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Tour companies in China

Old Jan 15th, 2020, 04:37 AM
  #41  
 
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Originally Posted by babylon View Post
i hope this reply comes through. The guides we had were knowledgeable and flexible and added to the trip. Driving around with the guide made it super easy to get from
place to place. I wouldn’t hesitate with using China Odyssey. I’ve always traveled independently and in fact am driving with a friend through Israel.
I am happy you had a good experience with your guides. We did too.
Ellen we took the bullet train to Xi’an from Beijing. We had never taken one before. Pretty 😎.
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Old Jan 15th, 2020, 06:31 AM
  #42  
 
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China is much easier than Egypt. The public transportation infrastructure in China is among the best in the world.
If there a 9 of you then a driver to the Great Wall makes sense. You can find one here: https://www.thebeijinger.com/classifieds/cars-drivers A guide is even less useful on the Wall. But again up to you.
You will find that in cities, the subway is generally better than having a driver. Traffic on the road is bad and often the driver can't park or stop near the entrance.
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Old Jan 15th, 2020, 08:27 AM
  #43  
 
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Originally Posted by jacketwatch View Post
Ok.
Thats your opinion.
Except that it is not opinion, but fact.

The education system provides no accurate account of Chinese history or culture. There is no debate, nor is any alternative view than that made up by the Party ever considered. It's not their fault, but the heads of the population as a whole are full of falsehoods.

The media's purpose, as the Party itself frequently asserts, is to carry on repeating these views and any others the Party deems burnish its image. Actual facts are rarely available.

The tourism industry is part of the same process and the flow of information equally government-controlled. Officially licensed guides receive an education in reinforcing the official view and conveying it to foreigners. The truth has nothing to do with it.

Guides have no interest in accuracy and make no effort to get even the smallest details right, receive kick-backs from every place they take you to (not only shops--and which again is something to which the Party admits while pretending to try to do something about it) which means that you lose out. They see no conflict in being wonderfully sweet and friendly and yet at the same time taking you to the cleaners.

None of this is opinion, but simply fact. Even the Party admits it to be true (which, admittedly, means double-checking is essential). The Chinese travel industry's corruption is large enough to be seen from space.

The only people to whom guides seem impressive are those who arrive in China with little or no knowledge of their own (which is almost everyone), whether that be of Chinese history, culture, costs or ease of public access, and these are, by definition, those least able to tell whether they were given accurate information or not. 'Logic' says so.

No doubt those who took guides in the past are reluctant to admit they made poor choices. 'Face' is not a concept unique to China. But this is a discussion intended to benefit those yet to make a decision, and who need to understand that if they do take guides simply for the ease of getting from A to B, they'll miss C (because it doesn't give kick-backs), eat at D (because it does), will be led to where their shopping will cost them perhaps 20 times what it needs to (and I've seen much worse), and will generally return miss-informed.

If hiring a guide still seems worthwhile to them, then fair enough.
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Old Jan 15th, 2020, 07:47 PM
  #44  
kja
 
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I believe that there's an important difference between the opinions of those who have (like me) visited China once or twice -- or even a few times! -- and the expert opinion of someone like Peter, who has spent decades studying China and writing and editing well-respected guidebooks for that country.

And I think Fodor's is extremely fortunate that Peter so generously shares his expertise on this forum, despite the reception he sometimes gets here. I know I benefitted enormously from his advice and encouragement when I planned my time there, and again, extend my thanks for that invaluable assistance.
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Old Jan 16th, 2020, 05:31 AM
  #45  
 
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Funny. I thought that the Chinese government's control of knowledge inside the country was well known.

I certainly pay more attention to guidebook writers than to random internet strangers.

Last edited by thursdaysd; Jan 16th, 2020 at 05:33 AM.
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Old Jan 16th, 2020, 09:37 AM
  #46  
 
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If you are taking a cab from your hotel be sure to have a card from your hotel to show to a cabbie to be sure you can get back. Its much easier this way.
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Old Jan 17th, 2020, 01:52 AM
  #47  
 
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Originally Posted by jacketwatch View Post
If you are taking a cab from your hotel be sure to have a card from your hotel to show to a cabbie to be sure you can get back. Its much easier this way.
jacketwatch, this is good advice. We did that Thailand this fall. The tuk tuk drivers in Chiang Mai didn't speak much English so the hotel card came in very handy. We'll definitely remember to do that in China.

