China highlights getting cold feet

Sep 19th, 2005, 05:57 PM
  #1  
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China highlights getting cold feet

I posted earlier on this forum about info on the China Highlights tour company. I received a few responses, but after reading what Peter from Frommers writes about CITS tour companies, I'm nervous about finalizing the booking. I have to hurry, because we are supposed to leave on Oct 24!

There are 6 of us including my 80 year old mother-in-law and we're planning to visit Hong Kong, Beijing, Xian, Guilin and Shanghai. I think we need to go with a tour group because of needing 3 rooms and 6 plane TX everywhere we go. It's too late for the organized tours, so China Highlights is putting together an "independent" tour for the 6 of us. It's not the price that concerns me, just the reliability.

I'd appreciate any input from this forum as to the reliability of China Highlights before I give them a lot of money.
Thanks!
lsok is offline  
Sep 19th, 2005, 06:19 PM
  #2  
 
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Just understand that Peter (if you're talking about PeterN_H who used to frequent this board) is against anything except going by yourself. He's against any tour company making a penny off you. He's also against anything that has to do with the Chinese government, and CITS is state-owned.

I agree with plenty of things Peter said, and I disagree with plenty of things he said. You need to understand where he comes from.
rkkwan is offline  
Sep 19th, 2005, 08:15 PM
  #3  
 
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Agree completely with rkkwan's statements on Peter N-H. You have to take what he offers with a large grain of salt sometimes.

There are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of CITS offices. Definitely thousands of CITS employees.It's impossible to generalize about thousands of people, BUT, generally, you'll find that they are doing their best to accommodate you.

It's hard for visitors to understand how rapidly things are changing in China. Plane, train, bus schedules are changing all the time. The CITS people have to scramble, along with all the other travellers (mostly Chinese), to adjust to these changing schedules. Like employees everywhere else, some CITS people will scramble harder than others.

IMHO, especially after this Katrina incident, I believe that the Chinese bureaucracy functions better than the American bureaucracy - fortunately or unfortunately.

Just stay flexible. If you can't get from one point to another because a flight has been cancelled or changed, just know that it's not really the CITS agent's fault and, furthermore, if you have a good CITS agent, he/she will be scrambling to accommodate you and your party.

Stay flexible! Have fun on your trip! And one lats thing: make sure you specify that you do NOT want to stop off at any of their "special" stores.

On a recent tour in Thailand, we stopped off on these god-forsaken places for "shopping" for jewelry and silk and hardly saw the highlights! Be FIRM on this point with your CITS agent!

Have a great trip! And report back please! We're love to hear of your adventures in China!
easytraveler is offline  
Sep 19th, 2005, 08:17 PM
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lats = last (of course!)
easytraveler is offline  
Sep 19th, 2005, 09:16 PM
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I used CTS several times for small tours of 1-3 people to Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin, etc. The costs were very reasonable, the details well handled, and I was always happy with the guides, the service etc. Using CITS for a "private" tour of 6 should work well. In useing CTS, I was told they run tours with a minimum of 2 people and when I wanted to do one alone I paid a single supplement that was all of $100 US for a 4 day/3 night tour for 1 person.

I did insist that shopping and "factory" visits were kept to a bear minimum (if at all) as I am not a big shopper. Other than that I never had any issues or concerns.

Although I am in the US, I used CTS directly as I was in Hong Kong a lot and had a contact at CTS Hong Kong so despite the existence of CITS I always used CTS and made my arrangements via e-mail.

You've gotten some good advice re: Peter. Although he is a terrific source of Asian travel info he didn't think much of using tours at all and that bias very much came thru in his posts. However, IMHO, for those of us who haven't been to China as often as he and don't speak the local language using a tour company is a great option.

Enjoy your trip, you'll be visiting some amazing cities and seeing parts of a truly facsinating country!!!
cjbryant is offline  
Sep 19th, 2005, 10:35 PM
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Another vote for not getting too spooked by Peter N_H. He's a mine of information, and his acerbic comments can be funny and useful, but he does tend to underplay the difficulties of independent travel in China just a little and consequently pour scorn on guided tours. The problems are not insuperable by any means, and I certainly wouldn't discourage travelling in China on one's own steam, but he can be a little too blase about the ease of getting around with little or no Chinese (I'm thinking of bus and train stations in particular) - it's not entirely painless. His bias againt the Chinese government and all its works can also be tedious; at times I used to wonder whether he actually looks back on the pre-1949 days, when starving coolies pulled you around in rickshaws, with a kind of perverse fondness. Them were the days. (That was before I got kicked off the Oriental List, apparently for making fun of him on this forum.)

