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China tour
Old 10-10-2015, 06:32 PM   #1
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China tour

DW and I took a 10 day group tour in China back in 1990, just about a year after Tiananmen. Despite the limitations and difficulties of having a fairly incompetent tour leader, we enjoyed the visit enormously. The people, the food, and the scenery were all just incredibly wonderful.

Now we would like to go back and visit again, but this time without the group.

On our last trip, we flew into Shanghai and traveled by bus and train up to Beijing, so that's the only part of China we saw. Highlights in between were Qufu and Mount Taishan. We were also supposed to visit Suzhou, but missed our connection.

Since this forum seems to have some of the most knowledgable travelers, I would love to get suggestions for our next visit to China, which would be in the late 2016 to mid 2017 timeframe.

Obviously, we would need some professional guiding, because of the language barrier, but we don't want to be part of a big group as we were last time. The number and variety of tours I find when I Google "china tour" is so overwhelming that I would be extremely grateful for any suggestions offered here.
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Old 10-10-2015, 06:43 PM   #2
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A couple of years ago we went to China with OAT (Overseas Adventure Tours) for 3 weeks. Our Guide was a 25 year old girl who was wonderful and out group was 13 people. We covered a lot of territory and even got to go to Tibet. Look online for their different tours.
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Old 10-10-2015, 07:13 PM   #3
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We toured China in 1994 for 3+ weeks. We had trouble finding a tour group that went to all the places we wanted to see as well as allowing extra time in Beijing. We stumbled upon and did an individual tour of 2 through the China Travel Service (CTS), the Chinese gov't travel agency. We worked with their office out of San Francisco.

An experienced tour guide and car and driver met us at each airport. We had 5 flights w/in China. It was fabulous. The cost was only about 10% more than the tour groups charged. 4 and 5* hotels. If we did a similar trip, we'd work through them again.
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China tour
Old 10-10-2015, 11:49 PM   #4
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China tour

I took my 15yo to China for 2 weeks in 2005. No tour but I did look at the tour itineraries and got ideas from that. We flew into HK and stayed there for a few days. We took a hydrofoil to Shenzen then flew to Guilin. We bought the tix from a travel agency in HK. We took a bus to Yangshou to see the karst peaks and experience rural China. We hired a local to take us on bicycle tours of the countryside.

Airplane tix were cheaper last minute at the airport so we took a taxi back to Guilin and just bought airplane tix to Xi'an at the airport. I did a lot of planning. I knew exactly when the flights were. We saw the terra cotta warriors in Xi'an. I had pre booked our hotel thru Sino-hotels.com. There is a govt bus that runs from every airport to the city center in every city I think.

We were supposed to take the overnight train to Beijing from Xi'an but could not find the foreigner ticket office at the train station. We gave up and just bought airline tix from the govt travel agent at the hotel. BTW airfares on routes were exactly the same on different airlines. We arrived in Beijing a day early and booked a hotel room from the tourist kiosk at the airport. We were told by regular visitors to China that the hotel prices are the cheapest when booked last minute from the airport.

I printed Frommers walking map keys - they're bilingual. We would just show the words to the cab drivers. Once we got one who couldn't read and showed it to a passerby who told the cab driver where to go.

China was very, very easy! Fodor's has a large China travel discussion forum.

I just reread this and am too tired to make it make more sense...sorry.



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Old 10-11-2015, 10:10 AM   #5
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I did a 10-day China tour with Intrepid in 2011 and really enjoyed it. Small group (there were 11 of us) and excellent young Chinese tour guide. I was the oldest by 20 years; DD and I were the only US folks - the rest were from England or Australia (Intrepid is based in Australia). Hotels were fine but not fancy, food was excellent. If you aren't looking for luxury I would recommend checking them out.
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Old 10-11-2015, 10:45 AM   #6
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I haven't been to China, but I've started investigating a possible trip for next summer. One thing that surprised me is how much high speed rail that's been built in China. If we go, we're planning on using high speed rail extensively for getting around. You can make the trip from Beijing go Xi'an in 5 hours to see the Terracotta Army. Beijing to Shenzen in 10 hours. Too bad it doesn't go all the way to Hong Kong (yet). The seat61 has good info on the popular connections and you can use google to get a map of the overall high speed rail system. For me, the train rides would be part of the experience. Of course, this limits what we'll be able to see, but we won't have that much time, so sticking with the major cities should be ok.

