First trip to China

Mar 1st, 2002, 12:02 AM
  #1  
Paige
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First trip to China

Hello! We're starting to think about our first trip to China, maybe 2 weeks in September/October. It seems most people take tours. Is that the case? If so, why? We've never taken a tour before and I'm not sure we'd like it. Is it really so hard to get around if you don't know any of the language?
To the China experts, how would you recommend we spend 2 weeks? We'd like to go to Beijing but that's about all we've figured out so far. We like cities and all they offer, but also nature and smaller towns. We prefer to stay in one place for at least a few days rather than move every other day. If possible, we'd like to keep the total cost for 2 under $5000.
I'd appreciate any suggestions and hints. Thanks!!
 
Mar 1st, 2002, 03:00 PM
  #2  
Barry
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Last year we started planning our China trip by looking over the various China tour companies on line. Previously, I have always planned our big trips, but this time we felt a tour was the best thing because of the language, great distances to be covered, and logistics We ended up taking the 15-day China Focus tour that included a weekend in Hong Kong. Great trip in every way! You will love China!

Barry
 
Mar 2nd, 2002, 04:50 PM
  #3  
Patty
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In the larger cities, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting around without knowing the language. All hospitality industry workers will speak English and signage is well marked. I would definitely add Shanghai to your list too.
 
Mar 3rd, 2002, 12:46 PM
  #4  
Connie
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I can recommend a company with the name Delight in it--can't remember the exact name.

I was with a group but we would get taxis and go off on our own. There were times we were the only non asians to be seen and always felt safe. They are set up for tourists and know how to communicate fairly well. Get a card from your hotel showing the name of it and the name of the place you want to go.

Try to take a train at some point of your trip. They are very clean and safe and the best part is that you get to see the countryside which is sooo much different from the cities.
 
Mar 3rd, 2002, 04:39 PM
  #5  
kang
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I think the best advantage for a group organized tour is that it is more efficient to go see lots of things in a short period. If you have two weeks to spend and you don't plan to visit too many places, then go by yourself. Especially for a far away exotic country like China, doing it by yourself will end up make you really feel you've been there and done it. And it's more fun.

Get a tour guild book and make sure you know what you want to do in each city. You can also look at the group itinerary as references. Once you've done your home work, you can definitely do it. Language wouldn't be a major problem. If you do feel the need for joining a tour, you can always find tours once you are in China. There are lots of visitors from all around the world these days in China so you should have no trouble to find the particular services you need.

$5000 should be enough if you don't stay in the most expensive hotels, and don't make expensive major purchases.
 
Mar 4th, 2002, 12:12 AM
  #6  
Paige
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Thanks everyone! Kang, thanks for posting your comments. That was what I was hoping someone would say!
 
Mar 4th, 2002, 03:06 AM
  #7  
Andrea
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I should admit at the outset that I'm DIY-biased. We're not big fans of tours, and have visited countries from Cambodia to Russia on our own. (We're Americans currently living in China).

To me, planning for the trip is half the fun. We use this Fodors board, the google search engine, and print guide books, and there hasn't been a destination yet that we haven't been able to plan relatively easily.

Getting around in any country whose language doesn't use the same alphabet is a bit difficult, but we've never had any problems when armed with a good map, directions written in a guide book or by the hotel concierge, and a smile!
(OK, one time we were lost for 45 minutes in the rain in Genoa, but no system is perfect!)

Personally, here's what we do when we plan trips, using Fodors, other websites, and print guide books as references:

* Determine what we want to see (decide upong our itinerary)

* Research visa requirements, start visa application process

* Research & book our hotels (although I must admint that we usually do this at the last minute, so we do our actual booking by phone/fax instead of the Internet!)

* Determine specific sites for which we may want a guide, and find out whether or not we need to book in advance, what the going rate is, etc. (This info we usually get from Fodors and guide books)

* Investigate air vs. alternate travel (the night train from Shanghai to Beijing is a good deal - neat experience plus you save a hotel night) & book

Done!

