best tour??/afraid to do independent

Jul 17th, 2004, 02:07 PM
Original Poster
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best tour??/afraid to do independent

We always travel independently, but are afraid in China because we have absolutely no knowledge of the language, customs, or contacts. And of course there is the continual world security hanging over all travel. Thus can anyone recommend the best tour from the States. (considering Pacific Delight, Abercrombie & Kent, Tauck, and Orient China Isramworld Co.)

Also what month would you suggest for the best weather for major highlights. We are considering skipping the cruise down the Yangtse. Is that a mistake?
ktsharon is offline  
Jul 17th, 2004, 04:14 PM
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If you travel independently elsewhere on the planet then presumably you must have been to other places where you have no knowledge of the language, customs, or contacts. If we never travelled on this basis most of us would never be able to leave home, except in a tour group. But clearly most of us do.

As with the other places you've been, there are books you can read before you go and those you can take with you which tell you all you need to know. There's no reason why anyone who usually travels independently should do otherwise in China.

Why travelling in a tour group should make a difference from the point of 'world security' is a mystery to me. There's less likelihood of any personal hazard from terrorism in China than in most other places you might chose to go, and considerably less than staying at home in the U.S.

A little search of this board will produce numerous posts from people with no previous experience of Asia and no Mandarin who have travelled independently in China, with nothing booked in advance, as tens of thousands of similar people do each year.

Skipping the highly overrated Yangzi cruise tourist trap would leave you more time for more genuinely Chinese experiences.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 04:42 AM
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KT-If you decide to go with a tour-I can tell you that Pacific Delight comes highly recommended in comments on this and other travel boards, it's MUCH less expensive than A & K (why people use A & K and pay so much more for a tour when virtually all tour companies go to the same places and do the same things is beyond me) and I'd think you'd be happy with them. (I don't know the other cos. mentioned). Pac. Delight does custom/individualized tours as well, so that might well be an option you'd want to consider. Sometimes, for a first visit, it's just easier to do a tour than planning a trip independently-it also depends on how much time you have to devote to trip planning, if you have neither the time nor inclination, why it just makes sense to take the path of least reistance and do a tour.

As for the security situation-Peter is right-terrorist attacks ain't happening in China-so you couldn't be safer there from that type of hazard.
Spygirl is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 05:58 AM
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Pacific Delight, then Isramworld get the best ratings and since both do group and independent tours check with both what they can offer for group and independent tours.

As to Tauck (expensive) and A&K (very very expensive) - go with either of the first two listed above.
Jul 18th, 2004, 10:28 AM
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"Time is money" as someone keeps saying.

Taking a tour will save your time and will reduce on the stress of having to make all your own arrangements.

I'm not certain it will cost you any more, since the tour groups get very good rates on airlines, hotels, etc. and pass some of these benefits on to you.

I've just returned form China and, whereas it's admirable for Peter to try and push independent travel in China, that country is still easier to do in a tour.

I'd recommend going to the Frommers' website and read some of the messages on China. There are some very good recommendations from recent tour participants on that forum.

Come back and don't hesitate to ask more questions! We are all travelers, of one sort or another!
easytraveler is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 10:45 AM
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A & K is way over prices. You pay for the name but the services are essentially the same as the other companies. I used Isram many years ago and was happy with them and I've heard good things about Pacific Delight.

glorialf is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 11:15 AM
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You can most certainly travel independently to Hong Kong. English is common. It is perfectly safe, amazingly clean, transportation is efficient, and it is a wonderful and dazzling place to visit. No need for an organized tour in Hong Kong. You'll have a great time there. It can get to be quite hot and humid there in the summer.
Bill2222 is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 11:39 AM
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Count me among those who belive that independent travel is the way to go. Because I have limited time for my trips, I do book ahead (though many people don't and do just fine) but I never use tours. Do your reading first and you'll be prepared. Traveling independently gives you the most flexibilty.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 12:13 PM
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As has been pointed out many times on this forum before, as is still as true as it was all the other times the facts and figures were quoted, you CANNOT travel as cheaply in China by a tour as you can independently: you can get as good a deal on most hotels yourself as any agent and without paying a mark-up, and agencies do not get a discount on any form of domestic travel--in fact you can get better rates yourself over the counter for airfares.

