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China: on our own

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Sep 24th, 2005, 07:01 PM
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China: on our own

Before I start my trip report, I'd like to thank the Fodorites who encouraged us to travel independently in China and provided much helpful information. You were right. Thanks! We're both delighted that we went on our own. I'll describe our three week trip to Beijing, Xian, Dazu, the Three Gorges cruise, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong, in hopes that it will help others plan their travels.

We flew nonstop on United from Chicago into Beijing and out of Hong Kong, redeeming miles for upgrades to business class. Except for the almost 5 hour delay in leaving Chicago, the flights were uneventful and got us to our destination as quickly as possible. In Beijing I had arranged for an airport pickup by someone who advertised his services online. We didn't need really need an airport pickup but I figured this would be an easy way to audition the guy, his car, and his English, in preparation for a trip to the Great Wall. Although our flight was very late, Jerry was waiting for us and drove us to the Peninsula in his late model Audi A6 (cost $25; e-mail [email protected]). His English was good, we liked him, and we hired him to take us to the Great Wall later in the week. I highly recommend him.

The five nights spent at the Peninsula didn't disappoint. We were upgraded to an "executive" floor which entitled us to perks such as happy hour, computers and breakfast. There is an excellent detailed map of the surrounding area in the Peninsula stationery folder in the desk. For some reason they don't tell you about this map. I had read about its existence but couldn't find it for the first couple of days, despite repeated attempts. We ate at the Peninsula's Hutong restaurant Huang Ting which was good and also at Jing which did not impress us. Beware of exorbitant charges for mineral water in restaurants. For some reason cheap bottled water which is readily available everywhere doesn't seem to be served in restaurants, only Evian and San Pelligrino, both of which are very expensive. We soon learned to decline mineral water and drink
tea. (It's possible that you can just ask for water and get bottled water, but we didn't take any chances with water.) We also ate at the Courtyard which had reasonably good food but high prices (ask for a bay-window table) and at Afunti, a minority restaurant. We enjoyed Afunti which was loud and chaotic, with singing and dancing on tables. I had spent much too much time studying the question of where to eat Beijing duck. We ended up at the restaurant Made in China at the Hyatt. It was voted to have the best duck by That's Beijing readers and by Patricia Wells. The duck was good but we probably should have gone somewhere that features a less perfect duck but more local atmosphere. We also ate at South Silk Road in Houhai, which features dishes from the southwest Yannan province, and found the mushroom dishes to be excellent. If you go there make sure your cab instructions say Lotus Lane, otherwise Houhai results in you being dropped off in an area of bars. We took a pedicab through the hutongs of Houhai. The written asking price shoved in your face was 180 RMB per person. We paid 100 RMB for the two of us. It was OK but quite congested since every tour group seems to do it. We enjoyed watching the sunset over the Forbidden City from the rooftop bar of the Grand hotel (open after 5:00 PM).

Getting around Beijing is easy. Since cabs are plentiful and cheap (10 RMB, US $1.25, gets you to most places in the central city) you don't want to waste energy walking long distances between places. Out of the 30 or so cab rides we took in the city, only one driver attempted to scam us by not turning on the meter and telling us the ride would be 20 RMB. We promptly got out of that cab and into another. We found cabbies in China to be honest and reliable. Make sure the meter is on and that you have your destination written in Chinese. Showing places on maps is not a substitute. The biggest cab scam seems to be that perpetrated by hotel cabs. We usually walked to the street to hail cabs, but at the Hyatt in Xian and the Shangri-La in Hangzhou, we were convinced to let the hotels summon a cab for the airport rides. Both times we were told that unless we reserved a hotel cab we might experience difficulties in finding a cab early in the morning (false). The "special" flat fee arrangements with the hotels increase the cost considerably. (The cabs ran their meters even with the fixed rate arrangement, so it was easy to see how much we had overpaid.) I think you always come out ahead by going with the meter and not "fixed fee" arrangements. Don't attempt to bargain with cabbies--they know what the metered costof a ride is, you don't.

