China Travel Tips

Reflections on Travel in China

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

English Speaking Guides in China

I teach a class in China at Guide Schools and with Travel Services on occasions when I am working there each year. One of the things that some guides tell me is that communications with foreigners is sometimes difficult with all the accents and many who use slang words that they do not understand. It is considered to be impolite to ask foreigners to repeat something or to tell them that they do not understand them. It is a cultural requirement to give a positive answer to inquiries or questions so sometimes the communications lacks some mutual understanding. Chinese usually learn British English and by time they graduate from the University can speak about 7to 8 thousand words. Americans normally use about 12 thousand words in normal conversation and many slang words, double meanings etc. etc. And yes, we do have a very strong accent. Chinese guides must deal with British, American, Australian, Canadian and many people who speak English as a second language. Speaking slowly, using formal English and avoiding slang will help greatly with communications. I often watch the eyes of a new Chinese friend to see if they are understanding me and if I get that bewildered blank look, know I must rephrase myself until I get a positive reaction to my statement or question. Some Chinese friends speak perfect English and I sometimes catch myself falling back into my American slang but not for long. The book above is a great help when going to China. If you can not find it in book stores, I keep about 50 copies on hand at $25 each post paid. Contact me at: More Photos at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guides and Shopping

Shopping with Guides in China often gets a bad reputation. Guides can obtain commissions sometimes from shop keepers who give them a kick back for bringing you to their shops. This can only happen IF YOU LET THEM! Be firm when you meet your guide and tell them you do not want to spend your valuable time shopping when you came to see the sites of China. If you are looking for some specific items to buy; your guide may be your best source of information and recommendation. Last trip I wanted a specific kind of rug in the Muslim area. My Muslim guide took me to the best place and I negotiated a fair price. The guide may have received a small commission but it is what I wanted in a rug and it was o.k. with me. When I plan a tour for clients, there are places to visit for bargains or factory outlets where you can see the products being made which is very interesting. You DO NOT HAVE TO BUY anything of course. When planning a tour, advise your tour consultant if you are not interested in any shopping or may be looking for specific items. There is a saying in China "If you like; Buy it" Because you may not see it again anywhere. I passed up a Jade piece last year that I loved and came back this year and of course it was gone. Art pieces are usually one of a kind. For more shopping tips, email me and I will give you some advice. Tours To China is my only destination with over 20 years experience in travel through out China.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Guides In China

With my 25 years experience in China, I believe Guides are one of the most important elements in visiting China. Guides must be certified by the government, usually go to Guide Schools at a University, and know their areas better than the people who live there. I often feel that clients think that guides and private cars with drivers are expensive but they are no more expensive than renting a car in the U.S.
Guides often receive a low salary and expect tips which are usually about $15 to $25 per day depending on the size of the city. Drivers about 1/2 that unless they are required to drive long distances each day. They are invaluable when learning about the culture. Above sitting in a tree is Wangdok, a Tibetan guide living in Shangrila who is a wealth of information on Tibetan history and culture. Ekbar above is Muslim and grew up in Kashgar. He is totally into Muslim history and knows the desert area around Kashgar inside and out. I have had countless guides over the years and could have not gathered the amount of information I have accumulated without them. Guides are the key to visiting China even though on rare occasions you might find a guide who does not measure up to your expectations. Silk Road Tours, Tours to Tibet and Tours to China other destinations is my only business...check us out at

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Taking a Breather While Touring

Being on a tour of China can be wearing sometimes without taking a day off here or there. I usually work 16 to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week almost like touring when I am there. I have learned to take a day off and spend it with friends or just relax spending time at the many tea houses, restaurants or with my many Chinese friends. You will find you can melt into the culture by taking some time on your own just walking around checking into one place or another. Chinese people are very friendly and many can speak English these days so you will find new friends almost everywhere. It is the personal meeting of the local people that can be very rewarding and Chinese people love to visit and drink tea, play cards etc. Especially during the hot summers a mid day stop at a tea house can be very interesting and an opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture either with your guide or the chance meeting of Chinese people who speak English and tourists from other countries. I will be writing more Tips on Travel to China in the coming weeks as well as more interesting stories about my 54th trip this fall and my plans for next year. Check my web site at for new packaged tours that we added this year which can give you some ideas for a custom tour designed just for you too. Tours to China and Tibet are our only destinations and we like to think that 25 years and over 50+ trips gives us many personal insights on Tours to China and the Silk Road. Click on the photos for full screen viewing!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Visiting a Home in Zharu Valley

This past fall we visited a family in Zharu Valley which is quite near Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan province. Deep in the mountains, this Valley is closed to the public and has 23 families living in it. Only 15 people per day are allowed to visit this valley. In 1975 these families lived on a cliff high above the valley with no water or electricity. With government help they moved down to the valley floor and since then now live in modern Tibetan style houses complete with electricity, t.v. and the internet. The woman pictured above has never been out of the valley in her lifetime. Her daughter went to the University in Chengdu but also chooses to stay in the valley most of the year only going out in the winter time to visit friends in Chengdu. Mom after seeing t.v. and the internet says, "It looks too busy out there"! and chooses to stay in the valley but enjoys her electric cooking after cooking over a wood fire for so many years. She cooked some boiled potatoes for me over a wood fire in her old home near by and poured some tea and their local wine as hospitality is always wonderful visiting a local family. When you go to China you will want to experience the culture as much as the sites. Tours to China is my business; but Chinese culture is my passion.

Lunch at a Muslim Home in Turpan

One of the things I enjoy most in China is having lunch or dinner in a local family's home. This can usually only be done during a private tour and it is an experience that let us see what daily life is like. Above we visited a Muslim home in Turpan. The people were grape growers and friends of our guide. As you can see by the photo above we had home made noodles, my favorite, with lamb and several other dishes. It is impolite to eat everything on your plate as it causes a loss of face by the host in that they did not prepare enough food for us. That is a Chinese custom too; but it was difficult not to eat everything in sight as it is so good. They gave us boxes of their grapes also to snack on during our trip. For snacks they brought out many of their dried fruits that they sell along with a cooling tea during the hot day. Notice we eat out of doors during the summer time as most families do. This family had three generations living under one roof thus a very large table. We ate at noon as we are use to but in this area lunch for the locals is common at 2:30 and dinner not until 9:30 on weekends because of the desert heat. The best time to visit Turpan is in late August and month of September during grape harvest and the weather is best too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Visiting Local People in China

One of the most rewarding experiences in China is meeting the local people. It is common to visit people in their homes especially in the countryside. No door bells so your guide can just shout out or inquire to people if it is o.k. to visit. Chinese people are very hospitable and will invite you in for tea while they continue to do their work and you can talk to them through your guide. Above is a photo of a farm family I visited a few years ago and was invited to stay for dinner as her husband was retiring that day from teaching school in the village and would be bringing home special food to celebrate. I stayed and enjoyed myself with her whole family. The other photo is a man I met who was slicing bamboo strips for his wife to sell in the market for people who made baskets. It was his way of contributing to the family. I was only the second white person he ever had seen. Of course I had to ask who was the first. "a naked lady on a stage in Chengdu in 1941" was his answer. I guess I must have been a disappointment to him! I have visited over 100 families in their homes in the 21 years that I have travelled throughout China and I count those experiences as some of the best I have ever had during that time. Tours to China is my business but my passion is Chinese culture and people.