Tour or no tour for young travellers in China?
Replies: 8 - Last Post: Nov 18, 2012 11:29 AM Last Post By: SaltwaterGem
Nov 17, 2012 3:58 AM
Tour or no tour for young travellers in China?My sister (20yo) and I (22yo female) are going on a 5 month adventure next March-July, and we are very VERY excited about everything, but the one area that we are more nervous about is China, and have been advised by many that a tour is probably a good idea for the three weeks we have planned there.
Has anyone been in a similar situation as us and can give us a bit of advice? Do you think it would be simple enough for us to get around (safely) by ourselves?
Nov 17, 2012 4:32 AM
1People on thorntree generally recommend going independently where possible, and China is no exception. Those who recommend taking a tour usually have either never been to China, or have a vested interested in recommending that choice.
That said, China is not a simple country for a first time visitor, but lots of people do successfully navigate it with no Chinese skills whatsoever. As you only have 3 weeks, you are unlikely to stray far off the beaten track, so there will always be hostels where you can get help from English speakers, and use for day tours to places such as the Great Wall.
Safety is not much of an issue in China.
Nov 17, 2012 5:05 AM
2I'd say, if you are looking for adventure and unsure about whether a tour is right for you, then do it independently.
There is hardly any adventure to be found if you are part of a tour group. As drumbrake said, safety is not much of an issue in China, and in those categories where it is an issue (accidental injuries ie. traffic accidents) being in a tour group won't provide much added protection.
Nov 17, 2012 5:45 AM
Nov 17, 2012 8:10 AM
Nov 17, 2012 5:24 PM
5Get the hang of travelling Asia elsewhere and there will be no issue. Just don't try to rush everywhere. Start slow and choose some reasonable objectives. Tours make money so are promoted.
Nov 17, 2012 10:19 PM
6Agreed with the above posts.
As you will probably move btw big cities and hot tourist attractions, I'd say why not go independently. You will only need to ask for directions and most Chinese students are able to help you with that (though of course you may wanna speak plainly and slowly and encouragingly....some of them are just too shy to speak what they consider as 'imperfect English'...).
Organized tours are yes convenient but normally involve many shopping activities and allow you just enough time to 'skim and scan' the spots. You are expected to spend or else you will not be welcome by the guides.
Select your destinations wisely, or you may find yourself rushing and napping all the way. China is big and 3 weeks can never cover everything you fancy to see (even places according to LP)....
Nov 18, 2012 8:40 AM
7stephatree - As said above, getting around China independently while not always easy is not that difficult if you plan ahead and I've always considered it to be part of the adventure. Once you have your general itinerary set, you might post it here to get recommendations on where to stay and what to see.
I've found travel by air within China to be very English friendly, with trains and buses less so. Subways in the cities that have them are also fairly easy to navigate in China with most signage titled in both Chinese and English. Tourist frequented hostels/hotels will have staff that speak English and they will usually assist you in navigating around a city or town.
When taking a taxi make sure you always have the name of where you're heading to in Chinese and, when possible, the address of where you're going also written out in Chinese and a phone number for places that aren't major attractions, such as restaurants and businesses - hostel/hotel staff will help you with this. Always have the name and address in Chinese and the phone number of the hostels/hotels you're staying at with you before you arrive so you can easily get to it by taxi - many on-line hotel reservation sites will provide this to print out, and keep this with you so you can always get back from any attractions you're visiting. Most taxi drivers will call for directions when needed, if you have a phone number.
I suspect as a first timer to China you'll primarily be visiting the major tourist areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, and maybe Guilin/Yangshuo, Lijiang or Hong Kong and these are easy to navigate for an English only speaker, but do take a English-Chinese phrase book with you to help out. Here's a simple one to download: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/phrasebook/usefulwords_phrases.pdf .
Also as mentioned above, there are places you may want to consider going on an organized day tour which usually can easily be arranged through the hostel or hotel where you're staying. Two of the day tours that come to mind are for visiting sections of the Great Wall outside of Beijing and for the Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces, north of Guilin, though hiring a car/driver or even public transportation are options for the more adventurous.
Nov 18, 2012 11:29 AM
8I went to China for a month by myself in 2009, 23 years old. Traveled independently, no tour. It's very easy, no need to book a tour. Just make sure to bring a little extra patience and have some flexibility. I don't know any Mandarin other than 'thank you', 'horse', 'apple', in addition to 'beer' and 'cheers!' that I picked up on the way. I would recommend bringing a guide book and a small handy note pad. In my experiences, many Chinese have absolutely abysmal hand-writing, so simply copying characters from the guidebook is comparatively immaculate and by doing this it will make asking for train tickets much easier, as most Westerners have a difficult time figuring our Mandarin pronunciations.
My other recommendation would be to get out of the cities when you can. Even a small place like Pingyao along the way is a good change-up to the ultra-gray, smog-choked super dense Chinese megacities that you'll probably spend more time than desired in.
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