We hit up all of the usual tourist spots in Beijing, including the Great Wall at Mutianyu, the Ming tombs and the Summer Palace. The first morning we woke early (not deliberately) and took a cab to watch the raising of the flag in Tienanmen square. We then strolled a nearby park and watched morning exercises. We used Jerry's services for one day to the Wall and the Ming tombs and Sacred Way. I was pleased with our decision to go to Mutianyu, since even on a Saturday the Wall itself was not crowded, there was easy cable car access and there was only one vendor, selling water, on the actual Wall. The other vendors were clustered before the cable car entry. People we met who went to Badaling found it very crowded and full of persistent vendors. Don't miss the Lama temple ,though there's not much reason that I can see for going to the nearby Confucius temple, since most of the stuff there is unavailable for viewing. After five nights in Beijing we set off for Xian.
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Sep 25th, 2005, 08:39 AM
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Great report. Looking forward to the rest.

May I ask how much Jerry charge for a one-day trip to Mutianyu and the Ming Tombs?
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Sep 25th, 2005, 11:16 AM
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Jerry charged $125 for a full day trip. He's a very intelligent entrepreneur who is regaining footing after business setbacks. We had interesting, far reaching discussions. (He is a licensed guide.)
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Sep 25th, 2005, 11:51 AM
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Hi Marija,
Very interesting and helpful in planning my trip in the Spring.
Thanks.
 
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Sep 25th, 2005, 04:16 PM
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I anguished over whether to book airline tickets and hotels prior to arriving in China (more than even where to eat Beijing duck). I'd read a lot of advice to wait, since there would be considerable price savings. On the other hand, I was concerned about encountering full flights and hotels, and especially about being stranded in Yichang, the end point of the Yangtze cruise. I ended up booking all internal flights, a couple of hotels, the Victoria Yangtze cruise, and a couple of tour guides through www.wacts.com. There were a couple of recommendations from this site for wacts, but what really sold me on them was their willingness to accept credit cards. This meant if they failed to deliver as promised, I could dispute their charges and would not be much worse off than if I had failed to book at all. I kept a careful record of our correspondence, making sure to outline all of the details of what they were to deliver.

In retrospect I think that booking in advance was a very wise decision which saved us considerable aggravation. Internal flights in China are much more fluid than those in the US. Flights are cancelled, combined and times are changed, especially for flights from smaller cities. Wacts representatives in China knew of the changes and delivered "updated" tickets at several points during our trip. Initially this was pretty alarming, since I wanted them to just give us all of the tickets for the flights we had selected. They delayed, saying some flights were still in flux. This sounded strange and I was unsure whether we would really get the tickets. We did and were so grateful that our tickets reflected reality. For example, we were told that the flight we wanted at the end of the cruise was cancelled and we would have to take a later one. One of the tour groups on the cruise was unaware of the cancellation and had to wait for a much later flight than ours. Three of the hotels we stayed in were completely full during our stay. If we had just showed up trying to score "the best" rate we would have been turned away.

Our first internal flight was from Beijing to Xian, early in the morning. For unknown reasons the Peninsula told us transport to the airport was included in our rate (an AMEX perk?), so we took the hotel car. Check in was easy. Signs and announcements were both in Chinese and English. We arrived in Xian at 10:30, as scheduled. Since we were only spending a day in Xian, I had a guide and driver meet us at the airport ($80) and take us to the warriors. The guideís English was limited, though she was majoring in English. That didnít really matter to us, since our concern was getting to the warriors and then to our hotel, the Hyatt in Xian. If we werenít on a tight schedule, I would have just taken a cab from the hotel without bothering with a guide. Since we had luggage, I decided that it would be too complicated to try to explain to a cabdriver that we wanted to go to the warriors, have him wait for us and then take us to the hotel. (I did have all of that written out in Chinese in case the guide wasnít there.)

