China Travel Tips

Reflections on Travel in China

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Visiting Lhasa, Tibet

One of the best times to visit Tibet when it comes to culture is November. It is a bit cool in the 60's during the day and 30's at night but the skies are usually clear and the sun very bright and warm. Why November? There are not many tourists during the winter months but the nomads from all over Tibet come to Lhasa to trade their goods, get supplies and make a pilgrimage. Many tribes come to Lhasa with their different dress and culture during the winter months and are also there to have a good time after being out in the remote areas. They spend just about all their money they get for selling hides, jewelry, yak meat and of course Yak Butter the staple for every Tibetan family which you see above. Money has no use out in the plateaus so they spend it all while they are in Lhasa. My Tibetan friend above and I spent several days combing the city which is only about 400,000 people and easy to get around in. We visited all the monasteries, the Potala Palace, old neighborhoods and of course the Barkhore street market just a block from my hotel. Earlier I wrote about visiting Lake Yamdok at 16,000 feet above sea level and visiting a home in one of the villages there. See my web site at for some great package tours to Tibet or ask us to plan a special tour just for you to include Tibet and other places in China. 25 years experience in Tours To China. Ask us for our references of very satisfied clients who have visited Tibet too.

Pagoda Built in 1492

There are many pagodas and ancient buildings in China but the one above is interesting as it was built in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America. It is located in the Tiger Hill Park in Suzhou not far from Shanghai. If you are in Shanghai and want to spend an interesting day, the train takes about 45 minutes to get to Suzhou which is an easy city to get around. Tiger Hill Park has a show every afternoon too in the park. Suzhou is also known for its parks with over 89 formal gardens of which only about 27 are open to the public. The three main parks worth seeing are the Humble Administrator's Park, Lingering Gardens and the Garden of the Nets. Garden of the Nets has a musical evening with traditional instruments too. Also known for Silk, the #1 Silk Factory can be toured and samples from the other 26 factories are on display there in the show room. A short live fashion show is also put on daily at 15 minute intervals. Suzhou also has canals running through the city and a boat ride is worth your time. For more information on Suzhou, please contact us at We are Tour Operators to China and Tibet for over 25 years. Check our web site at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


One of the most asked questions I get as a Tour Operator to China is about exchanging money. Above is the largest bill in China, a 100 Yuan note, at today's exchange rate is worth about $16. Just four years ago, it was worth about $12 so the U.S. dollar has decreased against the yuan. Most hotels will exchange cash or refer you to a near by bank. It is best to have yuan if you go into rural areas as foreign exchange is sometimes not available. Cash machines are popping up all over in China including some 4 and 5 star hotels and your credit or debit cards can be used. You put in the U.S. dollar amount that you want exchanged and out comes the correct Yuan amount. The charges vary with the banks. I use a debit card issued by my stock brokerage and they cover all the exchange fees. When you want to exchange your Yuan back into U.S. dollars,(which is done at the a airport when you are leaving) you must present the exchange slips that you received in order for the Chinese bank to make your exchange. Only exchange your money at the hotel's exchange counter, cash machines or Chinese bank. (not all banks exchange international money) Never exchange money with local people as there is much counterfeit money in China. For more money hints, contact us for more information at  Our web site:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Leaping Tiger Gorge

The Leaping Tiger Gorge is the most famous in China. It got its name from the myth that a Tiger leaped across the gorge after being chased by hunters landing on the rock in the bottom photo. Located between LiJiang and Dali in Yunnan province, it is usually visited on a day trip from LiJiang or stopped at from one of the many different sightseeing routes in that area. If you are into hiking, there is a hiking path along the gorge also. For more information on the many sites of China please feel free to contact me at I have been travelling all through China for the past 25 years and over 50+ trips to China and Tibet and have planed tours sending over 2,500 people to China from all over the world. Tours to China is my business, but the Chinese culture is my passion. Click on the photos for full screen Views!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Living at 16,000 feet Above Sea Level

