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Good English Speaking Tour Companys in Asia

Good English Speaking Tour Companys in Asia

Old Jan 18th, 2009, 09:58 AM
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Good English Speaking Tour Companys in Asia

We will be cruising the far east in Late April of this year and would like your experiences and/or recommendations for a good tour company that we can use in the following locations: Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai and Beijing. In Beijing we would like to see something different than the regular tourist spots as we have been there already. The tours would be for one day for 4 to 6 hours.

We are trying to avoid the crowds associated with ship tours and go off on our own. There would be 4 adults. We would appreciate any suggestions you would have. This site has always been so helpful.

Thanks
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Old Jan 18th, 2009, 10:43 AM
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You might find this link helpful::

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35174386

Peter N-H
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Old Jan 18th, 2009, 02:07 PM
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There is absolutely no need for a tour guide in either Singapore or Hong Kong. Both have excellent transit systems and relatively inexpensive taxis. Almost everyone speaks English (more so in Singapore). Just choose the places you want to see and go!

Cicerone (who lives in Hong Kong) has made many informative posts about things to do and see in Hong Kong. Look for some of her posts.

Likewise, there are many posts about what to do in SIngapore.

The one thing you want to do in Taipei is to visit the National Museum. The collection is truly stunning. You may simply want to get a taxi and go there. I know I spent two half days there and certainly didn't get bored.
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Old Jan 18th, 2009, 02:26 PM
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And the one thing you want to do in Shanghai is visit the Art Museum. I went back to Shanghai solely to spend more time in that museum. You could also wander up and down the Bund, and one of the shopping streets, and you don't need a guide for any of it. Shanghai has a good metro, or you could just use taxis.
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Old Jan 18th, 2009, 08:02 PM
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First of all, is there ANY way you can extend your stay in any of the those cities? 4-6 hours is barely enough time to have a good lunch in most of those places, let alone to see anything of them. If there is any way to do an add-on tour to the cruise, I would encourage you to do it in one of those cities.

Secondly, what are your arrival dates in each city? And what time of day do you have available? That may make a difference to my reccos as there may be festivals/holidays going on that you want to see (or avoid). Weekday versus weekend may make some difference as well (i.e. Sunday lines for the Peak Tram are much worse than weekday lines so I would suggest the bus, at least in one direction, for Sundays with your limited time). If you know where you are docking in Shanghai that might be helpful. For Shanghai, it is my understanding that only smaller ships can dock at the new pier on the Bund; the rest have to dock at the container terminal which is about an hour’s drive from the main downtown areas. I assume you know the distances from the ports used for Beijing and Taipei into the city, and have already adjusted your time to allow for travel. In Hong Kong, you probably are docking at Ocean Terminal but check on this. This is right in downtown and where you want to be to get to and from your ship and the sights quickly on foot or by public transport (a car and driver are useless here for the most part and would be of quite limited utility in Singapore). In Singapore, I would assume you are docking at the World Trade Centre, but again check on this. This would be about a 15-minute taxi ride from the main downtown areas along the Singapore River.

Thirdly, it would help to know your interests. I strongly recommend, as you have such a limited amount of time, that you stick to the traditional tourists sights, but if you have any special interests, like architecture, art (esp performing arts), outdoor sports, etc, that would be helpful to know. For example, much as I love all the walks and hikes available in Hong Kong, and always recommend that people do at least one if they can, for someone coming here with only 4-6 hours I would tell them to go to the Peak, take the Star Ferry and have tea or a meal somewhere, and not opt to walk to Stanley via the Twins.

Finally, what sights have you “already” seen in Beijing? There are a lot of them. If you mean the Forbidden City, that is one thing (although I always enjoy going back and new parts are always being opened up or old parts redone), but there are lots of “sights” in Beijing.

