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Trying to plan itinerary without booking flights within China yet

Trying to plan itinerary without booking flights within China yet

Old May 26th, 2010, 11:34 AM
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Trying to plan itinerary without booking flights within China yet

I've been reading a lot here as well as other sites while planning our trip to China this September and have learned that I should not book flights within China until a week or two out.
My question is, can I use the schedules that I see now on ctrip, elong, travelzen as a guideline for planning?
More specifically, I am trying to figure out a certain leg of the trip - Chendgu to Guillin.
I was assuming that we would spend 2 nights in Chengdu then fly out the next morning to Guillin to get to Yangshuo.
When I checked those websites just to see what kind of flight times I can expect, there were only late evening flights from Chengdu to Guillin, and only 3 of them:
departing at 7:55pm, 9:35pm and 9:50pm.

I realize that many have stated that the schedules and times can change right up until the dates of departure, but will they change so drastically as to have morning flights?

If I can indeed use what the sites are publishing now, I'm thinking I may change our itinerary from 2 nights in Chengdu to just 1, leaving late that evening after seeing the pandas earlier in the day.

Thoughts?

One more thing...
I also see lots of advice saying that you need to be flexible with your itinerary while in China to allow for any unforeseen changes, but most of the hotels I am interested in (in Yangshuo at least) require 7 days advance notice to cancel without penalty, and some even a non-refundable deposit.
We are planning on using only airplanes as our mode of transport between cities, so there won't be any long distance bus or train travel, but of course anything can happen with flight delays.
How do you deal with this issue?
Book hotels once in China, or pre-book and take your chances that everything will go well, or pay the penalty?
In Yangshuo especially, I'd like to reserve a room with a view, which I'm afraid might sell out if I wait.

Thoughts??

Thanks,
Lisa
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Old May 26th, 2010, 01:05 PM
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> My question is, can I use the schedules that I see now on ctrip, elong, travelzen as a guideline for planning?

In general terms yes. But there are twice yearly changes from winter to summer schedules and vice versa, with the frequency of flights dropping and some routes disappearing in the winter.

> I realize that many have stated that the schedules and times can change right up until the dates of departure, but will they change so drastically as to have morning flights?

Unlikely.

> I also see lots of advice saying that you need to be flexible with your itinerary while in China to allow for any unforeseen changes,

Yes. In general China is best tackled by having a general idea of what route you want to take, putting priority on the things you most want to do both in terms of the schedule and at each individual stop, and being willing to adapt your route and timing according to what you discover, who you meet, and how you feel about what you're seeing. It's best in general to plan to spend more time at fewer places, as micro-managing and schedules thought out to the millisecond frequently come to grief. Try never to leave yourself with only one option in any situation.

>but most of the hotels I am interested in (in Yangshuo at least) require 7 days advance notice to cancel without penalty, and some even a non-refundable deposit.

These are tourist rip-off hotels (which is unsurprising, since Yangshuo is a tourist rip-off destination entirely), and these limitations are atypical for China.

> Book hotels once in China, or pre-book and take your chances that everything will go well, or pay the penalty?

Don't book anything at all. All the destinations mentioned (as most of China, most of the year) have far more rooms than customers. Simply show up, and bargain the price sharply down at the counter to at least as little as quoted on the Chinese hotel booking websites (Ctrip, eLong) and often lower. The last time (and if I have my way it will certainly be the last time) I was in Yangshuo I put my head into two hotels, and stayed at the second for only 30% of the published rate after a bit of bargaining. This is how the Chinese travel. This is how China works. Booking in advance attracts in most cases higher prices and more problems.

Such recommendations nearly always stimulate responses (particularly from people who've paid far too much using other methods, or who haven't been to China at all yet) claiming that this is impossible because it would take hours of hunting around (no, it doesn't), or there might be no rooms available (almost impossible). Essentially you head for the hotel you've already identified as being one you think you'd like, and if you get the room and the rate you want, you stay there. If you decide you don't like it, one person occupies the lobby with the baggage while the other looks at the neighbouring properties, or you collectively just in a cab to hotel choice two.