China is one of those "specialty" destinations that is a little bit intimidating to Westerners, and for that reason, travel companies can charge high premiums for tours. This is not always the case, of course, but if you do book a tour, at least also do the research into what the individual pieces would cost you on your own.

When my parents came to visit last summer, we were going to go to Guilin/Yangshuo for a couple of days. My mom and I both checked into numerous tour packages. Booking on our own (only hotel in advance, other tours in-country, as people told us you should do) was about US $250 including hotel for 2 days. The packages offered by the tour companies STARTED at US $750 for the SAME items (hotel and 2 tours).

This board is a great resource for self-planning a trip to China. I recommend you do a couple of searches - people have asked many times what the highlights are & there is a lot of other practical advice.

Good luck!
 
Mar 4th, 2002, 04:08 AM
  #8  
kang
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One more thing. October 1st is the national day of China. The whole country takes 7 days off. Try to avoid the first 7 days of that month. Even though you could enjoy the holiday spirit as well, you don't want to fight the crowd everywhere you go.

Otherwise, Sep. and Oct. are usually the best months to visit China.
 
Mar 4th, 2002, 04:21 AM
  #9  
Paige
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Thanks again, Kang. We were planning on going at the first of Oct so that's good to know.

Can anyone recommend a 2 week itinerary? I think we'll fly in and out of Beijing and we'd like to see a few other places. Xian looks interesting, as does Chengde. Any opinions or ideas would be greatly appreciated.
 
Mar 4th, 2002, 07:13 AM
  #10  
kang
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That is the hard part - to recommend itinerary.

China is a huge country with great diversity and each place offers some very different features. It is not like to select the best from similar places. Since you seem to have wide interests in many things, other than Beijing, I am really not sure what to recommend.

I think you will end up visiting the most popular tourist arractions for westerners as everyone else because these places are indeed good introductions to Chinese culture/scenery for first timers. If you weren't the first timer, I would recommend areas like the beautiful Southwestern region, some places along the silk road, and the best eye openner, very unique in the whole world - Tibet.

So for your first time visit, you have the following to consider: Beijing, Shanghai, some neiboring attractions nearby Shanghai, Three Gorges, Xi'an, and Guilin. You cannot possibly see them all so the best way is still to get a good tour guild book and find the attractions you are most interested.

One suggestion.

Assuming you aren't going with a tour group, and you decide to go to Guilin/Li River. You may want to do the following:

Fly to Guilin but don't stay there. Instead, take a local bus from Guilin to Yangshuo(1 1/2 hours)where the best part of the scenery around Li River is located. There is a small street in Yangshuo called "West Street" where most regular residents are westerners. Many are Americans and some of them stay there for days even weeks to enjoy the area. Once you are there, collect information in the outdoor Cafes along the West street from people who are not new comers and plan for at least 2-3 days in Yangshuo.

One thing you must do in Yangshuo is to rent a bike(1 to 2 US$ per day) and hire a local guide to ride(very inexpensive) with you to explore the Li River countryside. It is extremely beautiful.

I haven't been there in recent years but I believe the above info is quit reliable. Maybe Andrea has more tips since she was there lately.

I am not suggesting you add Guilin/Yangshuo to your list, just tips if you do elect to go.

I cannot believe this Asia bashing thread is still floating around. I don't know if this is your first visit to Asia. You will certainly see unpleasant things in that part of the world but also try to look at the bright side of the picture, why people live the way they live and happily live the way they live. And of course enjoy the beautiful scenery and the cultural diferences.

You will love China.
 
Mar 5th, 2002, 01:21 AM
  #11  
Paige
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Thanks, Kang. I got a good book last night which lists 50 good destinations, which will really help. We might not make it to the Li River this trip but it's definitely on the list. Our first trip to Asia was earlier this year, with 2 weeks in Thailand. We loved it! People can find fault with any place if they want to. Thanks again for your help.
 
