China Travel Tips

Reflections on Travel in China

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Visiting and Hiking the Great Wall

The Great Wall is one of the most visited sites in all of China.  Most Group Tours go to the Badaling section of the Wall because it is closest and there is a freeway going there.  Not my most favorite place to visit the Wall often with over 80 or more buses in the parking lot.  My choice has always been the Mutianyu section for most tourists.  The walk or hike is fairly easy as you can see in the photos.  This section has been repaired except for a steep section in the distance where you can see a part that has not been repaired and left as it was found many years ago.   For avid hikers the Simatai section is often visited although steep and more rugged.  If you are interested in doing a one way hike, the Jinshanling to Simatai sections for avid hikers is the most popular hike.  For a more rugged hike that takes about 3 hours, the sections of Huanghua to ZhuangdaoKou Guan is good but expect dense vegetation and rocks to navigate around.   The Great Wall is about 40 or more miles north of Beijing extending out to the Yellow Sea east and west into north central China.  The western section however is difficult to see since it is mostly in ruins.  To get to the Great Wall you can take a bus tour that picks up at many of the Beijing Hotels, take a train to the Badaling section or hire a car and driver for the day with a cost of about $100.  My private tours include a car and driver and you may stay as long as you wish before returning to the city.  I like to take a picnic lunch and enjoy a nice walk on the Wall meeting other tourists and some of the local people.   For more information on the Great Wall, contact me at   My name is Dave   My web site is

Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Trains of China

Many people who have never ridden a train or not taken one for several years want to experience riding the trains in China.  Up to 10 years ago the trains all over China were similar to our trains of the 1940's.  Today some of those same trains are used in the more rural areas of China but here you see some of the new trains that have come on line.  The train with the mountains in the background is the new Tibet train that serves Beijing, Xian, Chongqing and Chengdu with stops in between.  I have ridden it from Lhasa to Chongqing for the experience and to advise my customers about it.  It seems just like a regular Chinese train however it does have oxygen equipment in each car as well as individual oxygen masks if needed.  I didn't find a need for them. The Tibet trains seem to always be full and costly.  Food should be taken with you as train food is not especially good.  The train goes all night as well as during the day so scenery is limited to daylight.  I spent two nights and one and one half days during my trip.  Coming from Lhasa because of the altitude we came east from Lhasa, across the plateau to near Xian and then south to Chengdu and finally Chongqing.  Sleepers are two upper and two lower bunks of mixed sexes.  They do have western and Asian style toilets and nice wash rooms.   Do I recommend it?  Not really, I think the new Fast Trains are more exciting as you see in the other photo.  The new CRH3 trains are capable of 350 Kms. per hour although kept down to 185 mph for safety.  They are not available on all routes yet because the rails must be updated to handle these faster trains safely.  I rode one from Chengdu to Chongqing this last year and it was super smooth with no clicking or side way motion at all.  It cuts travel time almost in half from the older standard trains.  Some cities no longer offer air service between them because of the fantastic service offered by the new fast trains as they are called.    If you want an even faster experience you can take the Mag Lev train in Shanghai to the airport that goes 284 mph.  It takes a bus about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the airport but takes the Mag Lev train just Seven Minutes!!!  For more on trains contact me at     

   Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Meeting the Local People in Parks

One of the best ways to meet the local people in China is going to parks.  Parks are full of activities for everyone including children.  Chinese people love seeing foreign children and if you have your own children with you they will certainly enjoy joining in playing games.  Language never seems to be a barrier with children.  It of course helps to have a guide along to translate but you will also find many people speaking English these days and often like to practice their English with you.  Here you see the national pass time of the board game Marjon   Learning to play Marjon is a great ice breaker as you may often be asked to join in a game with them. There are tea houses and snacks served in almost all parks.  Here you also see an orchestra playing in the park.  They are non-professionals who join a club to play music.  You will also find chorus clubs practicing their music in the parks on weekends.  Let my 25 years experience in travel in China help you plan your own tour to China.  My web site is  We are a BBB A+ rated tour company here in Seattle.

