PDF China Travel Tips: My Personal Observations

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I bought my tickets myself 2 days before travel. No problem with availability. Passport was asked for. The second class seats were waaaay more comfortable than airline economy. What can I say? I would not take it on my own due to the language barrier. I was with Cathy my guide, so it was o. Pay cash to the driver. Domestic air- luoyang to beijing. Booked thru travelzen but watched the prices on Ctrip. I emailed travelzen re.

I broke the news to my family, watch their expression, and reminded them that they wanted to join the trip so accept sitting next to someone they do not know for 2 hours. In the end, we were seated 2 and 2. The economy is like any other airline. Beijing subway - except for the standing room only well, most times , it was very efficient, quick, and on time. I never have to wait for more than 5 minutes for another train. Signs and announcements were both in english and chinese.

So user friendly that if I could do it, anyone can do it. To know which direction you want to go, just look at the last station of the line you are going to and take that train. Line 2 is different since it is a loop. To know which loop direction to take, you have to know the immediately next station in your direction of travel. That is the train to take. My eldest daughther had fun decoding the subway for us.

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Taxi- cheap overall and gets you to where you want to go. I always used the 2 color taxi with a B in the license plate. Once my wife tried to call a black colored car with a B license plate and I said NO. Let me go to the cheating first which others reported. We were never cheated but have been solicted for cheating. It never happened in beijing or xian. I avoided taxis as reported hanging out on tourist areas. One bad experience can ruin an otherwise happy trip. I got solicited in luoyang. At the express train station, near the taxi stand, 2 people approached me.

I was ready to wave them away but I was curious. Up to now, no one attempted to cheat me yet. So I showed my hotel address and then pointed to the regular taxi. They look at me and returned my paper. The second time was when I asked a taxi to bring us to the luoyang airport. The guy put his hand up and motioned 5. I pointed to the meter. He did not argue.

He just turned the meter on. I paid 38 yuan for the trip. The nicest taxis were in Beijing , followed by Xian , and rickety ones in Luoyang. Most taxis that I saw in beijing were hyundai elantra and jettas. I do not know how big the trunk spaces are but if my experience in luoyang is anything, don't expect the whole space available for your use. In luoyang, I took 4 cab rides. In 3, I managed to open the trunk space 2x to put luggage, and once the driver had to open it to refuel.

All 3 had a large gas not gasoline but gas tank- presumable compressed natural gas- which took up half of the trunk space. Good thing I insisted to my family that we travel light for our side trip to xian and luoyang. Now to the famous drivers- They drive wherever they want, when they want, and in whatever fashion.

So many close calls but surprisingly, during my trip, I did not actually see an accident happen. Crossing the streets- After 2 days, my family learned to dodge, civilians, bikes, motors, and cars like the locals. We learned that the red and green lights were half traffic lights, half decorations. We gave it a cursory look, and then looked to cross when locals crossed- at whatever color the light was. I would love that system here in New York so I can know when to slow down since I can't reach the green light on time or speed up because I can catch it. In china it was usually the latter.

Whether they can catch it or not. It was raining rather hard. They drove to Longmen Grottoes like it was sunny, right up to the butt of the car in front and either swerve which was most times or stopped. I was holding on for dear life that when I left the cab, I realized that my right fingers were numb from holding the hand hold. A final word- for a trip to a place where the culture and food are diametrically opposed to your home country, please make sure that your companions are into the trip, heart, body, soul, and stomach.

I'm just being honest. I know that the momuments of china are freaking huge, a reflection of the egos of the emperors, and as such entails lots and lots of walking.

Our Itinerary

For the first 4 days my companions grudgingly walked. But we have to shorten a lot of places eg. I wanted to go to suzhou street at the summer palace. I was outvoted for sightseeing. I wanted to see the treasure room a the FC. You get the drift. I listed 8 restaurants for dinner- dianke dianli, dadong, haidilao, noodle loft, ghost street area, bai family mansion; don lai shun, Dazhaiman dinner show.

I would have been 0 for 8 had not my eldest daughter- who is the most physically unfit of us all and the one who has the narrowest of food choice- insist to the rest that " dad has to eat his hotpot; dad has to eat his duck;" At dadong, she ate only one- repeat- sliver of beef. At haidilao, the spam and the soup only.

