Help for China Trip

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Feb 27th, 2005, 04:44 PM
  #1
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Help for China Trip

My wife and I are planning our first trip to China this fall for a 3 week vacation. It is so vast that we are having difficulty putting together an itinerary and when we look at tour companies for a solution it is hard to choose. Please give us your opinion on independent travel vs. tour companies. We see a river cruise offering on most tours. Worthwhile? Let us have your input on itineraries or specific tour companies. We've traveled on our own thru Europe the past, but hesitate to try it in China. Thank you
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Feb 27th, 2005, 04:56 PM
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I forgot to mention that we are in our mid-60s so hauling luggage is more difficult than it had been in the past.
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Feb 28th, 2005, 12:44 AM
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This is a hotly debated subject here on the Fodors post. I am a proponent of individual travel, especially in China. Most things can be done solo with good planning and/or with the help of concierge. It isn't cheaper to go via tour (unless they are getting a real deal on airfare)and the tours in China allow little flexibility for personal exploration. Much time is spent at pre-ordained shopping places that exist soely for tour operators. I am sure you will want to do some shopping, but not at these "porcelain museums and jade factories."

As for hauling luggage, be advised that within China your allowance is much smaller than it is on int'l flights, so you can't bring more than one bag anyway. I think it is 20KG.

I would recommend finding a tour that you like, and then copy its itinerary and do it solo. And remember, you can always book day tours from the hotel if it seems too burdensome. You don't have to make an all or nothing decision.

As for the river cruise, I did it with my kids and some friends as a last minute getaway on East KING. The only difference between my experience and those who were part of an organized tour, was that
1. I paid considerably less for mine, and
2. they had a free soft drink with their dinner (I had to pay $1 for mine). I could have had 100 diet cokes and still paid less.

Language will be the biggest obstacle when going solo, but as I said, with proper planning and concierge writing things down in Chinese for you, you can do it no problem.
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Feb 28th, 2005, 03:45 AM
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My husband and I are in our late 60's and we traveled independently to China last May--NEVER had a problem. We never even made any advance reservations for airlines or hotels. Research PeterN-H on this forum and you will fine everything you need to know. It was one of the best trips we have made. We just got back from Burma and India and India was incredible difficult compared to China!
Email me if you would like specifics--cpajane at msn . com.
PS there is always someone around who will carry your luggage if needed.
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Feb 28th, 2005, 08:42 AM
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Agree with the above two posts on individual travel, but only for large cities - which is where you will be going on a first trip anyway.

Travel light and, yes, there will always be willing hands to carry your baggage. $1 a bag is a LOT of money.

When you need to go somewhere outside of the city, say, to the Great Wall, you can always arrange for a taxi to be booked all day. Ask the hotel to do this for you, inquire carefully what the going rate is and where precisely the driver will be taking you, pay at the END of the trip and ask for a receipt. Don't take the hotel car, this could get needlessly expensive.

For travel within China, e.g. Beijing to Xian, go to an independent travel agency outside of the hotel and purchase your tickets there. Sometimes I've found the best rates for airfare at stalls at the train stations - but this may assume that you need some Chinese language skills or take someone with those skills with you.

The freedom of individual travel is great! Have fun! Come back to this forum if you have more questions! Very, very helpful people here.
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Feb 28th, 2005, 01:19 PM
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As for bag-carriers, just remember to decline the kind assistance offered by people hanging around outside airport terminals and who will try to extract an outrageous charge for their services. Pack light in wheeled cases and you shouldn't have a problem. The 20kg-per-person limit is actually the general international economy-class rule, although a recent thread mentioned that on flights to/from the USA a 2-piece rather than weight limit applies. We had no difficulty staying under 20 kg during our trip.

