Silk Road Tour - China

Old Apr 29th, 2017, 01:05 PM
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Silk Road Tour - China

We are thinking of doing a Silk Road tour in China in late August 2017, and stumbled across 2 China-based private tour companies - "Travel China Guide", and "TheSilkRoadChina.com" of "Access China Travel" (operated by "Holidays International Travel Service Guilin Co. Ltd."). They arrange hotel, local transportation, and private guides for the tour. Just wondering if anyone has experience with these two companies. Thanks!
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Old Apr 29th, 2017, 01:35 PM
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I can't speak specifically to the tours you mention, but in general, tours to China are a notoriously poor option --
... and not just because hotels are generally poorly located and substandard,
... and not just because the meals are generally substandard and unrepresentative of delicious local cuisines,
... and not just because you are likely to face lots of "shopping opportunities" that eat your time and offer only lousy options,
... but perhaps most importantly because censorship has meant that tour guides in China simply cannot provide you with full or accurate information about what you will see because they are not privy to information that you can get on your own through a few good guide books and a bit of advance research. Even the best guide has no access to key information about the history or cultural context surrounding some of the places you will visit! There are lots of threads here on Fodor's about these issues -- do take some time to peruse them before you commit.

But: You do not need to join a tour to visit China! I'm one of many people who have traveled there independently, and I did so as a solo female (and I am not the only woman to have traveled there solo.) So another recommendation: before you commit, check my trip report, or that of any of the MANY other Fodorites who have had wonderful experiences traveling around China on their own. My report is from 2010; note that if anything, independent travel has gotten EASIER in China since then. (As a specific and important example: You can now book trains in advance and from outside China, something you could NOT do when I visited.)

Hope that helps!
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 07:02 AM
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I did use a tour company for the Silk Road in China, but it was Intrepid. That is a budget Aussie outfit. There were no shopping ops (well we did visit a silk operation and a carpet factory in Hotan, but the point was the demos as much as shopping and it was the only time in three weeks). We did not have Chinese guides and were on our own for most of the sightseeing, and a lot of the meals.

The tour I took finished in Islamabad and is no longer offered, but there is a shorter version of the Chinese section:
http://www.intrepidtravel.com/us/chi...lk-road-102024

But it sounds like you want something higher end.

I did that tour in 2001, if I were heading that way today I would probably DIY. In 2004 I spent seven weeks in China DIY without issues.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 07:53 AM
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I think that kja is describing the typical tour for Beijing-Xian-Shanghai and that sort of place. Doing the Silk Road is another story. While it is again to DIY this part of the country, I can see the benefit of a tour or a guide. You will need to often hire drivers here and there, so having someone worry about it for you is one less thing to worry about. Do not expect much English in that part of the country as Beijing or Shanghai. Even when staying in the biggest hotel in town, we generally found that nobody spoke English at all (not an issue for us and not an unsurmountable obstacle, but you need to be well prepared).
Do not choose a short trip as you won't have time to see much. A lot of transportation is required and you don't want to spend all your time on buses or trains. For example, looking at the Lanzhou attractions on that website (strictly speaking this is not on the Silk Road), places like Xiahe are hours away from Lanzhou. (Xiahe is an amazing place to visit).
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 11:03 AM
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Thank you folks! To be more specific, we had toured Xian, Beijing, Shanghai, and several other cities in China before, so we would not want to repeat this time. We would like to go to Lanzhou, Xining, Xiahe, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Turpan, Urumqi. We are interested in joining an English-speaking tour group or hiring local guides with arranged transportation.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 05:25 PM
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Also consider Kashgar. Better than Urumqi.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 07:16 PM
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Consider visiting thr Bingling Si if you are in the area of Lanzhou and Xiahe. When I visited, aceess was only by boat, and even then ony certain times of the year when the water was high enough to be navigable. I have heard that there is now a road, but I am not positive. The river trip, the grottoes, and a giant Buddha carved into the cliff was my reason for going to this part fo China, and I was not disappointed.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 07:33 PM
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> Lanzhou, Xining, Xiahe, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Turpan, Urumqi.

I wouldn't bother with Lanzhou or Urumqi, and all the sights and all the other stops (Zhangye an unusual, but pleasant choice--also consider Wuwei) are either in walking, biking, public bus, or easy taxi distance. No need for hiring a car at all. And all of these places are connected together by train.

The only reason to take a tour would be because you prefer them. But don't expect anything resembling accurate information, and do expect to be taken to the cleaners on hotels, meals, and shopping while being largely unaware of it (except time wasted at the shopping 'opportunities'), while still finding the guides and drivers that are fleecing you to be very pleasant.

Here's some information on the state of play with guides. It refers to Beijing, but the same is true nationwide:

http://bit.ly/2plDGoF

And here's a list of criteria to help you choose a tour company, and avoid the worst of their excesses:

http://bit.ly/2jbJWdt
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Old May 1st, 2017, 04:43 AM
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I have experience of travel with http://www.overland-adventures.com/s...o/SRindex.html and they are really great. A bit expensive but no bullshit and no compromises. They drive all the way from Europe but you can book separate sections. The last section departs from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and travels through western China. I felt that the people in the trip had a lot of influence on the trip. Like saying on day longer here or that we'd rather go this place than that. It's just a small group and not very routine. The woman in charge of the trip is chinese but living outside since her teenage years.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 05:18 AM
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I haven't been there but just wanted to share one thing.
A friend of mine had shared the experience of her going on that epic journey, and believe me her journey sounded mesmerizing.