This fall my annual working trip to China took me to Tibet. The changes since my last trip were more than I had anticipated. Lhasa has doubled in size in just 10 years. Going in November it was in the 60's during the day and 30's at night with an intense sun. Walking from the sun into the shade was quite a contrast in temperature as the air is cool but the sun is warming. More modern hotels, lots of cars and wealth has come to the people of Tibet. Restaurants now have western, Tibetan, Chinese and Indian food on the menu. My Tibetan friends took me out to a sacred lake at 16,000 feet where I was surprised to find several small villages and we stopped to visit one family to see what life is like at that altitude. A simple life and certainly cold most of the year, without electricity but still have cars to get to the city when they want or use motorcycles rather than horses to round up their yaks. They even plant some vegetable crops at that altitude. A great time to visit is November because there are few tourists but the Nomads from around Tibet come to Lhasa to trade their wares for supplies and goods plus making a pilgrimage while they are there. One sees the different dress and peoples from the whole country at this time of year. Check our web site for new packaged tours to Tibet or let us design a custom tour to your interests and requirements. Tours to China is our business and our only business for over 25 years.  Click on the photo for full screen viewing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Century Line on the Yangtze River

As a tour operator to China and Tibet only I must review new tourist spots, hotels and yes the Yangtze River Cruises.  I reviewed the Century Line with their 6 new wonderful boats on the Yangtze River. Century just started marketing in the U.S. this past few years so of course I had to review their boats and service.  Above you see one of their boats going through the Gorges which are spectacular even after the new dam has been finished. Note the spacious standard cabin and the center stairway to the upper floors although there are elevators available too. Breakfast and lunch is buffet style and dinner is served to round tables of 8 which is done in 5 star style. The staff is very friendly and very accommodating to your wishes. Evening performances in spacious lounges are held in the evenings and during the day there are off boat excursions and demonstrations going on too. Kite flying off the top deck during the day and commentary on what you are seeing is done in English and Chinese as you pass by the 3 Gorges and cities along the way. All this is included in one price including an off boat visit to the new dam and the 5 sets of locks which are the largest in the world. For more information and bookings, contact us at We represent the U.S. Victoria Line and the new Century Line two best cruise lines on the Yangtze River. Combine it with a China and or Tibet tour and save an extra 25%   Click on the photos for a full screen view!      and  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tibet Train from Lhasa to Chongqing

 I took the new Tibet train from Lhasa to Chongqing. The train leaves on the afternoon of the first day and arrives in Chongqing on the morning of the 3rd day. The trains are not much different from a regular Chinese train other than they have oxygen added to the air conditioning system. First class and second class sleepers as well as "Sit Up" cars are offered. Above you see the first class sleepers with two uppers and two lower berths. Mixed sexes can be in each car. The second class sleepers have three berths on each side or six berths to a compartment. Only a young backpacker would really book these. The sit up cars allow smoking and my observation was that I could hardly see one end of the car from the other through the smoke. Scenery is good the one and a half day of daylight travel. The dining car was not bad but is typical Chinese train food. Be sure to take food with you as well as water. Western and Chinese toilets are available as well as a clean up area with three sinks available in alternate cars. Out of 23 cars in the train, I was the only Caucasian person on the train although it was off season in November when I went but a great time to visit Tibet which I will write more about later. No matter what anyone tells you, tickets are difficult to obtain during peak seasons and the cost is usually much higher as they must be bought through 3rd. parties even by the larger travel services. Tickets often go to the highest bidder so no travel service can really guarantee tickets in advance since they can only be bought 10 days before departure. Travel Services who say they have tickets often offer lame excuses when they can not deliver them. Contact me at for more information. Tours to China for the past 25 years is my business and our only business.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Restaurants in the Remote Areas

In the very remote areas of China when there are no cities, there are often very small road side restaurants. One only needs to inspect them to see if they are clean. Since just about all Chinese food is cooked in a wok or boiled. I have never gotten sick. Above I was traveling with two friends and it was time for lunch. There were no cities close by so we stopped at a road side out of doors restaurant. My friend Mr. Li loves to cook so he went in and took over the cooking duties and made one of his favorite dishes. We enjoyed his cooking but paid the same amount as if the owner had cooked it too. Having good friends in China always seems to lead from one adventure to another. If you would like to take a cooking lesson in China, we now have half day or full day cooking lessons available if you are on a tour with us. You will learn to pick out the ingredients at the market and then take them back to the school and learn hands on cooking from the experts. Our business is Tours To China and we love having you learn more about the culture too. Check out our web site at We can do a private tour just for you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fishing With Birds