The sole area in which a guided tour can reliably save you money is the international airfare element.

By all means pay for the convenience of a tour if that's how you prefer to travel, but be quite certain that within China you will be paying more than you need to for everything, and with the risk of extra overcharging on many casual items unless you are particularly cautious.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 01:13 PM
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Peter, I beg to differ. I think you CAN travel more cheaply with a tour, and get better rates, with a tour, than doing it independently. Hong Kong, no, I wouldn't do a tour to Hong Kong, but mainland China, yes, the first time out, most definitely. It seemed I paid, relatively speaking, very little on my China tour for two intra-China flights, hotel rooms, (I'm quite sure I wouldn't get the room rates myself that the tour company could get-or the intra-China air fares) sightseeing (which I didn't like as much-because I didn't set the itinerary, of course-but that's okay, I saw what I came there to see) and transfers. Very good value for the $800.00 I spent-Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai.
Spygirl is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 04:47 AM
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just get an independent tour wich is airfira/ hotels/ transfers too airport hotels. and half day tours.. you get all the discounts offered too agents from the airlines and hotels and your not forced too walk around like a headless chicken..

pacific delight
globus and some other offer these packeges

frommers shows some great deals..

orgy7 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 05:33 AM
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ktsharon - I am with you. We primarily travel independently, but in Asia prefer to take a tour except when in big cities. It is far more efficient and relaxing, and you can see more without the stress of thinking about how to get there and deciding what to do. We have traveled with A&K and can tell you why people pay that much for them. Obviously, if you can't afford it, don't do it. However, if you can, the A&K tours are superb, mostly because of the quality of their escorts. We have done two non-A&K tours, and the difference was striking, even when we stayed at the same level of hotel. Their escorts are extremely well-informed, and extremely capable. If possible, travel with Gerald Hatherly who runs their China travel. Mei Wa Chao is also wonderful. She is a women who co-produced a documentary on Mao and the "modern" history of China which has been aired on PBS, just to give you an idea of the quality of their escorts.
If you decide, after looking at their tour prices, that you are interested in A&K, I will be happy to email you directly.
epi is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 09:15 AM
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Travelling independently or guided tour is certainly a personal preference that each must determine for themselves. I prefer to take a tour the first time because they include many more activities than I could manage on my own, handle all of the travel logistics and are usually a pretty good value. On subsequent trips, I travel independently and arrange local tours through the hotel or local guides.

On my last trip, I took a day tour and ended up having dinner with some of the people in the group. They spoke Mandarin so it was quite helpful having them pick the restaurant, get a taxi and order for all of us. By the way, dinner for six including Peking duck and a lot of other dishes, came to about US$15 person so I was more than happy to pick up the cab fare too. (My point is that you can get a lot more out of your trip if you are willing to be a little spontaneous.)

Both Pacific Delight and Isram are reliable tour companies that offer a range of travel options and packages so I don't think you can go wrong with either. I've not used A&K or Tauck so I can't comment on them.

There are websites and books where you can learn a little of the language and customs if you like. I only know a few phrases and get around just fine. In major cities, there are many who speak English and have helped me make a purchase, get a taxi or find my way.

As for what month(s) are best, it depends on where you go. I usually prefer Sept-Nov. Hong Kong seems hot and humid all the time but April-Sept is not the best time to see HK. If you only plan to visit China once, then I wouldn't miss the Yangtse cruise.

Lastly, I agree with other posters that China is one of the safest places to go. The only "situation" I've experienced are a few beggars outside major sites and luxury hotels.
Lia is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 12:04 PM
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Well I am one for independant travel no matter where one goes. I have never been to China but when I see how much a tour costs versus booking it yourself I assume only the very rich travel that way. Throughout Europe, South America and South East Asia we have never had problems. Did we get lost? Sure. Was it some of the best travel adventures we have had? You bet ya. We did one tour once because you had to to see the Last Supper. As soon as we could we bailed out of it. They of course tell you many interesting things that I'll bet most people forget by the next day. I also think you can cover more ground on your own. If where you are touring is a disappointment, you can go somewhere else very easily and for a lot less money. We are no backpackers but I wouldn't travel any other way.
okminty is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 04:26 PM
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We were quite happy with a private tour by
Lisa is quite knowldegeable and the ability to cusomize on the run is immeasurable. If you don't like a site you move on w/o waiting for the "tour" to end and the bus to fill. While it costs about 30% more than Globus, the difference was worth it.