China is known for its beautiful parks and gardens and you will find these all over China.  I even have a Garden Tour that I have put together for those interested in  Chinese Gardens and parks.   The park you see here is in Chengdu and also has a Bonsai collection that is hundreds of years old.
Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Little Known Old Summer Palace of Beijing

Most people know about the Summer Palace in the suburbs of Beijing on Kunming Lake or at least all the group tours go there.  Few people realize that there is an Old Summer Palace quite close by that often gets overlooked.  If you are a history buff, you may want to visit the Old Summer Palace which is mostly in ruins after the 2nd Opium War.  British and French troops took home most of the artifacts that were there. What you see here is the remains of the Palace Gardens fashioned after the French Gardens of Europe. During the 18th century rebuilding of the gardens by Emperor Dowager Cixi in 1888 was accomplished.   The first palace and gardens were built in the 12th Century by Emperor Qianlong and called Yuanming Yuan but also destroyed in the first Opium War.   In 1949 after the Revolution, the site was made into a  park where the ruins were preserved as they are today.  Few foreign tourists visit it but it is very close by to the current Summer Palace and can be visited at the same time.  Check out our web site at   
        Our 25th Year Of Doing Tours to China!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tour Meals in China

There are three main things that people usually ask about touring China.  Hotels, transportation and MEALS. There is plenty of food in will not go hungry is an understatement.  Food is hospitality in China. As my Chinese friend says,  "Chinese people like to do two things  1. Eat Chinese Food   2. Talk about Eating Chinese food.  After 25 years of traveling throughout China I agree and understand why.  The variety of food is fantastic and so different in each area of the country.  Most people are on tours of one kind or another.  A budget tour gets budget meals of course.  A good tour gives you a variety of food.  Group Tours today in order to keep their prices low have gone to many Buffet restaurants to save costs.   Nothing wrong with Buffets if they are good.  Food is prepared and put on steam tables to serve the many large group tours that must stay on a schedule because other group tours may use the same restaurants.  I do Private Custom tours for my clients and insist on sit down and be served meals that are cooked individually for the customer.  Your likes, dislikes and allergies are considered by your requests.  I also must consider a budget for meals depending on the value of the tour which can range from Budget to Deluxe tours.  You see here a deluxe dinner my wife and I are having along with a typical standard lunch that we had one day.

As I said earlier, there is no lack of food or variety in China.   I also suggest to my clients that 3 large meals per day is way too much food and to plan on having some dinners on your own as part of your China experience.  I myself like to have a bowl of noodles with chicken and some dumplings at a small restaurant now and then rather than a large dinner every night.   Breakfasts at the hotels are generally very large buffets with western and Asian food with everything under the sun to choose from.   I hope this helps you with your tour plans.
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In our 26th year of doing Quality Tours To China and Tibet

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Largest Buddha in the World

The Largest Buddha in the world pictured here is the Leshan Buddha carved into a cliff in the year 713.  The Buddha is 215 feet tall and one finger is about 6 feet tall.   Carved into a cliff it overlooks the meeting of the Dadu and Min rivers outside the city of Leshan.  Located just south of Chengdu in Sichuan province it can be visited in one day or on the way from Chengdu to Chongqing by car. As you can see there is a stairs carved into the cliff to go to the bottom or you can view the Buddha close up from the platform at the top.  There is also a boat trip that takes you on the river and passes back and forth in front of the Buddha for a great photo opportunity. Just 20 miles north of Leshan is the Thousand Buddha Cliffs with over 2,400 Buddhas carved during the Eastern Han Dynasty.  As a tour operator we usually visit the Panda Experiment station in the morning near Chengdu and then take people to Leshan to see the Buddha before returning back to Chengdu or on to Chongqing.  As we do custom tours many other sights in that area can be included such as Yellow Dragon Creek Village, WWII museum or the Thousand Buddha Carvings.

               Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Elderly Man

One of the most interesting times in China can sometimes be the most simplest.  I and a friend were walking in the countryside when we came upon the elderly man in this photo.  He was very intent on cutting strips of bamboo into lengths from a nearby forest of bamboo.  He was using a meat cleaver to cut the strips into very neat and straight strips.   Through my Chinese friend in translating for me we found that he was making strips of bamboo for his daughter and son to take to the market and sell them for making bamboo products.
Many families often have 3 generations living under the same roof and each one contributes to the welfare of the whole family.  The elderly often take care of the grandchildren or some other chore that may bring some extra money to the family.  Earlier I wrote  about the elderly lady who was selling peanuts if you check back in the blog.  After a nice conversation with him, he finally said that I was only the 2nd white person he has ever seen.  So of course I wanted to know who and when was the first.  He never looked up but said,  "A naked lady swimming in the near by river...many years ago".    I could only laugh and told my friend that I must be a great disappointment to him.   Some of my most memorable moments in China are these encounters with the local people.  They have always been very open, friendly and hospitable often welcoming me into their simple homes for a cup of tea.  In 25 years of travel throughout China I have had many of these moments that make good memories and some lessons learned as well.
                Click on the photo for a full screen view!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hiking in China