Seat61 also has an article on how to see the great wall on your own: http://www.seat61.com/China.htm#Grea...l%20of%20China
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Old 10-11-2015, 11:27 AM   #7
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Guilin, in southern China, has the beautiful landscapes that are frequently shown on turism posters, and definitely worth a visit.

We had a private guide while in Beijing. He was very helpful and added lots of value, but the tour included meals, which was a big mistake. Next time I would do the guide alone.
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Old 10-11-2015, 11:37 AM   #8
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Just got back from a tour in China. It was a large tour, so not what you are seeking. However, the area I wish I had been able to spend more time in was Guilin. Amazing scenery. Plus it was nice to not be in a mega city If I go back to China, Guilin is the area that I would like to revisit.


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Old 10-11-2015, 12:45 PM   #9
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I used to travel to Beijing and Shanghai for business and have to say it was very easy to get travel guides as recommended by the hotels. Without exception, the guides were great and took us around in their cars, so just me or me with a colleague. If you want a less structured trip this could be an option. I think the most I paid was US$50 total for a long day. I felt like I really learned a lot one on one with the guides.
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Old 10-11-2015, 06:05 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TrvlBug View Post
We toured China in 1994 for 3+ weeks. We had trouble finding a tour group that went to all the places we wanted to see as well as allowing extra time in Beijing. We stumbled upon and did an individual tour of 2 through the China Travel Service (CTS), the Chinese gov't travel agency. We worked with their office out of San Francisco.

An experienced tour guide and car and driver met us at each airport. We had 5 flights w/in China. It was fabulous. The cost was only about 10% more than the tour groups charged. 4 and 5* hotels. If we did a similar trip, we'd work through them again.
That sounds really good. I had no idea you could do that.
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Old 10-11-2015, 07:28 PM   #11
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That sounds really good. I had no idea you could do that.
DH and I are independent travelers and other that Egypt in 1992, we travel on our own. DH does the planning wrt to sights to see and I handle the logistics.

For the China trip we wanted to see the Longmen Caves, but couldn't afford, time-wise, the 3 days of travel to get there, so we decided we had to see Dazu instead...not quite as spectacular, but frankly, we were blown away by the carvings. Due to its isolated location 4 hours driving time outside of Chonqing, the Red Guards never got there during the Cultural Revolution. Long story short, none of the groups went there. We also felt we needed 5 days in Beijing. I called CTS to get the names of some other tour groups that might go to Dazu, when Mrs. Wu suggested we work with her to customize a trip for the 2 of us. I said we can't afford that kind of trip and she said we'd be surprised. OK then...gave her all the places we wanted to see as well as time spent in each area and she pulled together the most fabulous vacation. I still remember the surprise Peking Duck dinner DH arranged for my birthday!

We did the Yangtze River cruise and saw the dam being built. Also Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guilin, Wuhan, and a few other places in addition to Dazu.

DH and I were talking the other day about doing a similar trip and going back to Yangtze River, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guilin and the Longmen Caves. Unfortunately, DH's mother is 93 with failing health so this type of travel will just have to wait a bit longer.

We spent a week in Beijing a few months after the Olympics in 2008. I flew in and joined DH after his biz meetings. The tourist infrastructure in Beijing was unbelievable. Other than hiring a guide and driver for a day trip to the Great Wall (not Badaling where all the tour groups go, but the other one an hour or so outside of Beijing...name escapes me), we took the subway everywhere. I assume most/all of the other big cities have done the same, so depending on where you want to travel, you could do it on your own.

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Old 10-11-2015, 07:34 PM   #12
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Forgot to add...when doing research for our 2008 trip to Beijing, I discovered that there are a lot of travel agents in San Francisco that specialize in trips to China. I can't remember details, but it's worth looking into.
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Old 10-11-2015, 07:46 PM   #13
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another excellent resource is flyertalk.

