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Necessary to join a tour throughout China?

Necessary to join a tour throughout China?

Apr 8th, 2018, 02:38 PM
  #1  
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Necessary to join a tour throughout China?

My sister and I plan to spend 3 weeks in China and Hong Kong from late July to mid-August. Not much has been planned yet other than trying to purchase international plane tickets. Her daughter will be studying in Hong Kong this summer. We would like to end the trip in HK and fly back with my niece. We would like to visit at least Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Chengdu before ending our trip in Hong Kong. We are savvy travelers in our early 50s, but as this will b dour first time to China, I am wondering if we should join a tour or hire a guide. We would rather not unless folks think it would be logistically wise.

Appreciate any advice you can give us. Thanks!
scout89 is offline  
Apr 8th, 2018, 02:52 PM
  #2  
kja
 
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Joining a tour is neither necessary nor wise -- there are many problems with tours in China. Same with hiring guides.

Several of us have traveled to China independently and have had wonderful experiences -- no reason that you shouldn't be able to do so, too.
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Apr 8th, 2018, 03:26 PM
  #3  
 
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Agree absolutely with kja. No reason whatever to bother with tours in China. I traveled twice on extended trips in China and while I realize there are some who dislike making their own arrangements and are willing to give up spontaneity to be herded around, it sounds as though you're experienced travelers. I recommend you just go, you'll have a fine time.
MmePerdu is offline  
Apr 8th, 2018, 03:39 PM
  #4  
 
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I agree with kja. If you do a search on this site you will find a number of threads about the problems with Chinese tours, and also Trip Reports by people who have traveled solo. You can connect your cities by train or plane. (Go here for info on what to expect on Chinese trains: https://www.seat61.com/China.htm#Wha...0trains%20like ) For loads of info on China go here: https://medium.com/a-better-guide-to...x-8cd095e9ff94
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 8th, 2018, 07:05 PM
  #5  
 
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I agree with all three ladies above, China is easily seen on your own, especially for the cities you are visiting. I would not use a guide, for reasons mentioned previously here. I took both of my sons on an almost identical trip to yours, and I arranged it all myself. I booked all the flights, and hotels, and I pestered the concierges at all the hotels for months, asking them endless logistical questions. The trip worked out pretty well.

We travelled solely by plane, and used drivers, but not guides, in all cities but Hong Kong. My favorite driver was provided by the Hyatt Regency in Xi'An. He did a fantastic job of timing our days, although he didn't seem to speak much English. Other posters here have taken trains rather than planes, and used more public transportation than drivers, so it all depends on you.

You will be surprised at how modern the Chinese cities are. Truly, if you have managed Europe on your own, then China can be seen in the same way. In fact, I generally found the hotel staff very helpful in China, much more than Europe, on average.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 04:15 AM
  #6  
 
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These places get a ton of tourists so the infrastructure is very good. The language barrier is much less of a problem than people usually expect. Maybe you usually like to travel by tour then it's fine but if you are used to independent travel then China will not be more difficult than other places. You just need to prepare and do some research when traveling on your own.
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Apr 9th, 2018, 05:24 AM
  #7  
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Thank you all for your help! For transport within China, we will most likely do a mix of planes and trains - at least take the train from Beijing to Xian. Right now we need to firm up our flights from the U.S. to China and from Hong Kong back to the U.S. Would it make sense to fly into Shanghai, then make our way to Beijing, then to Xian, then to Chengdu, then to Hong Kong? Given our time of about 3 weeks in total, do you recommend adding another must-visit city?

Again, thanks again, everyone!
scout89 is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 10:36 AM
  #8  
 
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do you recommend adding another must-visit city?
No! Beijing alone can take a week. Have you come up with a list of sights you want to see?
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 02:22 PM
  #9  
 
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You need to try to allocate your time and see if you have any free time. Places like Shanghai can be covered in two days but if you cover the surrounding cities than you can easily add another 2 days or more.
Your plan is just big cities. You may consider adding the Guilin/Yangshuo area on your way to HK. Google for photos of this area.
CanadaChinaTraveller is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 04:51 PM
  #10  
 
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Seeing China

With currently living in Shenzhen, and previously living in Beijing, I've had a number of people come visit and plan trips similar to yours. In fact, the destinations you mention are a very common combination. Some thoughts...

