A pre-packaged tour is a convenient and often inexpensive way to experience the best of China’s sights and tourist attractions. Most tours are all-inclusive, taking away all the stress and confusion that might arise if you try to organize your own itinerary in a country where English is not widely spoken. Other benefits of pre-packaged tours include:
- Coach buses shuttling you to each destination
- Group ticket discounts and queue skipping at major attractions
- English speaking tour guide
- Meals and hotels all taken care of
- Meeting fellow travelers
Before you go and book a tour package to China, here are three things you may want to consider for your trip:
1. Read reviews of tour companies
There are many companies in China that offer tours in China. Some are good but many more are terrible or downright scammy. Research your choices thoroughly by reading reviews (Tripadvisor is particularly good for this) and avoid companies that have bad reputations.
When reading reviews of each package tour there will be some things you may want to consider when choosing the best China tour:
Attractions: Are you more interested in seeing nature and scenic vistas? If yes, then you may want to stick to places like Guilin, Yunnan, and Sichuan. Historical sites can be found around Beijing and Xian. City lovers will definitely want to visit Shanghai. Be aware that some attractions listed on an itinerary might only be a “pass by” for a photo opportunity and not an actual tour of the insides of the attraction. Double check to make sure if this is important to you.
Accommodations: Read reviews of package tours to see what kind of hotels you will be placed in. Cheaper tours might have you sleeping in very poor and dirty hotels with beds that might seem like they are made of stone. Medium priced tours might advertise that you are staying in a 5-star hotel, but the location might be far away from the city center which means no chance of exploring on your own at night.
Food: Trying local food is part of the experience of a tour in China. However, some foreigners may be unaccustomed to eating Chinese food for every meal of the day. Many package tours offer a mixed Eastern / Western breakfast, so check for this if it is important for you and your family.
Tour guides: A knowledgeable and friendly tour guide can make the difference between a memorable trip and a total disaster. Good tour companies will hire the best tour guides that are organized, knowledgeable, and usually are able to speak a decent amount of English.
2. Beware of tour scams
Every so often you will see a company that advertises a package deal with an extremely low price that seems too good to be true. Chances are it really is too good to be true. Tour packages of this kind charge low fees but make up for the decreased revenue by bringing you to overpriced souvenir shops where they make a commission. These shops usually sell tea, silk, or jewellery at extremely high prices. Sometimes these products are actually fake and you are pressured into buying them through elaborate scammy sales presentations. If you find yourself in such a situation remember to stand firm and be mindful.
Here’s a list of travel scams to be aware of in China.
Beijing, Tiananmen Square
3. Personal travel considerations in China
While your pre-packaged tour will usually cover most of your travel considerations, there are many other small details that you will want to consider before you embark on your tour.
Air pollution: Most major cities in China have very bad air pollution. Beijing, one of the most popular tourist destinations, has notoriously dangerous air quality — especially in the winter. It is highly recommended that you bring and wear a breathing mask when travelling to China. Look for a mask that fits tightly and that has a certified N95 rating, as not all masks are equally effective.
Internet: If you need to stay connected to the internet while on your trip in China, you may be surprised to find that many Western websites and apps are blocked in China by something known as the Great Firewall. Some of these websites include Google, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and many others. Some hotels that cater to foreigners will have WiFi that is unblocked but most do not have this luxury. Luckily you can still access Facebook and Google using a VPN app, some of which you can download for free.
Shanghai with the Oriental Pearl Tower
Money: Even though most of your travelling costs will be included in your package tour, you will want to bring some cash for souvenirs and for buying snacks etc. Beware of local money exchangers as counterfeit notes are very common in China. Stick to exchanging money at large banks. When receiving change, you can use these tips to tell if the money is fake or genuine.