china independently or tour?

May 20th, 2008, 02:20 PM
  #1  
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china independently or tour?

I know this question has been asked a number of times and I have read many of the posts but I keep going back and forth on whether to do China independently or tour. We plan on visiting China in June 2009 (due to my son's school year). There will be 3 of us traveling including my son who will be 14. We have never done a tour before and always traveled independently but that was only Europe. I was looking at the Chinaspree tour and it does go to the places we want to visit: Beijing, Xian, Yangtze cruise, Guilin and Shanghai with a side trip to Suzhoz. However I was wondering if you get a real feeling for China by doing a tour. I have heard that it might be better on your own. When we travel we always like to avoid the tour groups and usually we get to places before the large groups arrive.I always do the research for our trips and it does seem to work out but with so much to see and flying from place to place I was wondering how difficult it would be. I was planning on about 17 days in China. We are going to visit Vietnam as well and I was planning on doing that on my own. I thought maybe this would be a good combination tour China, do Vietnam independently but I still go back and forth on the tour and wonder if we should do the whole thing on our own. I don't think I would be able to do it on my own cheaper then the tour. For those that did it on their own how difficult was the language barrier? traveling by air? I hear they don't always announce your flight and sometimes leave early (sometimes late)? Did you hire guides? If so, did you hire the guide when you got there or before you left? I also read that China prefers tour groups and not to be suprised if you get bounced from a hotel (or certain room) for a tour? Has anyone had this problem? I would really like to know the problems you encountered when touring independently.
beth555 is offline  
May 20th, 2008, 03:19 PM
  #2  
 
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Perhaps it would be all right to suggest looking at a few links since just about all your queries have in fact been dealt with quite recently.

Here's a thread with comments for and against China Spree:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35122014

Here's a thread discussing tours versus going it alone:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35124471

If you do decide to take a tour, here's a thread with various comments for tours as well as a list of various pitfalls and a set of questions to ask the tour company before making a decision:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35115789

Here's another for-and-against thread:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35109966

I hope some of these may help.

To pick up on individual points:

> We have never done a tour before and always traveled independently but that was only Europe.

I wonder, then, why you would want to in China? You'll find many other posts here from people who travelled independently.

>However I was wondering if you get a real feeling for China by doing a tour.

Not a chance. But then admittedly many an individual traveller following a route round the most popular spots just as a tour would, and staying in foreign-run hotels, and being ushered round on short tours by local guides, has a very similar experience.

> I always do the research for our trips and it does seem to work out but with so much to see and flying from place to place I was wondering how difficult it would be.

Little different from elsewhere you don't speak the language. In some ways a little harder but not much; in some ways a little easier. If you can manage independent travel in Europe you can certainly do it here. This is about frame of mind, really.

> I still go back and forth on the tour and wonder if we should do the whole thing on our own.

Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people with no language skills and no previous experience of China do this every year. All of the destinations on the list see millions of foreign visitors every year. They are not hard to deal with.

> I don't think I would be able to do it on my own cheaper then the tour.

Most certainly you can. There's no chance of anyone on a tour doing it as cheaply as you, much as some who have only been on tours are unwilling to accept it. The only element of a tour that may be cheaper is the international flight; everything else you can do cheaper for yourself, and without the hidden costs and other price-related shenanigans that plague many tours.

> traveling by air? I hear they don't always announce your flight

??? Flights are always announced. Many an airport in the West has no flight announcements at all, but just screens, yet somehow we manage.

> and sometimes leave early (sometimes late)?

And there's another corner of the world in which this isn't true? Flights in China sometimes leave early if everyone's on board ahead of schedule. They don't push back early if all the checked-in passengers are not on board.

> Did you hire guides? If so, did you hire the guide when you got there or before you left?

Many do hire guides, but this is a mistake. In terms of useful information you'll do infinitely better by bringing quality reading material from home; you'll be heavily overcharged for a day's 'assistance'; putting the guide between you and anything you want to acquire usually dramatically increases your costs. There's extensive to-and-fro on that topic here:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35113742

> I also read that China prefers tour groups and not to be suprised if you get bounced from a hotel (or certain room) for a tour?

China prefers tour groups because of the massive profits to be made from them. But the rest of what you've heard is wrong, I'm afraid. As previously remarked, myriad people do China on their own every year, many travelling to far more obscure places than you intend to visit.

There's nothing wrong with taking a tour if that's what you like to do or if it make you more comfortable. But there's a very great deal wrong with the Chinese tour industry, and you need to keep your eyes very widely open (and your wallet very tightly shut) not to be taken for for a ride. If you usually prefer to travel independently then there are many guide books available that will tell you exactly how to do that in China, plus many an on-line chat site full of people discussing how precisely they do that, and travel independently is what you should do, too.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
May 21st, 2008, 05:32 AM
  #3  
 
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> For those that did it on their own how difficult was the language barrier?

