Misc. TRAVEL INFORMATION for CHINA - 2017 plus SHOPPING in CHINA
1. NAME TAGS, BAG TAGS & Copies of Important Information:
Asia Holiday Travel provides each of you one name tag and one baggage tag (for your one checked bag over and throughout China – you can have two checked bags on the return flight = shopping in Beijing!). Please add an ID tag of your own for BOTH your one carry-on and your one checked bag as a back-up (and have an extra one to add to a 2nd checked bag for your flight home should you choose to buy one in Beijing for bringing home treasures and gifts). The Asia Holiday Travel bag tag will show your last (BOLD) and first name as shown on your passport – along with a letter to represent the 1st letter of the name of your bus.
Asia Holiday Travel asks that you please wear your “Asia Holiday Travel” name badge beginning with check-in at the San Francisco Airport and throughout the tour for purposes of group recognition, identification by their representatives and tour guides. I add your names to each badge (your preferred choice of first names are larger, last names smaller) to aid us all in getting to know one another. I have also added to each name tag the letter to designate your Bus assignment for the whole tour. We have also provided lanyards with clear sleeves for your name badges which we find easier to handle than remembering to pin and unpin the name badge each day (and results in fewer getting lost). It is also handy for placing other items inside, behind the badge (such as your hotel room “keycard” and/or a credit card wrapped in a piece of paper). You may chose to use a neck-style passport holder to carry your name tag (as long as it is always visible), ID, hotel card, local currency and 1 cr. card instead of using the lanyard and plastic sleeve.
Re: baggage tags: enter your own personal info on the slip inside. I like to turn it over so the address never shows (no need to let anyone know you're not home). Then I label the backside "OVER" so if it gets lost, anyone can get the info out and see it. The "Asia Holiday Travel" labeled tag itself tells the folks in China to contact AHT if a bag is found wandering on its own. Then it can be sent to the right group at the right place to catch up with its owner. The blue plastic strap to attach the luggage tag is very poor and can allow tags to be pulled off in transit. Feel free to use something else of your own that will keep the tag close to the bag and not dangling so much – or back up the blue plastic choice with a rubber band, or etc., and pull it tighter – make a new hole for connecting.
Remember to put a copy of your ID (driver’s license and/or passport) on top in your checked bag along with a copy of the hotel sheet and itinerary if you want to improve your chances of getting your bag quickly should the tag come off. We have had very rare occurrences of this and we have never had a bag end up totally missing (although we did have 2 bags total over the years that had a delayed arrival by 1 to 2 days). Add something special to the handle - like a unique ribbon - to distinguish your bag from the rest of the bags. BE SURE you are getting YOUR bag from the baggage claim area at each airport. One year two people both decided to add an identical black & white checkered ribbon to black bags that also looked identical – the mix-up was a mess!!
2. SOME TIPS FOR THE TOUR (how things will go) :
Your National Guide will collect your passports at each airport before departure, check all of us in for the flight, then hand back your passport along with your boarding pass for each of the four domestic flights. The boarding passes for these short flights (1 ˝ to 2 hours max) will be run off in a totally random manner – which means that you may not be assigned to a seat next to your traveling partner. If this causes you undue stress, see if you can switch seats once onboard. We have found most folks very accommodating if there is a serious problem being separated. Some of us enjoy the opportunity to get to know others on the tour better by having a different person seated next to you.
Your one checked bag per person will already have been checked in for the flight for you by the guides. Quite often you will be asked to place your "packed and ready to-be-checked" bag outside your hotel room the night before departure to the next city. The guides will collect and organize them late that evening for transport to the airport EARLY the next morning so they will already be checked in for your flight on your behalf. This leaves you with only having to manage your carry-on for the flight. Don’t forget to lay out the clothing, etc., you will be needing for the next morning – before you put your checked bag outside your room for pick-up. If you discover (quickly) an error in this, you can usually find the guides sorting the bags down in the lobby.
When you arrive at the other end of the flight, you will proceed to the baggage claim area to retrieve your bag. FREE baggage carts are available everywhere in China at the baggage claim areas and will accommodate the all the bags for 2 people usually (both checked and carry-on bags). You must push down on the handle bar to release the brakes. Load the cart with your bag(s) and follow your National Guide to the outside curb area. Place your checked bag in the grouping indicated for your bus and then proceed to your new bus with your carry-on. The bus driver will load your carry-on bag into the belly hold of the bus. You (with your personal items carried) will then board your bus to begin the tour of the new city. Having access to a jacket, umbrella. etc., via your tote or your carry-on bag could be handy if we encounter less than perfect weather. All the checked bags will be taken straight to the new hotel and placed in your room to await your later arrival.
RE: your carry-on items:
Besides your small carry-on bag with your essentials, night clothes and one change of clothing, I suggest a tote bag (some use a smallish backpack or duffle bag) that can accommodate the following: your camera, something to read, a small umbrella, and a jacket or sweater to layer if we hit a cold snap – plus your other personal items. I also add in a pair of simple gloves, a scarf, and a hat or cap. You may never need those last items but they don’t take up much space or add much weight and can be wonderful to have readily available if needed. They will do you no good if they are in your checked bag. If you put them in your carry-on bag on either arrival or departure days, at least they will be somewhat accessible from the belly hold of the bus, but having them in your tote and with you on the bus is much better. We have had 2 instances of touring the Great Wall outside Beijing early in the morning where it was both cold and windy. All of the rest of our trips there have been quite comfortable, though.