We arrived at the warriors during lunchtime, which meant that the tour groups were eating and we had a good unobstructed visit with the eighth wonder of the world (as our guide consistently called it). Truly remarkable. The warrior site is mobbed with vendors and I somehow ended up with two sets of miniatures and a large statue of Qin himself (total cost $1). (Qin now joins Otzi, the iceman from Bolzano, and a botafumero from Santiago de Compostela on my computer. They remind me of why I work!)

After the warriors, the guide took us to the Wild Goose pagoda and the Xian city wall. She was eager to show us more, but we were ready to go to the hotel. The Hyatt, except for its questionable taxi dealings, was quite satisfactory. It is, however, within a construction zone, as is most of China. Even though it is within the city walls, it is quite far from the action of the city center (drum tower, etc.). I would have liked to stay closer to the center. We took a cab to eat a dumpling dinner at Defachang. There was no English menu but the decision was just how many types of dumplings you wanted to sample. I think we opted for 12. We also ordered tea from a separate tea menu. I was somewhat concerned about how this would work since Iíve been warned about ďtea scams.Ē In particular, I wondered if we were going to be charged for each cup poured. That turned out to be a needless concern. Seems that the same tea leaves can be used for many cups of tea, and we were charged for a single pot. After dinner we wandered the market around the Bell Tower and Mosque before giving up and going to bed. We would have liked to spend another day in Xian, but we had to leave early the next morning so we could see Dazu before boarding the Yangtze boat.
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Sep 26th, 2005, 01:53 PM
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Great report. I anxiously await more.
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Sep 26th, 2005, 03:22 PM
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Really enjoying your trip report and looking forward to the rest.

Is Dazu crowded now? I went there in 1992 when it was a bone jarring 6 hour ride from Chongqing each direction, but we were rewarded with the fact that there wasn't a single other visitor there
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Sep 26th, 2005, 03:26 PM
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love your report and am taking notes...looking forward to the rest
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Sep 26th, 2005, 05:31 PM
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Our original plan was to fly to Chongqing in the afternoon of the second day in Xian. The next day, before boarding the Yangtze boat, we intended to go to Dazu to see the Buddhist carvings. The unavailability of the post-cruise flight from Yichang to Shanghai required us to change our plans and move the cruise up a day, as described later--which forced us to take an early flight to Chongqing, go directly to Dazu from the airport, and not spend a night in Chongqing at all. The change was done shortly before we left so it didnít pose problems. However, it did mean that we had to have a guide and driver lined up in advance to meet us at the airport in Chongqing. Otherwise I would have looked for a guide/driver in Chongqing. Wacts.com lined up a personable young guide, Ricky, who spoke very good colloquial English. Like our guide in Xian he was an English major at a local university. (Cost of the Dazu excursion for a guide, driver and admittance to Baoding was $220. I originally thought the cost was pretty steep, but they both put in a very full day. Iím not sure we could have done better, especially for the quality of the guide.)

Dazu is almost 3 hours one way from the Chongqing airport. However, it was a pleasant drive (since we werenít driving) and we enjoyed seeing the countryside and talking to Ricky. Before we left for China I had thrown a box of Granola bars into the suitcase. Thatís something I had never done before, since food is an important component of our travels and we always enjoy a leisurely lunch. The granola bars came in very handy this time since we had them for lunch at the Great Wall, Xian and Dazu. Even my must-be-fed husband understood that we didnít have time to stop for lunch.

We told Ricky that we wanted to start with the most impressive site and went directly to Baoding (Treasure Peak) Mountain. (Weíve learned that when you travel you donít want to delay hitting up the most important sites, since you never know what impediments you may encounter later.) There are more than 50,000 sculpted figures scattered over 75 places in Dazu county. One site alone, Baoding, has more than 10,000 sculptures created under the direction of a local Buddhist monk during the Southern Song dynasty. The grottos in Baoding demonstrate Buddhist teachings and are absolutely incredible. For example, the statue of Thousand-Arm Avalokitesvara has 1007 arms, all with different gestures, covering an area of 88 square meters. (OK I didnít count but thatís what my book says!) We certainly donít regret the time and expense to see Baoding. It was one of the highlights. We spent quite a bit of time at Baoding so we didnít go to any of the other Dazu sites. We probably should have, but we still had a long trip back to Chongqing and didnít want to linger too long, lest we miss the boat.

