China-to tour with a group or not?

Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 06:44 PM
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China-to tour with a group or not?

We usually travel on our own. Want to go to China in the Fall, 2012, and don't know if we have enough time to plan and execute it... Thoughts?
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Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:10 PM
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If you're used to traveling on your own, you should be fine.

Step 1 is always figure out your budget and dates. Once you know those you're ready to roll.

You need flights, travel insurance, visas, hotels (some people swear by just reserving their first nights lodging and figuring out the rest when they get there, but I'm way too chicken to try that). I don't remember how long it took exactly to get my visa (a week or two I think) but I would suggest moving on that relatively soon. Be sure to check the requirements as I know you can't send it in too early (from memory I want to say 90 or 120 days before you get there is the earliest, but don't quote me on that!)

I made hotel reservations online using ctrip.com for Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai. Overnight train reservations were made once I got to Beijing and then to Xi'an. I made arrangements ahead of time with a driver to spend a day at the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall. The airports and train stations were very well signed and for the bits I didn't understand I simply found a guard or employee (and sometimes a random person), looked sheepish and held out my ticket to ask for help. If you look lost and happy for help people will happily point you in the right direction.

The only things I really needed to speak Chinese was to say hello and thank you. Both pretty easy and very useful! I printed out the English and Chinese characters for all of the tourist places I wanted to see ahead of time so I could just hop in a cab and point to the right place on my page. Anything else and someone at the hotel desk was happy to write down the characters for anything I needed. Menus were no big deal as most had pictures and/or English translations. Most sales clerks spoke at least very basic English (enough to try to cajole me into buying more) and we bargained using a 4 function calculator.

You don't really need to plan what to do in each city very tightly. In Beijing I only planned the day at the GW, everything else was entirely on the fly. You don't really need a guide either. The audio guides were pretty good at some of the attractions and I used a guide book for quite a bit.

You definitely have time to still plan a trip to China for this fall!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:22 PM
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should not be a problem, get a good guidebook and go for it..

read trip reports here for suggestions

i'm doing it on my own except for a guide/driver in xian
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Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 09:40 PM
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Lynda and I always travel independently, but felt that China might be too difficult on our own, so went for a tour group.
Whilst we did get to see an awful lot of the sites we really wanted to, we very quickly were reminded of why we prefer just us.
With hindsight, we would have been able to do it unaided and we wish we had done so.
My advice...............do it on your own. Group travel is fine for some people, but if it is not your preferred way, then I think you may regret it.
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 04:32 AM
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Your replies are so very useful in helping us feel more confident that we can plan this, and go, independently. It you were to recommend the best 1 or 2 tour books for planning, which would they be?
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 10:06 AM
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fodors, frommers, eyewitness, insight

try through your local library first.

remember we are anxious to help and make suggestions once you narrow things down.

there are many international hotel chains with hotels in china. for instance on my oct trip i am staying in a jw marriott, a sheraton and a renaissance.
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 10:09 AM
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I was 26 and on my own when I went. If I could do it (and not only survive but have a wonderful time) then you certainly can!

I know I had a Fodors guidebook and liked it. I also downloaded a couple eBook guides as well, but I don't remember the names right now. Those and reading trip reports ahead of time was great for getting in the right mood and knowing what to expect. I'm a redhead... I attracted a LOT of attention. It was nice to expect the attention ahead of time (thank you to the forums and to the guidebooks). There was very little activity on this board at that time so I used the TripAdvisor board a lot and got a ton of helpful suggestions and information.

It was really nice to know a rough idea as a goal to haggle for (from the TA board). I <i>think</i> at the Silk and Pearl markets in Beijing it was about 10-20% of their original asking price as a goal for a reasonable price. Granted, most of what I was looking at was really cheap anyway so it didn't matter much to me, but it was fun and I liked knowing a goal to aim for. Be careful doing that in the actual shops of the markets, they have nicer stuff than the stalls and are offended if you give them a very low offer to start with. Just remember... when the shop girl tells you that it's real silk/jade/pearl/Coach/etc, don't always believe it.
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 01:57 PM
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<i>try through your local library first</i>

Or your local bookstore; get a table at their cafe if they have one and spend time browsing a bunch before you buy. (I'm very lucky that one of the B&N here in NYC has a huge travel section!)

I didn't use a guidebook for planning; like Iowa_R, I used online resources before my trip in 2008. But on the ground, I found the Rough Guide China very useful - I wanted to have one "offline" country-wide resource in case my travels took me to places I hadn't planned, and ultimately was glad I lugged it along. (These days I'd "carry" it digitally!!) For example, I ended up going to Sichuan province with two Taiwanese friends. The Rough Guide gave me some info on the sites we visited, and when my friends checked us into a hotel in Songpan, it was listed in the book so I knew what to expect.

In addition to learning about the areas you'd like to visit, cultural things like the important tips Iowa_R shared, and information on sights to see, I would add gaining some knowledge about the wide variety of Chinese food you'll encounter as you traverse the country. A guidebook or online guide will help with descriptions, even if you live in a part of the US or elsewhere where you might not get to taste that variety before you go.

// When I was in Songpan, we ate lunch with a 20-something American backpacking couple (not an uncommon occurrence). Though neither spoke Mandarin, she had one favorite Chinese dish that she could pronounce correctly, and had also had it written out in Chinese. She was still happily ordering it almost everywhere she went, even after weeks in-country!