The Itinerary and touring customs of China:
You will not be given a daily itinerary sheet nor be given exact times or sequences for each day. The wake-up, breakfast and departure times are announced to you by your National Guide the previous day or evening when riding the bus to the hotel. Because traffic and other problems can affect things without warning, the touring schedule in China remains fairly flexible. They will always strive to do more than you expect but don’t like to commit to exact start-stop times for each place visited so as not to lose face if the schedule must be altered slightly. Your visit to each city will always include places of historical interest as well as the obligatory visit to a factory or the like to see how some of the things for which China is famous are made – and these are always adjacent to a store which sells those items. This system is what helps China keep their tours priced so low and all touring there requires this combination whether in a large or a very small grouping.
SHOPPING IN GENERAL - 2012
TREASURES IN CHINA – China is known for exquisite workmanship and detail and are experts in creating many crafts. All tours to China must include the obligatory side trips to “factories” where you can learn how things are made – and these are always cleverly connected to an adjacent storeroom full of examples for sale – surprise! Our tour operator ensures that we only visit reliable places showcasing excellent quality at excellent prices. Bargaining is usually possible but not always. BUT, please take care to watch the final agreed upon total BEFORE you sign your credit slip. One gal missed the extra zero in the RMB total and failed to re-check the currency conversion - and thought she was buying something for a converted US price of $310 at a great bargain but was really paying $3100 USD. And the credit card company was insisting that she was responsible since she signed the slip. It is easy to get confused with currency conversions and the slips will be written up in Chinese currency – so be careful and check that final price! Even though we request that no one linger and hold up departure of a busload of your companions, be sure of what you are paying before you sign. A follow-up research by our reps in Beijing determined that $3100 was the accurate price for the high-end jade she bought – and not the great bargain. She was very lucky that her credit card finally adjusted her cost while not penalizing the store.
You will find terrific bargains in China, though. Things to be looking for in general include silk fabrics and clothing and silk carpets and bedding – you will find these primarily in Shanghai and Suzhou (the Silk capital of the world). You will see fabulous jade, lacquer, pearls and cloisonné – and find small bottles and the like with intricate paintings done INSIDE them in reverse. Art in general is marvelous in China. If a silk carpet interests you, be prepared with the colors and size you want – same for bedding. There will be craftsmen on board our cruise ship and you will have an opportunity to watch things being made in person and then be able to purchase them. Things are typically more expensive on the ship .... until the next to last day – but they can mean more if they were made while you watched.
Check that any large items you find and purchase can be shipped home since carrying them through the tour and the 4 domestic flights will be impossible – but be aware that shipping and Duty costs to the US can be high. One exception is any silk bedding purchase made in Suzhou outside of Shanghai. You can ask your National guide to negotiate to have your bedding purchase(s) shipped to Beijing to await your arrival at your hotel there. The cost for this is well worth it and will then allow you to take it home as part of your 2nd bag allowed for the flight back to the US, thereby avoiding the high cost of shipping to the US.
Do be careful when shopping with street vendors. It is not uncommon for folks to try to pass off counterfeit paper change to you since they know we are not familiar with all their variations of paper money. I do carry a small device I bought in Beijing that can detect counterfeit ... I have some extras and will share them as able with the National Guides.
When you try to pay with a US dollar bill where they are accepted (usually street vendors and flea markets), don’t be surprised if they refuse it because of a tiny tear or too many wrinkles. They have trouble having the bills accepted when they trade them in because of any flaws. I‘ve never had any of those returned from the tip envelopes, but I still try not to bring any “flawed” US paper money so as not to create a problem for them or give them something that ends up as worthless to them.
I’ve heard of folks getting knock-off CDs & DVDs only to open them at home and find nothing inside, or the wrong content, or something in Chinese – you cannot trust what you are getting from these street sellers that will come up to you all the time whispering “CD”...”DVD”…or “Rolex” – and some of the knock-off Rolex, etc., watches will run for maybe a month or more, so be careful. If you’d like a bamboo fan & decide to buy a boxful for a bargain price, expect to find less inside the box than you were quoted or a poorer quality inside – OPEN the box or any package before you leave the vendor or he or she runs off (If there’s no time, don’t buy).
A real bargain is to purchase postcards as a great way to bring home wonderful pictures of China. These are cheaper and often better than any photos you could take. You will be inundated with people trying to sell them at every stop of the bus. Don’t forget to bargain! Maps are another common item for sale – be sure your choice is in English! When we cruise the Li River in exotic Guilin, don’t bother to get any of the Snake Wine they offer you to taste and then hope to sell you. If your checked luggage is already en route to the airport, you cannot bring any alcohol through security as carry-on. They will confiscate it when you go through security and you will have wasted your money.
Only 2 people from our tours have ever experienced pickpockets, but travel guides do warn you to be careful at all popular tourist locations - and even while watching the 10 min. evening waterfall show outside our hotel in Guilin. We go earlier than most anyone else to the Great Wall in Beijing to avoid the crowds and crush of vendors, but be careful as they begin to trickle into the area. One gal, several years ago, almost lost her new pocket-sized digital camera to a fellow who pretended to be with another tour group and then swooped in to grab it and run. She was very alert and also knew to always have the strap wrapped well around her wrist. He broke her strap but failed to get away with the camera. The other incident was a loss of a cell phone from a tiny shoulder purse while watching the water show outside the Guilin Hotel a few years ago. Be mindful of what’s easy to grab or to pilfer from your pockets, etc. China still continues to be much safer than any other country we have visited but there is no place that is completely free of risk.
HOW TO BARGAIN ...
Bu Yao (Boo Yowl) means “I don’t want it” – but if they are VERY pushy, yell a firm Bu Yao and then follow it with a polite Xie Xie (shyeh shyeh) which means “Thank You!” – it works !
And that means you DO want it, but you want to pay less – and then the bargaining will begin! Be sure to only say all this when you really want to bargain as they are relentless then to try to make a deal.