I also second the skip the Yangtze cruise. The Li River is beautiful and more tha enough cruising.
DaveN is offline  
Feb 16th, 2005, 07:48 PM
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epi- I have some questions about A & K in China. We are planning a trip with them, and I would like to know your recommendations Can you give me your email to contact you? Thanks
cathygreen is offline  
Feb 17th, 2005, 05:50 AM
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For a happy "medium" between group tours and independent travel you might consider Imaginative Traveller ( We used them for Japan and were very happy with the kind of travel, the other people in our small (8 person group), with local style hotels, small restaurants (we ate about half our meals with the group, half on our own), public transportation and travel logistics all worked out but daily sightseeing really up to us with some tips from our guide, including help if there was something in particular we were wanting to do, so it was the best of both "group" and "independent" travel. Our guide had also had a couple of seasons leading their tours in China which sounded great. We had always travelled independently before but were a little intimidated by Japan so it worked out great. We were just turning 40 then but our group ranged in age from 28 to 70 (and no one could keep up with that 70 year old!) Enjoy planning your trip!
laurie_ann is offline  
Feb 17th, 2005, 06:01 AM
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If you are usually an independent traveler, joining a tour will annoy you. I travel with my husband and kids independently..except when it came to Egypt. I got convinced by posters on this board, so I booked a tour for two out of three cities of my visit. I regretted it after the first day.

Back to Beijing, where I currently live... and the snow is falling now... if you can pick your travel dates, September- early November is best, with the exception of Oct 1-7 when National holidays make rates crazy and sights unbearable from crowds (domestic and foreign).
As for the real dilemma of traveling solo or with a group consider this:
There is little to no English spoken here, but that shouldn't deter you. Just have your hotel write down places that you will be going in Chinese characters so you can give a card to the taxi driver.

In terms of maximizing time: find a tour that seems attractive to you, and then copy its itinerary and do it on your own. You never know which sight will captivate you, and will have you yearning for more time there. If you are on a tour, you will have to be back on the bus when the whistle blows. You will also have tons of wasted time being taken to "Jade factories" and "porcelain museums". You won't get to pick which section of The Wall you visit, and won't get to stop randomly for picture taking or personal exploration.

Cars with drivers can be booked the day before, and during low season, with a few hours notice, from your hotel. Figure $40/day for that. More expensive than taxis, but would give you more piece of mind. It would still be cheaper than a tour.

I wouldn't pre book anything(except hotels). if you get here and it proves too much, you can join day tours from the hotel and you'd still come out ahead financially. It might be the best of both worlds, a few days with day tours, a few days solo.

Bchen is offline  
Feb 17th, 2005, 09:46 AM
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I will be my 2 cents in here also.
There is nothing wrong with taking a tour if you want. I do both tours and independent and often private tours that are sort of in between. Its obvious that many readers have a bias for whatever lofty reason against tours.
I did China with Pacific Delight and thoroughly enjoyed it including the Yangtze which I highly recommend. Some say this is not the real China because these ships are only for tourists. Well yes I am a tourist, I do not pretend to be Chinese, and what I saw was China and it was very lovely and interesting indeed.

One point that I don't think was made is that on a tour you often have a very rich experience interacting with fellow tour members and tour directors. I find the knowledge I gain from them and the local guides helps greatly to learn about the country and culture.
If I go again it will be on a tour for the reasons you mention except for security concerns and I will hope that I end up with a great Tour Director and fellow travellers!

As to time of year I went in late April and had great weather from north to south.
christo is offline  
Feb 17th, 2005, 10:43 AM
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Again, the main thing about a tour in China is the shopping part. For some people, that's a major waste of time, but other may appreciate that. Ask yourself do you want to spend time in the shops.

And then ask the tour operator about it. Many better operators limit shopping to say one stop per day, and they may even tell you where beforehand.

Since the tour company and the guide usually get commission from the shops, you also have to prepare to pay more for the tours that have no or limited shopping.
rkkwan is offline  

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