Many people like to combine hiking with their tour to China.  There are many places and some very convenient to fit into a China Tour.  Nothing like getting out into the countryside for a hike in the mountains, along the rivers  or just out to small villages without a lot of tourists.  There are hikes for every level of hiker from easy strolls to avid hiking and climbing.   Most hikes can be done in one day however there are others where you can stay in hostels along the way like the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike or hikes where you are out for two or three days and sleep in tents such as the 4 Sister Mountain area shown here.  There are countless day hikes in just about every area of the country for those with limited time too.  For more information on hiking in China contact us at    Click on the photos for a full screen View!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Prince Gong's Home in Beijing

Prince Gong's Residence  (Gongwang Fu) in Beijing is one of the largest private residences in Beijing.  Few if any Group Tours include this beautiful home of a former Prince of the Qing Dynasty.  I often put it in my tours because it is a classic example of a Chinese mansion of those days with the large park like setting within the busy city of Beijing.  Close by is also another smaller more recent mansion of the early 1900's last lived in by Madame Song Qingling who was the wife of Sun Yat-Sen the founder of the Republic of China.  The home has not been changed since the day she died.  Another is Prince Li's Garden Home which is now a classic Chinese Restaurant of the Qing Dynasty featuring food from the Qing Dynasty.  I often include it as a special evening dinner for my clients who love the atmosphere with the restaurant workers and waiters in traditional Qing Dynasty clothing.   There are many old mansions all across China and I have enjoyed seeing many of them myself and try to include some of them in my customized private tours.  For more information on Mansions of China contact us at

                                             Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cruising the Yangtze River

Cruising the Yangtze River is usually a once in a lifetime cruise.  I have been fortunate to cruise it 8 times over a 25 year period watching the progress of the Yangtze River Dam project.  Pictured here is the 5 Star Century Line with an all modern fleet of boats.  The number of passengers is far less than ocean going ships and you never feel like you are in a crowd as there are top decks, lounges, libraries, game

rooms, and wonderful roomy dining rooms.   There is a wide assortment of both western and Asian food to choose from and a Gala sit down and be served Captain's Dinner with wonderful evening entertainment.  Each day there are off boat excursions and activities on the boat or you may just want to relax on deck watching the beautiful scenery and huge Gorges as you cruise up or down the river.  With new modern equipment you hardly know you are moving with little motion detected as you cruise through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.    You will note that prices vary between Lines from the low end $250 to $450 cruises to $800 and $1200 per person lines.  The lower end cruises are described in the blog entry following this one.  Until April 1st we are offering the Century Cruise Line at 50% off when combined with a private custom tour of an additional 10 days or more.  Please contact us for details at
For itineraries see the Century web site at    
                   Click on the photos for full screen viewing!

Yangtze River Boats

As a tour operator for the past 25 years to China I get questions regarding the Yangtze River cruise.   Prices vary from $250 to $1800 per person depending on the deck and cabin level.   I always tell people you should not pay less than $500 per person but expect to pay at least $800 to $1200 per person for an acceptable western comfort level.   There are many cruise companies on the Yangtze at a wide range of prices.  The boat photos you see here are on a boat that sells for $295 to $495 per person.  The $295 per person are for cabins with four bunk beds about the size of a train sleeper car with two uppers and two lowers.  Bathrooms down the hall etc. They do have two person cabins at the higher cost however.   So it is buyer beware!   You get what you pay for in China or any other place.  Once booked it is too late of course.
I sell and promote both the Victoria Line and the Century Line which are the two top cruise only lines on the Yangtze river.   and    For more information and special prices for early bookings contact us at  Be sure to read the blog just above this one regarding cruise boats on the Yangtze.

     Click on the photos for full screen views!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flower Markets of China

There are so many things to see in China and often so little time; but I really enjoy visiting a wholesale flower market as seen here.  This particular one is in Chengdu.   Flower markets are wholesale markets for the trade but sell to the public too.  Located usually in industrial areas or warehouses, it is a bee hive of activity of bulk flowers being delivered from all over Southeast Asia and from the local farmers in the area. The largest wholesale market is in Kunming.  If you go to Kunming be sure to ask your guide to stop and see it if it is not listed in your tour itinerary.   My wife bought two very nice glass vases for $3.00 each.  As we say "take time to stop and smell the roses" and that surely can be done here.
                                       Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Heavenly Lake

Heavenly lake I compare to Lake Louise in Canada.  It is one of the most beautiful lakes in China located 2 hours outside of Urumqi, Xinjiang China.  Xinjiang province is in the far Northwest part of China and the home of the Uygur people and made up of several nationalities other than Han Chinese.  You can take a boat ride on the lake or hike along it in view of the beautiful mountain range.  Near by are Yurts where you can stay overnight or just have a nice lunch featuring local food.   My wife and I enjoyed lunch here in a highly decorated yurt and loved the food.  Located on the Silk Road, it can be incorporated with just about any Silk Road Tour.  Check our web site for one of several packaged Silk Road Tours or have us create a private custom tour to your interests which has been our specialty for over 25 years.  Our web site is   Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Need a China Visa?