We got back to Chongqing without any problems and still had several hours before the cutoff for boarding the boat. (The Victoria boats can be boarded from early afternoon until 9:00 PM on the day of the sailing.) Ricky took us to a park which is supposed to have a lookout over the confluence of the Yangtze and the Jialing rivers. The viewing tower was closed since the park was under renovation for some large conference of leaders taking place in Chongqing in October. We then went to a tea house and were instructed on proper tea behavior. The last stop before dinner was for a foot massage. Weíve never had one before and were dubious when Ricky suggested that we get hour long massages. How can you massage feet for an hour?! Well, we hoped the hour would never come to an end. (The cost was something like 100 RMB each.)

The last event was a Chongqing hotpot dinner. (Dinner is not served the first night on board.) We had agreed in advance that we would NOT eat the traditional hotpot in Chongqing, since we were concerned about untoward gastrointestinal consequences. Nevertheless, the temptation was too great and we succumbed. We like spicy food and have enjoyed no problems with the spicy hotpots weíve encountered before, but they are chicken broth compared to Chongqing hotpots! Your whole mouth goes numb. Your lips tingle. You can only imagine what itís doing to your other organs. Didnít stop us, though. We cooked all kinds of fish, lamb, vegetables and whatever else was presented. We figured we had three nights on a boat to recuperateÖ. Fortunately, we had no ill effects.

Like with the Beijing duck and airline tickets, I had agonized about whether to do the Yangtze cruise, what boat to take and whether to buy tickets in advance. Despite Peterís admonitions about inauthentic tourist ripoffs, we decided to give it a try. There seems to be general agreement (based on much surfing of travel sites) that the best route is Chongqing to Yichang. Itís three night, two and a half days. Thereís not much to look at past Yichang as confirmed by talking to people we met who went all the way to Wuhan. The most ďluxuriousĒ boats were supposedly the Victoria fleet (based in NY) and the East Queen/East King. Bill Gates took the East King; the Victoria boats have balconies; thereís disagreement over who has the best food; the shore excursions may or may not be the sameÖ. After much indecision, we finally decided on the Victoria line, swayed by the private balconies. No doubt, if there was availability we could probably have gotten the best rates if we booked in Chongqing. But we needed more than just the boat, we had to get out of Yichang when the cruise is over. You definitely donít want to stay in Yichang more than you absolutely have to! Itís claim to fame is that itís the end point of the Yangtze cruises. Nothing to see, nothing to do there, except wait for a flight out. (OK there is a museum of stuff found during preparation for the dam building.)

I looked at prices on the Victoria cruises website and was appalled. The listed price is $900 per person. I made inquires to various websites and found that the real rate, when bought through a tour agency, was somewhere around $500 per person. I got a quote from wacts.com for $530 per person. I decided to go with wacts, since they would reserve the flight as well. But even they had problems getting the flight on the day we wanted, since tour groups book the flights solid. We moved the cruise date up a day to match an available flight.

Next, life aboard the Victoria Queen.
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Sep 27th, 2005, 09:41 AM
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I am planning a two week trip to China at the end of this November. Your report is very helpful and I am looking forward to the rest.

