China – a guided tour for bargain hunters

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(From the Archives, 2009)

Travel to China is a remarkable bargain.  The Canadian dollar is strong, and China’s tourism industry is developing quickly to accommodate North American tastes and expectations.

We booked our 12-day tour to China through Royal Holidays in Calgary.  Travel agency owner Ivy Jang, an ex-pat Chinese national, designed the “Essence of China” tour as a pay once, all-inclusive package that covered return airfare (Calgary/Edmonton via Vancouver to Beijing, return from Hong Kong; accommodations at 4-to-5 star American hotels; breakfast/lunch/dinner; all in-China transportation, including two air flights and three cruises; and admission to all sites.  $2400 CDN (plus $8 pp/day gratuity for local guides.)

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If you go:

Visas:  Canadians need a visa to visit China.  Royal Holidays did the paperwork and obtained our visas (at no charge), in four working days.

Money:  The Chinese yuan or renminbi (CNY) is the currency of the People’s Republic of China.  1.00 CNY = 0.15 CAN.  Every one of our hotels had a currency exchange desk.  We used Canadian cash to purchase yuans.  There are automatic bank machines in the cities, but they may not be easy to find.  Don’t plan on using a credit card, except at large hotels and at ‘factory outlets’ that are part of guided tours.  Many businesses do not accept credit cards, and it’s thought to be too risky.

Shopping:  Expect to haggle in markets and with street sellers.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, local guides are often happy to negotiate deals for you.

Tipping:  There is no tipping at restaurants.  Ten-percent gratuity is customary for taxi drivers; 3-5 yuan for bellboys.

Photography:  Plan on shooting 200-300 photos images per day.  Make sure your memory card is large enough to store all your images.  Know how to change the file size of images.  If your memory card runs low on storage space, you can make the image files smaller.  If you don’t know how to do this, pack your owner’s manual.  If your camera uses a rechargeable battery, recharge the battery every night.  Ask the hotel for an electrical plug adapter (provided gratis) so you can plug your North American plug into one of the four different kinds of plugs used in China.  Take an electrical step-down converter (China uses 220v.)

Security:  Take stationery from the hotel room if you go exploring.  If you get lost, you can show the name and address (printed in English and Chinese) to anybody and get directions.

Food safety:  Our local guides said hotel tap water was safe to drink for locals.  As a precaution, they recommended tourists drink only bottled water (provided complimentary in our hotels and on our tour buses.)  Use common sense when buying food from street vendors.  We only bought food that was cooked in front of us or that was served from steam tables or pots that were bubbling hot.

Internet access:  Unlike even bargain-basement motels and hotels in North America, Chinese hotels did not provide complimentary computer stations for guest use.  Most hotels offer WiFi service for purchase.

Weather:  We traveled in October, one of the best (cooler) months for visiting China.  Beijing daily high/low temperatures in October are comparable to Calgary.  Shanghai and farther south, highs were mid-to high-twenties Celsius.

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