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Japan and Guilin/Yangshuo OR Japan and Thai island for April 2011?

Japan and Guilin/Yangshuo OR Japan and Thai island for April 2011?

Jul 27th, 2010, 01:42 PM
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Japan and Guilin/Yangshuo OR Japan and Thai island for April 2011?

I'm planning a trip for us for April 2011 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We're trying to decide where to go. There are just so many choices! We've never been to Japan or Guilin (though did a China tour in '03), and have been to Thailand three times (we just love Thailand). I would love to get your help on whether or not it's doable, or practical for either option; and if Thailand, than which island? We've been to Samui two times, Pattaya (don't care for it), Phuket once. We usually take 3-week trips, so time-wise, I think it would be sufficient for either option.

For Japan, we might go on our own though taking a tour sounds a little tempting, just because it's so much quicker and painless since I won't have to do any planning. For Guilin/Yangshuo or a Thai island, we can manage on our own or use a local guide for excursions in Yanghuo.

I'm even thinking of Portugal/Spain or Greece (we've never been to Europe), but that's a different forum. :]

Thank you in advance for your help!
paigeTN is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 03:51 PM
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I am having the same conundrum, and for Japan in April. I won't get into my possible alternatives here but will note that I find the airfare, round trip, from Japan to almost any other destination to be extremely high. High enough to be bordering on prohibitive and that I am thinking now more of just doing all three weeks in Japan and save the other possibilities for the future.
NoFlyZone is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 04:43 PM
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For Thailand April will be very hot, the hottest month of the year and the Thai new year celebration will be held around the middle of the month as well. For the new year a lot of businesses close down and cities like Chiang Mai will be full of tourists while Bangkok will be pretty deserted. Travel by plane, buses and railways will often be fully booked a few days before and after the official new year holiday begin.

Since you've been to Thailand I would go to Japan and Guilin instead, unless you want a beach vacation.
Hanuman is offline  
Jul 30th, 2010, 03:31 PM
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May I suggest Japan and just about anywhere else in China except Guilin and Yangshuo? You did want to see China, and not some ersatz Western drop-out centre full of pestering guides, bad pizza, and more assorted rip-offs than almost anywhere else? Although China has already been visited, to travel to China just to go to these places is effectively not to travel to China at all.
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 1st, 2010, 08:11 PM
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PeterN_H, we saw images of Yangshuo from the Wild China series and thought "this must be what heaven looks like". Your point is well taken but I think that any place which is popular would be overrun with tourists, guides, touts. Is it really that bad? We were also thinking of going to Lijiang someday, but again, I've read that it's very, very touristy there.
paigeTN is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2010, 04:52 PM
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Series such as you mention of course contain very carefully chosen, cropped, and Photoshopped images, as do all other tourism promotion materials. Which is not to say that the area doesn't have its beauties, but unfortunately it is heavily compromised, and the photos don't bring you the sounds of constant construction, the insistant murmurs of the guides, the smell of fake pizza, or the general hassle.

The point that any place that is popular is busy is a bit tautologous (if you'll forgive my saying so), and the counter point I want to make is that China is a vast, largely undiscovered place, full of interest, and full of destinations not compromised in the same way. Lijiang is indeed a good example to pick as somewhere else to avoid as that has been ruined by its World Heritage status, and now receives such a volume of visitors to its much rebuilt streets (well beyond UNESCO assessments of what is viable) that it is building a new old extension to itself. There's no authenticity in these places at all, and while some are not in search of authenticity, but merely comfort and convenience (or pizza), I suppose I want to suggest to everyone else that time in China be spent actually in China, not in self-Disneyfications such as the places mentioned.

To reply to the more general query about how bad it is, I think the following post from about a year ago sums up my view, and suggests some alternatives:

I think I've written at length here in the past on the disadvantages of some of the most popular rural destinations in China. I'm assuming that people who go to China want to see China (which isn't necessarily true, of course), and while the karst limestone peaks around Yangshuo are attractive, the redevelopment of the peaceful village I first visited more than 20 years ago, through a phase as a banana-pancake-eating backpacker hang-out, to the full-on commercialism, strategic rebuilding, naff son-et-lumière, entrance ticket at every turn, and pestering guides with absurd fees has become intolerable, and has next to nothing to do with real China.

It does, however, have pizza (after a fashion). And T-shirt shops. And all the convenient trappings of maximum tourism. If that's what you want from a holiday, then it's obviously the place to go. But if that's all you do of rural China then it's a bit like going to Jamaica and staying entirely on a resort, because although you can still find some real life in the back streets, a resort is really what Yangshuo has now become, and your chances of speaking to anyone not directly involved in earning money from you is limited.