Fishing with Cormorant birds is a common sight in China but few tourists really get to see it close up. The Cormorant Bird has a ring around it's throat so it can not swallow the fish. It does not hurt the bird and the fishermen treat their birds very well as pets. One thing I noticed was that the birds after being in the water stretch their wings out as if to let the air dry them. Cormorants unlike other birds do not have oil in their feathers to repel water. They actually dive into the water and swim down to catch fish as large as 3 to 5 lbs. then bring them up and dump them in the fisherman's boat. They are rewarded with food they can swallow past the ring. A wonderful place to see this up close is actually in the city of Guilin. You can take the evening boat excursion through the 5 connecting lakes in the city which is wonderful with all the lights along the shore and lighted pagodas and bridges. You will see the fishermen with their birds as close as 10 feet as you pass them in the darkness seeing the birds bring in the fish and waving at the fishermen as you pass. Tickets for the cruise can be bought at the dock or ask your tour operator such as myself to include it in your tour. Check us out at Travel and Tours to China is our business for 22 years.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hotels in China on the Internet

As a tour operator to China for 25 years I get many questions on hotels. There are a variety of hotels usually based on stars. The minimum you want to stay in unless you are a Back Packer is a 3 star hotel. 4 star hotels are probably the best value and 5 star hotels are the best available. However there are several levels in each category too with varying prices. Some hotels have two buildings with differing prices having a 5 star one and a 3 or 4 star one; so be careful about which room you are booking. One prospective client insisted that there was a room for $100 a night at what is listed as a 5 star Hotel in Xian. Indeed they did when I checked although I knew the hotel well. It was in the second building and was a very small room, no breakfast, service charge which is usually 15% to 20% and tax included at that cost. After the above were added in the cost of the room was $182. Big surprise when you check out. That same hotel in the new building on the Business Floor which the breakfast, service charge and tax included is $285 per night. There is no tipping in the hotels in China except maybe the bell boy for taking your luggage to the room and then a minimum. The service charge covers all tipping services. For more information on hotels, feel free to contact us at   Click on the photo for a full screen view.  

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visiting Tibet

As a Tour Operator to China since 1992, I travel each year to China checking new places to visit, inspecting hotels and restaurants as well as looking at new places and sites for my clients. I have been to Tibet a few years ago but with all the changes going on, I must go to Tibet more often. The new train to Lhasa is only one of the many changes. I took that train down the mountains to Chongqing where I boarded a new boat of the Century Line to sail the Yangtze River for the 7th time. Lhasa has changed a lot with new hotels, parks and growth. How it has affected the people and the city will be interesting to note. I try to experience everything when I am working in China so that I can recommend places for my clients to visit that aren't always on the normal touristy list and are interesting to their particular interests. Part of every good tour is viewing the culture either in their homes or in their places of gathering. One needs to see the Potala Palace of course which is only open during the morning hours and there is a limit of so many people per day controlled by the number of tickets available.  I also like visiting people in their homes which reveals much about their culture and the opportunity to visit with them through a guide who speaks the language.  Tours to China is my business but the culture is my passion.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Factory Shops in China

As a tour operator to China for 20 years, I get many comments from clients that say, "NO FACTORY STORES". Unfortunately they get a bad rap and sometimes well deserved. However there are many excellent ones where you can see talented handicraft workers too. As a Tour Operator who has personally travelled China myself for 21 years, I have seen the worst and the best. Group Tour guides and some private tour guides go a bit overboard to take you shopping where they get commissions from the stores or the Travel Service may require them to take you to some stores where they get kick backs. As a Custom Private Tour Operator, I do not allow this. I do however often recommend and put in my tours Workshops that are honest and worth seeing. Just to name a few is the Cloisonne Workshop in Beijing, Rug workshops in Shanghai and other cities where they actually make them, Jade Carving workshop in Xian, Silk Factory in Suzhou and many others. Rugs are freehand made from a pattern on a piece of paper so no two are exactly alike. The woman above is painting a divider with gold leaf and enamel paint by free hand and no pattern other than a photo. You should visit some of these workshops where you can actually see things being made rather than just a retail store selling over priced goods. You do not have to buy of course but enjoy seeing the processes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stone Forest