A visa is needed to enter China and should be applied for about 6 weeks in advance for a single entry but double entries can be made too which extends over a year long period.  Each entry is for 30 days which starts on the day you enter China.  For multiple entries you must leave the country between each entry.  An extension can be applied for when in China should you need a few extra days in most large cities at central police stations.  The Visa becomes valid the day it is issued and your entry to China must be made within 90 days to remain valid   You may apply directly at one of the six Chinese Consulates or use a Visa service. Consulates are located in six different cities:  Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Most people apply by sending in their applications by Fedex, UPS or USPS  through a Visa Service since you must enclose your passport. The application form is 4 pages long and may  require other documents to be sent in with it.  For a copy of the visa application and instructions you may go on line or request that I send you via email an official visa application and instructions to apply yourself  or through a Visa Service.    Please email Dave at  I will be glad to answer any questions.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Breakfast in China

Meals are all quite large in China.  Breakfast in most large city hotels have a large selection of western and Chinese food for you to choose from Buffet style.  Eggs may be cooked as you watch the way you like them.   The cost in most hotels is included in the cost of the hotel room.   When booking hotels be sure to check to see if the breakfast is included or you may be surprised when you check out and find that the cost has been added to your bill.  In the remote areas or non-tourist areas most likely only a Chinese breakfast will be available but usually does include eggs, fruits, breads and rice gruel.   Breakfast as we know it is not usually available outside hotels in restaurants; however a simple Chinese breakfast can be had in small local restaurants or on the street.   You can always buy foods in the markets too especially if you are going on trains or travelling in remote areas where restaurants may not be available.   I can tell many stories of my experiences with restaurants and vendors during my 25 years of travel throughout China.  For more information please feel free to contact me at    My name is Dave

Laundry in China

This is one thing you should be aware of before going to China.  At this time there are no laundries as we know them.   Hotels have this service and usually can be done in one day or less.  In the closet or in the desk drawer is a laundry list with prices.   The more expensive the hotel; the more expensive the laundry.   A bag is furnished to put dirty clothes in along with copies of your list.  You keep the top copy.  You can either call housekeeping or leave the laundry bag in the hallway.  Laundry will be back in the evening.  You can ask it to be on hangers or to be folded. These days some hotels are just washing the clothes and adding a charge if you want them pressed.  Just pressing or dry cleaning can also be done.  These costs can add up so you might think about clothes that are of quick drying materials that may be washed in your room, rolled up in a towel to get the water out and hung up to dry.  There is a cord that can be strung above the tub in the bathroom.  Leaving the fan on will speed up the drying process too.  If you are in the countryside or a remote area they still have laundry service in the hotels but don't expect it back for right away depending on the weather!  They have no dryers and hang it out to dry!  :-)   The first time it happened to me was a shock as I put two very damp shirts in a plastic bag and left.    For more tips on Travel in China, let my 25+ years of travel through out China you may contact me with your questions at   My friends call me ChinaDave.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Visiting Monasteries of China

Visiting Monasteries and Temples of China might be similar to visiting Churches in Europe.   You can only visit so many before they all start to look alike.  There are many monasteries and temples in China and some special ones that I like to show people during a tour if they are interested.   Some are empty today; but many exist that are special.  The one pictured here is in the remote area of the Sichuan mountains seldom visited by  foreigners.  This is a new one trimmed in 24 ct. gold worth a reported 6 million dollars.  at 12,000 feet above sea level it can be seen from miles around reflecting the sun.   The monks in this monastery preferred not to be photographed; however another monastery not far away, the monks liked to be photographed and were very hospitable and friendly.  Each monastery has its own rules and culture and you can inquire to your guide to ask what is and what is not proper.  I have had some rare experiences including visiting a secret library in one monastery that is locked and forbidden to enter by anyone other than a monk.  The books were hand written and many hundreds of years old.   China is a wealth of sights and experiences and in my 25 years of travelling through out China, I have had many of them.  I hope I will be able to share some of the same experiences with you on a tour too.

                 Click on the photo for a full screen view.