Every word that came out of her mouth was hypnotizing.

I really hope to go on that road this year.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 05:25 AM
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@Spatskylanky - I don't think "overland travel" by Land Rover is what the OP has in mind. Also, that trip is breathtakingly expensive. For that kind of money the OP could travel in great comfort on their own. For that kind of money I could travel a lot further and/or longer.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 09:06 AM
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Yes of course it is expensive. I already warned him about that.
Yes, anyone could travel longer than that for the same money, but not all people want to travel for long. Also, chances are that the guy who started this thread doesn't have any financial difficulties.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 09:38 AM
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There is expensive, and then there is ridiculously expensive. This is the latter.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 04:41 PM
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Different folks, different budgets.
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Old May 4th, 2017, 04:42 PM
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The ideas on this thread sound awesome; klm28 I would love to read a trip report if you were to write one after taking this trip.
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Old May 6th, 2017, 09:30 AM
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I think there is some serious misinformation on this thread. It can be very time-consuming to reach some of these sites on your own. We hired a car and guide, arranged in advance. It can be done on your own, but it takes a lot more time. We met folks doing just that along our way, but we did not have the aamount of time they had, plus they missed out on things we wanted to see. For a couple of young college students who have the time, sure, you can stay in guesthouses and get some help form the proprietors, but you stil have to wait long periods of time for buses and sometimes there is misinformation and missed connections. And you can't just stop a train or a bus if you see soemthing interesting on your way. In a private car, you pretty much decide to do what you want when you want to do it.

We had a vibrant young Tibetan woman guide us, and the information and interpretation when visiting Tibetan sites, like Labrang Monastery or Langmu was tremendous. She even played Tibetan pop music during our travels and we had long, deep conversations about both our cultures.

It is more expensive then on your own, but it was no ridiculously priced luxury tour either. We stayed in mostly Chinese-y hotels and guest houses, and we were on our own for food, since we wanted to explore on our own. In nine days of travel not once did we eat anywhere where there was English spoken or on a menu, on purpose. (this is quite difficult actually, even in a remote, dusty place like Langmu, where there is some English just about everywhere).
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Old May 6th, 2017, 03:32 PM
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The Silk Road is different from a "China Tour." Our arrangements were made by China Advocates in San Francisco. We always stayed at the best hotel available which could mean any kind of varying levels. Food is delicious, kebabs, rice pilaf as you get farther west. Amazing antiquities all throigh this area.. The people are Muslim, not Chinese, rather Turkic. We flew from Beijing to Dunhuang to Urumqui, drove to Turpan and back, flew to Kashgar, flew to Shanghai. I think Asia Trans Pacific also leads groups to the Silk Road. You want to be with a very reliable tour organizer in this area.
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Old May 6th, 2017, 03:48 PM
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Thanks Shelemm. Do you have a trip report somewhere I can look up?
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Old May 6th, 2017, 04:14 PM
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We went mid -late September and it still was very warm, especially in Dunhuang and the Gobi Desert.
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Old May 6th, 2017, 08:35 PM
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> I think there is some serious misinformation on this thread.

That's fighting talk.

Yes, of course, if you set out right from the start to decide that something you haven't actually done is too difficult and inconvenient, then you will arrive at the conclusion that it's all too difficult and inconvenient. But 'I prefer not to do this', or 'I did this a different way' isn't of itself an argument that that way is best for anyone else, or best by any independent measure.

All the places mentioned by the OP are linked by train. Catching trains is not difficult, and they're the most efficient way to get between the places mentioned. These days its possible to book a succession of trains in advance (although that's a disadvantage for independent travellers by removing their greatest benefit--flexibility). Many are a great deal faster than driving, and a great deal less hazardous.

At the stops mentioned there are plenty of sights in easy walking, bus, or taxi distance. No difficulty there, either. I have visited every single one of them independently, and most of them more than once.

Where's the misinformation again?

> We had a vibrant young Tibetan woman guide us, and the information and interpretation when visiting Tibetan sites, like Labrang Monastery or Langmu was tremendous.

It's a shame to have to make this point again. Your guide may have been very pleasant--they almost always are--but do you know enough about China to have a clue if you were being given good information or not? Someone visiting an area for the first time and receiving their information from one source is not in a position to say. Ethnic minorities are indeed far more likely to have something interesting to say about their own culture than anyone from the Han Chinese majority. But no ethnic minority is in the tour guiding business without a thorough vetting, and there's no difference in the degree of rapaciousness.

> It is more expensive then on your own

Most people using organised travel have no idea how true that observation is.

> even in a remote, dusty place like Langmu, where there is some English just about everywhere

Quite. But even if there weren't it doesn't present much of a difficulty, as endless numbers of travellers without two words of Mandarin to rub together demonstrate every single year.

So, once again: The reasons for taking an organised tour or 'private' car and guide are convenience in logistic terms. But the information provided will be at best incomplete, and often wildly inaccurate, and the costs compared to independent travel are sky high. Independent travel between the cities mentioned by the OP is nothing amazing, and has been commonplace since even before I spent weeks in the region in the early 90s, when things were a great deal more difficult than they are now, and several months on subsequent occasions. You pays your money, as my mother used to say, and you takes your choice. With guided tours the 'pays your money' part is uppermost, but the benefits not as great as they appear. They're one option, but not the only one.
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