China Travel Tips

Reflections on Travel in China

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wild Elephant Preserve in China

Most people have heard about the Wolong Panda Preserve that was destroyed during the latest earthquake but few know about the Wild Elephant Preserve. Located outside Jinghong in Xiahuangbanna district of southern Yunnan province of China, it is a preserve of the few remaining wild elephants in China. I have been to Xishuangbanna many times as it is semi-tropical with many minority peoples in colorful dress as well as tropical floral and palm tree preserves. Few foreigners go to this area and I do send many people there each year as part of my Tours to China business. The Wild Elephant Preserve has a tropical basic hotel and you can also stay in cottages set above the jungle as you see above if you desire. There is a walk way about 50 feet above the jungle floor where you can hike as well as a ski lift that goes for several miles above the jungle where you can hopefully see some of the elephants in their nature habitat. There is a daily show of tamed elephants in the village too. You do not have to stay overnight in the village but can return to Jinghong for the night. Most sites are outside of the city in the rural areas where you can visit many of the families in their homes and villages. I seldom see foreign tourists there. The area has over 20 different tribes all with their own cultures which is really interesting. One culture, the men do not work once they are married. The women controls the purse strings however. A marriage is broken by the tribe leader by just breaking a stick in half. It takes about 3 or 4 days to visit this area and there is an airport in this remote area with daily flights as it is in the middle of the jungle about 2 days by bus south of Kunming. Check my web site for more interesting places to visit in remote China.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Playing Games in China

As a Tour Operator to China, I am often requested to plan more culture interests for my clients. I try to put itineraries together for clients that give them opportunities to have personal contact with as many local people as possible. Chinese people are extremely friendly and outgoing. Just a few learned words of Chinese greetings etc. is received with smiling faces. Chinese people love to have tea in a park, play Marjon as you see above or play Chinese card games and Chinese chess. If you really want to have fun, learn some of these games and especially Marjon which everyone plays. You really do not have to speak Chinese and they love playing games with foreigners. Card games can be very exciting and fun as well as easy to learn. You can take your children to the parks or school yards and let them play with the local children who love being able to interact with foreign children. Many speak English these days as it is the #1 language that is taught starting in fourth grade. Basketball, soccer and other games are popular. On a private tour your guide will be more than happy to help you share these experiences. I often play games or shoot baskets with the local people and it builds wonderful memories. Check out my web site at wwww.interlakechinatours As a Tours to China and China Tour Operator I have had over 25 years experience in travel to China.

Food Street Vendors in China

As a Tour Operator to China for over 23 years, I am often asked about eating snacks and meals from the street vendors. Is it safe? Will I get sick? After 25 years of travel in China and 50+ trips I can say I have tried and done just about everything. The photo above is of the 'Night Market" as they call it in Beijing just off Wangfujing street. It is one of the best ones in China as others aren't so neat and tidy looking. The government made them clean it up as the Olympics were coming and they wanted to make a good impression. 9 out of 10 times I would say you are not going to have a problem. It's that 10th time you might get sick and then what? Meats and fish often are out of refrigeration for several hours even though they cook them in front of you. In all the times I have been in China I only got sick one time after eating in the countryside at a farmer's home. I carry antibiotics with me at all times which is a good practice no matter where you travel. I have eaten at road side restaurants and many other places without getting sick but I am careful that everything is well cooked and stay away from certain foods like sausages that often give me diarrhea and any dishes with a lot of sauces which give you constipation because of the MSG in them. I carry medications for those problems too. For more information emailed me at any time. My 25 years of travel in China and over 2500 clients that I have sent to China give me a good background on traveling in China. Check my web site at  Click on the photo for a full screen view.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Temples in China

