travelling semi-independently in China

May 18th, 2014, 01:46 PM
  #1  
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travelling semi-independently in China

We would like to travel semi-independently in China. We would like someone to make transportation arrangements for us while inside the country and also airport transfers, a few city tours, a few hotel reservations (some of the hotels we want to book ourselves). Can you recommend any company to do this for us?
techwrite is offline  
May 18th, 2014, 10:40 PM
  #2  
 
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For hotels you should book yourself over the web with the hotel directly. For flights go to www.travelzen.com. For trains go to www.china-diy-travel.com . Best way from or to the airport is to take a taxi. Simple and cheap. Just make sure to have your hotel name in writing in Chinese (get it from the hotel website). Also useful to get back to your hotel during the day.
I have no idea about tours but you can always hire a private guide for the day here and there. That is fairly cheap and most flexible. Check on www.synotrip.com
JPDeM is offline  
May 19th, 2014, 05:35 AM
  #3  
 
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You really don't want to hire guides in China. They will simply parrot whatever propaganda they have been taught. You'll get more accurate info from a guidebook.

As noted above, you don't need a company to do these basics for you, do it yourself.
Kathie is offline  
May 19th, 2014, 06:08 AM
  #4  
 
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Take a good guidebook or two, forget the local guides. Don't buy a guidebook unless it has the names of places in Chinese characters as well as English. Also buy a phrase book with characters as well as pinyin. However, if you are only going to the big east coast cities I gather you should find a fair amount of English these days.

If you want a driver for a day here or there, negotiate with a taxi, or arrange it through your hotel (more expensive).

Another place to look at for booking transport is http://english.ctrip.com/. Note that your hotels will be cheaper if you just show up and bargain (they write down a price, you write down a price...) but I can understand not doing that on a first trip and if you want Western chains.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 19th, 2014, 05:18 PM
  #5  
 
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You will have some challenges and daily frustrations, but if you have the patience and time to 'not care' then all might go well. Trains are nice, always on time, and except for the bullet trains, very cheap. But getting the ticket can be a headache. These days you must show the passport to buy the train tix. Bus also OK and go to many smaller cities and towns, in addition to the big cities. Some hotels cannot/willnot accept foreigners but big hotels probably OK.
In restaurants learn to take a chance and big meals might cost only US10. If really keen to visit the backwoods, stop at local Univ where chances are good you can casually find an english speaker who could help you that day. Enjoy the experience and try every possible food. Don't forget, that if hundreds of folks are eating it daily,and safely, why can't you?
jobin is offline  
May 20th, 2014, 02:08 AM
  #6  
 
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"...Note that your hotels will be cheaper if you just show up and bargain..."
- This is an urban legend. It never happens. Besides the fact that most employees at the end have no power to bargain, if you find a place where you can bargain then you'll get a bargain off the rack rate posted on the wall but nobody ever pays that rate. Ctrip or elong or travelzen are the biggest online agents in China and they get the best rates out of these hotels. Better than you can bargain by showing up.
The only place in China where I just showed up was in smaller towns in Guizhou where the online pickings are slim, I want to see the place first and all hotels are on one street so I can walk between them easily. I would never lug around my luggage from hotel to hotel in any city in China.
JPDeM is offline  
May 20th, 2014, 04:29 AM
  #7  
 
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No, it is not an urban legend. If you only stay in Western chains, as I said, it probably won't work, and I believe there are now some Chinese business hotel chains that don't bargain, otherwise it is not a legend. And if "no one ever pays the rack rate" how is that not bargaining?
thursdaysd is offline  
May 20th, 2014, 05:39 AM
  #8  
 
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I just spent a couple weeks in China with my husband and three sons and we did everything independently. It really isn't that hard. For transportation, I did hire a couple private drivers. You can find recommendations all over the internet. On another forum, JPdeM provided me with some great suggestions that I used. Also, you can negotiate with taxi drivers. Sometimes hotels provide transportation for a good rate. It really isn't hard. Just takes a bit of time to arrange.

We used China DIY travel to help us with all our train tickets. Flawless. Really easy. We took three of four trains to get from city to city including two overnight trains.

Using the subway was super easy. Everything is labeled really well and there are a couple apps out there that help with subway maps that I used.

I booked all our hotels ahead of time online. We stayed in a mixture of local, Chinese, hutong hotels and high end western chains.