Speaking of transportation, I was reading the info on The Man in Seat 61 about the bullet train to Xi'an. We'll buy our tickets soon after we arrive in Beijing so we won't have to scramble that morning which will be early enough as it is. I'm assuming that the buses to the Warriors are waiting at the station when the train arrives?

Canada, I watched a video about the Beijing subway - no problem. Looks like a very easy system. We enjoy taking the subway when we travel and most of them are better than many that we have in the US!

Ellen
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Old Jan 17th, 2020, 03:13 AM
  #48  
 
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Originally Posted by ellen75005 View Post
jacketwatch, this is good advice. We did that Thailand this fall. The tuk tuk drivers in Chiang Mai didn't speak much English so the hotel card came in very handy. We'll definitely remember to do that in China.

Speaking of transportation, I was reading the info on The Man in Seat 61 about the bullet train to Xi'an. We'll buy our tickets soon after we arrive in Beijing so we won't have to scramble that morning which will be early enough as it is. I'm assuming that the buses to the Warriors are waiting at the station when the train arrives?

Canada, I watched a video about the Beijing subway - no problem. Looks like a very easy system. We enjoy taking the subway when we travel and most of them are better than many that we have in the US!

Ellen
Nice! I am not sure about buses to the TCW at the station as we cabbed it to our hotel first.

Our private tours began the next day.

Inside Beijing train station there is a board guiding you to the track you need and while its in Chinese of course the train number wasn't and as that is on your ticket it was quite easy to find the proper track.

All the best.

Larry

Last edited by jacketwatch; Jan 17th, 2020 at 03:21 AM.
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Old Jan 17th, 2020, 05:37 AM
  #49  
 
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If you have a good guidebook it will have place names in Chinese characters as well as English. I enjoyed "pattern matching" the characters when reading departure boards et al.
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Old Jan 18th, 2020, 01:41 AM
  #50  
 
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My daughter said she thinks we can buy the TCW train tickets online. Does anyone know if that's accurate?
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Old Jan 18th, 2020, 05:27 AM
  #51  
 
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I am not sure what you mean. Do you mean bus or train tickets? We bought our bullet train tickets from Beijing to Xi’an online before we left. Do you mean getting a bus ticket from the train station in Xi’an to the TCW?
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Old Jan 18th, 2020, 08:16 AM
  #52  
 
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My daughter said she thinks we can buy the TCW train tickets online.
If you mean tickets to Xi'an from Beijing you certainly can, but you'd be ill-advised to do so. The Man in Seat 61's advice on this is poor. Heroic as his global coverage is he recommends an agent that significantly overcharges and whose use is unnecessary. English-language on-line services targeting foreigners have been found charging as much as 70% commission on some popular international routes, with mixed reliability, while others charge US$5–12 in commission—rather a lot if your ticket is only $25 to start with, and when commission over the counter from local agents was recently still only ¥5, or about 75¢. With on-line agencies there may also be problems with payment method, delivery, and the need to provide scans or photographs of passport pages. Unfortunately the railway's own on-line booking site, www.12306.cn, is in Chinese only, and even if you find a Chinese reader to help you there are complications involving ID and payment methods.

Unless you are arriving in Beijing shortly before departure, are attempting to travel at Spring Festival or at the beginning or end of the October ‘golden week’, or absolutely must be on a specific train (and it is unwise ever to put yourself in that position in China) use a local agent or railway station. There are 10 high-speed trains a day to Xi'an, with other slow overnight services, too.

NB: You must present your passport when booking in person. A photocopy is not usually acceptable and the law anyway requires you to carry it at all times. You may also be asked to show your passport on the train itself. Ticket booking windows at most railway stations are open very long hours indeed, and to see shorter lines going at night may be worthwhile. Note that in almost all cases (Běijīng South is an exception) the booking offices are either in a separate building, or may only be entered from the outside of the building through their own separate entrance. There are electronic terminals to sell tickets for some routes, but these, although they have English-language availability, may only accept local ID numbers, and/or a local payment card. Large screens show the availability of berths of different types for trains from all Běijīng stations, not merely the one at which you happen to be standing. These are in Chinese only, but if you know your train number and the characters for your seat type, you may be able to discover if seats are available before you line up. 有 (in red) indicates seats/berths are available, and 无 (in green) that there are none.
At most stations almost any ticket window will do, although one window may be reserved for refunds. Tickets for trains from all stations in the Beijing Railway Bureau’s area may be purchased at any station in that area, so you don’t have to go to Beijing West to buy a ticket for a train to Xi'an if you happen to be nearer to Beijing South, for instance.