Seeing temples in China is like trying to see all the churches in Europe. There are so very many that you can't see them all. Above is the Lama Temple in Beijing which is an active temple with many monks. It is famous because of the 5 story tall Buddha carved from one Sandalwood tree trunk. Located in the near north side of Beijing, I usually include it in my custom itineraries for my clients. It is a great example of an active monastery and temple. Mid to late afternoons it may be busier but that is the time you might catch the monks at prayer and chanting. No photographs are allowed but you can buy postcards like the one above of the Buddha.
Wherever there is a special temple or monastery in China depending on the client's interests, I try to include only the most interesting ones. In 25 years of travel through out China I have seen hundreds of temples and monasteries some of which are very good and others just ordinary. One has 8 door ways into it. There are hundreds of Buddhas within it. You go in your door of choice and go either left or right and then count the Buddhas until you get to the number of your age and that is suppose to be your Buddha. I am a bit on the large size and round in the middle and of course you know what Buddha came up for me....Round and laughing Buddha. Tours to China acting as a China Only Tour Operator, I do custom tours to your interests. It is a large country and so much to see so you might as well see what you are interested in. for details.

Monday, December 15, 2008

River Cruises in China

Touring in China is often very tiring sightseeing day after day especially over a two or three week period. I often recommend to my clients a Yangtze River Cruise for three days or as long as 7 days to relax a bit and recharge your batteries. From Chongqing to YiChang down river is the most popular however going up stream is one additional day against the current and costs the same. Or you can do both at a reduced price for a round trip. It can be as relaxing or as busy as you like. Each day you have an off boat experience as well as an up close tour of the largest dam locks in the world. I recommend Victoria Cruise Line and which is American owned and operated with 8 modern river boats. See their web site at with details. I discount the cruise when you book other tour arrangements with me at Interlake China Tours, Inc. Another not widely known cruise is the Li River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo which is a day cruise of about 4.5 hours through some of the most beautiful scenes in China. You can even stop at Crown Cave which is a fantastic cave tour during the cruise. When you go to China you might as well see what you are interested in rather than a stock off the shelf tour. I do custom private tours as a specialty with over 20 years experience as a Tours to China tour operator and planner. I work directly with Chinese suppliers who obtain local pricing by contract and you get my 25 years and over 50 trips to China experience and knowledge of China.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stone Works in China

Through out the countryside and in some small cities you will find beautiful stone work in buildings, paths, walls and homes. I started looking at it as art work rather than just stones neatly put together. The more I became interested in them the more I learned about it. In the old days little building materials were available so they had to use what was available in their areas. Where wood was available you can find wooden structures many built without nails using pegs and without electric tools even yet today. Where there was little wood, they used stones neatly fitted together. Clay bricks were used in many cases where there were no stones or wood. Many thousands today do still live in constructed caves in the ground (check an earlier blog story about cave people) I wondered what they used for a binding agent since they didn't have concrete and found that they often used sticky rice mixed with sand. During the years of little or no food, they often dug out the material and separated the rice from the sand for food. During the recent earthquakes it is easy to understand why so many lives were lost when these stone structures collapsed without reinforcements. I recently seen the same situation in Kona, Hawaii in the old churches there that remain unstable and some fallen down. Private Custom Tours to China is my business as well as being a China Travel Service. For more information check our web site at

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Where Is The Best Section of the Great Wall?

As a Tour Operator and Planner to China and Tibet only, I am asked many times about going to the Great Wall. There are several sections of the Great Wall outside of Beijing. The closest is Badaling where all the Group Tours go because of the freeway and large parking lot besides being close to the Ming Tombs and a shopping stop at the Cloisonne Workshop. My choise for the average person is Mutianyu which is a bit further but on a good country two lane road with more scenery and few if any buses in the smaller parking lot. There is also a cable car there to take you up onto the Wall with little walking needed. There are other sections of the Wall also for those who want a challenging hike but also further out and takes the whole day to get there and back. Mutainyu takes about 2/3rds of a day depending on how much you want to hike or walk on the Wall with enough time to maybe stop at the Lama Temple on the way back. If you think the Great Wall is an easy hike, see the photos above. The distant photo showing the almost verticle climb is at Mutianyu but is about one mile out from the entrance and at that point begins where there is a section left as it was found not repaired. Other shots show you sections that have a very steep incline for those who are looking for more of a climb than a walk. For more information check my web site. Private and Customized Tours to China are my expertise for the past 25 years.  Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shaolin Temple Monks at Wushu Temple