Dali and Lijiang have become more of the same, with Lijiang in particular extensively made ersatz in order to please the visitors, and as with Yangshuo, the foreign visitors being promoted as part of the attraction to the endless Chinese tour groups. All of these places are well beyond their capacity to absorb the crowds they get, and in the case of Lijiang that's in breach of World Heritage arrangements. So they're building a new bit of old town in order to absorb some of the volume.

The point is that China is still mostly rural, and most people are still down on the farm. Yet probably 70% of China remains undiscovered, and simply jumping at random on a bus out of town almost always leads to an encounter with something of interest. There's always somewhere to stay, and there's always somewhere to eat.

But there's no pizza, no gift shop, and the highest hotel grading you may get is two stars (although you may also get four stars in the most surprising places). At this point either you say, "Great! Cheap authentic local cooking for US$1-1.50 per dish--real food at real prices!" or you run screaming back to the bus station looking for the more comfortable fake China and a good Internet connection to use to tell stories about your brush with reality.

Supposing you stumble on somewhere full of ancient housing and charm, and you go home and report on it, perhaps say something here, make a blog entry (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) then you begin the same process as accidentally happened at Yangshuo, and is now beginning at villages around Yangshuo occasionally forecast to be the next Yangshuo. It's not a process unique to China, of course, but the final result is full-on tour groups, rebuilding to make things cuter, pizza on sale at every corner, and so on.

I don't know if I've ever done much recommending of alternatives to Yangshuo, but it's true that if karst peaks are wanted the same province has other areas of the same thing that just don't happen to have been 'discovered' (en route to Longzhou in the south, for instance).

But Yangshuo is certainly very teen-friendly.

You can also go on a bamboo raft (equally fake, of course) at Wuyi Shan in Fujian Province, another mountainous area popular with Chinese but little visited by foreigners, and with plentiful accommodation, and long walks up mountain-cut staircases to the tops assorted peaks like something from prog-rock-era album covers (I have Led Zep IV and a Strawbs album in mind). It's not at all hard to get away from the crowds and get back to a comfortable bed afterwards. But it's still all made-for-tourism.

Cycling is always possible everywhere, so you might simply consider finding a rural base, village or small town, and cycling out at random from there.

You could consider a visit to the tulou, or earth houses of the Hakka around Yongding, easily reachable by bus from Xiamen in Fujian Province (which is also worth seeing in its own right).

Smaller east coast towns like Quanzhou and Shaoxing offer easy bus rides to rural locations.

The diao lou, or watchtowers of Kaiping, Guangdong Province, although now unfortunately World Heritage listed, and therefore doomed, are scattered all around pretty countryside.

Guanxi Province offers Miao villages with 'wind and rain bridges' now known to Chinese groups and in the process of development. Looking up Kaili in a guide book as a starting point (I haven't done this myself).

I'm fond of the centipede bridges of southern Zhejiang around Taishun. It's possible to hop between villages by bus, and walk through rice fields to see these extraordinary bridges, having first reached the area from Wenzhou (which is otherwise worth avoiding).

Few people visit Ningxia's capital, Yinchuan, which is a very digestible city, and offers lots of day trips to rural areas with striking architecture from the long-forgotten Xi Xia dynasty. There's a route south down the spine of the province through a number of small interesting towns with Muslim populations and many cave dwellings.

All of these require more work than Yangshuo, and few of them have pizza. But cast around guide books for further information on these destinations and read the practical sections about access, and see how they fit your comfort levels

End pasted material.

I hope that helps in some way.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 8th, 2010, 01:04 PM
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Yikes, Peter. You have commented on my planned itinerary for my 16 day trip around China next Sept. 2011 that included a few days in Yangshuo. After reading the above diatribe it makes me wonder whether I should drop Guilin/Yangshuo off the plan. I'm trying to visit second tier places which I thought these were. Because I want to limit my cities to those I can get to on Air China or Shanghai Air so as to have domestic China flights included on my award ticket, where would you suggest going to?

Are my other planned cities of Hangzhou and Qingdao in the same category of not "real" China as Yangshuo in your opinion?
susiesan is offline  
Aug 9th, 2010, 06:22 AM
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Perhaps "real China" means different things to different people. It's not unlike some Americans saying to a foreigner, if you want to visit REAL America, then spend your vacation in Des Moines, Iowa or perhaps Jackson, Michigan and avoid places like New Orleans, Las Vegas, and San Francisco which are all crawling with visitors and now geared to tourism rather than just being true Americana. Get it?