But agencies with computers on the railway’s network are legion, their windows and doors marked either with the railway system’s symbol, or the characters 火车票 (huǒchē piào, railway tickets). These are sometimes little more than a window to the street, but your hotel will tell you the nearest. You will sometimes have the option of asking the hotel to sort this out for ¥20 to ¥30 (instead of ¥5) per ticket. You can also search Google Maps for Beijing, zoom in to the centre, or to the area in which you are staying, then enter "railway ticket agent" and several will show up, although they are in fact more numerous than shown. Again, do not forget to take the passports of everyone for whom a ticket is required. Getting your hotel reception to write down in Chinese your destination and date of travel, number of tickets, and class of seat isn't essential but may help. Note numbers that the availability of tickets from other railway bureaux is limited, and, of course, your return journey to Beijing, if you're going to make one, is one of those. So you may have to buy the return ticket when in Xi'an, to which all the advice given above also applies. (Until only a few years ago there were no return tickets at all, except for on some special excursions made available to students in the summer. So this is nothing to worry about. In general the Chinese do not plan or pay for their travel very far ahead, and on almost all high-speed routes, which the majority of the population cannot afford, supply exceeds demand.)

Note that whichever method you use to obtain tickets in Beijing, even if you use your hotel to purchase them for you, you'll need to pay cash, unless you've gone to the trouble of setting up WeChat wallet or Alipay with links to a foreign credit card on your mobile device. Overall not recommended.

Last edited by temppeternh; Jan 18th, 2020 at 08:40 AM. Reason: Omitted detail on payment
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 02:28 AM
  #53  
 
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temppeternh, this is so incredibly helpful - thank you so much! What I've learned just from this thread is to not assume that any custom - or basically anything in China - is the same as we're accustomed to in the West. I love The Man in Seat 61 and have followed his advice, so it's good to know that this time it's not so good.

Our time in Beijing is short overall - only 5 days. I'm not sure what you mean by "shortly before departure"; we arrive on the 4th and would like to go to Xi'an no later than the 7th. I'm thinking we head to the ticket agency on our first full day. Xi'an will be a day trip just to see the Terracotta Warriors so we'll want a specific train both on the outbound and the return. We'll be there in early September, so I don't think we'll run into any holidays and with 10 high speed trains a day, hopefully we'll get the ones we want/need.

I gather from your response that all of us don't have to appear in person to buy tickets as long as we have everyone's passport? There will be 9 of us altogether. I don't know yet how many will want to go to Xi'an, but it will be at least several.

Again thank you for this valuable information; this entire thread is exactly why I rely on Fodors so much. Also, this is one of the many reasons we love to travel. Some countries/cultures turn everything you're used to and expect inside out and remind you that what you're accustomed to isn't the only way.

Ellen

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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 09:44 AM
  #54  
 
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I'm thinking we head to the ticket agency on our first full day.
If there seems to be one handy I'd do it on the first afternoon/evening, if you can, rather than disrupt a day where you'd rather be sightseeing. These places work long hours.

Xi'an will be a day trip just to see the Terracotta Warriors so we'll want a specific train both on the outbound and the return.
This is not a country where you want to plan your itinerary in advance and in great detail. It is one in which you need to prioritise your desired activities and do them in order, always leaving flexibility. If you consider experience Z likely to be the highlight you don't leave it until the last day, as it will inevitably be closed, the road blocked for a diplomatic visit, or there'll be some other impediment. You do it on the first day.

You may be fortunate in getting the trains you want, but it is best never to put yourself in the position that you *must* be in place X on day Y, or that a particular train or plane is your only option. Things have a tendency to go wrong. Head for the ticket agency with a Plan B, and in particular be prepared for no tickets to be available for the return. It's not that no seats are available, but simply that each railway bureau only has access to a limited number of the seats for trains that depart from a different railway bureau (it's only in the last few years that they've had any access at all). So that shouldn't stop you from going, although it does mean that on arrival your first job will be to go to the ticket office in Xi'an and sort out the return (have the cash ready and your needs written down), and again, you should be prepared not necessarily to make exactly the arrangements you want. But barring unforeseen circumstances it should work out. China does, however, specialise in unforeseen circumstances. With the right attitude you'll see this as part of the fun.