Kungfu enthusiasts all know about the Shaolin Monks of China. Wushu Temple and Monastery is located between the cities of Luoyang and Zhengzhou in Henan province of China. You can go there by flying into Zhengzhou or by train from Xian. Although many tourists now go there it is still the meca for Kungfu classes and students of Kungfu. The web site is the largest school with over 7000 students. During the day there is a performance put on by the monks as you can see above. I visited there just a couple years ago and was the only foreigner attending that day. When one of the monks came out with the bowl being held in by his stomach muscle, he challenged anyone to try and remove it telling us all that only one time it had ever been removed. The audience all called for me to give it a try since I was the only foreigner there. I saw that his skin was moist from previous activities and thought if I twisted it, I may be able to get some air inside and it would come off. It did almost too easy. I thought the crowd would cheer but the monk had lost "face" and the crowd was silent. After the show the monk came out and asked the crowd to remain seated and called me up on stage and bowed presenting me with the bowl as a sign of humility. I accepted it gracefully and still have it yet today as a rememberance of my time at Wushu Temple. If you would like to visit the Shaolin Monks, I do private custom tours to China at I do Tours to China Only as China Tour Operator and China Travel Agency

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Friend Shi Mao Ting or Sherry in China

After 25 years of travel throughout China one meets many people and some remain friends. Here is my friend, Mao Ting or Sherry as my wife and I call her. I met Sherry when she was but 4 years old in the remote small village of Yellow Creek Village near Chengdu in Sichuan province. I took pictures of her on a cold winter morning as she was standing in the street outside her home holding an orange in her hand and covered with a hand made orange colored cape. She is almost 17 here as you see her with me during my visit with her family. A very bright student when she was in primary school, she is now at boarding school in one of the best high schools and will be taking her entrance exams this coming hear for the University. We are very proud of her. Dad died two years ago and her Mom and Grandmother have a very small shop in which they support themselves working 14 hours a day 7 days a week. Sherry has classes from 7:20 in the morning until 5:30 and then from 7:00 P.M. until 9:00 P.M. each day. She has classes on Saturday morning from 9:00 until 12:00 and then comes home 30 miles until Sunday afternoon as she has classes on Sunday evening from 6:00 until 9:00 p.m. also. I have followed her life for almost 14 years and hear from her via email or letters between visits each year. Having known many Chinese in this way, I have many personal insights to China which I often share when I teach a class at area Universities and colleges on Travel to China. Check my web site at I do Tours to China only and have for 25 years. Up date 2015:  I wrote this in 2009.   Sherry now graduated and is a teacher.

New Luggage Policy in China

A luggage policy issued in May of 2008 has to do with carry on luggage. The policy for checked luggage is the same, 44 lbs maximum per bag limited to 2 bags in First Class and one bag in coach class. They have become very strict with this and I was 10 lbs over in one airport and was charged a $14 penalty. Some airports let it go through however including international flights. Carry on luggage is suppose to be limited to 2 pieces in first class and one piece in coach class not to exceed 11 lbs and size limit about the size of a good sized brief case. My trip this fall I noticed that the carry on limits were not adheared to and people continue to take everything but the kitchen sink onto the planes and in the overheads. Alcahol of any kind is still not allowed in the carry on baggage and should be packed in your checked luggage. A book I recommend to all of my clients that you will find very helpful before going to China is "Encountering the Chinese" A Guide for Americans 2nd. Edition by Mr. Hu Wenzhong and Cornelius Grove. Most good book stores or should have it. You might want to sign up to receive my Blogs on Tips on Travel in China to receive new information as I usually write each week. As a China Only Travel Agent with Tours to China, my 25 years experience in travelling to China with over 50+ trips will help you in planning your tour. Check out my web site at Happy Travels