China is not a hard place to travel. Really. The transportation infrastructure puts any US city to shame and it is a very safe place. ATMs everywhere. Easy.
taitai is offline  
May 20th, 2014, 10:33 AM
  #9  
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Thanks to all for responding.

taitai - Could you please point me to the following that you referenced:

Where online can I find recommendations for private drivers?
What is the other forum you referenced where JPdeM gave you good information?

Thanks for getting back to me on these things.
techwrite is offline  
May 20th, 2014, 11:27 AM
  #10  
 
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JPdeM provided me with great info on drivers, two of which I used and with whom we had a very positive experience on the TripAdvisor Beijing forum.

Happy Planning!
taitai is offline  
May 21st, 2014, 06:31 PM
  #11  
 
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> "...Note that your hotels will be cheaper if you just show up and bargain..."
- This is an urban legend.

And this observation is the complete opposite of true, and you absolutely no idea whatsoever what you are talking about.

> It never happens.

It happens every single time you go into a standard Chinese hotel. For the majority of the time, in the majority of China, the published rate is never paid. (Jingji hotels are an exception.)

> Besides the fact that most employees at the end have no power to bargain,

Entirely false. It is standard procedure to bargain down prices. Typically employees offer a discount before you can even ask, and typically you can get two further reductions from that, depending upon time and location.

> if you find a place where you can bargain then you'll get a bargain off the rack rate posted on the wall but nobody ever pays that rate.

So what you just said isn't possible, is in fact something that absolutely everyone does: bargain prices down with employees. Now we're getting somewhere.

> Ctrip or elong or travelzen are the biggest online agents in China and they get the best rates out of these hotels. Better than you can bargain by showing up.

Simply false. It is often possible to undercut agency quoted rates, as common sense would lead you to expect since the revenue received by the hotel is less the agency's commission, and you can get that net rate for yourself. Nor do these agencies tell the truth about the hotels they sell, they push those giving them the largest commission rather than what's the best deal, and there are far more hotels in China than any of them list, so it's not as if there's always an agency rate to undercut. The person standing at the counter with cash is king, and if the hotel is getting full then any agency bookings may get quietly forgotten.
temppeternh is offline  
May 22nd, 2014, 05:33 PM
  #12  
 
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Well, I don't know how often you guys tried this and got a better deal than ctrip but in my 10 years of traveling 2-3 months per year in every province in China, it just never happens. And I also have no interest in walking around town with my luggage looking for a hotel.
JPDeM is offline  
May 22nd, 2014, 05:41 PM
  #13  
 
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Have you actually tried? I have a good friend who grew up in China, and she bargains in European hotels, never mind Chinese!
thursdaysd is offline  
May 23rd, 2014, 09:47 AM
  #14  
 
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None of this addresses either the facts or the arguments.

All the on-line agencies do is to offer prices something near those that you could always get for yourself by bargaining long before these agencies were invented. However, there are vastly more hotels in China than are available through on-line agencies, and much lower prices for better quality rooms are often available to those who show up and look around rather then book ahead.

'I wouldn't want to do this' is no argument that something that is in fact true, and which in China is standard practice, is an 'urban legend'. Other travellers may wish to have a wider range of choice, to see a room before they commit to paying for it, and to pay less for their rooms. It's up to them; and to be told baldly that it can't be done by someone who in fact doesn't even try is the opposite of helpful.
temppeternh is offline  
May 24th, 2014, 07:23 PM
  #15  
 
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I am not saying that you can't bargain them down. just saying that you won't beat ctrip's prices.
JPDeM is offline  
May 24th, 2014, 07:24 PM
  #16  
 
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@thursdaysd - over the years there trust me that I have tried everything.
JPDeM is offline  
May 25th, 2014, 08:59 AM
  #17  
 
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> I am not saying that you can't bargain them down. just saying that you won't beat ctrip's prices.

But that you can't get better rates over the counter is precisely what you said. And it is both false, and extremely unhelpful to visitors.

And, once again, yes you can beat Ctrip and its competitors in several ways:

You can sometimes obtain the net rate the hotel receives from Ctrip or a rate that effectively splits Ctrip's commission between yourself and the hotel, still making the hotel more profit than a Ctrip booking

Sometimes when you arrive with a Ctrip booking not paid for in advance a hotel will ask you quietly to forget about it and sell you a room directly at a lower rate

In any town you can find cheaper and better-value-for-money rooms than Ctrip lists

You can discover that the room you booked is not actually there when you arrive, which certainly makes any other option a better deal.
temppeternh is offline  

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