China: tour or not?

Jul 8th, 2004, 03:04 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2004
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China: tour or not?

My 65 year old dad and I (age 34)are thinking of going to China next year for two-three weeks. I can be a somewhat adventuresome traveler but he is not necessarily so. I have been to Asia before (Japan); he hasn't. We are considering a tour of some kind but (1) I don't want to be on a senior tour and (2) I don't want to be 'touristed' within an inch of my life. Any advice?
chrissymack is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 04:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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It only takes one 'adventurous' person to make this possible, and I earlier advised someone who only had a week to show his 70-year-old father Beijing, Xi'an, and Guilin, and they did the whole thing on the fly. Having two to three weeks makes things a great deal easier.

Tours in China do tend to be breakneck, and involve a lot of stops at shopping 'opportunities' which provide opportunities for the guides to dip into your pocket.

A middle position is to book all your domestic air tickets at your first stop in China, and to take day tours at major destinations (Beijing, Xi'an, for instance). It only takes a small fee for an agent to run to the station to get your rail tickets, if you need them, while you are off looking round whatever suits you. Taxis are cheap everywhere, and using those rather than a tour allows you to change your plans as you go, stay longer somewhere that appeals, leave sooner from somewhere that doesn't, etc. All you need is a guide which gives you the characters for your destinations, or to get your hotel reception to write them down for you.

In short, if you were assuming that China might be too difficult to tackle on your own, then think again. Tens of thousands of non-Mandarin speakers do it every year, and you'll find costs dramatically less than even the cheapest tour you book from overseas.

There have been a lot of posts discussing this whole tour vs. independent travel issue over the last year or so. Use the search box above to track them down.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 09:20 PM
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There are pluses and minuses to both ways of travel: tour or individual. It all depends on your own personal comfort level and, in this case, your Dad's comfort level.

Individual travel, even when you can speak the language fluently, can be very exhausting. You are responsible for doing everything yourself. All these travel responsbilities take away time and energy from what you have for touring and sightseeing. The most time-consuming is probably getting from one place to another: from the airport/train station to hotel, from hotel to attraction/historical site, from site to restaurant, from restaurant back to hotel. You have to spend a lot of time reading guidebooks and maps trying to decide where to go and, then, getting your destination written down for you in Chinese, so you can show it to the taxi driver/bus driver. You can't be just "somewhat adventuresome", you have to be "totally adventuresome", because at least 20% of the well-laid plans of mice and men will go wrong.

You do, however, have the greatest flexibility and you can usually get better prices negotiating on-the-spot and for yourself.

A tour group makes things easy for you: all tickets, some/all meals/hotels/tours are taken care of. You and your Dad just have to show up at the appointed time and place and you get transported to the next attraction/city.

On the negative side, your flexibility can be very limited, you do have to pay for these services and, yes, you will be taken to some places where you will be pressured to buy something. However, if you go to a "museum" by yourselves, you will most probably have some very/not so subtle pressure from the museum store staff to buy something.

I know of people who are immigrants to the US from China, who speak Chinese much better than they speak English, and who prefer to take tours when going to China. They don't want to hassle with ever-changing plane/train/bus schedules or have to hassle with buying the next leg of their journey/the next hotel room - well, you get the idea.

There are some good tour groups around that don't charge an arm and a leg. I believe there's one operating out of San Francisco which charges less than $1000/per person for a tour of 3/4 major Chinese cities.

So, it all depends on your comfort level.

You could do a combo: take a tour for a week/two; then, tour the rest of the time on your own.

Good luck on your planning!
easytraveler is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 09:22 PM
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Oh, BTW, China and Japan are VERY different!
easytraveler is offline  
Jul 10th, 2004, 06:26 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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Just back from China and Japan. We speak just a few words of Mandarin and were able to see Beijing, Xian and Shanghai by ourselves. We were worried before our trip but everything was fine and people were very friendly and helpful. Thoroughly research the cities before your trip. Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven have tape recorded tours, very informative. If necessary, you can also join day tours after you arrive.
ilenemak is offline  
Jul 11th, 2004, 09:22 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 474
We were in China for two weeks in December -- in and around Beijing. Neither of us speak or read a word of Chinese, but we found it amazingly easy to get around and explore nonetheless. We took the metro every day (very easy to make out where one needs to go -- just consult your guide book or hotel concierge to double-check before setting out). We also had no problem hailing and taking taxis -- the key is to be sure to have someone at the hotel write your destinations in Chinese so that you can show the driver (our guidebook had every sight listed in Chinese, so we could point when entering a cab). The bigger challenge was in eating at local restaurants (ones that do not cater to foreigners), as nobody spoke English. Ordering by pointing at what other tables were having was fun and an adventure, however.

You can have a lovely trip (and encounter much more of what is local and authentic) if you are on your own. It is just critical to go out each day with a relaxed "see what comes" attitude -- some of our most wonderful experiences in China were on the days where we got a little lost or could not make heads or tails!

Have a great trip!
WinterTravel is offline  
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