For me, I was absolutely hooked on trying new things - and what had been an ordinary affection for Chinese food grew into an obsession!
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 06:23 PM
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Your continued advice is so helpful and appreciated, as well as your offers to assist as we move forward. I will be reading some in the next week or so to familiarize myself (and will generate more questions, I am sure).
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 07:32 PM
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harbor view room is one thing you probably must drop

have you looked at salisbury YMCA?
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 09:24 PM
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Independent travel! No tour groups! Unless you want to spend an inordinate amount of time in jade shops, silk factories, tea houses, etc etc etc.... There are loads of good independent tour operations in China that can give you exactly what you request. Just be very specific about what you want to see and how you want to see it!
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Old Jun 5th, 2012, 06:08 PM
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cokesmith--your reports and pictures are breathtaking!
rhkkmk: was this answer for another thread?
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Old Jun 5th, 2012, 06:21 PM
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If you normally travel on your own then there is no reason to do it differently in China.
If you visit the main cities, tons of tourists have been there before you and had a great time. Restaurants usually have menus in english while the subway system is totally bilingual.
Depending on how much time you have, the typical first trip includes Beijing (where the key attractions are), Shanghai (not for very long but mostly to do surrounding areas), Yangshuo (for the scenery) and Xi'An (although I am not a big fan of this place).
Internal flights are cheap (book online on ctrip.com) and hotels much cheaper than Europe for the same quality.
first you can borrow a book about China (ideally with a lot of photos) and decide on where to go. Then buy good guide books that focus on these places otherwise you end up with a heavy book of which only 20% is of any value to you). Get a book with a good description of places and some itineraries. Not a book with hotel and restaurant recommendations. This kind of info is quickly outdated and better from the web.
Rather than using tours, use guides once in a while (mostly useful in more remote places or if you want to go biking in the rice fields in Yangshuo). Check www.synotrip.com for guides.
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Old Jun 5th, 2012, 08:03 PM
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> We usually travel on our own. Want to go to China in the Fall, 2012, and don't know if we have enough time to plan and execute it... Thoughts?

I'm very glad I did it on my own. If you haven't already seen it, you might find some helpful information in my trip report. Just click on my name to fine it.


> It you were to recommend the best 1 or 2 tour books for planning, which would they be?

Actually, I would encourage you to use more than that! I used 6 or 7 different guide books, and found many more discrepancies among them than I have for other countries. Having multiple sources helped me identify where there was consensus and where there wasn't and which things to research more thoroughly.

It's a fascinating place - enjoy!
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Old Jun 6th, 2012, 06:46 AM
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I know exactly how you feel, virginiafish. We too were apprehensive about traveling in China alone. But, even seven years ago when tourists were less common, we had no problems. For more details see:

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...on-our-own.cfm
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Old Jun 6th, 2012, 08:44 AM
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Just to give you another perspective, we are using a tour group to put together an tailored 5 week tour for my wife and I. We too have traveled extensively on our own elsewhere, mostly in Europe & the Americas. We did do a group tour to Africa and Peru/Galapogos. I read the advice here on Fodors which leans very heavily to doing it on your own and focused very much on their reasoning. We decided to consider both an independent tour we plan & execute and also getting several tailored quotes. We contacted the three tour guides recommended on Conde Nast for China plus one other that does independent tailored tours. We ended up with proposals from three of the four.

We worked closely with each tour group and put together one that fit our style. It includes a mix of planned activities that interested us with tour guides (cars & drivers when necessary) and free time, high end hotels and a minimum of 3 nights (many 4-6) in any location. Even the planned days are flexible since we are alone with the guide and can adjust the days itinerary as we go. We made it clear up front that we don't want any tourist/factory buying trips and have been assure of that (we'll see). I priced the trips for my self planned option so I had a measure of the premium I was paying for their assistance. We found the premiums were worth the difference for us and have chosen one of the tour operators. I believe they can get better prices than we can for hotels so some of their profit comes from that. All were very helpful in planning our trip and I feel comfort in having their continued support in scheduling it and resolving any issues that might arise.

We will report back after the trip as to whether we feel the same. This is just another person's perspective on the question. Admittedly, it is a minority view here and one who has not been to China. Good luck with your decision.
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Old Jun 6th, 2012, 05:21 PM
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We appreciate this input so much! Yes, we will struggle with this decision, too. I would be interested in the tour guides from whom you received quotes. I will read the trip reports and check many books and the guide directory. Thanks!
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Old Jun 6th, 2012, 08:08 PM
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We contacted the three travel specialists listed for China on Conde Nast (link below) plus we contacted China Odyssey.

http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tip...okyo-bali-2011
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Old Jun 9th, 2012, 08:06 PM
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@rim346 - wow! these guys are not cheap! 10 to 15 times the going rate. Maybe I need to offer my services as a guide!
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Old Jun 10th, 2012, 02:39 PM
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Ha ha, JPDeM, reading your comments on Fodors and TA, you absolutely qualify.

My US friends had a "free day" last Monday in Shanghai with nothing arranged by the China Focus tour group, they paid for the hotel mini-van I rented for 8 hours @ 1,100 rmb, went siteseeing, eating and shopping with me, they had a blast!
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