Otherwise, I would agree generally that you do not need a guide for Singapore or Hong Kong, and really for Beijing you won’t want much of a guide because you have a very limited amount of time, but once you pick where you want to go, you may want to arrange a car and driver to help with logistics. There is a very good tour guide in Hong Kong named Jason Wordie who gives walking tours, that may work for you, but his tours are more historical in nature, not sure if that is your interest, but take a look at www.jasonswalks.com. For Singapore, again with such a limited time you might want to focus on one area (the colonial downtown area around the river and the Padang, Little India, the Arab Street area), and certainly have some of their fantastic street/hawker food. Singapore also has several excellent museums, principally the Asian Civilizations Museum, http://www.acm.org.sg/home/home.asp. You might also want to consider taking the Singapore Flyover to get a view of the city, see http://www.singaporeflyer.com.sg/. For Taipei I agree on the museum although I am not sure I would want to spend ALL the time inside it, and they have marvelous street food, so I would include some time for that.
The Luxe Guide series to the cites on your itin may be helpful to you, as they usually give some very good combined walking and shopping suggestions as well (hilarious tone of their writing). They usually give one or two off-the-beaten-path suggestions and some very touristy things to avoid. It usually also has reoccos for people who give walking tours in various cities, other than Jason Wordie here in Hong Kong. I have not used them, but they may be worth a try. It only costs like US$8. (Go to http://www.luxecityguides.com/) It is tiny and folds almost into your pocket. If you can't get it where you live, you can buy it here when you arrive. There is one for Shanghai Beijing, Singapore and Hong Kong. The DK/Eyewitness Guides are usually very helpful too, excellent maps.

For some ideas for Hong Kong, please search this board for my very long list of reccos called “Cicerone’s Reccos for What the Locals Do for Fun in Hong Kong (Hint: We DON’T Go to those Awful Night Markets....)” this should give you some ideas for what to do. For suggestions on walks and hikes on Hong Kong Island, see my postings called “Cicerone’s Favourite Hong Kong Walks: Severn Road, the Peak”., “Cicerone’s Favourite Hong Kong Walks II: Paradise Found! From Happy Valley to Stanley in High Heels! (Almost) The Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path” and Cicerone's Favourite Hong Kong Walks III: The Dragon's Back ". Finally, check the Hong Kong Tourism Board website at discoverhongkong.com. For restaurants, see “Cicerone’s (Updated) Favourite Hong Kong Restaurants (Part I)” and “Cicerone’s Favourite Hong Kong Restaurants (Part II) – Michelin Stars and Lesser Mortals”.


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Old Jan 19th, 2009, 04:05 AM
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Marjean - I second Kathie in her assessment. You definitely do NOT need a guide in Singapore and Hong Kong. What I did was read Cicerone's reports and recommendations on Hong Kong, and what the other posters had to say about what to see and do in Singapore and trust me when I tell you, my trips as a solo traveller visiting those countries for the first time could not have been more perfect.

And I see that Cicerone has already weighed in with some very sage advice for you. My recommendation? I would take what Cicerone and the others have said and run with it.

Whatever you choose to do, however, enjoy your travels!

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Old Jan 19th, 2009, 02:17 PM
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Thank you so much everyone for your thoughts and recommendations. I will certainly consider them.

cicerone,

Wow what great info. Here is my schedule:

Singapore Fri April 17 9 am to 6 pm
Hong Kong April 22, Wed. 8 am to Thurs. April 23 6 pm
Keelung,Taiwan (not Taipei Sorry) Sat. April 25, 7 am to 5pm
Shanghai, Tues. April 28 7 am to 6 pm
Beijing, Fri. May 1 7:30 am to 7 pm
Dalian, china Sat. May 2 8 am to 5 pm
We will also be in Pusan, Korea, Kagoshima Japan, Vladivostok, Russia
Okinawa, Japan but will probably do the ships tours.

As for Beijing, We were guests of the Chinese Government for 10 days and saw all the touristy places like the Forbidden City, Great Wall, Summer Palace & Temple of Heaven and had the pleasure of a banquet in the great hall in Tinamin (sp) Square and visited construction sites and spoke with the various Government Officials. We then went again on our own and revisited all the places we had seen before and took a cruise on the Yangze River and visited the Three Gorges Dam.
Love China and the people. So we are open to anything we can do in the very limited time we have.