As mentioned, you wouldn't need a guide or tour company being experienced travelers, but take note. The language barrier in China is incredibly high. Most data (my training in is philosophy of language and language acquisition) puts the percentage of spoken English at, about, 1%. This is always one of the toughest parts about travel in China, especially considering that most of these speakers are heavily concentrated in field of education.

Flying into Beijing, then making your way south through the mainland down to HK is popular, and largely convenient. Definitely allocate a fair amount of time for Beijing, particularly so over Shanghai. Beijing is really a unique city, with it being the capital of "the walled garden" (China). Besides the very well known sites to see in Beijing, there are other tidbits, like hutongs, that you're not going to find in any of your other destinations.

As another poster has mentioned, Guilin, is a great stop to add. This is especially so if travelling from Chengu to HK by land. In fact, I'd recommend adding Guilin and dropping Shanghai. Nothing against Shanghai, but I have yet to meet a visitor to China who has visited both and would have picked seeing Shanghai over Guilin. Personally I would highly recommend a Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Guilin, then HK route. Fly the first to legs, Beijing to Xian and Xian to Chengdu, then train it down to HK with a stop in Guilin, it's a beautiful train ride.

China is undoubtedly one of the safer places to visit, and the people really are very helpful (it's not just talk) though they can often show the old big city indifference (BJ is infamous for this). Do NOT underestimate the language issue as visitors noting their surprise is in fact one of the more common (cliche in fact) conversations had among laowai (foreigners) getting together when visitors come to town.

Best thing you can do is use technology, especially a VPN, this is astronomically helpful.
ExpatPhotograph is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 04:52 PM
  #11  
kja
 
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Like thursdaysd, I found myself hard pressed to see everything I wanted to see in Beijing in a week. I'm glad I had 3 full days in Xi'an, but can understand that some people manage with just 2 full days. If I were you, I wouldn't be looking to ADD cities unless you are absolutely certain that you have enough time for the core set you have already selected, and even then, note that you may need to be selective.

My trip was to northern China only, and it was some time ago -- before one could easily book trains in advance; and I was on a rather tight budget -- so I opted to find lodging once I actually reached each city other than my first. As a result, my trip was a bit out of my comfort zone, but you might find some useful information in it. Just take it as proof that it is, indeed, possible to visit China on one's own, rather than a scary testament to all the things you don't want to face.
Thanks for helping make my trip to China amazing!
kja is offline  
Apr 9th, 2018, 04:58 PM
  #12  
kja
 
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I was posting at the same time as ExpatPhotograph!

I’m VERY surprised at comments suggesting that English will be a problem – in the cities you will be visiting, many young people speak English well. Some older people won’t (or won’t feel comfortable trying to speak it), and some taxi drivers or others who interact with tourists will deny that they speak it (but respond to each statement you make, even if pretending they didn’t understand). My recommendations: Get a good pocket dictionary or app showing English, Chinese characters, and pinyin; get a copy of Me No Speak; learn at least a few civilities (thank you, hello); and pack your senses of adventure and humor. Should be enough IME!
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Apr 9th, 2018, 05:38 PM
  #13  
 
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Originally Posted by kja View Post
I was posting at the same time as ExpatPhotograph!

Iím VERY surprised at comments suggesting that English will be a problem Ė in the cities you will be visiting, many young people speak English well. Some older people wonít (or wonít feel comfortable trying to speak it), and some taxi drivers or others who interact with tourists will deny that they speak it (but respond to each statement you make, even if pretending they didnít understand). My recommendations: Get a good pocket dictionary or app showing English, Chinese characters, and pinyin; get a copy of Me No Speak; learn at least a few civilities (thank you, hello); and pack your senses of adventure and humor. Should be enough IME!