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All that chinese food everywhere It was no fun to eat alone. They revolted at seeing the acrobat and kungfu show. In the end, they agreed to the kungfu show only because I insisted. When we were in luoyang, I finally gave up. I went to the Longmen grottoes alone.. Back in beijing, the computer terminals at the hotels received more attention. They were happiest at the xinjiekou shopping area. Good thing international credit cards were not accepted. Am I a little disappointed? My kids are turing 14 and Not exactly small kids.

Tried to show them culture and another enviroment. Did not turn out as I expected. But they are my family. By the way, the solid color taxis such as the black one that you mention are fine as long as there is a B on the license plate. Often these are driven my very experienced drivers.

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Agree about getting used to pushing and shoving. I was with a local once at an airport and followed her, got to the front of the queue! But not a comfortable experience. Hey I got a picture of a baby pooping on the steps of the Temple of Heaven.

Credit cards are only useful in large hotels and dining places. JP, the post by wheatdogg said precede see the link. I completely forgot about this. All I remembered was to add two zeroes. And for a good thing cuz I could not run around find an ATM that accepted a 4 pin. The debit I used was from Capital One bank. Thanks for the clarification on the taxi but I got so confused reading here and I was looking at most reports and pictures that it seems they tend to do the fixed rate thing.

So stuck it out with the two tone. All of your saved places can be found here in My Trips. Log in to get trip updates and message other travelers. My china trip report Part I. Browse forums All Browse by destination. Because Tianmen Mountain and Zhangjiajie National Park are at relatively high elevations and are outdoor activities, weather will dictate how good your experience will be. I had read that October is a good time to visit so I am not sure if that is a lie or if I just had bad luck. As I mentioned, it would be ideal if you could plan a few extra days to allow for bad weather.

Likewise, you might want to decide which way to travel the loop of sites depending on the forecast for your days in the area. Fenghuang is best viewed at night and so will be fine even with some rain but the park and the mountain are disappointing if you have rain and fog. A local man I met in Wulingyuan told me that the park is usually terrible after rain.

That proved to be true for my visit and I think it also applies to Tianmen Mountain, so you might consider that in your planning. Changsha currently has two subway lines with at least two more planned see station map. The travel time is about minutes. The last bus is timed to leave the airport after the final flight arrives, so I had no problem with my flight which arrived at There is a train between Changsha and Zhangjiajie city but the bus is the only real option for the other legs of the loop.

Ctrip will also allow you to book online using a foreign credit card. Do be aware that train seats can often sell out days in advance. If you opt for the train or even the bus between Changsha and Zhangjiajie city, you will have to backtrack a bit about an hour getting to Wulingyuan. If you want to avoid that, there are a few direct buses between Changsha and Wulingyuan that leave from the West bus terminal in Changsha. You can see bus schedules and prices on the China Bus Guide site.

Here are the prices and trip duration for the relevant routes. Something strange about the longer buses I took is that there seems to be a packaged foods salesperson that makes the trip and at one point will start speaking. For a very long time. I presume they were making some kind of extended sales pitch as after they finally stopped speaking they started selling products to—what seemed to me—a relatively receptive and even enthusiastic audience. Sometimes there even was laughter and clapping during the presentation.

You can read a lot about the cultural differences, especially in manners, between Chinese and pretty much the rest of the world. Most of what you read is negative. Here are a few specific things I noticed that might be worth mentioning. Again, I am not passing judgment, just pointing out things I experienced that you might see yourself. Be prepared to pantomime to communicate. It might be worth learning numbers and a few survival phrases. All the places I stayed offered free WiFi, but it was usually pretty slow, sometimes painfully so. A few places—notably the Changsha airport—offer free WiFi but note that you will need a WeChat app account to access it usually via a QR code.

You may also be able to login via a local phone number. Speaking of local SIM cards, should you get one? I was originally planning to, but in the end I survived 11 days without mobile Internet access. The problem is that there are a great many to choose from and not all of them work effectively in China. There are also free and paid versions. So, my biggest suggestion is to do your research better than I did! If you are addicted to Facebook, a paid VPN might be worth the price.