A tour is certainly convenient in terms of having pre-arranged transport and accommodation, but to me there are major downsides, including the aforementioned "shopping opportunities" and simply being herded around with limited freedom of movement. Within the major cities you certainly don't need a guide if you do your homework before leaving and arm yourself with some basic information - there's plenty of that on this forum if you use the search function. Half the fun is in just being able to stroll around at your own pace.
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Feb 28th, 2005, 05:09 PM
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Hey Neil
Any and all flights originating in, passing through or terminating in the US (including GUAM) entitle the economy traveler to 2 pieces of luggage at 32kg each. Business class travelers often get an additional carry-on. Most Americans are shocked to learn that the rest of the world only gets 20KG.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen Americans on tours in China having to pay these exorbitant "excess baggage" charges for the domestic section of their flights. (Of course, a good tour operator would tell you this in advance). The exception to this is a connecting domestic (within 24 hours) flight from overseas. There is a counter that takes care of this for you. At the PEK airport, it is before customs, before you even get your luggage, before immigration, before you hand in that SARS paper. There is a counter and they are familiar with the rule. I believe they actually go and get your luggage for you.

Incidentally, I loved your comments on Peter N-H. I agree that while his posts are usually informative, there is a sense of arrogance to them. I wonder if this will prohibit me from signing up on The Orient List?

And by the way, didn't you just have a letter to the editor in one of the free English mags here in BJ?
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Feb 28th, 2005, 05:48 PM
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Hi, BChen. Well, I don't know if I'm being paranoid here, but the thread I posted those comments in seems to have disappeared into thin air. If you read my last post on that thread you'd have seen that I was mysteriously unsubscribed from the Oriental List shortly afer that post appeared. All I can advise you is to be very, very cautious - the moderator might be lurking at this very moment.

I didn't write a letter to the editor, but I did have a "funny pic" published in the Xianzai Shanghai/Dalian/etc newsletter.

Back to the original subject, there's a recent thread in which a traveller was stung for US$1200 for being 24 kg over the weight limit on an international flight. All her previous flights had been in and out of the USA and she'd just assumed (as I guess most of us would) that the same rules applied everywhere. I accept that airlines have a right to levy a reasonable excess baggage charge, but $50/kg is daylight robbery. Mind you, 44 kg is a lot of baggage - I'd need some of P N-H's bearers to help me.
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Feb 28th, 2005, 11:42 PM
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Yeah, that's right, it was the funny pic. It made it to BJ Xianzai as well.

So, the rule for the luggage is that it all has to be on ONE ticket(which usually only allows four lines). So for example, this summer I wanted to fly PEK-to Newark NJ, with a stop in Rome. The way my ticket was issued was a round trip PEK-Munich-EWR ticket with a side Munich- FCO ticket, (no directs from PEK-FCO) which would have had me screwed luggage wise for that side trip.

Ironically, it was cheaper for me to get 2 separate tickets: fly to Rome, back to Beijing and then from PEk onto NJ ... earning me enough miles to put me over the required amount for a free trip to Sydney, which I took at Xmas.

But as to the airline charging per KG, that is one way they can charge. The other way is to pay an excess bag fee, which is usually US$130.

For $1200, she probably could have bought another seat and gotten the luggage allowance for 2 people!

I always travel at maximum luggage allowances. (I see family in the US once a year and inevitably people are always sending me off with gifts, not mention my "stock" of items I bring back for the year.) I personally keep sky caps in business!!!
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Mar 1st, 2005, 04:58 AM
  #10
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I am happy to do independent travel. How would you suggest that I break up my three weeks into a reasonable itinerary? The tour companies and guide books give too many suggestions from the coast to the silk route.
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Mar 1st, 2005, 03:59 PM
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A good idea is to make a list of the "MUST visit" places, then a list of "WANT TO" see, then "It would be nice if..."

Most people would agree that Beijing and Xi'An are Must sees. Three weeks is a lot of time. Did you want to include Tibet? What about SW China's Yunnan Province? LiJiang and Jing Hong offer a great exposure to the minorities of China.

See if you can get a round trip ticket that allows you to fly into one city and then out of another (for example, fly to BJ and then fly out of Shanghai or Hong Kong.) It will save some back tracking at the end of your trip.

If you do the river cruise, that might be a good thing to put in the third week. It is a restful experience and you can recharge for the last leg of your trip.

Figure something like: Beijing 6 days,(include a side trip to Ping Yao or Chengde). Then take the overnight train to Xian, 2 days and fly to Li Jiang or other Yunnan city for 4 days. Fly to Chong qing for the rivercruise, 3 days/4 nights, disembarking in YiChang. Add other cities like Suzhou, Guilin before ending up in Shanghai.

