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[Places Visited] [Observations] [Recommendations] [Costs] May - Jun 2001
We followed the route below from Beijing to Guangzhou.  It was GREAT trip, with outstanding scenery, friendly people, and real-life history lessons. We had a few glitches along the way, but believe with goodwill and little experience in traveling, anyone can travel independently in China.  
The Country - This has been one of the most interesting countries visited to date.  As Westerners we had expected a vast bureaucracy, police checks and limited freedom - and we saw little of that.  We were able to move freely everywhere, interact with anyone we wanted, and found free enterprise alive and well. 

Pick any of our stops on the map to the left and join our trip!

Observations:

  • Clothing - The center of Beijing looked like any Western city; a multitude of colorful clothing was in evidence. In smaller towns blue Mao suits were common.  Some women in smaller cities wore flannel pajamas, complete with teddy bears, etc., as street-wear. Young children, not toilet-trained, wore clothing that allowed their "bum" to be completely exposed. When they needed to "go", the parents just held them in position and the made the deposit on the sidewalk, bushes, or wherever.

  • Health - People seemed quite healthy, some of the older rural farmers were very small in stature, probably affected by poor diets and illness in the past.  Some of the young Chinese were large and well fed, sometimes overweight, although not as many as in the US or Australia.  Food on the street looked clean and well prepared, and food stalls were always clean. Open air markets sold produce and meat, and they always appeared clean and healthy.  Water is the big downside, no city has a potable water supply so all drinking water must come from bottled water which can be bought everywhere for 1.5-2 yuan/bottle.

  • Wealth - There are many ‘haves’ in Beijing and the larger cities, and apparently many ‘have-nots’ in the poorer countryside. There were many cars in the big cities, and fewer in the smaller cities where bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, pedicabs, and tractors dominate.

  • Smoking - Present everywhere with a complete lack of ‘no-smoking’ areas. There is smoke in restaurants, lobbies, elevators, queues, trains, and sometimes on the planes, despite signs.  You just have to tolerate it.  We complained to the stewardess on a plane and they made the person stop.

  • Spitting - A long-standing habit, it was not as objectionable as we thought it would be.  They are generally discreet, and it seems to be dying out in the big cities – there is hope.

  • Censorship - The only English newspaper is the government-run China Daily.  In Beijing we could get CNN, but outside of Beijing it disappeared.  Xian had CNN, but with constant interference. Cnn.com and nytimes.com were blocked in all internets cafes we visited.  We never read any derogatory stories while we were there, so censorship may be pretty strong.

  • People - Most people we met were very friendly, particularly in the smaller towns.  Many in the big cities saw many Westerners and were neutral towards us, but we encountered no antagonism.  Many had trouble visualizing where New Zealand was (we traveled as Kiwi’s), but were friendly nonetheless.  They can be brusque in queue situations, since the population is so high.  In some smaller cities people would gawk at us as if we were aliens – it appeared that some had never seen a Westerner before.  Many wanted to take our picture, or have themselves taken in a picture with us; a new experience for us.

  • Transportation - We tried them all: airlines, trains, buses, taxis, pedicabs, and were very impressed with China's transportation.  The airplanes were comfortable and on time; food was mediocre to poor.  Trains were frequent and always on time.  The ‘soft sleeper’ (the highest class, often used by comfort-seeking foreigners) was quite comfortable, although a little awkward since you must sit on your bunk during the day.  Buses were also frequent and on time, our one ‘express’ bus was a delight, better than an airplane.  Taxis have meters everywhere, so the prices are predetermined.  No driver will know English, so you must have an interpreter or have your destination written in Mandarin. 

Recommendations 

  • Go, sooner rather than later.

  • Bargaining - With few exceptions (transportation, state stores) nothing is fixed price in China.  You must bargain for everything, even bottled water, unless purchased in a  supermarket.  If you know the going price, stick to it , otherwise start at 30-40%of the asking price and try to settle at around 50%.

  • Taxis - Make sure they turn the meter on, a few will leave it off and try to overcharge.

  • Tour Guides - The people we have listed in our China References provided us with good service and spoke English acceptably. 

  • Water - No public sources are potable, drink bottled water, available everywhere.

  • Off the beaten track - Some of our best experiences were in small towns with few or no Westerners where we struggled with the language. 

Costs

  • Money - when we went the exchange rate was 8 yuan = $1USD.

  • Travel, Accommodation, Meals - Aside from the cost of getting there, travel is reasonable - we spent about $US200/day for 2 people in Beijing and about $US100/day elsewhere for lodging, tours, and meals.  This trip can certainly be done for a lot less, if one chooses cheaper accommodation.  We tended to stay in 3-4 star hotels, but as we found out at the end of our trip, many smaller hotels can also be very good and clean.   BUT, you need a travel agent to make the booking in order to get the best price.  As an example, a travel agent booked us into a nice hotel in Guilin for 360 yuan, otherwise we would have had to pay 680 yuan for the same room.  (See China References for a list of Chinese travel agents used by us.)  The chart below shows our expense costs for the month in US$

      

 

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