Especially interested in your comments on the Victoria Cruise. Still undecided on this. Thanks for all the info and taking the time to post.
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Sep 27th, 2005, 06:14 PM
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The only cruise we had every taken, prior to this one, was an overnight trip on Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, so I canít make any comparisons of the Victoria cruise to other river cruises. We were dropped off at the boat dock at about 8:00 PM and greeted by Victoria staff who lined the walkway. (Beware, thereís a lot of traffic around the dock so allow plenty of time for getting there.) Checking in was similar to a hotel, no lines, no waiting. We were shown to our standard issue cabin: twin beds, bathtub, desk, TV. It wasnít opulent but it was certainly adequate. At 9:30, Marian, the Swiss ďboat motherĒ of the Victoria Queen welcomed everyone aboard and outlined the rules of ship life. (The Victoria line has a fleet of ships, the newest is the Katarina.) There was a daily schedule outlining activities: a shore excursion each day, several talks (history of kites in China, painting of the insides of bottles, dam constructions). There were also fashion shows and other evening events. No report on these since we only went on the shore excursions. People who went to the talks and entertainment thought they were enjoyable. The boat was only about half full, even though it was high season, so we itís likely we could have gotten a good deal on passage in Chongqing or maybe even on the boat but there was no way to know that.

Early the first morning, I went to get a hairdryer from the front desk (none in the room) and noticed a sign advertising that room upgrades were available. On the Victoria web site junior suites and deluxe suites are insanely priced. A deluxe suite is $1780 per person. Always curious I asked what an upgrade would cost and was told $800 (total for 2 people) for the remaining deluxe suite. That still seemed high to me so I declined. On the way back to the room I inadvertently passed by the open door of the remaining deluxe suite (there are 2 on this boat) and decided that it looked mighty fine. A standard cabin is 211 sq.ft.; the deluxe suite is 458 sq.ft., with separate shower, marble bath, large sitting area and expansive windows and balconies. I quickly realized that I had forgotten what I had already learned in China: you always bargain. Anyway, we got the deluxe suite for $500, partly on the argument that we had already spent the first night in a standard room. It was still expensive but I comforted myself with the most potent of the usual rationalizations: someday our heirs would no doubt spend our hard-earned money much more frivolously than we do! The suite was the major reason why we didnít actively participate in many shipboard activities. We enjoyed sitting in our room, watching the shoreline go by.

The staff onboard is excellent. Helen, our cabin attendant, memorized our names the first evening and greeted us thereafter by name, with a smile. Meals on the Victoria Queen are eaten at assigned tables. Breakfast and lunch are buffets. Dinner is served family style at the tables. We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. There was good variety, both Chinese and European, and the food was well prepared. We had picked up a couple of bottles of drinkable Chinese wine in Chongqing, so we were able to indulge ourselves in that regard. Table service was as good as we could have hoped, friendly and efficient.

We enjoyed talking with our tablemates. All of them were either on an organized tour or a CTS (China Travel Service, the government-sponsored agency) "individual tour"--meaning that they had handlers who met them everywhere and guided their activities, including lots of shopping. One of the couples lamented the robotic quality of these guides, their total lack of interest in them. We had a completely different experience, since we deliberately did not deal with CTS. Our guides were intensely interested in the USA. They asked endless questions about our lives, they wanted to talk about everything. Our Xian guide was desperate to practice her English and conversed with us without pause for hours, asking us to correct her mistakes. She was particularly interested in discussing DINKs, a word which came up with other guides as well! There must be a lot of emphasis on this concept in China. The one alarming issue that all of the guides brought up, without any prompting from us, was their hatred of the Japanese. ScaryÖ

The shore excursions were to a pagoda high on a cliffside; up a tributary of the Yangtze ("Little Three Gorges"); and ashore to view the site of the gigantic Three Gorges dam. They were well organized and reasonably interesting. The Little Three Gorges excursion, culminating in a sampan trip up (what else?) the Tiny Three Gorges, was a pleasant change of pace. We probably could have done without the villagers perched on hillsides or in trees to sing or play as we passed, but they no doubt were compensated by Victoria Cruises, or maybe by the Chinese government, and they probably needed the work. The water level in the Gorges had already risen by something like 25 meters, and by 2009 will rise by another 40. Locally the social costs of the Three Gorges dam are staggering, the broader economic benefits are enormous, and this is not the place to render a verdict on the project. (As if my opinion could make a difference. The Three Gorges dam is a project on a scale imaginable only in China. It will displace 1.2 million people before it is done. Many have already lost their traditional livelihoods and are now, well, sitting in trees singing to tourists.)