This is a good place to start. Check for River cruise dates (the only real dates you'll have to be mindful of, in addition to your arrival and departure dates) and then work the other details of your trip around that.


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Mar 1st, 2005, 04:05 PM
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I answered a similar inquiry just a few days ago on this board. Only difference is that it was a month rather than 3 weeks. After adjusting for the dates, here's a basic itinerary:

- Beijing 5-6 days
- Xi'an 2 days
- Guilin 2-3 days
- Shanghai/Suzhou/Hangzhou 5-6 days

Then you can probably do one other thing:
- Dunhuang on the Silk Road (probably not enough time to go all the way to Urumqi)
- Tibet
- Yangzhi Cruise

Or just spend more time in the first 4 areas. Or if you haven't been to Hong Kong, spend the last 2-3 days there and fly out of HK.
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Mar 1st, 2005, 04:08 PM
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Hi, lewisg!

Where to go in China really depends on you and your interests.

The suggestion to take an itinerary from a tour group and use that as your basis was a great suggestion.

Some people want to go to Inner Mongolia, Chinese Turkestan, Tibet or the SW minority regions in order to see something of cultures other than the Han Chinese one. Others confine themselves to "China proper". Certainly there's a lot to do and see all over China!

Not knowing what your interests are, here's a suggested itinerary:

5-7 days in Beijing. Day One, Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City; this is the center of the Chinese world and starting from here will give you a better idea of how China was and is. Day Two, take it easy a bit, go on a hutong walk, eat at any one of those places at the Back Lakes area. Day Three, strenuous again - get a hired car and go out to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. Days Four and Five: other activities that you would like to do: visit more historic sites, shop, eat, whatever.

If you do have the time, plan an overnight trip to Chengde, the "summer capital" of the Qing emperors. We went on an early morning train from Beijing, got there around noon, spent the afternoon in the imperial compound. The next morning we visited a number of outlying temples and returned to Beijing on an early afternoon train.

Next segment: Xian - fly or take the overnight train from Beijing to Xian. Plan on two days in Xian at a minimum. First day for the terracotta warriors. It's best to go with a tour group, there are so many things that a good tour guide can explain to you. Second day, wander around town - Muslim quarter, walk the old city walls, etc.

Next stop: Shanghai. You could spend two days in Shanghai itself, then start touring the region around Shanghai: Suzhou and Hangzhou are the two most popular and for good reason. Suzhou is renowned for its formal gardens - try and see no more than three/four gardens in one day. You can hire a car from Shanghai for a day trip to Suzhou, this will be the best option - but, again, I don't know your budget. Or you could stay a night in Suzhou.

You will definitely have to overnight in Hangzhou. One day is really not enough for visiting all the places you would like. There is a motorized "surrey with a fringe on the top" (actually several of them) which circles the lake and you can hop on and off at will. This is the cheapest and probably the best way to see all the sights. Try not to get hooked into any of the tours; they will take you to places to shop. Most particularly, do not go on a "tea tour". Personally I find all that hype about "Dragon Well" tea just a lot of hooey; but do enjoy having a cup of their tea.

Shanghai is the center of the Wu group of dialects. But, more than just speaking a different dialect, the outlook of the people is very different from that of the people in Beijing. In addition, this region has history reaching way way back into the misty past. One of my favorite "small towns" in this middle region of China is the town of Shaoxing. We went out to see the Lan Ting Garden and then just started walking in from the hills. We were blessed with vistas of tea shrubs which were far more engaging than anything Hangzhou had to offer "tea-wise."

Lots to do in Shanghai, mostly to see the amazing amount of progress this city has made in the last few years. So, there you have it: Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and possibly Shaoxing for "central" China.

Next stop: Guilin? Yangtze River tour? Or???

Next stop: Hong Kong. At least two days in Hong Kong. I always try to enter and exit China via Hong Kong. It's just such a dynamic city!

Hope this helps a bit!


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Mar 6th, 2005, 05:20 PM
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We are seniors (69 & 76).My husband isn't an independent traveler so we take organized tours. We had a fabulous 18 days with Odysseys Unlimited Aug.10-27th. Everything was taken care of. Our guide was great. This was our second tour with this company. It is not cheap but we were given plenty of time in each city. Our tour included Lhasa, Tibet which was a unique experience.
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