I gather from your response that all of us don't have to appear in person to buy tickets as long as we have everyone's passport?
Correct. Indeed clearly if you engage a third party such as your hotel then no one appears in person (but better to do it yourself). Of course everyone must carry their own passports when going to board the train.
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 10:14 AM
  #55  
 
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Actually, there is nothing to be gained in waiting to buy train tickets. I would to advise people to wait or buy ahead of time depending on time of the year and route. But I find now that more and more trains sell out ahead of time. Even Beijing-Shanghai that has a ton of trains sells out. My last trip along this line on a week day in mid-April, all trains were totally sold out the day before. I had never seen this before on this route.
I suggest that if your plan is fixed, you may as well just buy as soon as you can. Sure you'll have to pay a small fee but it is a trivial amount in the context of the total cost of your trip and not getting what you want will result in a very unpleasant disruption. And you save yourself the trouble of taking time off your day that you could use to visit something instead. And no need to wait in line.
Also, it depends on your style of travel. Personally I always book my transportation and most hotels before the trip when I visit a new country. I want to enjoy my time while on the trip and not worry about these things and waste valuable time searching on the internet. Again, this depends on your style of travel. some people travel with no plan and go with the flow. Nothing wrong with either way, everybody is different. Nothing special about China.
Regarding Xi'An. Some people find the Terracotta Warriors underwhelming. but this should not keep you from going to Xi'An. It is a very interesting destination with a lot of history and interesting sites.
As an aside, I find the advice of Seat61 for China to be just as good as his advice for other countries and very accurate for the first time traveler.
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 01:58 AM
  #56  
 
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I love the differing points of view here. When we go to Xi'an, we actually won't have any flexibility as to when we return. In other words, we'll have to return that same day, albeit it I suppose we'll have flexibility as to the exact time. Canada, I'm more of an "arrange what you can before you leave" traveler. My husband says we can shop for X when we get there, but I'd rather spend my time seeing what I want to see than being tied down to looking for one particular item.

I've watched several videos on the Terra Cotta Warriors and despite the hoards of people, I think they'd be fascinating to see. It looks like the buses run often from Xi'an to the site, so we might even have a little time to walk around Xi'an too.

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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 06:42 AM
  #57  
 
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Ok so if you plan to return the same day then I would not do two high-speed trains in one day. Xi'An isn't really a day trip. One option is to take the overnight train. You arrive in early morning. Then you can return to Beijing in late afternoon. Depending on your budget constraints, the overnight train has a "deluxe soft sleeper" which is a private cabin with your own toilet.
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 07:13 AM
  #58  
 
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Originally Posted by ellen75005 View Post
I love the differing points of view here. When we go to Xi'an, we actually won't have any flexibility as to when we return. In other words, we'll have to return that same day, albeit it I suppose we'll have flexibility as to the exact time. Canada, I'm more of an "arrange what you can before you leave" traveler. My husband says we can shop for X when we get there, but I'd rather spend my time seeing what I want to see than being tied down to looking for one particular item.

I've watched several videos on the Terra Cotta Warriors and despite the hoards of people, I think they'd be fascinating to see. It looks like the buses run often from Xi'an to the site, so we might even have a little time to walk around Xi'an too.
It was crowded when we were there too but definitely worth seeing!
Trip report; Beijing, Xian and Kuala Lumpur
Start at #44 to see pics from the TCW from my TR.

Last edited by jacketwatch; Jan 20th, 2020 at 07:16 AM.
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 03:24 PM
  #59  
 
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Canada, unfortunately Xi'an is either a day trip or not at all. It will be a LONG day, but if we can do it, it will be worth it.

jacketwatch, your trip report was great! I've resigned myself to the fact that it's going to be wall to wall people. I work at a museum where there are many Asian visitors. We appreciate them, but observing them day after day has been an eye-opening experience. Not necessarily bad - just different from what we're accustomed to. Patience will be the word of the day!
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 03:45 PM
  #60  
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IMO, the idea of taking the overnight train to Xi'an is worth considering.
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