I am backpacking through SE Asia right now, and spent 8 days in Mainland China so far (and am going back for the last 6 weeks of my trip in a few days), and I will admit I was disappointed there wasn't more of a language barrier.

Those cities you mention all will have a fair amount of understanding there. No worries about language.
coolguyinaz is offline  
May 21st, 2008, 11:09 AM
  #4  
 
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We didn't have any problems travelling independently:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34682619
Marija is online now  
May 21st, 2008, 12:30 PM
  #5  
 
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We recently returned from a 23 day independent trip to China. You can read all the wonderful experiences and tough moments (we had both!), and then decide. I would choose the independent route again without any question... in my opinion it's the best way to have the trip you want to have. The thread is called "23 Days in China: The Trip Report Begins!" and it's just a few below yours on the China section of this website.

I welcome your questions and your comments.

Linda
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May 21st, 2008, 01:03 PM
  #6  
Amy
 
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Independently, no question!

I can't imagine that I would have had as good a time as I did on a tour, nor would I have had the fun of being the token lao wei in a number of cases. I actually found it quite easy (and much cheaper...especially as a solo) to go on my own: The trip report is here: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34656568

Amy is online now  
May 23rd, 2008, 08:35 AM
  #7  
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Thanks everyone I think I am going to try and do this trip on our own. I just will do plenty of research first. One question for those that did it on their own did you find that you really didn't need a tour guide once you got to the major cities? If so, did you hire drivers ahead of time or take taxis? We will need to get to/from the airports within China (and Vietnam) and some sights will require transportation.
beth555 is offline  
May 23rd, 2008, 02:31 PM
  #8  
 
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I mostly travel by train, not plane, but I usually took taxis from the train station. Taxi drivers in China are fine - they use the meter, they take the shortest route, and they don't take tips. In general I use guidebooks rather than guides, although I did use an occasional guide my last time in China, booked from CITS. I used buses, taxis and feet to get around towns.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 27th, 2008, 09:34 AM
  #9  
Lia
 
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I'd recommend travelling independently, given that...
1) the list of places you want to visit are all well-developed destinations with plenty of local support services for tourists
2) you've travelled on your own before
3) you have plenty of time before you go to research

Language will not be as big a problem as you think - a lot of signage is bilingual now and there is usually someone who speaks English if you need help.

I've never had a flight leave early however flights can be cancelled or flight/hotel bookings can be lost occasionally (just like anywhere else). Just remember, there are many flights and hotels in China so if a problem occurs and it can't be resolved, you should have no problem getting another flight or finding a different hotel room. It is helpful to:
1) re-confirm and print out all reservations, phone numbers and maps in both English and Chinese 72 hours in advance (your local hotel concierge can help you with this while you are there)
2) if a problem occurs, treat the staff respectfully and ask to speak with a supervisor if needed (do not get mad or yell at anybody)
3) be flexible and willing to change your plans a little if needed - sometimes things happen and it can't be helped, you just have to adjust.

I should add that I was pleasantly surprised at how wonderful the local airlines are - so much better than Western airlines. The planes are modern and clean, the food (yes they still serve food) was tasty and they offer a wide range of newspapers and entertainment options.
Lia is offline  
May 28th, 2008, 02:07 AM
  #10  
 
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I juste want to recommend another point: you'd better do somme reservations of your train and air tickets in advance.
lisa_NIHAOCHINA is offline  
May 28th, 2008, 09:33 AM
  #11  
 
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Only if you want to pay a lot more than you need to; sometimes 30% more, sometimes multiple times more.

Peter N-H
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May 29th, 2008, 08:59 AM
  #12  
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If you don't book your domestic air in China in advance don't you run the risk of full flights? I thought it would be good to book about 2 weeks before the trip for these flights
beth555 is offline  
May 29th, 2008, 12:02 PM
  #13  
Syl
 
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I'm confused. Sure, it would be great to get a reduced rate by waiting until you're there. However, isn't it true that in order to get a visa you have to show confirmation of all internal air flights?
Syl is offline  
May 29th, 2008, 01:33 PM
  #14  
 
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For the time being (and this will probably all vanish again after October 15) you need to show advance hotel bookings and a return air ticket. Until very recently you did not have to provide anything more than your passport, a photo, and a completed application form. The latter asks you where you want to go but there's no need to provide more than a sketch or to stick to whatever it is you say. Mentioning Tibet or Xinjiang will likely mean you get refused.

By the middle of next year things should certainly be back to normal.

There's always a logical risk of a full flight, but it's only a travel risk if you absolutely must be on that particular airline at that particular time. Most tickets in China are bought only a short time before flying. A few days in advance is usually plenty and on most routes, for all but a few busy days a year, you'll get what you want. Criss-crossing the country over many years I've yet to fail to get where I want to go, booking one or two days in advance. A few more days in advance than that is advisable, but only from within China and from your point of departure.

Peter N-H
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