Amongst the more interesting natural formations in China is what is called the STONE FOREST which are really grey limestone pillars. Pictured above it is located about 2.5 hours by car south east of Kunming in southern China. It can be seen in one day having a guide and car with driver go there in the morning and have lunch. You can walk around through the stone formations although it covers many square miles as you can see in the above photo. From a distance it looks like a great metropolis. Near by are the Sani branch of the Yi people who have grown tobacco for many years but have given in to the commercialism of the Stone Forest. My personal opinion is that it is over rated as a site not worth a full days journey; however clients interested in rock formations find it very interesting and worthwhile. China Tours custom designed for our client's own interests is our business for over 25 years. Whether your interests are Culture, Yangtze Cruise, sightseeing, hiking, cooking, food, shows, antiques, shopping or whatever, we can put a tour together just for your personal interests. Check us out at
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Visiting Local People in their Homes

Most clients who come to me to do their tours are interested in the rich culture of China. One of the best ways I know of experiencing any culture is face to face talking to the local people especially in their homes. I encourage my clients to have home visits. These are not set up situations at all as most people might believe. Chinese people are extremely hospitable especially in the countryside and small villages. Often it is the custom to open your home to strangers on request and offer them a cup of tea. They are as much interested in you and where you come from as you are in them. Your guide serves as the go between in conversation as they may continue doing their household chores while talking to them. It is a great way to learn about each culture as there are 57 different minority peoples besides the Han Chinese. Above the elderly lady is Mosuo woman at Lugu Lake. The young man is in a Tibetan home in the mountains of Sichuan province where 1/3rd of all Tibetans live. The three woman are Dai minority people living in Xishuangbanna. In 25 years I have been in several hundred private homes all over the country and have learned so much directly from the people first hand that can't be found in books. The more I learn the more I realize I have yet to learn.
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Friday, July 23, 2010

57 Minority Peoples in China

The Han Chinese are about 85 to 90% of the Chinese people; however there are 57 different minority peoples living in China. Perhaps you can think of them as tribes such as our many Indian Tribes in the U.S. Each minority has their own customs and dress. I have spent several years visiting many of these minority peoples learning about their lives and how they live. There is a great concentration of different minorities in the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi although there are others across the country too. The top photo is of a Bai girl, middle one of a group of Zhrung women and the bottom photo of a Mosuo woman. Just as an example, I will give you one characteristic of each. The Bai girls and boys MUST be able to sing very well or their chances of marrying are not good. Zhrung women all have the exact same hair style. Most Musuo women never marry and live on top of a mountain around a beautiful lake. If you are going to China be sure to include some of the minority areas to view their cultures. Tours to China is our business but enjoying the country and the people is my real passion. I hope I can do a tour just for you to your specific interests. Check my web site at   Click on the photos for a full screen view

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Private Custom Tours

Hi, I am Dave or as my friends call me "ChinaDave". I have been planning private custom tours for clients from all over the world for over 25 years. I live in Seattle but have been working in China with my Chinese Associates for all of those years helping them develop our own tours for western tourists. It is a large country and you can't see it all in one trip so you might as well see what interests you most and how you want to travel and tour. 90% of our business is customized private tours for individuals and groups who come to us with their own needs and interests. I personally inspect hotels, sights, shows (all the good ones and many of the poor ones to weed them out for you) and restaurants which is my favorite to do. I look for interesting places to take people like the family we found making the black pottery in their home for 8 generations in a remote area of Yunnan province. If you want the real experience of visiting China and getting into the culture from taking a cooking class, biking in the countryside, visiting families in their homes, to whatever interests you personally, we can arrange it in your tour. Private tours go at your pace and with your comfort and interests in mind. Take a look at our web site and our blog here with over 300 stories and photos that I have written. . I actually experience everything in China before I recommend it to my clients. I look forward to planning a tour just for you. Tours to China is our business; but our real passion is the culture and the people. I would like to share this wonderful ancient culture with you as well as the friendly people of China.  Take a look at my web site:  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ruins in Beijing