Thanks again for all your thoughts. I have gone to Cicerone's email site. What a wealth of information...For someone, like myself, with limited experience in this part of the World, I am excited reading all the information on this Asia site.
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Old Jan 19th, 2009, 06:59 PM
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Thanks Marjean, that info on your dates and port times is quite helpful, My thoughts are as follows:

Singapore – no public holiday, and no minor Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim holiday I am aware of. So follow reccos from others, read the Fodors Destinations above and think about your interests. They have a marvelous zoo, not sure if that is an interest, but you would not be able to do the night safari which is a highlight. There are also the Botanic Gardens, again not sure if this in an interest. Otherwise, there is lots to do, I personally like the colonial Padang area, Little India and Arab Street areas for colour, food and the remaining architecture. The China town/Duxton Road area is interesting too. If you have some connections and can get an invitation to the Cricket Club for lunch, that would be quite nice looking out onto the cricket lawns of the Padang in downtown Singapore, but there are lots of both cheap and dear restaurant options. I personally would avoid Orchard Road shopping as your time is too limited and it’s mostly chain shops. (An exception might be the Tanglin Shopping Centre which has several good antique shops, including the Tang Horse and Antiques of the Orient (http://www.aoto.com.sg/index.htm), the former carries just beautiful little antique items and the latter has travel posters, antique maps, etc. (including cruise line posters like P&O). Either would make a great souvenir of a trip to SE Asia, IMO. This would be walkable to/from the Botanic Gardens.) If you are interested in colonial architecture, it is a short walk from this end of Orchard Road to Nassim Hill Road, which has some fine specimens of “black and white” bungalows (so called for their black and white awnings which drop down for shade) built in the early 19th century, it is fun to walk around and see how the British Raj once lived and how some very lucky (mostly expats) live today in colonial splendor. (If you go to the end of Nassim Hill, you will be at the Nassim entrance to the Botanic Gardens, so if you go the Botanic Gardens, you could walk down from the Botanic Garden through Nassim to Orchard Road, or vice versa, but I would walk downhill rather than up in the Singapore heat personally.) Another good area for a stroll is Goodwood Hill Road, near to the Goodwood Park Hotel on Scotts Road just a block up from the intersection with Orchard Road. You can eat in some “black and whites” in the Rochester Park area (like Graze http://www.graze.sg/ or Ming Jang at One North http://www.goodwoodparkhotel.com/dining-minjiangone.htm), as well as Flutes at the Fort (http://www.flutesatthefort.com.sg/), near the Padang in downtown Singapore, the latter is well located with your short time and might be a good choice. Les Amis au Jardin is in a black and white bungalow in the Botanic Garden http://www.lesamis.com.sg, as is the more casual and inexpensive Halia http://www.halia.com.sg, or the Song of India in an old bungalow (not a black and white but still charming) up Scott’s Road backing up to Goodwood Hill Road. (33 Scotts Road Tel 6836-0055, no website that I am aware of.)

Hong Kong – so glad you have a night here so you can get some night harbour views, for sure to go up to the Peak; I like dusk so you get daylight and then night views, see sunrisesunset.com for timing. You should have pretty good harbour views from your ship, depending on whether you dock right in front or if there is another ship in front of you; but in any event the ship should be docking at Ocean Terminal which is steps from the Kowloon Esplanade. You are here on a weekday, and not any holiday, so you should find little or no lines for things like the Peak Tram. The trouble will be fitting everything in.