I just came from Shanghai, just one of the multi-million peopled cities of China where REAL Chinese people live and I'm still scratching my head when I keep reading "The point is that China is still mostly rural, and most people are still down on the farm." I bet those millions and millions of Chinese living in all the cities would be scratching their heads too. Sometimes visiting a foreign country can be about seeing how REAL people live today in a changed society that their country has become -- not trying to pretend they still live the way their ancestors did. But to each his own.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Aug 9th, 2010, 11:13 AM
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spain, portugal and morocco make a fabulous trip at that time of the year.....

for me its way toooooooooo hot in thailand and gullin sounds dreadful to me.....you can see those same formations off of krabi and phuket however....

the amari vogue in krabi is fantastic as is the sheraton...rent a boat to the islands for a day...tons of fun..
rhkkmk is offline  
Aug 9th, 2010, 11:53 AM
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Patrick: too funny, my cousins (banker and CPA) who moved from LA to Ohio 5 years ago have just relocated to Des Moines, IA, now we have a chance to visit "real" America!
Shanghainese is offline  
Aug 9th, 2010, 04:05 PM
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"Sometimes visiting a foreign country can be about seeing how REAL people live today in a changed society that their country has become"

I completely agree. I'm reminded of my own observations while in China, as reflected in these entries in my photography blog. In both instances, I was able to look past the touristy surroundings and discover profound instances of the "real" China:

Nutella is offline  
Aug 9th, 2010, 07:13 PM
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Nutella, those two links are very "wise". I'm often amused how often people avoid the "touristy" or famous places -- and miss the fact that the reason those places are so touristy and famous is because they really do offer the most "bang for the buck". To go to Paris and avoid the Eiffel Tower or to shun the Pantheon or Colosseum in Rome or to miss Times Square in New York City is to miss what those cities are all about. And while Florence may be the busiest and most touristed small city in Italy, what a shame to avoid it because it is not the "real" Italy but is aimed at tourism now. Places change and progress, and one can daydream about how places used to be, but it seems shortsighted to ignore the fact that society changes, and if people in a small town make their living from tourism, then they are as "real" to the country as farmers.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Aug 10th, 2010, 03:23 PM
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Thank you everyone for your input. I have to agree with NeoPatrick's comments about how much we would miss if we avoid "touristy" places, whether here at home or abroad. I think different people travel for different reasons, but for those of us who can look beyond the typical tourist attraction, we can still find incredible beauty, meaning and that elusive "realness" in a place or its people, even in the most touristy places. I think many of us choose destinations that appeal to our hearts in some emotional way...I know I do. :]
paigeTN is offline  
Aug 10th, 2010, 05:25 PM
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paigeTN: You must make your own choices, and the right holiday is of course the one that pleases you, and not that pleases anyone else.

But has anyone argued at any point that you should avoid 'touristy' places? That would be fatuous, and would involve suggesting that you avoid all China's main sights.

I've only suggested, in reply to your query, and since you haven't been there yet, that Guilin and Yangshuo have peculiar problems, and that if you are looking for rural China, this isn't it; any more than the Epcot Center in Florida provides any real representation of London, Paris, or indeed of Beijing. All are caricatures; and it seems particularly important to point this out when a single destination in China is being chosen.

But if you want a resort (albeit in no way an easy-going one), and you like pretences at pizza, and you want something that's about as Chinese as a microwave TV dinner chop suey, then Yangshuo wins on all points.

But if you should change your mind, then there are many other beautiful and interesting corners of China to go to instead, without the mass tourism pressures and resulting deception, and without the self-parody rebuilding, and several suggestions have been given (although there are many many more alternatives).

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 11th, 2010, 12:41 AM
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Peter, you confuse me. Of course there are pizza places and KFC, I'm certain in Yangshuo, but are you certain that there aren't any restaurants there that have real Chinese people cooking traditional and "real" Chinese food as well? Hard to imagine, but I guess you could be right. Anywhere in today's world, outside influences change the people. I'd be shocked if the locals didn't like those "American" fast food places -- that's what REAL Chinese people often like today -- like it or not.

I'm unclear if we're talking about seeking out REAL Chinese people as they live today -- or we're talking about seeking some lost generation of Chinese people who are unchanged by the 21st or even 20th Century. Sort of like going to the US and visiting an Amish community where they have avoided electricity, computers, and cell phones. To some those may be the real Americans, but not to me. To me visiting them would not be seeing how most REAL Americans live.

But you are right, to each his own. Some want to see the OLD China, some want to see TODAY'S rapidly changing China. To each his own.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Aug 13th, 2010, 11:50 AM
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I want to see both old and new China. I think the itinerary I have planned takes in some of both.
susiesan is offline  

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