For those interested in Ruins, few people realize that there are some fantastic ruins right in Beijing. Many people go out to see the Summer Palace and do not realize that there was an older Summer Palace known as the Yuanming Yuan laid out in the 12th Century. It is not far from the new Summer Palace built in the 18th century by the Emperor Qianlong. After the Opium War of 1860 it was rebuilt and enlarged by Empress Dowager Cixi. The Old Summer Palace was destroyed by the French and British troops who vandalized it taking many of the artifacts and shipping them home to museums. The Palace was laid out to look like a European-style palace and gardens. Above you see the elaborate fountains and baroque statuary amongst the broken columns and marble pieces. Near by is an artful reproduction of a former labyrinth called the Garden of Yellow Flowers. The whole complex covers 2 sq. miles and remains as it was after being destroyed. I am presently working on a tour itinerary that will include Sculpture Parks and classical ruins of China and will be ready for the 2012 tourist season. Tours of China has been our business since 1992 and we have researched on site personally all through China since 1989 with over 50 working trips. We do private Custom Tours for individuals and groups who come to us with their personal interests and needs. Let us plan a tour just for you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tipping in China

I have had many clients ask me about Tipping in China. It use to be that in China, tipping was forbidden and was considered western bribery. With the Opening of China during the early 1990's that has changed "a little". Tipping of guides and drivers of tour companies is now done as well as Bell Hops in hotels who take your luggage to your room. In the hotels there is a charge of 10 to 15% already in the hotel cost so indeed there is no tipping in the hotels. Small gifts or spare change left in the room for maids who may have been especially kind or did some extra small service for you is appropriate however. A taxi driver is very well paid so you only need to round off the yuan from the Jiaro or cents. Several years ago taxi costs were reduced because taxi drivers were making too much money. In restaurants the situation is the same. A service charge is already in the cost of the food. Any tip left on the table must be given to the restaurant owner. So basically there is very little tipping in China other than with a tour for the guides who are professionals and go to Guide schools. Bus and private car drivers also get tipped but about half per day as a guide depending on the amount of driving required. For more information on Tipping contact me at Tours to China for over 23 years is our business and our only business. We specialize in Private Custom Tours for individuals and organizations. Our web site will give you more details at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Using Guides in China

I firmly believe that if you fail to use a guide you miss much of what China is all about. It is thought that guides are expensive which they are not. Some people say they do not like to be led around by guides and like to explore on their own. You will miss a lot and guides can point out so much as well as explain things to you as China is so different from Europe or our own countries. Frank Liu pictured above with my wife and I is more than a guide and has become a wonderful friend and manager of his company. Wendy pictured above is a local guide in a small town who can take you on a bike ride into the countryside and show you sights that you would never find on your own to get a real first hand experience. So many people have told me after going with her what she meant to their trip and she loves children too. In China guides are licensed by the State and pay no entrance fees to sights. The majority of guides have gone to Guide Schools at which I have lectured many times in order to give them information on working with Western people and to listen to their concerns too. They are schooled in local history of their area and a wealth of information on every day Chinese culture. Guides are trained in handling any emergencies so you are always in good hands. Guides are really like having a friend who is proud to show you their city or area. Tours to China is my business and I want you to not only see China but to experience China. Guides are the key to that experience.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Temples in China