Taiwan – Keelung is the port for Taiwan, this is about 45 minutes or so from Taiwan. You can take a train from what I understand, I have not done this. Have you been to cruisecritic.com? I did a cruise to Alaska last year and that site was very helpful in port info. You might take a look at that to see if there is any info on Keelung and what there is to do there and getting into Taipei from there. (I know Keelung because I have been there for some clients to see the shipyard; it’s fairly industrial.) I don’t think that there is much in the area, but you might consult guidebooks to see if there is anything worth seeing. There is good food, and street food here might be excellent and probably even cheaper than Taiwan and no tourists I imagine. Otherwise I would head for Taipei

Beijing – Wow you are going to be there on May 1, which is both good AND bad. This is a national holiday (Labour Day), and Beijing probably will be VERY crowded as it is also the beginning of a holiday weekend/week for many Chinese. So it is a good thing that you have already seen the major sights, because they will be jammed, and perhaps you want to avoid them. (Traditionally, people had the entire week off, last year the government started breaking this up into shorter 3-day holiday periods; but I would not be surprised if due to the economic decline, the government declared a week-long holiday again this year. In any event virtually all of the 1 billion population of the PRC is off for at least 3 days, and as the holiday does not entail family obligations like Lunar New Year, they want to travel.) You might want to just avoid Beijing altogether and stick to something in the countryside. I wonder if there is anything in the area of the port of Beijing. You might look into that, I don’t know that area. This is where books like Lonely Planet may prove helpful, they often have suggestions for things outside major cities and unusual ideas. You could also consider something like the Commune, a hotel with restaurant in the Great Wall area and then do some walking/hiking in the area, see http://www.communebythegreatwall.com/en/ or the Red Capital Ranch, see http://www.redcapitalclub.com.cn/ranch.htm (the latter also offers some more atypical tours, see their website). Have not been to either (although I have been to the Red Capital Club in Beijing which is kitschy fun), but Luxe Guide reccos them, they also recco China Cultural Centre, see http://www.chinaculturecenter.org/tours/. Again, I don’t know the group or the tours, but generally find Luxe Guide reccos to be quite good and accurate for places and things I do know well, like Hong Kong (where they recco Jason Wordie) and Singapore.

Dalian – no comments as I have not been, but should be interesting. As I like to say, it’s just one of those cities of 10 million people in the PRC that no one in the US has ever heard of...(and there are lots of others…) You probably will find crowds here as well as you are still in the Labour Day holiday period.

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Old Jan 19th, 2009, 09:15 PM
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cicerone,

wow what a great amount of information. I will definitely look at the sites and links you suggested.

As for the Holiday in China. I view it more as a plus to see the celebrations. Yes, we are lucky as we can avoid the major areas and try to enjoy what is close and try to mingle in the crowds.

Thank you so much.
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Old Jan 20th, 2009, 08:46 AM
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The picture of Beijing in May given above needs a great deal of adjustment.

The week-long holiday in May wasn't traditional but only about ten years old, and it was easier to get around Beijing during that week than during most of the rest of the year, as the numbers of people with discretionary cash to spend on jaunts are far higher in the metropolises than in the rest of China. While major sights were busy, traffic in general was light. The major problem was with transportation out of the the city to anywhere regarded as a resort. With major sights already visited, and transport arranged, May 1st needs hold no terrors.

Now the public holiday has returned to being a single day, and the idea of discretionary holiday introduced (but mainly for white collar workers), the outflow may be a little less, but the inflow also reduced. It is possible that roads out to rural sights may be busy.

Beijing doesn't have a port, of course. The nearest is at Tanggu, the other side of Tianjin, well to the east, and this is an industrial area of no interest to the leisure visitor.

What Luxe Guides knows about Beijing could be written down on a very small piece of paper. Oh, wait a minute, that's what it is: a very small piece of paper and considerably overpriced given its cliché-ridden, inaccurate, incomplete, and often completely fatuous contents. Anyone looking for something different from the main sights obviously needs to look to something more comprehensive. The Luxe Guide is utterly clueless.

The Red Capital Club and Red Capital Ranch are absurdly overpriced for what they offer, and are owned by a foreigner who is a well-known apologist for the current regime with a hagiography of Zhu Rongji to his credit, and a book praising the government's handling of the economy. His restaurant is stocked with furniture from the Cultural Revolution Reparations Committee warehouse, as his proudly states. The reason it was still in the warehouse was likely because its owners didn't survive the turmoil, so you may consider this a little sick.

