China is one of the places I instantly fell in love with when I first visited it way back in 2003. Being a Canadian born Chinese, China was an eye opener for me to appreciate where my “roots” were. After venturing to the west, south, and northern parts of China, I’ve begin to realize some of the pros and cons of signing up for that next guided China tour. If you are planning to visit China anytime soon, then this post maybe helpful for you to determine whether you should visit China off the beaten path by yourself (i.e. going solo), or signing up for a packaged China tour offered by many tour guides and agencies.
Let’s start with the PROs of signing up for a standard packaged guided China tour:
1.) If you are a first time visitor, then this maybe the best option. Reason being is that China is a massive place…and because of that, not all areas are created equal in China. Venture into the special administrative zones like Hong Kong and Macau, you may be able to venture by yourself because its so “Western” friendly, but once you hit the more mother land areas such as the north around Beijing, the west near Sichuan, for a first time visitor, it may be tough to venture out on your own.
2.) Language barriers, of course. If you do not know a single drop of Chinese, then a guided China tour will be great for you. By all means, the many of the major tour operators are geared towards foreign tourists, so ensuring they can communicate in English is one of their top priorities. The Chinese tourist agencies have came such a long way in improving the quality of their tour guides.
3.) Convenience is one of the benefits of the guided China tour by a local tour agency. You don’t need to plan at all, all you need to ensure is you get on the bus and follow their itinerary. Furthermore, most tour operators even go to the extent of planning your meals too, so its all hands off from your part, and in a way its sometimes a good thing. It’s like going on a cruise and everything is taken care of for you, so you don’t need to stress. By having this convenience you can see the best of China without sweating it.
Now with CONs of signing up for a standard packaged guided China tour:
1.) Some tour agencies will waste a lot of time in the itinerary by bringing you to tourist traps. What this means is that they will shuttle you all for an hour or so to a souvenir shop where they in fact will get some commissions for bringing tourists over. It’s nothing illegal, but as a tourist it can be a rather drag on your trip to waste your time looking at cheap souvenirs being marketed as authentic Chinese artifacts. Not all tourist agencies do this, so its wise to ask for more details on the trip itinerary to see where exactly are the places you will be visiting.
2.) The itinerary can get pretty hectic sometimes, because the tour operators are trying to pack as much places to visit so that you can get your money’s worth. There’s pros into this and there’s definitely cons. The definite con is that you don’t get much time to enjoy the sites at your own pace. I remember last time I went on a tour of Beijing, it was an excellent tour, don’t get me wrong, but it was also very fast paced. Every morning I remember we had to board the bus at 7 am sharp so that it can hit all the places of interest, and by the end of the tour I was so tired…
3.) You get to experience China, but not experience China at the same time. What I mean by this is that yes you can see a lot of what China is about, but at the same time because you are quarantined in the tour bus all the time you don’t get to see and experience a lot of the local way of life. The best way to experience the local way of life is by wandering on your own in the non tourist areas, such as going to the local wet market, and eating at the local mom and pop shops.
I hope this quick write up gives you some perspective on what to look out for if you are considering a packaged Chinese tour of China. In the end, with or without a tour, China is definitely a place you must visit, as there’s over a few thousand years of history and culture that is very unique in this world to be explored.