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