The Commune at the Great Wall is a splendid experience (although could do with a little maintenance) but it seems unlikely you'd want to spend a day there as it has little to do with real Beijing. The location and the architecture are the main attractions, and best appreciated by staying overnight. The restaurants are certainly not a major attraction. There's an entrance fee if you just want to look around, but you won't be allowed to take the path up to a rather crumbling section of Great Wall unless you become a resident. There's a transfer of management in progress, too, so you'd want to keep an eye on what's happening.

But really, if so far you've concentrated on the main sights in Beijing you've hardly scratched the surface. I mentioned a number of sights in the southern half of the city that get little visited but are well worth seeing. With such a hectic schedule perhaps you'd prefer a day spent more on foot.

But if you do want to take a day out of town, have a look in your guide book for information on:

The Eastern Qing Tombs about 100km east of Beijing (far more interesting than the Ming tombs, which you have probably already seen: more ornate, in greater variety, with several to be entered, far fewer visitors, and set in lush countryside)

The Western Qing Tombs about 100km southwest of Beijing (as above, but more so)

Two leafy temples in the countryside just west of the city: Tanzhe Si and Jietai Si

Cuandixia (in older guidebooks Chuandixia), a well-preserved hill-side village of Ming and Qing housing where you can lunch in little courtyard houses, stroll around the streets, take hillside walks in two directions (one to get a postcard-like shot of the village from the opposite hillside), and/or drive a little further to the next village for a more strenuous walk up to a little-visited section of Great Wall (the village shop has details, as well as some of Beijing's more inventive and better packaged souvenirs). This is about 72km west of Beijing. http://www.cuandixia.com
On the way back (about 4km back) you can also turn up to Ling Shui which is perhaps trying to imitate Cuandixia, but has a pleasant walk through restored housing in a loop past the Dragon King Temple.

If taking any of these trips you'll possibly want to be on your way back by mid-afternoon as there's likely to be a tide of returning traffic, much as on the average Sunday evening on a normal weekend.

If fearing to stray so far, in addition to the southern sights mentioned in the linked post, you could consider the ever-growing Da Shanzi '798' art district, partway back towards the airport northeast of the centre. Many galleries are closed on Mondays but as this is a public holiday the place should be as busy as it is at normal weekends, and several vast galleries in former industrial buildings (some interesting in their own right) showing a bewildering variety of serious contemporary art and tourist-targeting kitsch. From one small adaptation of an industrial space into galleries and studios it has developed into a labyrinth of galleries, art bookshops, and art-related businesses, with several cafes and restaurants.

Some idea here: http://www.798art.org/English/

Most serious artists have fled a little north to Caochangdi, with fewer galleries and more industry, easily reached from Da Shanzi, or out to suburban village of Song Zhuang, well to the east.

Also close to Da Shanzi (although it wouldn't be hard to spend a day there) is the excellent China Railway Museum, with about 60 assorted engines in a vast shed, many climbable, and a delight for any small boys (of any age) who may be in your party. Not too far away there's the high-tech China National Film museum, although most of the labelling there is Chinese-only. You can have yourself shot on blue screen apparently riding a motorbike at high speed and take home a DVD of this. Not what the average person goes to China for, admittedly.

But if you haven't really penetrated the hutong, then a day on foot around the Xin Jie Kou and Huguo Si area walking further east towards the Drum and Bell Towers and then a little further to relax in the (developed) Nan Luogu Xiang would do fine. Plenty of small-scale temples and museums (some in courtyard houses) and odd shopping to see. Any serious guide book will have details, and as I mentioned in response to the other poster, if I can manage to find the time to update my document on Beijing walks by April I'll do so and post here.

Peter N-H
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Old Jan 20th, 2009, 08:21 PM
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Thanks Peter for all the information and insight. I look forward to your update.
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