This idea may not appeal to some, although it is standard procedure for others (and not only in China) but unfortunately that doesn't prevent it from being the way to leave you with ultimate flexibility in travel and also of being the way to get the best possible rate.

It also avoids you staying in properties that look lovely on-line (and there's a general lying through teeth on this subject) but that haven't been maintained since the photos were taken ten years earlier, or that turn out to be next to 24-hour construction (true of most hotels last time I was in Yangshuo, by the way), or whose hot water doesn't work/heating hasn't been turned on, etc. etc. There are, of course, many more hotels than shown on the booking sites, which anyway peddle you those paying them the best commission over those that may actually be best. And your best choice is almost always the brand new property that hasn't made anyone's listings yet.

You also need to realise that making a booking through one of the sites, or even with the hotel itself (unless foreign-run) will NOT guarantee that the room is waiting for you. If a hotel is getting full it often isn't going to wait until 6pm if someone turns up waving cash (which is how most hotel booking is done, as described) to sell your room, and conveniently lose your booking. Cash (and commission-free cash at that) is king.

But if you really really must have a particular room, or if you simply don't find the method described attractive (entirely up to you) you'll just have to pay the higher rate, and accept the unacceptable rip-off penalty.

Peter N-H
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Old May 27th, 2010, 05:10 PM
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Thanks, Peter for your thoughtful response.
I will definitely give it some thought.

I know that you are an off-the-beaten-path kind of guy.
Can I ask what place you would recommend over Yangshuo? We wanted to go there based on the beautiful scenery...that is something I truly enjoy about traveling...seeing beautiful scenery in different parts of the Earth....and its' proximity to Shanghai/Beijing...we are focusing on eastern China since we only have 14 nights in China.

We are visiting family (expats currently living in Suzhou) for 3 days, then going to Beijing, Chengdu (which we are re-thinking due to the moral dilemma of visiting the pandas, (but that's a whole 'nother topic), then Yangshuo, then back to Shanghai .
Rough itinerary currently looks like this:
Day 1 - arrive Shanghai
Day 2 - go to Suzhuo to visit family
Day 3 - Suzhuo and environs
Day 4 - Suzhuo and environs
Day 5 - Fly to Beijing
Day 6 - Beijing
Day 7 - Beijing
Day 8 - Beijing
Day 9 - Fly to Chengdu
Day 10 - Chengdu
Day 11 - Fly to Guillin/go to Yangshuo
Day 12 - Yangshuo
Day 13 - Yangshuo
Day 14 - Fly to Shanghai
Day 15 - Fly back to U.S.


I'd love thoughts on this from those who have gone before us.
Thanks
Happy, safe travels

www.luv2globetrot.com
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Old May 28th, 2010, 09:07 AM
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> I know that you are an off-the-beaten-path kind of guy.

Let's leave assessments of other posters out of this, and stick instead to questions of travel. The point is to visit the justifiably popular sites in a manner that avoids their pitfalls, to avoid China's innumerable tourist scams, and to realise that the conga-line routes, whatever their merits, represent a tiny fraction of what China has to offer. I'd like people to read their guide books more widely, do more research, and stop going where everyone else has gone just because everyone else has gone there.

Simply not being much visited doesn't of itself add merit to a destination, of course, and the point is that people should have the holidays they want to have, which may well be as unadventurous as possible. But they should do so with their eyes wide open, and, I think, avoiding where possible the inherently fake destinations which have adapted themselves to tourist pre-conceptions with the aim of separating them from as much money as possible. There's little truth in Chinese tourism.