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dr. Ho and Son of Traditional Medicine Fame

I visited my old friend Dr. Ho of Chinese traditional medicine fame at his small clinic where he is retired in Baishan Village near Lijiang in Yunnan Province. In this small village surrounded by beautiful mountains, Dr. Ho continues the work of his father at age 90 along with his son and daughter in law who are both Doctors too. He sees patients and visitors almost daily in his make shift clinic always having the time to spend chatting with everyone that comes to see him. National Geographic and 60 Minutes both have visited him this year as his popularity continues wtih his wide spread following around the world. His son has built a museum as a legacy to his father's work and it will soon be ready to view by everyone coming to see him. Never charging for "office calls" Dr. Ho is generous with his time and his talents to all of those who come. Now and then his wife pops in from their home right behind the small clinic. Be sure to take a guide with you as the clinic is small and often walked past if you do not know where it is. Check my web site for more information about touring China and the many unique and wonderful places to visit. Let my 25 years experience be of assistance to you in planning your tour to China. Check the web site at

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Have it Custom Made if you like!

One thing I love about China is that if you do not see exactly what you are looking for; you can have it made your way just like at Burger King! I had been looking for a one strap over the shoulder day bag as I call them. Handy to carry water, cameras and day needs Checking out many places during my last trip in China I was in LiJiang walking the back streets nosing around as I usually do looking for unusual places for my clients. I found a one strap bag in this small shop. I didn't like the way it was designed and I noticed they were making other purses, bags etc. in their booth. So I asked them if they could change a few things and make one for me the way I would like it. I selected the leather, buckles and details that I wanted. They quoted 220 yuan which is $32 which I didn't even bargain with and they would have it ready in 6 hours. Double thickness leather and lined with zipper pockets both inside and one outside for my cell phone. I had a choice from 10 colors of leather and strong buckles and nylon zippers. Many small booths in China you will see sewing machines and products being made by hand including shoes. Custom made and at reasonable prices. For more information check out my web site.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chinese Style New Hotel in LiJiang

Here is an example of a new Chinese style hotel located in LiJiang. There aren't a lot of this new style hotels but more are being built in the tourist areas now as the demand for them is greater. Small Chinese style family hotels are available as you see in my next story below but the cost is high because there are few rooms and few with modern facilities. Many have Chinese style facilities if you are up for that but the cost is often as much as a nice 3 or 4 star hotel. LiJiang in Yunnan province which happens to be my favorite town in the mountains has more of these hotels than any place in China. I stay at this one often as it is in the quiet end of Old Town but within 20 mintues walking of the center of the Old Part and 30 mintues from the main entrance to Old Town with narrow streets and no cars allowed. The Wang Fu hotel shown here is only two years old and very comfortable having internet access and a full western and Chiense breakfast. Each evening in front of the hotel for about an hour they have local dancing around a Bon Fire with locals participating. I spend about 4 weeks each year going from city to city inspecting hotels and checking sites and have been doing this for 16 years all over China collecting on site information so that I can plan custom private tours for my clients with up to date information. I have worked with my same Chinese associate partners for many years and always have timely and interesting new out of the way places to visit. See my web site at

Quaint Family Style Inns

One request I often get is that my clients would like a small family inn in the traditional Chinese style. They want clean, western style facilities but typcial Chinese style. They do exist and above is one of them in LiJiang called the Qian Li Hou Dan. The type of Inns clients want are in tourist towns or villages however and seldom in common Chinese cities or remote towns. The cost of this one runs about $350 to $500 per night. Far from the $25 a night people are looking for. Backpacker type hotels are plentiful and usually run about $15 to $25 per person per night in dormitories. Private rooms usually cost about $35 to $55 per night. Shared bathrooms and usually no breakfast included. There are other better family run hotels however the cost usually starts at about $65 to $200 per night per room. A blog that I will write next will be on larger Chinese style hotels being built with all modern facilities and usually cost around $100 to $165 per night depending on the city and area. Again the majority of these are in the tourist areas rather than in the countryside and small villages where it is more difficult to find such hotels. Rural area hotels are usually very plain and basic with Chinese style bathrooms and Chinese only breakfasts. 3 star or better hotels are usually the order of the day for western tourists. Anything lower other than backpackers hotels often lack facilities and good conditions.