We are both pleased to have taken the Yangtze cruise and the Victoria line exceeded our expectation. It was also a great way to take a breather from the cities and relax a bit. We had arranged with wacts.com a transfer from the boat to the airport in Yichang ($30). I did this because I couldnít find any information about whether we could just hail a cab at the dock in Yichang. It turned out that there are plenty of cabs around and there is no need to pay high rates for a transfer. (Still, at that place and time the feeling of security was probably worth $30.)

The airport was about 45 minutes away from the dock. The Yichang airport is small and under renovation, not a place you want to linger. We spent three hours there waiting for our flight, as our fellow passengers on the Victoria Queen showed up, in large or small groups, many still dazed from the local museum and shops, to catch one of the small number of flights out of Yichang.

Next, fleeing Yichang for Shanghai.
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Sep 28th, 2005, 07:06 AM
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Marija - Based on your recommendation I booked tickets with wacts.com. I used their website which gave me a price. The price was listed as "Total Price: US$800 (flight price + airport tax + credit card banking fee)". When I sent in the confirmation they also had a $24 booking fee. I agreed to pay this and sent them the credit card info. They now want to charge me an extra 5% for using the credit card. I e-mailed them and said I didn't think I should pay more because the total amount listed a credit card banking fee. Did you have this type of problem with them?

(Sorry, I know this is misplaced but I knew Marija would see it here.)

I am wary that this is common practice in China that you agree to a deal and then they try to tack on additional fees to increase their profit. I will be watching for this on our trip.
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Sep 28th, 2005, 08:13 AM
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I looked at my correspondence and we did not pay anything itemized as a "booking fee." We did pay a 4% credit card fee which appears to be fairly standard for prebooking with credit cards with Chinese operators who accept payment in dollars. Since I was being billed in dollars, not RMB, I didn't have to pay the usual foreign currency conversion charges that my credit card imposes. I wanted the protection of using a credit card, so I paid it. In China, we didn't encounter any tacking on of fees, except for a strange $1 per person per night fee at the Sheraton in Guilin. Since our total came to $4, I just didn't bother investigating that.
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Sep 28th, 2005, 11:57 AM
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Marija - Thanks for the info. Wacts wants to charge me a $24 booking fee plus a 5% fee for the credit card. The explained that their website has a mistake when the quoted price includes the credit card fee. I am looking for alternative places to buy my tickets as I don't feel that they are dealing with me fairly.
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Sep 28th, 2005, 01:18 PM
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Marija-

Out of curiosity- do you think you saved a great deal of money by booking this all on your own?

I am planning a trip to China with my mother next fall, and I want to cover all the sites that you have covered...but I just feel that with a 19 day tour costing $4k US, how much could I really save by doing all the work on my own and looking for reputable touring companies.

Thanks!
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Sep 28th, 2005, 01:38 PM
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Audsquad,
I'm not the OP but I think what's more important than the cost factor is which mode of travel do you actually prefer. Are you the type of person who typically enjoys independent travel and the type of planning (and possible mishaps along the way - which turn into great travel stories BTW ) that go along with that? Or do you prefer structured group tours where you have all of the details taken care of for you, but maybe not as much choice in what you want to do? I'm not a tour person, so I wouldn't consider that an option even if it means saving money overall.

There's also the possibility of arranging an 'independent' tour where your hotels, transportation, and perhaps one or two tours are included, but you're on your own the rest of the time and not traveling in a group environment. This would take care of the larger details but give you a little more freedom and choice in deciding what to do each day.

There's quite a range of accomodations, transportation options, etc. in China and you can travel as inexpensively or expensively as you want.
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Sep 28th, 2005, 01:49 PM
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Thanks for the reply- well stated.