I had some luck with VPN Master but it was hit or miss as well. I think there are two big problems with VPNs. First, obviously, is how good the VPN itself is. How much traffic it can handle, how many servers it has and in what countries, etc. Second, even a good VPN will not work well if your Internet connection itself is bad. That, unfortunately, was the problem I encountered most of the time by using only bad WiFi.

And, unfortunately, you cannot download any Google China maps for offline use. Otherwise, you might want to print out or take a screen capture of the map to your accommodation. It is important to know that some hotels are only available to Chinese residents.

Destinations

Agoda seems to warn about this but Booking. I would think not, but I noticed reviews by foreigners for places that supposedly only allow Chinese residents. If you know more about this, please share in the comments. One nice thing is that many hotels allow a very late free cancellation policy, sometimes as late as This is great for making tentative plans. Tap water is not safe to drink. Bottled water is generally inexpensive, though more expensive than other countries I have visited.

Some shops like near the bus station did seem to charge outrageous prices so shop around. Many bus stations and some other places like rest areas on the highway and entrances to tourist attraction offer a free water dispenser, though often the only water available is hot.

Still, I have to say that I was disappointed with the food I ate during my trip. It was also often quite oily and when meat was included it tended to be in very small amounts. Prices were generally higher than neighboring Asian countries as well. Stinky tofu is probably the one recognizable specialty of the area and I tried it several times. I liked it, though the taste seemed to vary a lot by vendor and it is very oily the tofu seems to soak up the oil. Some do provide free hot water, but you will have to ask for it as nobody ever offered it unsolicited. I think perhaps local customers use this with tea they bring themselves or perhaps they just drink hot water?

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Maybe I just missed something important due to the language barrier. One interesting thing I experienced is that many restaurants provide a two-cup set wrapped in plastic one for tea, one for soup or noodles I presume. I am not entirely sure if you get charged whether your use them or not. Finally, I read online that certain restaurants offer dishes made with meat from endangered animals.

I always felt safe. I have no statistics or knowledge about how safe I really was, but I never worried about petty crime or my personal safety. Be aware that nearly all public toilets are the Asian squat variety. I saw one Western stall available in a restroom on Tianmen Mountain, but that was it. Things may be different in larger, more touristy destinations, but that was my experience in Hunan.

Also note that even some well-reviewed hotels use squat toilets in the rooms so if that is something important to you, pay attention to it when looking for and booking rooms online. There are some things to see and do, but none of them really excited me. If you have plenty of time, you may want to spend some time exploring the city, but otherwise I would opt to spend more time in the other destinations. For lodging, I stayed near the main train station at 7Days Inn Changsha Railway Station Metro Station 7Days Inn is a large chain of business hotels and there is another location just a couple of blocks away.

There are many other options around there and in other parts of the city, and they might be nicer, but my room was fine and it was convenient to be near the airport bus and the subway. This area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in and is comprised of several national parks, the most famous of which is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a square mile park full of stunning karst pillars of sandstone, covered with sub-tropical rainforest.

Sometime this adds to the mystery and makes for stunning photos but sometimes it just obscures the view. For that reason, it is probably a good idea to plan your itineraries to minimize these added expenses. The park itself is very big and there is a lot worth seeing. From each of those gates there are buses that take you up to the actual park entrance for free. The most convenient entrance will be Wulingyuan since there are many hotels there. I stayed at Zhangjiajie Chujian International Youth Hostel , which was quite nice and actually had staff with some English skills.

Mike and Anne at HoneyTrek spent one night at one of the two hostels located inside the park, which seems like a convenient, if very basic, option that allows for off-hours exploring without all the crowds. The size and multiple entrances make planning itineraries difficult. This is further complicated by the fact that it is not easy to find a good map online. My hotel provided a nice map for free but the photo I took of it below is of poor quality. I did find two good digital copies of hand drawn maps. One is available at pizzatravel. The other can be found at Laconic Voyage.

The Laconic Voyage post also offers two more useful maps, one with highlighted tourist routes and one that shows the main routes and highlights in a less cluttered format. However you plan to visit the park, the first natural question is how many days are needed? I am sure many of the busloads of Chinese tourists do a one day visit that just sees the main upper level spots but there really is a lot more to see. I only spent two days myself but I could have easily enjoyed using all four days allowed by the entrance ticket.