Tours in Beijing

Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 09:45 AM
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Tours in Beijing

I will be travelling in Beijing and have three days to sightsee. I was curious if it is better to book tours when I get there or should I try to do it here in the US? I was also wondering if I wait to book a tour or sightseeing excursion who should I go through when I get there...? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 04:20 PM
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If you do your homework you shouldn't need a tour to see the sights in Beijing proper. The Great Wall is another matter, but you should have no problem booking a tour through your hotel at short notice. Certainly you'll have the obligatory shopping stops - the guides are paid kickbacks, but you don't have to buy anything.

Beijing is a big, busy city but not too difficult to get the hang of. You can take a taxi (or walk, if your hotel is very central) to the Forbidden City, buy your ticket and rent an audio guide at the gate. From the FC you can walk south to Tiananmen Square, or north to Jinshang Park and the Back Lakes. Likewise, cab it to historic sites like the Summer Palace (maybe 45-minute drive, fare about US$8-9, allow half a day), Temple of Heaven, Lama Palace, Drum and Bell Towers. The latter can be combined with a stroll along the Back Lakes if you like. Cabs are efficient and very cheap; just make sure you have the name of your destination (and your hotel) written in Chinese to show the driver.

I'll go further - IMO it's a positive disadvantage to have to trawl around behind a guide carrying a little coloured flag, rather than move at your own pace. We felt sorry for the tour groups doing that, and wondered how they resisted the temptation to bleat "b-a-a".

It's a good idea not to accept an offer of a cab outside tourist attractions, as they'll probably be unlicensed - hail them in the street, or ask the hotel doorman to hail one. In fact it's a good idea not to accept unsolicited offers of anything (e.g. a "tea ceremony", or the helpful guys who offer to wheel your bags at the airport). Other than that, we found Beijing held few challenges for an independent traveller.

Three days isn't long, so pick out what you want to see and plan your time carefully.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 09:55 PM
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Hi, kb2china! Nice to hear you'll be visiting Beijing. I was there for the first time this past May, and stayed 4 nights.

Yes, it is better to book day tours directly from the front desk at your hotel rather than from here in the U.S.
The prices will be much more reasonable on site over there.

The main advantage to booking a day tour or two is that you will receive the benefit of the guide's commentary. The other benefit is that in Beijing the tour bus is actually a mini-van type of vehicle, capacity 6, 7 or 8 persons.

Thus, you'll have an opportunity to mix and mingle with other foreign tourists in China, most of whom speak some or a good deal of English, and many of whom will be fellow North Americans.

I can assure that: NO, you do not have to "do your homework"; NO, you do not have to hassle with taxi drivers; NO, you do not have to walk around by yourself with an earphone listening to audio summaries.

After all, you're on vacation for those days, not on a marathon endurance ordeal. Whatever you do, enjoy your time in Beijing!

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Old Aug 24th, 2006, 04:13 PM
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Neil: Many moons ago, I made my living carrying a colored flag and shepherding tourists. Some of them were so "b-a-a" they followed me into the WC when I forgot to lower my flag, both sexes too!
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Old Aug 24th, 2006, 07:12 PM
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Shanghainese, it's just as well you didn't walk off a cliff. What sort of noise does a lemming make?

easywalker, to tour or not to tour is of course a personal preference and there's no one answer. I was offering my take on the alternative to taking tours, in the event kb2china may want to look at options. Horses for courses. I should have pointed out, though, that we had a week in Beijing, so we weren't pushed for time.

I believe that any visitor to China, or anywhere else, will have a richer experience if they do some background reading of at the least a good guidebook, tour or no tour - that's all I meant by "homework". From my perspective it's particularly important when travelling in a country like China that doesn't share my cultural background. I can interpret a Christian cathedral, but without some study I don't have any reference points in a Buddhist temple.
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Old Sep 7th, 2006, 04:55 PM
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I actually had a great experience with GrayLine Tours in Beijing. I know it probably sounds cheesy, but the trip was a quick weekend side trip from Shanghai, and was very last minute. Via their website I was able to contact them, and they were very accomodating - my Great Wall tour became a private tour (at no extra charge) when it turned out that my Saturday am flight got delayed. And, on Sunday, after the "Best of Beijing" tour, they were very conscious of my timing, as I had a flight to catch by 7pm that evening. On the way back from the Summer Palace, they stopped the bus at a taxi stop on one of the outer ring roads, made sure the driver knew where we needed to go, and basically ensured that we did not miss our flight.

The only potential downside was the "factory" tours they subject you to - a cloisonne factory on the way to the Great Wall, which I actually really enjoyed, and a pearl factory on the second day. I didn't mind though - I really didn't have much time to shop for souveniers, so it worked out ok for me!

You can find out more info on; their Beijing office is in the Crowne Plaza Beijing, where we happened to be staying.
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