Jiang - "Alvin Benton" (his american name), was a wealth of information. He was able to arrange airport pick up for us and arranged to take us to the Great Wall - Mutianyu section.
Mr. Benton works as the Dept. Manager for the Commerical Tourism of China International Travel Services.
He was a true professional and we couldn't have gotten as much out of Beijing and the short time we had there w/out his help.
China's airlines and their fares are amazingly cheap as they are controlled by goverment pricing. However, once they reach "Cyber space", they become international property and are subject to huge markups!!!
A good example of this was trying to fly between Beijing - Xian, Xian-Guilin, Guilin to Schenzhen to Hong Kong. The cheapest fare between Beijing-Xian, had I purchased here in the US was approx. $220.00. waiting to purchase in China, the average rate between cities was between 70 and 80 dollars.
You may need the help of a travel agent once you're there or, enlist the help of a student if you have managed to hook up with one. See tips on Meeting students.
By the way, we flew Air China and they were wonderful! Good connections, great On time service and pleasant, comfortable modern planes. Check in was a breeze!!!
You can book China domestic flight eTickets at http://www.elong.net/
Some flights are discounted. Sometimes 50% or more! In China, the flights are discounted closer to the date of departure.
May 2007 I flew from Xi'an to Shanghai. I got 50% discount off the base and had to pay an additional 130 rmb tax and fees. I got the ticket the day before. Only the late flight had 50% discount at that time while most of the others were 20 or 30% discount. I checked the internet the day of the flight and my flight and an additional flight was 60% discount and many of the other flights were 50% on the day of departure. So the longer you wait, the cheaper the price.
May 2007, a 130 rmb domestic airport tax and fees is added and sometime a fuel surcharge tax is also added. These additional charges will be listed before you are required to give your credit card information.
You round trip is just double the one way price. This makes it easy to combine air and rail. For example, you can fly from Shanghai to Beijing. Then take the train to Xi'an. Then fly from Xi'an back to Shanghai or someplace else.
Be careful around holidays like Chinese New Year, early May and early October.
Update October 20, 2008
I've just checked elong.com for November 1. One way prices from Beijing to Shenzhen were between 600 and 1750 rmb. The higher prices were non stop. It also said plus 200 rmb tax/fees for nonstop and 400 rmb for connecting flights. .
I also checked other destinations and dates. Beijing to Shenzhen seem to have less discounts flights, especially close to the depart date. I think it all has to do with the capitalist policy of supply and demand. :)
So, check the internet and if you see a good price, maybe you should book it and not wait.
Please rate this and my other tips when you find them useful, interesting, or like the photos.
Beijing Capital International Airport is located at Chaoyang District, approximately 30 kilometers northeast of the city of Beijing. It is the largest and the busiest airport in China. The Beijing Airport is the busiest airport in Asia and one of the busiest airports in the world! It handles approximately 50 millions passengers annually.
Beijing Capital International Airport has three runways and three terminal buildings. The new terminal 3 was designed by Foster & Partners and was opened in 2008 just before the Beijing Olympiad. It has the shape of a dragon as depicted in our photograph above.
Hainan Island is becoming a great tourist destination in the recent years especially to the mainland Chinese. It is just like Chinese Hawaii. The island is now dotted with lots of impressive tourist attractions to attract local and foreign tourists. Larger airports with larger terminal buildings are now required to handle the increase in passenger and cargo traffic. Hainan Island now boasts of two impressive international airports, i.e. Haikou Meilan Airport and Sanya Phoenix Internatioanl Airport, the former located to the north and the later to the south.
Beijing Metro was officially opened to the public in 1969. It is the busiest subway system in China and the second longest after Shanghai Metro. Beijing Metro has approximately 200 kilometrs of subway tracks. There are a total of eight lines today.
Beijing Metro is undergoing rapid expansion to meet the needs of the local population as well as the increasing number of foreign tourists especially after the successful hosting of the 29th Beijing Olympiad by China. Beijing Metro attracts approximately three million passengers per day.
Take a pictursque Li River (Li Jiang) cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo in north-eastern Guang Xi Province. This is a "must-visit" tourist attraction when you visit Guilin. The cruise takes approximately six hours with a total cruise distance of approximately 80 kilometres long. There are daily cruises from Zhujiang Wharf in Guilin early in the morning with lunch on board.