Wild Goose Pagoda Park in Xian

In Xian one of the standard tour sites has always been the Big Wild Goose Pagoda; but with limited time I have found many other sites as well. This last trip I mentioned this to the guide and she said that there is a new park there now so of course I had to see it. It is a wonderful park with trees and these wonderful bronze pieces through out the park. This one is a man getting a haircut. Of course with my Buzz cut I didn't really fit in. But if the wonderful park is not enough, there is a Dancing Waters section of the park that is the size of a football field complete with music that one just has to see. The Chinese never fail to amaze me coming up with many new things year after year. If you ever are planning to go to China you need to do a lot of reading and keep checking my blog. Tour Operators who take people to the same old sites year after year need to be up on all the new sites. This is just one that I discovered this trip as I spend a month each year looking at new areas to send my clients as well as keeping up on the rest of the country too. It is a job; but I love it.  After 25 years of travel and 50+ trips I never tire of the many adventures I experience.
Check out my web site for some packaged tours that I have designed myself.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Great Little Restaurant in LiJiang

As a part of my business I inspect and try restaurants in most tourist cities so that I can recommend them to my clients as a China Only Tour Operator. In my favorite small city in the mountains of Yunnan province, LiJiang, I continue to go back and eat at LAMU'S House of Tibet. Both good Chinese and western food but don't expect gormet western food in any restaurant in China. In 25 years I have not found that restaurant yet. Meat Lover's Pizza is my favorite at Lamu's and I had it twice this last trip even talking my guide friend Jack Zhao into trying it. After a long day of checking small local hotel locations, we enjoyed some good beer with our pizzas. Lamu's has a upstairs area which is very comfortable as you can see as well as a new balcony outside overlooking the pedestrians only street below. Old Town as it is known in LiJiang has no cars allowed in the narrow streets wtih winding streams of water flowing through the town and over 350 bridges leading to quaint, funky and deluxe restaurants.....but I still love Lamu's for the food, comfortable seating and they never rush you to move on once you are served. Free internet upstairs, library and oh so comfortable furniture after a long day of site seeing. Sign up here on my blog to automatically have sent to you all my latest blog writings each time I write one telling stories of my latest adventures and tips on visiting China. .

Understanding of Jade

Jade and Pearls have both escaped an understanding by most people. I learned more about Jade this trip to China than ever before. Above is a Jade piece that I should have bought if it weren't the price of $17,500. What makes the cost so high? When you go to Xian check out the Jade and Jadite pieces at either the Hua Hui Arts and Crafts or Yu Hua Arts and Crafts centers. Mr. John King shown above is a Lecturer on Jade and extremely knowledgeable. I learned that the hardness and color of Jade determines the value. Yes, color of Jade we think of as green but there are many shades of green as well as white, lavender, pink and others. Some Jade is found in streams and can be translucent while other Jade is found in the mountains in veines like gold. Each has its own properties and colors. The piece above is light green with streaks of lavender in the background. Artists are given stones and they do the carving with diamond tipped tools to carve what they see in a stone. The better the stone and artist the higher the value of course. There are many places in China to see Jade carvings but the two mentioned above places I visit the most. My appreciation for good art is always satisfied in China but beware the imitations at low prices. I love my Jade ring set in 18 ct. gold and get many compliments on it. The cost has gone up 10 times since I bought it back in the early 1990's because good jade finds are less and less these days. Click on the photos for full screen views.