We only spent 3 days in beijing last year, but our travel style is more on the DIY side. I would hire guides in each individual city or place, and then move on. We're a big fan of the private guides ever since we had 3 days in Israel, and only 1 day to cover Jerusalem. We hired a private guide who knew the ins and outs and we got to see what we wanted and hit the major highlights. The downside is the cost...

In Beijing, we hired a gal named Vivie. She had a nice car and driver and she took us to see what we wanted. Once plane tickets are booked, I would book a known guide who has a good reputation and then ask them for references elsewhere.

China is tricky. Having been to every eastern asian country but vietnam and laos, I found it incredibly difficult to get around, but manageable. PM me if you watn vivie's contact.
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Old 10-25-2015, 01:04 PM   #14
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DW's sister just left after spending a week with us. They've been in Shanghai for a bit more than 10 years and have traveled extensively through China. Her suggestion was Guilin, Chengdu - including the Turquoise Lake, a Silk Road tour, and "the minorities'. This last means minority populations around China, but it's not one specific location and may not lend itself to one trip.

They make their own air/hotel arrangements and book local guides with cars for each location. She said that usually works well, but not all guides speak English well enough, and there's no way to know beforehand.
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Old 10-25-2015, 01:09 PM   #15
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These people were a bit more adventurous:

Backcountry adventures in the Middle*Kingdom - The Globe and Mail
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Old 10-25-2015, 06:17 PM   #16
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Spouse and I travelled for a month in China in 2007 on our own, with only a community college course in Mandarin behind us (it didn't help much). We agonized over taking a tour and did a ton of research before heading over on our own. Are we ever glad that we did. One day, while window-shopping in Xi'an - as one does ;-) - we saw a small group from Intrepid Tours, a company targeted to more adventurous travellers. It did look like a standard tour, though, being led around by a guide. We booked hotels and internal flights on line before going, and otherwise found our own way around. We found the Chinese to be very helpful and very understanding that their language is very difficult for us, once I explained that my Chinese-Canadian husband does not speak Mandarin.

Having said this, I realize that China seems daunting. I know people who have done the 2-person tours that Trvlbug mentioned in Vietnam and China, and they were very happy with them. -
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Old 10-26-2015, 07:56 AM   #17
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We were in Souzhou today, back from a few days in Xi'an. Shanghai is a great base for visits to Souzhou, the water towns and a jumping-off point for high-speed rail trips to Hangzhou and Beijing.

Shanghai itself is pretty awesome, a metropolitan area of 30 million people. You have to cruise the Bund area by river at night! Learn to use the subway whenever you can -- street traffic is horrendous. That also applies to Xi'an.

We did two days in Xi'an with a private guide. A couple attractions the guides like to schedule that you can skip are the Banpo neolithic village museum (pretty similar to any other museum of neolithic antiquities you might have visited) and the Shanxi Opera House show and "dumpling feast" (good if kitschy show, bad, bad dumpling dinner). You can conceivably get around town to the sights on your own if you're resourceful, but a guide and a driver will be very helpful when visiting the terra cotta warriors and other sights outside the city proper.
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Old 10-26-2015, 12:08 PM   #18
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We just got home from Russia a few weeks ago, and we saw so much more scenery with a driver and guide. Just negotiating street signs and directions is difficult there.

I would think China would be a place where a tour would be the preferable way to go.
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Old 10-26-2015, 12:14 PM   #19
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We did a trip through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam back in 2013. We had private drivers and guides for the duration and loved the experience. I feel we saw and experienced much more than we would have either on our own or with a larger group. Some of our best memories are related to interesting conversations with our guides. Years later I am still in touch with our Thailand guide.

Our kids were 6 and 9 at the time so we felt the convenience of having our own drivers/guides was worth the difference in price. We are also planning to do China in the next few years and I would definitely hire private drivers/guides for that trip too.
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Old 10-26-2015, 07:20 PM   #20
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One thing to keep in mind: As our Xi'an guide observed, "There is no personal space in China." Crowds are twice as aggressive as any you'll find in Europe. A guide can help you swim in that ocean.

Signage can also be a problem. English translations are pretty spotty.
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