The scenery along the Li River especially the limestone rocks is one of the most beautiful in China. You may even witness the traditional Chinese fishing using birds to catch the fish along the river. Li River originates from Maoer Mountain and flows through Guilin and Yangshuo into Xi Jiang, a distance of approximately 400 kilometres. Flip through our photos above to see the natural beauty of this tourist destination.
We were adviced by a previous VT member to try Asia Xpat personals for a language exchange student to show us around.
The Xpat website is:
This was a fun, interesting way to see a more personal China.
We established contact after becoming members (free service) and posting an English language exchange for showing us around China personal ad.
Within hours, we had several offers from eager students who wanted to practice their language skills.
One even picked us up at the airport and took us to the Great Wall the follwoing day in exchange for gas money!
Another student, showed us around the Hutong district and walked us around while talking about culture and academics.
Her English and Spanish skills were as good as any naturalized american citizen.
he ornly accent was British as her teacher is from England.
We took her out to dinner to a local "favorite" of hers and got to eat at a very innexpensive yet wonderful restaurant we may not have found if on guided tour.
The difference between being guided by a tour company opposed to having a friend show us around was the one on one intimacy of being able to ask all kinds of questions and share insights.
Always carry a business card from your hotel with you with the Chinese characters written plainly.
When you flag down a taxi driver, simply show him your card and he'll take it from there.
An alternative is to pre-print from the internet the hotel's name in both English and Chinese characters from your home computer. This can be done at home before embarking on your trip. Particularly helpful when you arrive at airport if you've not arranged for someone to meet you.
Ok so we too wondered how difficult it would be to get around China or, be able to find a reliable driver...
We needn't have worried.
Here's how this works - EVERYTIME for us at least...
After arriving at the airport, you walk to the Taxi queu and await your turn. You should not go for the many drivers and private cars competing for your attention.
Once you have established where you want to go and your luggage has been loaded...within 5 minutes of being in the Taxi you'll notice your driver pick up his cell phone....he'll briefly talk into it....you'll hear him / her say "Mr. hello....hello..." while motioning for you to take the phone.
On the other end of the phone will be a person who speaks a reasonable amount of english bartering an all day, anywhere price between you and your driver.
We found this specially convinient (and cheap) in Xian and Guilin.
If you like your driver, and you're interested in his being your personal driver, establish a price (haggle a bit - we ended up paying 500 yuan or, about 15USD for airport/hotel/terracotta soldiers and back to Xian) Keep in mind that this includes your drivers fuel and parking fees. It is always nice to offer to buy him/her a coke if you feel you want to stop for one.
Personal drivers are extremely reliable, ofter arriving to pick you up long before you've scheduled them to do so. Also, extremely loyal, forsaking all others and patiently waiting for you to walk around and see the sights and eventually, take you on to your next destination. We always felt spoiled.
Know that the ocassional "shopping stop" may or may not be included as he's trying to make an extra buck by referring you to a friend's shop.
I have written elsewhere on VT that most Chinese taxi-drivers are honest and friendly, but the situation at airports has deteriorated so badly in the last two years that it is worth drawing attention to the disgraceful situation at nearly every airport in China. (The exception remains the extremely well-organised taxi set-up at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport). The worst is Beijing, and the "improvements" here have actually made the situation worse!!
There has been a massive increase in unlicenced taxis operating at airports. People will approach you asking if you want a taxi. One "Bu yao, xie-xie" is not enough; these taxi touts seem to have congenital hearing problems.
If you wish to risk unlicenced taxis, remember that they will not be insured for carrying you and the fare may well change dramatically en-route. Many of these taxi scams start with you getting into a really nice VW Passat or Red Flag, only to be transferred to a decrepit old Xiali just outside the airport. (This is particularly bad at Xian Airport)
You will always pay more than you should.
In a normal taxi, remember the phrase "Da biao" which means "Use the meter".
At Beijing (and many other airports) getting a taxi at the airport for a short journey is a particularly unpleasant ordeal. The taxi driver will have queued for up to four hours to get a fare, and then you come along and only need a short ride. Insist on him taking you; they will eventually relent, but you will be subject to constant verbal harrassment throughout the journey. If it gets too bad, make a scene of noting his number (on a placard on the dashboard). Note that I don't entirely blame the drivers for this irritation, but Hongqiao has introduced a special 'short-distance' taxi service that solves this problem instantly - it is not exactly rocket science!