Yangshuo is now an entirely fake maelstrom of pestering guides, brand new old buildings, tawdry son-et-lumière, fifth-rate pizza, and ersatz everything else. It is about as Chinese as Spongebob Squarepants. If you look for convenience, and food almost but not quite entirely unlike Western dishes, then this is your sort of resort. And that is how it began nearly 30 years ago--as a quiet, almost electricity-free, moonlit, backpacker haven with a couple of enterprising locals quickly adapting to the needs of their infant-palated guests, and producing banana pancakes, instant coffee and 'spicey [sic] chocolate cake' (a bit of bread with some chocolate spread on it). Rickety bicycles were for hire. It never occurred to anyone to want a guide. The peaks were not walled in, and visiting them was free. It's been all down hill from there, and China it is no longer.

But a look through any half-decent guide book will suggest many areas of natural beauty ('scenic spots' in the parlance) a great deal closer to Beijing and Shanghai than Guilin anyway. The problem with places designated 'scenic spots' is that they are promptly destroyed by hordes of litter-throwing Chinese tour groups. Nevertheless, at least in these places you are amongst the Chinese, and looking at the scenery, rather than being part of the scenery they come to see--foreigners at play--as at Yangshuo (Lijiang, Dali, etc.)

You might like to look, for instance, at Wuyi Shan (a great deal closer to Shanghai) with similar peaks and cliffs, an fake ride on a bamboo raft down a shallow river, etc. The tour groups tend to climb two particular peaks and then move on, leaving you free to explore the rest of the spiny park, climbing cliff-side staircases, all by yourself. The resort town is on the edge of the park with a wide range of different accommodation, restaurants specialising in game (no pizza in sight), access to key points by bus, or plenty of vehicles to charter to take you further into the park.

You could combine this with other smaller east-coast cities, and/or with perhaps the mountainous area with Tu Lou (earth fortresses) reached from Xiamen, the corridor bridges at Taishun above Wenzhou, etc.

But there's much more both in and beyond the guide books.

Peter N-H
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Old May 29th, 2010, 04:18 PM
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Peter, I do understand your point and do agree with much of it.
Certainly there is always much, much more of interest when traveling than the "most popular" sites and/or what is included in guidebooks.

And yes, I completely see and agree with your opinion that many areas become so touristy as to lose their uniqueness and charm and begin to feel like more of an annoying "tourist trap".

But, some people (including me occasionally) choose to see the "popular" places due to lack of time (the longest vacation we've ever taken was 2 weeks). And, especially when short on time, I think it is natural to want to see the sights we've heard about our whole lives, or saw in a magazine and admired its beauty or had our interest piqued by what we heard or saw on TV, internet, etc...instead of deciding to venture to places unknown or unheard of by many travelers.

When we retire, I plan on taking much, much longer trips and including both popular, common spots as well as obscure places in my travels.
We have found on those times that we did venture from the well-trodden tourist path, that you find amazing, wonderful things...and even better, you feel like the experience is all your own, because in a way, it is!!

I do think that there is also some validity to the fact that some tourists, especially those on their very first visit to a country (and even that particular continent) feel more comfortable visiting the "tourist spots"...they did get that name for a reason It's kind of like Yogi Berra's famous quote, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

Also, some of the places that have become tourist-dominated might also have more conveniences in way of logistics for tourists, ie., the language barrier might not be so great, taxi drivers may be more familiar with places you want to go, there might be more organized activities to partake of, etc.

I appreciate you giving us advice from what you have gleaned from all your experienced travels.
That is what is so great about the internet and travel forums...it helps us get in touch with other travelers and makes it so easy to learn about new and wonderful places that may not have ever been on our "radar".
Some guidebooks are not as comprehensive as they could be or should be.
And admittedly, sometimes it's the easy way out to go to just the top spots.
But, to me, you really just can't go wrong when you are seeing and experiencing new cities and countries.
Some will be better than others, but to me they are all exciting as long as they are someplace I've never been!
I wish we had enough time in our lifetimes to see every inch of the planet
So, thanks for the ideas...I'll certainly be looking into your suggestions.
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