That aside ... by all means dissuade your guides from the shopping stops, which will be designed to fatten their wallets rather than find you any bargains. Understandably, as kickbacks will be the bulk of their incomes.

Although I'm usually opposed to importing American-style tipping into other countries, this might be a situation in which you should come to an understanding about compensating your guides for their lost income. At a guess, a total tip of maybe US$25-30 a day sounds reasonable.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Sep 20th, 2005, 07:30 AM
  #7  
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Thank you everyone for responding to my post!! You have made me feel much better about my choice of tour operators. We have definitely made our wants known as far as no shopping!

If I may indulge everone's expertise a little further...
We have changed some of our hotels because of poor reviews I read on trip advisor, etc. The one hotel they don't want to change is the Bell Tower in Xian. Any feedback on that hotel? They also have us going to the Tang Yuegong Tang Dynasty show in Xian. I hate to be herded with 500 of my closest friends into a touristy show. Any comments? Which city has the Chinese Acrobats show and is it worth seeing?

Thanks again for all your input, it is really helpful.

lsok is offline  
Sep 20th, 2005, 12:05 PM
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OK, I'll take a stab at answering your questions.

THE Bell Tower Hotel is right in the center of Bell Tower Square which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the old part of Xian. It's fine. Kind of the best of Chinese hotels - a slight step below the Hyatt Xian and the Shangri-La Xian, ie, the more modern western-style hotels. It's the best in its group, so it's fine. Was undergoing renovation when I was there, so can't really comment on current conditions.

It's great for location and within walking distance of the Moslem Quarter - which I would highly recommend.

If you are going to visit any of the gates on the old wall of Xian, I'd recommend the Western Gate.

The Tang Dynasty Dinner Show is somewhat like Las Vegas meets the Tang Dynasty - hello! It's an introduction to the Tang Dynasty for Westerners. Kind of painless intro for only four hours. Check out travelchinaguide.com for pictures of the show as well as a menu.

Xian is for dumplings, so be prepared to be stuffed with all kinds of dumplings.

Sounds like a fun night out. Just hang loose and don't expect too much except a bit of music, a bit of food, etc.

A note on Chinese acrobats: they originated from street shows, like the kind one would see on Venice Beach, California, any good day of the week, especially weekends (Did you see the guy tossing several machetes into the air! Amazing!). Beggars would develop certain acrobatic skills and play to local audiences in villages and towns - a different way to make a living. When China became Communist, everything had to become organized by THE STATE, so the best of these performers and their students were rounded up and sent abroad as the "Chinese Acrobats" to earn more wampum for THE STATE.

If you want to find the Chinese Acrobats in China, I'm not aware that the overseas contingent performs in China. Big cities have their own acrobats who now perform in theaters instead of on the sidewalk. Beijing has one - don't know if that is the one you are looking for.

Good luck on your China travels! Have fun!
easytraveler is offline  
Sep 20th, 2005, 12:10 PM
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If your 80-year old mother-in-law is like my 80-year old mother I would do everything possible to make sure the hotels are as modern and western and clean as possible. And deluxe as well. I'd see if I could get into one of the top hotels in Xian.
glorialf is offline  
Sep 20th, 2005, 12:30 PM
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Just returned from trip that included Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an ,and Hangzhou. Saw the acrobats in Shanghai and they were incredibly good. We hadn't realized beforehand that the theatre they're in is much smaller than the 600-seat Grand Theatre, so even our midpriced seats were great. We paid 200 yuan/ticket.

In Xi'an, stayed at the Hyatt. Our original flight to Xi'an had been cancelled -- after our bags had been checked -- and the whole airport thing was a nightmare. The hotel took pity on us, upgraded us to a suite, helped us change some reservations, and kept calling lost luggage on our behalf.

My husband and I have travelled extensively elsewhere without group tours, and this was the one time I felt it might have been worth the lack of flexibility. We found China to be "work" in terms of both the language and the scams to constantly guard against (the taxi's not using meters, restaurant overcharging, etc.)
sylvester is offline  

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