10 Day Sichuan Mountains Tour

So many people ask me to put together a custom private tour to more remote areas of China rather than just the large cities.  Most of the requests come from people who have been to China in the past.  The mountains of Sichuan province mostly inhabited by Tibetans is one of my favorite areas.  Fresh mountain air, flowers, birds, small quaint villages and friendly people make up this area including some wonderful Monasteries that you can visit.  One has curved peaks on it with 24 ct. gold that shines in the sun for miles around.  If you want to stay with a family, there are family guest houses to experience real Tibetan hospitality.   There are some national parks, Pandas, Hot Springs and many other sights to enjoy in this area.  I call it the Danba Loop also known as the Tea Horse Road. In the old days, tea which was more valuable than gold was transported by horses and on the backs of porters through the mountains to Tibet. History, beauty, fresh air and culture is all part of this 10 day tour that can be fit into any other tours or as an extension to other tours.  My 25 years of experience in China will insure a great tour to your special interests.
                         Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Taking a Taxi in China

You would think taking a taxi one would not have any difficulties except perhaps language.  Language is one problem as 99% of taxi drivers do not speak English.  When you wish to go some place, write down where you want to go in English and have someone in the hotel write it in Chinese to hand to the taxi driver.  A taxi taken from the hotel will usually be very honest and run the meter.  After you obtain your luggage at the airport you will leave through some doors to a waiting crowd of people....some of which may be people asking you if you want a taxi.  DO NOT go with them.  They charge whatever they can get and are usually private cars who do not wait in the taxi line and are illegal.   On the street when wanting a taxi you put your arm up and wave your hand up and down as if to wave goodbye.  Do not put a single index finger pointing up.   Most taxi drivers only know an area within 3 miles of where you are and do not like to go outside this area since they also can make more money on short hauls rather than long distance into areas that they are not familiar with and may have to stop on the street and ask people for directions. Taxis on the street do not like to go to the airport as they must sit in line for sometimes hours to get a fare.  Taxis are compact cars mostly Volkswagons holding three people at the most and limited space for luggage.  If you have more than three people you will need to take two taxis.   Taxi drivers make a very good income and it is not necessary to tip them other than to round off the meter to the next higher yuan if less than 1 yuan. Example:  5.20 yuan fare you should give them 6 yuan.  Coming from the airport there is a  toll fee which will be added to the meter fare.   For more information on China infrastructure differences contact us at    My name is Dave and have traveled China for 25 years throughout the country.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Attending a Tibetan Wedding

In my years of travel in China I never get use to the fact that we are often invited to attend wedding receptions in the countryside.  Here you see a Tibetan Wedding couple celebrating their wedding reception.  Just walking down the street I have often have been invited to come in and attend the reception including a great meal.  I think it must be an honor to have a foreigner at their celebrations.  Do not expect this in large cities however where foreigners are common.  It has happened in mostly remote countryside villages and towns.  In one village I and a friend were invited off the street to attend the celebration. A few spoke English and wanted to sit with us.  They asked about weddings in the U.S. and I was giving them examples of what we do and many were interested until I mentioned that we can kiss the bride too.  They all laughed and said that the men would all take me and throw me out in the street if I did such a thing there.  In China a couple is not considered married UNTIL the banquet reception is held.  Couples must save up money to have the banquet as it is expensive; however it is also the custom for people to give money in a red or gold envelope rather than presents.  So the cost is not so great then.  The closer one is to the couple or family the more money is expected.  One young lady told me she must give half of her monthly salary to the couple since she was a worker with the new wife.   Customs are always interesting and in China you can often be invited to observe and participate in local celebrations of many kinds. Click on photo for full screen view!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Beautiful Danba Loop

With my 25 years of travel throughout China I look for those out of the way areas of interest for my customers.  I and my Chinese associates were the first visitors through what we call the Danba Loop after they hard surfaced the road.  Before that time it was an old dirt road that often washed out during the rainy season.  It is also referred to as the Tea Horse Road.  Few western tourists find this area without help.  It is about an 8 day trip through the mountains which includes Pandas, National Parks, Hot Springs, friendly remote monasteries to visit, countless villages and home visits with lunch.  The people are of Tibetan decent and their homes are highly decorated in the style as you can see here in the photos.  We also have home stays in which you may participate in cooking with the family or just enjoy visiting with them and their family. The fresh air of the mountains and wonderful weather are best visited from July through September.  For a more detailed description of this area and tour please check my web site at and click on Packaged Tours.

You will find the itinerary under Mountain's Tour.   As I do mostly customized private tours, you can take just part of that tour or have me put a tour together just for your interests and time constraints.
                               Click on the photos for a full screen view!