Yeah, people are surprised, a lot. It's not an exaggeration, literally every single time I meet friends and family coming to visit someone (including myself) this conversation is had, and that's going on a few years now. Spoken English competency among currently attending students runs less than 5%, roughly gauging (which is admittedly notoriously tough to track). Many young people will know a handful of phrases, often gleamed from media sources as the public education model in China relies overwhelmingly on behaviorism with little to no practice in spoken English. It's quite common for people requiring English to be read in text form to understand as compared to understanding the spoken word.

People such as taxi drivers aren't pretending they don't speak English, just the opposite, by a very wide margin they're pretending they speak far more than they do. The interaction is one not about understanding more than they do (a particularly western cultural aspect not really found in China) but one of loosing face. A westerner, particularly an American, sitting in a cab speaking English to a cabbie who has no idea what they're saying culturally pressures a response so there is no loss of face.

Hello and thank you are very important to learn. Something as simple as this will often, with many mainlanders, will relay a cultural respect that they place a lot of value upon. Making an attempt with Mandarin is, generally speaking, widely appreciated. With Mandarin having such a notoriously high level of phonetic precision, mainlanders are usually quite aware of the difficulties laowai have in trying to say almost anything at all in Mandarin.

Use that technology, just as kja noted, it's a big headache saver.
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Apr 9th, 2018, 05:50 PM
  #14  
kja
 
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Again, not my experience -- but things change, people encounter different circumstances, etc. Always best to expect a language difficulty and be pleasantly surprised if there isn't one.
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Apr 9th, 2018, 06:02 PM
  #15  
 
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I am surprised to see recommendations for Guilin/Yangshuo. It has been a long time since I was there, but everything I have heard recently says that the area is overwhelmingly touristy. I am not a fan of Shanghai, but given the choice I would visit Shanghai for the museum and then Suzhou for the gardens. Or for somewhere off the western tourist track there is the Buddhist island Putuoshan - I see you can now fly from Shanghai.

I recommend taking a phrase book, but do make sure it has characters and not just pinyin, which no one on the mainland is likely to read.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 10th, 2018, 11:46 AM
  #16  
 
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Originally Posted by scout89 View Post
Thank you all for your help! For transport within China, we will most likely do a mix of planes and trains - at least take the train from Beijing to Xian.
With several trains a day taking merely 4.5 hours, this seems an obvious choice. The new high-speed trains lack the romance of the ambling nature of the original line, but given the time taken getting to and from airports, advance check-in times, etc. the new trains don't take a great deal longer than the flights, and have views of the countryside thrown in. The same applies to Xi'an to Chengdu, as little as 3.5 hours.

Personally I wouldn't bother with crossing the country to see Shanghai. Hong Kong will give you all the waterside high-rise skyline you need, and you'll be able to see more of what's on offer in Beijing, as well as to make rural trips out of Xi'an and Chengdu. I can think of no good reason to visit Guilin and Yangshuo unless you think visiting Florida's Epcot Center the same as visiting Europe. Yangshuo in particular is just about as ersatz. If you wanted another stop en route to Hong Kong consider Chongqing--very different from most other Chinese cities due to its location on a steep-sided promontory at the junction of two major rivers. This is not, however, a recommendation to take a Yangzi River cruise from there. Hong Kong may be reached by air or train. (On flying, note it is almost always considerably cheaper to fly into Shenzhen and take a direct bus to Hong Kong from Shenzhen Airport.)

If you'd prefer a more rural final stopover (recommended) then consider Kaiping (Google a bit to see why), but avoid clamorous Guangzhou if you can. There are direct limousine bus services from Kaiping to Hong Kong.

I believe the page of Beijing information that Thursdaysd tried to link to above was this one: http://bit.ly/2jldqHZ
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