I do not consider myself a tour person at all. However- I will be travelling with my mother (age 60)- and she prefers to have the whole trip laid out for her and to not have to worry.

If this were a trip I was taking on my own with my husband or my favorite travel buddy from college (whom I traveled across the US and backpacked across europe with) we would do it on our own! I just wasn't sure of the choice to create your own itinerary was driven by saving money.

I think we will go the tour route- but I will be very careful to select a tour with a small group and one that allows us the freedom to see sites on our own at times- rather than a strict agenda.

Thanks again for your reply!
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Sep 28th, 2005, 03:18 PM
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We traveled on our own not to save money but to be in control of what we did and when we did it. We wanted to choose accomodations, meals and everything else. We also wanted to interact with the Chinese, not other Americans. Our trip was fairly high-end but we paid considerably less than A&K and some of the alumni group tours we had looked at charge for shorter trips using the same hotels.
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Sep 30th, 2005, 07:34 PM
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Our flight to Shanghai, like all our flights in China, was uneventful. We landed in Hong Qiao airport, which is only 8 miles southwest of the city center. There are two separate cab lines, one for short distances and one for long. Somehow the trip to the city center is considered long. The line moved quickly and soon we were at the JW Marriott on Tomorrow Square. The hotel lobby is on the 38th floor, our corner room on the 52nd floor. What a view! We were pleased with the room, location, and service at the Marriott. The breakfast buffet was exceptional. Our only complaint was with the wind noise the second night. Our guess that poor construction was responsible was challenged when we read the morning paper and found out that a typhoon had passed near Shanghai that night! (Both airports were closed, which meant that we would have had to spend the night in the Yichang airport if we had taken the Yangtze cruise on the date we wanted!)

In Shanghai we saw an acrobat performance at the Shanghai Center theater, across the street from the hotel. Definitely worth while. Our most memorable meal in Shanghai was at 1221, a recommendation from this board. It's a bit far from the center (might have cost us $4 to get there!), but the food was exceptional. We also had excellent dim sum at Crystal Jade in Xintiandi (2nd floor, above MacDonalds). Our splurge meal was at Whampoa Club on the Bund, which features "modern" Shanghainese cuisine (ask for a window table). We had the chef's special dinner which included shark fin soup and other delicacies we hadn't sampled yet. The room was striking, the food unusual but good. Prior to dinner we had drinks at the rooftop bar of the Peace Hotel, admiring the astonishing Pudong skyline. We also ate at Shanghai Uncle, which had excellent slow roasted pork. The last night we went for drinks at the Grand Hyatt in Pudong, atop the tallest building in Shanghai. The view is worth the trip, but it took us almost an hour to get there from the JW Marriott in the late afternoon. Getting back to the Bund by taxi also took a half hour. There must be some quick way to cross the river other than the Disneylike tunnel (which my husband was enamored with) but taxi wasn't it. Perhaps the subway.

Although we're not really shoppers we did go to the "fakes" market (Xiang yang Road Market). Our assumption was that everything is a fake and I bargained accordingly, never paying more than 50 RMB for anything. It was a strange tactic: regardless of the initial asking price, I countered with what I thought would be a ridiculously low price and refused to budge. It drove them nuts but after much sound and fury they often agreed. (I paid 40 RMB ($5) for alleged Gucci wallets.) Ever since we saw an exhibit of Chinese ancestor paintings, we've been longing to acquire some. The Yu Yuan market provided us with "antique" paintings of somebody's long lost Chinese ancestors who are now proudly displayed in our family room.

We certainly weren't disappointed in Shanghai, despite the negative comments it receives on the board. Yes, it's different from Beijing but it's "real" China as much as Beijing is.

Next, the honeymoon destination of China
Marija is online now  
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Sep 30th, 2005, 10:16 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
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Yep, the metro would've gotten you back and forth much quicker.
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