8 Things You Should Know to Choose Your Perfect China Trip
China is a country rich in culture, history and natural beauty -- and thanks to government investments in the tourism industry, it's easier than ever for Canadians to pay a visit. Tour companies offer a multitude of trips, often at surprisingly reasonable prices. With so many package tours available, the challenge is figuring out which one is right for you. To help, here's our inside account of eight things you should know about the components -- from add-ons to itineraries to activities -- that make up popular trips to China.
1) Expect Some Cultural Activities
Outings to jade workshops, silk embroidery factories or tea plantations let you immerse yourself in China’s rich cultural traditions -- and help you find locally crafted treasures to bring home. The excursions are intended to help support these traditional industries, which means there will always be an opportunity (though not an obligation) to buy what you see.
Put frankly, this is part of the trade-off for the remarkably low price of many China package tours. The government of China subsidizes the cost, with the understanding that tours will include a certain number of cultural excursions and shopping opportunities. (They're typically spelled out in the itineraries.) Some visitors tell Travelzoo that they love the greater understanding of China gained through these outings. Still, if the idea (and the shopping) doesn’t appeal to you, we suggest looking beyond the lowest-priced, shortest itineraries, where these excursions will take up a bigger proportion of the schedule.
2) Budget for Some Add-Ons
Just as airlines keep fares down by charging for extras like checked bags, many tour companies let their companies decide whether to pay more for additional experiences. For example, a nine-night trip from WeChina Vacations offers optional evening events -- like a Chinese acrobatic show or a large-scale musical -- that theatre-lovers can attend for about $50 per ticket. Not a fan? Save your money for a different add-on, like a Peking duck banquet, a nighttime river cruise or a meal with a local family -- or keep costs low and just explore on your own.
3) Read Itineraries Carefully
Most tours will stop in Beijing (home to the Summer Palace, pictured), Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Wuxi. (One of our favourite packages from Nexus Holidays includes visits to each of these cities, with flights and tours.) Beyond that, though, the destinations of individual trips can vary dramatically. Some itineraries look similar but make different stops within a particular region. If you are interested in seeing specific sites, review itineraries carefully to find one that matches your interests.
4) Look Into Longer Trips or Extensions
Some of China's top tourist draws -- such as the terra-cotta army discovered in 1974 -- may not be part of a basic tour itinerary. For example, to see the impressive collection of 8,000 sculptures (built to protect China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang), you'll have to go to Xi’an, a city about 1,000 kilometres southwest of Beijing. Want to go? Look for a longer trip that includes time in Xi’an, like a nine-night trip from Compass Holidays. Alternatively, many companies offer a range of extensions so you can add must-see sights and additional days to the trip of your choice. Be sure to consider the cost of different options when making your final decision. More expensive packages with a robust itinerary could end up being less expensive than a budget trip with optional extensions.
5) Understand Hotel Locations
Even if you're spending multiple days in a particular city (like Shanghai, pictured) chances are you won’t be staying downtown. Most tour companies choose high-quality hotels on the city’s outskirts so tour buses can get you in and out of the area quickly, without wasting hours in the gridlock that afflicts city centres.
6) Consider a Cruise on the Yangtze River
Only the Amazon and the Nile are longer than the 6,300-kilometre Yangtze River, which runs through central China from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea. Multi-day river cruises are included in certain trips and available as add-ons for others. A typical three-night cruise might start in Chongqing and head to Yichang Pier or Shanghai, taking in the stunning stretch of water that includes the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectricity project.
7) Take Your Preferred Pace into Account
Some of us love to be on the go every minute; others prefer a more leisurely pace. Knowing where you fall on the spectrum will help you choose the right trip. This is another case where reviewing itineraries carefully will pay off, as most companies offer detailed accounts of each day's schedule. Hitting China's highlights in just over a week means packing a lot of sightseeing (and travel time) into each day. A more leisurely trip of two weeks or more will allow for free time to rest or explore at your own pace.
8) Look at Multi-Country Options
China can be an ideal jumping-off point to see more of East Asia; after all, you've already travelled to the other side of the world. Make a plan of your own or take advantage of the multi-country offers prepared by tour companies. For example, see Japan by sea before exploring China with a two-week cruise-and-stay package from SuperChina Holidays. You'll have even more memories to share when you return to Canada.
Sponsored by: Compass Holidays, Nexus Holidays, SuperChina Holidays and WeChina Vacations. Click any of the links above for more information about the deals offered by our partners or you can search Travelzoo.ca for China vacations.