Temples in China are like churches in Europe. They are all beautiful but you can't see them all and they start looking all alike after awhile. So it is important on a tour to perhaps see the best ones which can be identified by your tour operator or your guides. Having travelled through China for 25 years I try to see as many as possible and identify those worth the efforts of visiting by my clients. The temple above is less than 15 years old but very unique located out in the middle of Sichuan province at 10,000 feet. Decorated in 24ct. gold leaf it can be seen for 50 miles away on a sunny day. It is estimated at today's value the gold on the outside is worth in excess of U.S. $8 million dollars. Note the front door is decorated in copper leaf and gold leaf with the roof and decorations done in pure gold leaf. Photographs of this temple inside are not allowed and receives very few visitors in this remote area. On my web site  this temple is included in my package tour listed as an Ecological Tour of Sichuan province going up the Tea Horse Road to Danba at 10,000 feet and over a pass that reaches close to 17,000 feet above sea level. For more interesting temple visits let us plan a tour just for you. Tours to China has been our business for 23 years. Let us send you our references of clients who do not mind telling you about their private custom tour to China designed just for them. As a China Tour Operator we like to think we create lasting memories for you rather than just site seeing a beautiful country with kind and friendly people. Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Children of China

For people who want to interact with the local people in China, you will find the children most active especially in the small towns or countryside. You may hear a enthusiastic "Hello" with a big smile as you pass by although many young people are learning English now in primary school as the #2 language. I am finding more and more young people who speak English if they are not so shy. You will note in the photos above how well dressed the children are and this is typical with a wide variety of clothes available or made by their family. In the minority areas you will often see children dressed in their traditional clothes worn every day such as the little girl dancing above. She came to my guide in the afternoon and had him ask me if I would dance with her that evening at the nightly dance in the Square. Of course I agreed and she sought me out that evening to dance as awkward as I was at their traditional dancing. I often bring wrapped American candy such as Tootsie Rolls to share with them on special occasional meetings such as these. If you bring your own children to China, chance meetings with Chinese children can often be done in city parks especially on weekends. Visiting schools is often difficult as it tends to disrupt classes but sometimes in the remote areas teachers often enjoy visitors since the children do not often have an opportunity to interact with foreigners. We specialize in private custom tours to China for the past 25 years. I particularly enjoy doing tours for families where you will be able to meet Chinese families not only in the parks but in their homes to see how they live too. For more information contact us at  or view my web site at   Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

YuHu Village

 I have been planning tours for clients to go to China since 1992 and traveled through out China since 1989. My trips now are working with my local suppliers all over China reviewing sites, hotels and looking for those very unique places to send my clients. One of those special places shown above is YuHu village with all houses, roads, buildings etc. all made from the round stones found in the area. Strangely enough the famous explorer, Joseph Rock, actually lived here until the late 1940's before the revolution. His home is still there and can be visited. Located not far from LiJiang it is an interesting village to visit not only because of the rock designs but because it is a typical old rural China village with no shops and has changed little in the last 200 years. Joseph Rock made his home here because he loved the rural quiet atmosphere which it still maintains. You will seldom see tourists here and it is like walking back into history. This village along with some others can all be visited in one day each with their own unique atmosphere such as Baishan with shops and the famous Dr. Ho's Clinic, Wenghai which is very primitive and Lashi if you are interested in horse back riding. For some unique China Tour Packages and Custom Tours to China, check my web site at:   Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Biking in China

Clients are often asking me about biking in China. One of the best places I have found is near Guilin where you can bike out to Yangshuo town amongst the hay stack like hills. Flat roads are easy with little traffic and the scenery is fantastic. One can rent a bike for about $3 per day and it is a great way to visit the many villages and countryside along the Li River. As you can see above I really get into the spirit of it. The shorts I had made for about $4 since I only had long pants with me. The shirt I bought to the chagrin of the shop keeper who made the shorts for me. It says "I have no Money" which I thought appropriate to keep the "sellers" away. Actually it got many snickers from the local people perhaps thinking that I didn't know what it meant. In any case I and my guide had a fantastic day visiting local villages and farmers in their fields. We had lunch with a family in their home in the countryside too. Finding a good local guide to take me around and translate with the local people really made the day perfect. To this day I still recommend "Wendy" Li in Yangshuo to take my clients around her area where she lives near Yangshuo. A half day biking and a half day at the local cooking school gives you a real China experience you won't soon forget. Tours to China is my business for over 25 years. I hope I have the opportunity to plan a tour just for you and your special interests.  Check out my web site at: