Overall score (Dan) = B
Overall score (Jocelyn) = C
Total days = 13 nights, 14 days
Total cost = $1,943
Cost per day = $139 / day
Flight costs = $540 one-way from Delhi
Cities visited: Yangshuo, Guilin, Xi’An, Beijing (also including Hong Kong and Macao in this report)
Our previous experience with Chinese tourists in other countries led us to believe that entering their country would prove hazardous to our sanity due to their overzealous line jumping, lack of personal space, and their love of traveling around on large tour buses where 50 of them get out and ruin whatever tourist attraction they arrive at with their pushiness and loud talking. Our sentiments were echoed by a recent New York Times article:
“Their numbers have also placed them among the most resented tourists. Mainland Chinese tourists, often laden with cash and unfamiliar with foreign ways, are tumbling out of tour buses with apparently little appetite for hotel breakfast buffets and no concept of lining up.
…users posted complaints about Chinese tourists using outdoor voices inside and spitting in public, among other transgressions.”
What’s interesting is we saw this a lot with Chinese travelers in other countries, but it wasn’t as bad while traveling the mainland (well, besides the hacking, spitting, and loud slurping).
China offered quite a few unique archaeological and cultural sites, but it also felt more like “the West” than any other country we’d been to since Australia. New buildings mimic giant corn stalks as they rise out of the fields that once grew rice. Most cities could easily be dropped in the US and the only difference would be the Chinese writing naming them.
In addition to visiting mainland China, we added four days in Hong Kong and a day trip to Macao which are both somewhat independent from China, but not enough to be called a separate country… I’m still trying to figure that part out.
How far does your money go in China?
Overall, China was a pretty good value as far as lodging and food but Hong Kong was more expensive than most other countries we’d visited. $1 USD equals roughly 6 Chinese Yuan and 8 Hong Kong dollars.
Here are our per day spending highlights:
Transportation = $60 / day
Lodging = $30 / day
Food = $27 / day
Excursion = $18 / day
Total hotel points used = 24,000 Starwood Points
Sheraton Guilin, 1 night (4k)
Sheraton Great Wall Beijing, 4 nights (20k)
Even though many of their cities have become globalized and lost their unique feel, China offers some incredible history and archaeological finds; my favorite is the Terra Cotta army in Xi’An. The emperor Qin Shi Huang who united China in the second century was afraid of dying alone so he had a replica city – over 57 sq km in size – built for himself along with 8,000 terra cotta warriors and buried it underground so he could take it with upon death. It made for some great photo opportunities, but probably didn’t make for a good time for the tens of thousands of workers and slaves who were forced to build it.
Xi’An was our favorite city from a historical perspective, but our favorite modern city in China is Hong Kong; but as I mentioned earlier it is technically “independent” from China. Its modern buildings line the harbor and come to life at night when the neon takes over the sky line. Hong Kong was established and built by the British before handing the territory over to China in 1997, so it’s much easier for the western tourist.
China’s countryside also provides some great things to see around the cities of Guilin and Yangshuo. Their natural limestone karsts shoot up across the countryside and provide for some great scenery.
China has really good transportation options between cities with regular flights, buses, and trains. You’ll just need your hotel’s Chinese name as most taxi drivers can’t understand a lick of English. However, China is large and much like Australia, we chose to fly between the cities so we could skip the overnight buses and trains. The flights were decently priced, but it still added quite a bit to our overall spending as we flew from Hong Kong to Guilin, Guilin to Xi’An, and then Xi’an to Beijing. We thought about taking the high speed bullet train to Beijing, but it would’ve cost more than flying so we chose the flight instead. Transportation was our biggest cost contributor at $60/day.
Another interesting thing with China is the country isn’t really set up for foreign tourists – outside of the major cities at least. It’s still easy to get around the country and the big cities have plenty of English, but even the more popular tourist cities inland don’t care too much about their foreign visitors. The main reason is they have so many Chinese domestic tourists that frequent these areas and the majority of the tourist dollars come from them. This is especially evident in Hong Kong where locals say the Chinese mainlanders come in like “locusts” with bags full of cash to buy everything they can get their hands on – from expensive clothing to high-end jewelry which can be found at a store on every corner.
If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to look past the constant monitoring taking place in China. Jocelyn read an article which stated China has somewhere north of 30,000 “internet police” watching everyone online and shutting things down sites and blogs as necessary. In addition, they have cameras everywhere and they always record your location. Even the bus had at least three cameras on it so they can monitor who’s coming on and getting off – it was pretty amazing!
Even though there were eyes everywhere, they still didn’t stop one of the most surprising and disheartening things we found in China – specifically in the smaller tourist town of Yangshuo which is mostly frequented by locals. There were various types of Osama bin Laden paraphernalia – from shirts with his face on them, to paintings, and even bumper stickers available for purchase. There was really only one reason for bin Laden’s popularity and it definitely left a bad taste in our mouths.
In conclusion, we’re glad we visited China, but it won’t be very high on our list of places we’d like to go back to… even though we missed the Great Wall!!
Next up: Austria, Croatia (Yessss, we’re ready to leave Asia after 3.5 months!!!)