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m104882 Feb 24th, 2014 02:52 PM

CITS as a Travel Guide/Tour
Has anyone used CITS travel in China or any other country where they provide a personal guide for you as a couple in each city/site? If so, what did you think of their service?

temppeternh Feb 24th, 2014 03:34 PM

CITS is the Chinese travel organisation with the longest history of overcharging and cheating foreign visitors in innumerable ways. You will pay too much for a guide who will provide a propaganda-laden and highly inaccurate view of Chinese history and modern circumstances, while leading you to restaurants, sights, and shopping 'opportunities' that pay kick-backs, all of which come out of your wallet. Whereas you might expect a local guide to provide you with superior information and to protect you from various shenanigans and overcharging, in China the opposite is true.

There's nowhere you are considering visiting in China that you can't reach by yourself, taking reading materials brought from overseas that have far more accurate information then is locally available. If you have particular concerns about particular destinations I'm sure there are plenty here who will be happy to help.

MmePerdu Feb 24th, 2014 04:02 PM

My only experience with CITS in China was trying to buy a train ticket at their office in Yangshuo. While I eventually accomplished the task, it was the most difficult transaction, I think, of my long travel life including incredible rudeness from their agent who was, astonishingly, recommended to me. Complete disdain for me as a customer. I think that's the difficulty in general, as petern-h above (hi Peter) has indicated.

kja Feb 24th, 2014 08:27 PM

OMG, I never thought I would say anything that would stand in contrast to Peter's invaluable insights, but ... I actually did use CITS once while in China and was satisfied with the outcome.

I was in Datong and wanted to visit both the Wooden Pagoda and the Hanging Temple on the same day, which I believed would be difficult if using public transportation. I checked in with the CITS office, but was not given reason for optimism. As I stated in my travel report, the next morning: "I was awakened at about 7:20 a.m. by Mr. Gao from the CITS office - he had found a couple who wanted to take the tour to the Wooden Pagoda and Hanging Temple that day! Bonus! My travel companions were a delightful English-speaking Dutch couple who wanted to take their time seeing these places, as did I. Our fee - 100 yuan each - covered a car and driver; none of us felt the need for a guide." Actually, the couple had asked about seeing one of those sites and the Yungang Grottoes on that day, and since they had just arrived in Datong and could defer the grottoes until the next day (I had already seen them), Mr. Gao suggested that if they revised their plan, they might be able to share the cost of the driver with me. I was glad that he remembered my request and was able to make those arrangements. After visiting the Wooden Pagoda, my companions wanted to eat and treated our driver to lunch; I did not join them. We then went on to the Hanging Temple. As I recall, the driver was a bit irritated that we spent much longer at each site than he expected, but he didn't actually complain, so my companions and I shrugged his attitude off. He was otherwise polite. He did not take us to any place other than the Wooden Pagoda and the Hanging Temple, did not offer any commentary (I don't think he spoke English), and did not suggest or take us to any shopping venues. My companions and I also agreed that we would not tip him. I was left off first, and so can't speak to what they ended up doing.

That said, I would (and did) approach CITS with caution. And I won't be at all surprised if Peter believes I had a better option (perhaps hiring a taxi for the day) -- I trust he will present it so that others can benefit from his experience.

temppeternh Feb 24th, 2014 08:49 PM

On the contrary, I've recommended the Datong CITS one-day trip here before, as being one of the few examples of a one-day trip being worthwhile, allowing visitors to reach sites in one day that can't be reached in one day by public transport. It's still overpriced (vastly so when a minibus-load of foreigners each pay ¥100) and the minibus version still involves shopping 'opportunities' in which the guide's advice on a 'fair price' is rather the opposite of helpful. I observed one other passenger being encouraged to pay 20 times what one item was worth.

thursdaysd Feb 24th, 2014 08:57 PM

Well, this is a little odd. I, too, always find peter's posts very well-informed and enlightening, and am firmly in the DIY camp. However, I, too, had a good experience with CITS in Datong. And in Suzhou and Putuoshan, for that matter. I would not have chosen CITS myself, but I was traveling in China over the National Day holiday, after a multi-month trek by train across Europe, and asked the company that had booked my Trans-Mongolian leg to book my first few stops in China. I did not rely on the guide for information, being more interested in transport. It is somewhat surprising, but I can report that I was not taken on any shopping ops, possibly because I was overpaying to start with, possibly because I was very clear upfront about what I wanted to see, and possibly because Datong and Putuoshan weren't exactly on the tourist trail in 2004.

thursdaysd Feb 24th, 2014 09:01 PM

peter - we were posting at the same time. I had a car and driver to myself in Datong, I wasn't on a minibus. What I did was unnecessarily expensive, but after a month crossing Russia I wanted a rest.

kja Feb 24th, 2014 09:15 PM

I'm so glad you both chimed in! I thought I remembered that Peter had recommended the Datong one-day CITS tour and am glad to confirm that I'm not necessarily going crazy (or at least, the proof does not lie therein).

And I can fully understand thursdaysd's point about moments when paying extra is what makes most sense after a long time on the road. (Though I still don't know how you manage such LONG trips, thursdaysd! A month is just about all I can manage.)

thursdaysd Feb 24th, 2014 09:26 PM

kja - well, that trip was ten months and I did need a rest afterwards but I was moving a lot. I think the trick is to treat life on the road as life, rather than a break from life.

kja Feb 24th, 2014 10:09 PM

LOL, thursdaysd, one of the things I love about travel is that it is, for me, an escape from the rest of my life! I may be ready for life to become like travel (if only!), but I am NOT ready for travel to become "life, rather than a break from life." At least for now, I would most decidedly NOT like that!

Thankfully, travel has afforded me an escape from my day-to-day routine, and it has also enriched my experiences and perspectives in ways that persist after I return to "life." I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to travel, to have people like you from whom to take inspiration, people like Peter who willing to share their expertise so generously, and so many others who help me convert travel fantasies into reality....

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