The airport taxi situation is, quite frankly, a disgrace, and I have met many people for whom the taxi ride from the airport has clouded their judgement of China for their whole visit.
I get occasional e-mails asking for advice from prospective tourists who want to drive themselves around China.
My advice: you would be insane to even consider driving yourself in China if you are a tourist. I mean that: insane. I live here and I choose not to drive (and I enjoy driving).
1) China has 1.5% of the world's vehicles and 15% of the world's fatal road accidents.
2) The situation is getting worse. Fast
3) Road user beahviour in China is staggeringly bad. So bad that almost every, single journey, every single day involves seeing almost suicidal manoeuevres by road users.
4) I see a fatal road accident almost every week, and I mainly make only short journeys.
5) In the last seven days I have seen two fatal road accidents, two further 'probables', the results of horrendous accidents being carried away on trucks, three further serious accidents (two rear-enders, one roll-over), eight minor accidents (probably only broken limbs). This is from travelling to/from work, a business trip to Shenzhen, and a 250km return trip north of Miyun (five of the accidents).
6) The road rules are broken constantly (by this I mean constantly, by most drivers, most of the time): running red lights, driving at speed on sidewalks, driving the wrong way on highways, overtaking on blind bends, overtaking on the cycle lane, turning where it is forbidden.
7) The probability of a tourist driver being involved in an accident are extremely high.
8) If you are involved in even a minor accident, you could face imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of your vehicle until blame can be apportioned.
9) If you are the driver involved in an injury accident, you may be in physical danger rom friends or relatives of those injured (even if it was not your fault)
Let me spelt it out one more time: INSANE
I would definitely recommend hiring a taxi to the Great Wall to give yourself the maximum amount of time and flexibility in seeing the site. We hired a taxi on two different days to Badaling w/the Ming Tombs and another day to Mutianyu.
To Badaling/Ming Tombs from the Best Western Hotel on "Ring Rd." was approx. 800 yuan (around $100usd). We left at 8:30am and returned approx. 2pm.
To Mutianyu from the Best Western Hotel was 600 yuan (around $75usd). We left at 8am and returned at 3pm.
Any hotel will have taxi drivers outside that you can bargain with for a day at the Wall. Once you get to the Wall at either site, there are informative signs as to where to purchase your ticket to enter the site.
In the comfort of your own taxi, be sure to take in the sights on the way to the wall (Badaling), like in the picture on the left.
I get a lot of e-mails asking general questions about what Chinese airlines are like. Here is a summary of the replies I write.
China's airlines are generally fine, and I use most of them on a regular basis.
If I have a choice, my prioritisation is as follows:
1) Hainan Airlines: a cut above the rest
2) China Eastern and Air China
3) Shanghai Airlines
4) (former) China Northern, (former) China Northwestern, Shandong Airlines, (former) China Southwestern, (former) China Yunnan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines and the rest.
The reason for the "(former)" is that last year the Chinese aviation authorities regrouped many of the airlines into three major groups.
I am happy travelling on any airline and pretty much any aircraft. The prioritisation is mainly because of the service rather than any safety aspect. The 'former' airlines are slowly being rebranded, but in the meantime, you may be booked on China Eastern and find yourself on a China Northwest aircraft, etc.
I prefer travelling on the smaller aircraft (737s, smaller Airbuses) because they are quicker to load and unload, but the big 747s and 777s have a lot more legroom!
China Northwest and China Xinjiang airlines Airbuses and 757s seem to have higher than usual seating density, and long flights to Xinjiang or Kunming from Beijing can be a pain in these aircraft.
I *do* have some concerns about flying into smaller mountain airports at night in bad weather (don't we all), especially Huangshan in Anhui, and Urumqi in the depths of winter always seems to bring out a nasty hard landing.
Air China is the national airline of China.
While few airlines in China make delay statistics known, CA has a bit of a reputation for delays and cancellations.
An upside of using Air China is that it frequently uses its bigger long-haul aircraft on domestic routes. These aircraft (747, 777, 767 and A340) have a lot more leg room in economy class.
Food is moreorless the same on all Chinese airlines: standardised 1970s food in a container ("chicken or beef?").
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