is fantastic but can get jam packed by mid-morning.
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 12:04 PM
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Neil -- I understand the HoJo's in China are not like the ones in the US, they are more of an upmarket product and has a strong marketing department, a young friend of the family recently went from the Grand Hyatt to the HoJo marketing department.

Nywoman -- Not the best comparison but the Summer Palace is more like Central Park than the Versailles, just wander around. There are audio tapes at the Forbidden City for rent so you can get some idea when you go thru the vast palace.

lolly -- How about Fodor's?
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 12:40 PM
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> Am currently reading Forbidden city by Geremie R. Barme. It's a fascinating read, even if I get confused by all the temple names.

I'm just waiting for my copy, but based on Barmé's track record and on other pieces he's published about the palace, this would be my recommendation, too. And it's cheaper than hiring a guide.

> There are audio tapes at the Forbidden City for rent so you can get some idea when you go thru the vast palace.

They have them at the Summer Palace, too (not that either are tapes, but solid state digitally recorded information that starts up automatically whenever you reach some point about which is has something to say--quite clever really). But the quality of the information is as lacklustre and misleading as that of the guides. If you want accurate information you need to bring it from overseas.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 18th, 2008, 09:28 PM
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Which best guide book?

Depends on what you want out of the guide book.

The best guide book for China is the "The Blue Guide" by Frances Wood, that is, for history and detailed information about specific sites. The hotel and restaurant recommendations are dated at best and horrible to use at worst - skip those.

Peter N-H's Cadogan Guide to Beijing is excellent.

For general travel information (hotels, transportation, etc.) - Frommer's "China". Even here, you will find the information dated. That's because China changes so rapidly that not even the concierge at a good hotel can keep up and the printed schedules are out of date before they are distributed sometimes.

Whether you should use a personal guide or not depends on the amount of time you have. Short time, use a guide. More time, go exploring on your own. Beijing is just like any other big city.
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