China Earthquake Visited

I just returned from China Oct. 20th after visiting the earthquake area in Sichuan province. One needs to see it to really understand what happened. Imagine a 100 mile long area by 30 miles wide being fully destroyed by the earthquake. I was allowed to go to one city at the southern end of the earthquake called Dujiang Yan City. Part of the city was unaffected but the rest is as you see above. 11,000 + people were killed, 20,000+ injured and 279 people still unaccounted for. 30,000 15' X 15' emty rooms have been erected for the survivors from several cities. No facilities in them. 15 rooms share one room for cooking and 50 rooms share a group bathroom with no showers available. One woman was walking down the street. She told us she had just stepped out of her house onto the street when it struck and that her whole house fell down and killed the rest of her family. She does not know what to do and just keeps walking around in disbelief as she has no family left. Most have jobs in other cities now but it will be years before they will have normal living conditions again. Meanwhile all along the road are tents made from blue tarps in which farmers are living in order to be closer to their land and to make some kind of living. Keep watching my blog for more stories from my recent trips. Check out my web site at .

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bargain Tours - You Get What You Pay For!

While in France on vacation I met a couple who had been to China on a "Bargain" Tour this past year. They complained about the number of people on the tour, poor food, wasting time waiting for people who were late, poor hotel locations, noisy restaurants, crowded buses and other complaints. They went all the way to China and had a bad experience in which should have been the trip of a life time. Bargain tours are no bargain. One couple told me they were going to stay at the Beijing Hotel on their bargain tour. After we checked closely it was listed as "a" Beijing Hotel which turned out to be way out in the suburbs and a 3 star very old hotel. One needs to check bargain tours very closely. Ask the tour company for references. If they can not furnish them, do not book the tour. Past customers surely will tell you the truth. Group tours should not be over 16 people. If it includes a Yangtze River cruise, ask which Line they use as there are many very poor ones as well as excellent ones. Then check it on the internet. Private customized tours to your interests do not cost that much more and are far more enjoyable. You might as well see what you are interested in and how you want to tour as well. Private tours with your own guide and own private transportation with meals in non-group restaurants and non-group hotels are much more quiet and enjoyable. For more information check our web site.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

LiJiang - My Favorite Town in China

As a 25 year business in doing Tours to China, many people ask me which area or city is my favorite. That is a tough question as China has a very wide variety of cultures and sites. However, I must admit that I love LiJiang in Yunnan province the most even though it is getting a bit touristy for most people. Old Town is a photographer's paradise with the Naxi people living here, streams flowing through the town and no cars are allowed inside the Old Town with its narrow streets. So much to see and experience. Shops galore, evening shows, markets, Mr. Mu's Mansion and restaurants of all kinds. One needs to get out into the country side as well with the many stone villages and historical places as well as the snow capped mountains which is a perfect place to visit during the summer months too at 8000 feet and cool mountain air.  Side trips can be done to the Leaping Tiger Gorge and Lugu Lake the home of the Moseo people.    Visit my web site at for your customized tour to your special interests.

Longsheng Rice Terraces and Hotel

For those looking for a wonderful country experience, clean hotel and some wonderful hiking, nothing is better than Longsheng Rice Terraces outside of Guilin. It is a bit of a walk up hill to the hotel but well worth the effort. Just for the day or spend a couple days hiking the Dragon's Back across the top of the rice terraces. Great local food and convenient clean rooms with western facilities. Run by a family you will feel at home enjoying the local culture of the Zhrung and the Yeo people in their colorful everyday dress. The Yeo women only cut their hair once in their life time when they are 13 and are in the Guiness Book of Records for the people with the longest hair. I wrote about them earlier. Note our guide from Guilin who took us to this area. Local guides make your tour as they know all the wonderful places to take you that most tours do not even know about. For those looking for a private tour to your interests, let me plan a tour just for you. Our web site is We only do Tours to China and Tibet and no other country. For the best in depth knowledge of China, contact us to plan your next tour to China.