Tour Scams, Beijing
This was founded in 1669 and appointed to be a pharmacy for the royal kingsmen in Qing Dynasty in 1861. We were taken upstairs to a 'consulting' room with 6 hard wood chairs. A 'technician' gave us tea and explained Chinese medicine to us. Then an old doctor came in with an interpreter. He took my pulse points and recommended two kinds of medicine. When I declined to buy this rather expensive medicine, he looked disgusted and left.
Unique Suggestions: Even though this was a tourist trap, I found it rather interesting. The experience of having someone take my pulse points, seeing the inside of this old pharmacy was an experience in itself. So if you tour guide takes you here, relax and enjoy.
The tour I took made a quick and unscheduled stop on the way back from the Ming tombs. Every tour takes you someplace as part of a paid advertising thing. Most of the time it is "the Marco Polo store" where you have lunch and do a little shopping. That I am ok with.
this trip was different. We stopped by the China Academy of Traditional Cinese Medicine, Imperial Family Expert Clinic and Tong Ren Tang Pharmacy. We were taken down a long hall and shown into a little room where we were given an explanation of traditional chinese medicine. Then we were taken to another room where a guy tapped on our wrists and looked deep into my eyes and told me that I drank too much and had a bad liver.
Soon, I was prescribed two bottles of little pills that looked like peppercorns or rabit raisins, and bearing the taste of an equivalent of the later. Not being a big drinker, an occasional beer when I eat Korean food, I was a bit skeptical.
I was soon given 2 bottles and told that this clinic had been the one to serve all the leaders of China, including Mao, and that it would be an insult not to buy them. I was soon out 20 bucks. My friend came out and amazingly enough had the exact same liver problems. Funny, he never drinks.
Unique Suggestions: If you get stuck going there, just try to hide out in the hall, or politely decline the examination when offered. That will save you a world of trouble later on.
Fun Alternatives: Most of the time, the driver for the tours hangs out in the bus. Tell the tour guide that your legs are hurting and you would like to just sit in the bus and rest. Or if possible, politely tell them you are not interested and move on.
There was this tour near the Ming Tombs, where the tour leader will bring us to a so called 'Chinese Medicine Research Centre' and when u step in there will be pictures of famous Chinese Scientists/Physicians and 2 very old Physician will check your pulse and recommend you some traditional cures. These are fakes and they are expensive so DO NOT get cheated. If you want to get good real traditional Chinese Medicine it is best to get it in Chinese Medicine Hall in Hongkong or Taiwan
Unique Suggestions: Just listen to the introduction of Chinese medicine and the names of the herbs to cure these ailments and allow them to check your pulse and diagnose any ailments for free. After all Chinese herbs are really effective if they are original.
The buses from Tiananmen Square to The Great Wall are terrible! Our guide didn't speak a word of English, so she didn't understand our request to stop using a megaphone in our 16-seat bus. Lucky we didn't sit at the front, as the guide kept shouting in Chinese on a very lo-o-ong trip out to the crowded Badaling section of the wall. Lucky we stopped at a jewellery factory on the way, just in case we felt like paying premium price for average quality jewellery. Then, when we returned to Beijing, we were dropped off in a busy intersection without a clue of where we were. Great!
Fun Alternatives: Don't get me wrong: The Great Wall is an amazing sight. Just find a better way of getting there, it can't get much worse than this.
After being on the great wall we were on our way back when our guide Judy asked if we wanted to go to the pearl market because it was on the way. It turned out that the market wasn’t really on the way and it was not the market that we thought it was. It was a shop that only sold things made from pearls. When we got there we were more or less the only guests in the store but about 15 clerks that were just waiting to sell us stuff. So we walked around for like 5 minutes before we left. I guess Dragon Bus tours get some money from the store by bringing people over like this and we have experienced the same in guided tours in Thailand. But it makes us feel a bit uncomfortable.
1. Many private tourist guide will approach you when you tour around a site-seeing spot. They will offer you a cheap price to go to Great Wall or other spots with a driver and a bilingual translator. Almost 100% these tour guides will deceive you by driving you to a place for lunch with hundreds RMB and ask you go visit some places for shopping. Trust the price list in the hotel where you stay. They just overcharge you with a reasonable price but they are honest.
2. DO NOT attempt to TOUCH the soveniors in any shop if you are not SURE you will buy. Because once you touch it, you will find something will fall down from the stuff and you are asked to compensate for it.
3. Remember to bargain. The price quoted always 40% of the price you need to pay in substance.
** Even I am a Chinese, I should admit that we are cunning businessmen. Many people are friendly. But you should be very careful.
A lot of Beijingers will tell you to check out Xiangshan (fragrant mountain). Skip it. I'm not so sure what the big attraction is but it's basically a hill on the north side (by the summer palace) with cable cars that you can ride to the top so you can see the smog over the city. It's like an amusement park with no amusements, but for some reason there are throngs of people there, and LOTS of vendors trying to sell you things. I don't know of any significant cultural/historical value to the place, and I suspect Beijingers go to get a little bit away from the city. Skip it.
I must say I was disappointed to see so many tourist traps around so many amazing historical sites. Even though I was tempted to check out the items they were selling, I was repelled by the fact that as soon as we stepped off the us, they started to yell at us and ring bells like we were deaf. I think that there are many tourists that respond to that - I suggest you don't. There are many places that sell the same souvenirs...and I prefer to go to the ones that don't yell at me.
Second to be aware of is that if you go on a tour - you will likely end up going to places not listed on your original itinerary - like a jade factory or rug factory or things like that. Likely they are friends of the bus driver. First thing is that items for sale in these places are usually overpriced so purchase with care. Secondly these stops are not necessarily mandatory - we ended up asking our tour guide to not stop anywhere the third day because we were really tired of them. The bus driver wasn't happy but we got to do what we wanted.
I had prebooked a hotel through the tour operator who ripped me off with the Trans Mongolian train ticket (see Moscow page) which meant that as I paid for extra nights, they were half what I had paid to the tour operator!!
I jumped onto a minibus to the Great Wall, didn't know that besides went to the Great Wall, it is a one day tour. This is one of a funny stupid stop called 'ghost fantasy land', very dirty and old outlook. We refused to go in, the guide turned black face without selling the entrance tickets.