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Joining in group tour of Xi'an?


xiaojiang216

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Hello friends,

After some searching on Google as well as this forum, I am a little stuck and thought I might ask for some help!

I am currently working in China, and a family member is coming to visit. I will be meeting her in Beijing to show her around for a few days, then she would like to take a short (two-day or so) tour of Xi'an before meeting me in the city where I work. From what I have found online, she would only be able to do a private, one-on-one tour since she would be travelling alone. (This would be just as awkward as it is expensive!)

So, I'm looking for an option that might allow her to join a group tour. Perhaps this would only be possible with a local Chinese tour group though? In that case, I would probably have to join her in Xi'an (since she does not speak Chinese). I was thinking of doing this in Beijing as well, since she wants to visit the Great Wall and I'm not quite sure how to get there otherwise!

If anyone is able to share some advice or experience, it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, love you guys :)

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Getting around to visit the main tourist destinations in Xi'an solo and without a guide is not difficult if she does some background internet research. Easier to navigate and ask directions if one speaks Chinese, of course, but not essential. These spots are immensely popular and visited by thousands and thousands of foreign tourists every year.

 

Ditto for getting to the Great Wall from Beijing. That's even easier, especially if you go to one of the more popular sections.

 

Start with Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. Maybe look at Fodors and one of the backpacker guides. Then post unanswered questions on both Thorntree and Tripadvisor (they serve different demographics.)

 

Could even ask there about joining a small English-speaking group or sharing cost with a few other tourists for an English speaking guide. Sometimes a hostel will help you do this, but it's difficult to set it up in advance. Need to wait until you (or she) arrives.

 

Even if you were with her to serve as an interpreter, taking a Chinese day tour is far from ideal. You will have lots of time wasted on mandatory "factory tours" or shopping stops. You will find included extras such as wretched group lunches, Tibetan Medicine consultations are combined with free but high-pressure foot-bath/foot-massage detours.

 

Remember to suggest she visit at a time which does not coincide with a large national holiday, such as 十一黄金周 Fall Golden Week in early October.

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So here's what I've heard:

 

Chinese tour groups are frequently "sold" to the tour guide (the guide pays the tour company for the group).  

Then the tour guide must extract money from the group in the form of forcing them to buy goods and services they don't really want and getting a kickback from the store owners.

If the group buys nothing, the tour guide will lose money.  

 

I usually cough up the cash and book a guide + driver + car all day long.  I do a few days of self exploration, and a few days of fully guided. 

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For Beijing, maybe look at groups like the Beijing Hikers and the China Culture Center - they do regular trips to the wall, well organised, English guiding. CCC also does trips to Xi'an I think. 

 

Or in both cities, look at tours that are operating out of backpacker hostels - the itineraries should skip the minor attractions and shopping opportunities, be geared up for English speakers (you won't get a fluent English-speaking guide, but you'll get told when to be back on the minibus in English).

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abcdefg, tysond, and roddy -

 

Thank you all so much for your helpful responses! This is my mother who is visiting, so I don't think I will leave her to her own devices in Xi'an - I can imagine her having trouble saying no to vendors and being gullibly swindled! (The apple can't fall that far from the tree, can it?) So unless I can find a group of people that I can trust to look after her, I am more and more convinced that I should just tag along with her for the two or so days (she will be arriving in almost a week, by the way).

Thanks to everyone's advice, I know not to look into local Chinese tours. Thank you for those great links, roddy! I hadn't even thought about these kinds of groups that are out there, and she would be much more comfortable as a hiker than a tourist! She will be very happy to read more about these groups, so I will have to give you credit for that, roddy :mrgreen: Thanks again, everyone, and I hope this information can help others out there, too!

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I don't know about your mother's budget, but you could even look into booking a tour from home. If your mother happens to be in Holland I can recommend her the site my parents used, chinaonline.nl; if not, any decent travel agency should be able to arrange something with a flight, a hotel and tours.

If your mother is slightly more advanturous, she can also go to a hostel, they usually have tours. On any given day, there are hundreds if not thousands of foreigners in Xi'an to see the highlights there, and there must be plenty of tour groups she can join.

But yeah, perhaps the best idea, if you can spare the time, is to go with her. My parents enjoy travelling in China, but the enjoyment is always enhanced by having their own daughter making arrangements with bus drivers and ordering food in Chinese and such.

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I went to Xi'An for couple of days last year. My hotel had signs advertising tours to the Terracotta Warriors.

 

I think that the touristy parts of the city are all within the city walls (which are about 4 km wide and 3 km long according to Google earth).

 

And most attractions (bell tower, drum tower, muslim street, the wall) are within walking distance.

 

If you don't think your mom can handle it on her own, then you can hit the highlights in one day. If you arrive early in the morning, you should have done every must-do by the evening.

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I'll second the recommendation for the Chinese Culture Center.  This is a travel agency, based in Beijing, which does within-China tours designed for expats living inside China.  They do a mixture of weekend-tours to places like Xi'an, and week-long tours to further-afield places like Xinjiang.

 

I have travelled with them several times (including twice to Xi'an), and almost every tour was extremely successful.

 

Some comments:

  • CCC have a good reputation, and will take good care of you.  (I have travelled both with other western companies, and with Chinese companies, and the CCC is definitely the best for a "first-timer")
  • The CCC prices are on the high side.  (This is because they usually include a 4-star hotel, instead of a 3-star one)
  • The tours all include travel, hotels, transport, entrance fees and all tips (so there is no need to tip extra)
  • There will be 2 guides - a local expert, plus someone from the CCC main office.  (Usually, both are very good - the local expert gives the description of what you will see and the CCC guide will take care of everyone's comfort, plus emergencies etc)

Paul

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It would surprise me if she couldn't get in on a tour for just one segment. When my parents came to visit me the other guy on the tour was with us for the first 2 segments then went somewhere completely different for his last segment. That tour was Beijing, Xi'an and then I forget where he went after that. But, it was clear that there wasn't any sort of requirement for that operator that you do the same segments as everybody else. From what I gathered from the guide they have so many tours going on that it was just a matter of them having enough for that particular tour group.

 

I think the best thing would probably be to contact a travel agent as there should be some way of arranging to just do one segment.

 

And the better tours don't force you to buy things, but you should be aware that if you go on a tour of a jade factory or similar that the tour operator is almost certainly getting a kickback on anything you're buying.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi everyone,

Thanks again for sharing your ideas and suggestions - we had a great visit last week! I'm really glad I was able to take time off to be her guide - not sure why I even let her consider joining a tour group in the first place! It was an adventure together and we have many fond memories of the trip  :) 

The people at Beijing Hikers were extremely friendly and helpful, but unfortunately, the 古北口长城 hike was rained out. We ended up hiring private transportation (as someone who does not like to splurge, I felt embarrassed doing this) last minute to 慕田峪, but it was a perfect day and parts of the wall that were harder to hike had very few (if any) people.

I'm glad to have learned that public transportation to and from the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors is quite easy (just a bus ride to the train station - 西安站, not 西安北站 - and 游5 to the last stop).

So thanks to everyone for the helpful information! I hope it might help others as well  :)

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