Mar 5th, 2002, 11:44 PM
  #12  
Paige
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How about 5 days in Beijing, 3 days in Xi'an and 3 days in either Harbin or Qingdao? I read about the last 2 in the Frommers book and they sound interesting, easy to fly to from Beijing, off the main tourist path and slightly different from the 1st two cities. Any opinions on Harbin and Qingdao?

Also, I'm having a hard time finding information (schedules, fares) on internal flights. I think we'd like to fly from Beijing to Xi'an then possibly onto Harbin or Qingdao and back to Beijing. Travelocity takes an error when I enter these cities! Can anyone offer advice on this? Thanks so much!
 
Mar 6th, 2002, 01:15 AM
  #13  
Paige
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Is this the Xi'an where the army of terracotta soldiers is?

Xi An Xianyang, China (XIY)

I did manage to find this and the other cities in Travelocity. The low fare finder doesn't work; you have to put in dates and times.
 
Mar 8th, 2002, 12:00 AM
  #14  
Paige
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Any opinions of Harbin or Qingdao? Thanks!
 
Mar 8th, 2002, 02:12 AM
  #15  
kang
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Personally, I don't like Harbin. There is really not much to see there. The city is located in Northeastern region and it could be quite cold in October or even in middle to late September. There are no attractions in both history or scenery. I doubt anyone posting on this board have ever visited there.

Qingdao is fine, a beautiful coastal city with some European flavors but there are nothing special there either. For a first timer in China, I wouldn't say it is a great choice but it is OK.
 
Mar 8th, 2002, 11:24 AM
  #16  
Paige
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Thanks, Kang. Can you recommend another city, if we decide to go to Beijing and Xi'an and will fly into and out of Beijing? I'd like to add a place that's not on the typical tourist trail that would be interesting and not too difficult. It doesn't have to have lots of museums and palaces, just a flavor of China and a place that would be interesting to walk around for a few days. Thanks.
 
Mar 8th, 2002, 06:30 PM
  #17  
kang
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For a place with a flavor of China and also interesting to walk around for a few days, I'd recommend Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, all located in Yunnan province. The weather is always great, the scenery is beautiful, the pace of life is slower. If you have 4 days, spend 2 days in Kunming, 2 days in Lijiang; if you have 5 days, spend 2 days in Kunming, 3 days in Lijiang; if you have 6 days, spend 2 days in Kunming, 2 days in Dali, and 2 days in Lijiang. You got the idea.

Lijiang is a UNESCO world heritage site. Similar to Yangshuo, it attracts many westerners to spend days even weeks there to enjoy the serenity and beauty of the area.
 
Mar 8th, 2002, 11:29 PM
  #18  
Paige
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Thanks! I'll look into it.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 09:33 PM
  #19  
sprout
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Last spring we did Beijing/Xian/Shanghai and absolutely loved Shanghai. I would recommend it to anyone. Also, I would recomemnd learning a few key phrases in Mandarin, just for the experience of inter-acting with locals.
 
Mar 22nd, 2002, 12:09 PM
  #20  
Patty
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I have been to Harbin, but only in the winter when the "ice festival" (I don't know what it's called officially) takes place. It's freezing cold but a lot of fun. I still have very fond memories of going horseback riding across a frozen lake. But kang is right, I can't see that there's much to do in Harbin in Sep/Oct.

You may also want to consider flying into one city and out of another. That way you don't have to fly back to Beijing for your return flight. Don't know where you would be flying from or if you've already decided on an airline, but for example, if you fly China Eastern (AA codeshare partner) from LAX, you can buy a roundtrip Shanghai ticket with a stop over in Beijing. They have 4 transpacific flights a week that stopover in Beijing first before proceeding to Shanghai. The return flights are non-stop from Shanghai.

Hope this helps.
 

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