Chinese Marble Pieces

There is a saying in China. If you like it; buy it! Because you may not see it again in China. It has made decisions very easy for me when looking for unusual items to take home. In Dali just north of Kunming in Yunnan province are the ancient marble quarries mined for hundreds of years. Local people take the tailings and make vases, ash trays and many other decorative pieces. Note the large piece above that I viewed as a large “cookie” jar but when I opened it up and stuck my hand in it, everyone laughed very hard. It turned out that this was a fancy camode to be placed under your bed. In Dali there is the marble market where you can get good buys and bargain with the local artists. Although heavy in a suit case, they are beautiful and you won’t find them many other places in China. All through China you will find hand made items made by local artists. In an earlier post, I wrote about my collection of tea pots chiseled from solid stone seldom found in China except from special artists near Nanjing. During my 50+ trips to China in 25 years I have found remarkable pieces to bring home. As a China only Tour Operator I direct my clients to areas of their special interests where they too can find unusual pieces for their collections. Tours to China is my business but my passion is really the study of China and all it has to offer from many centuries of history. Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Private Car with Guide and Driver

With private tours you generally have a guide, driver and your own car or van. The cost is about the same as renting a car elsewhere except you get to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Drivers are professional and in 20 years I have never had a driver who spoke English. Guides of course speak English but up until a few years ago few guides were able to drive a car. It is best to leave the driving up to a professional driver in China. The car above is a four wheel drive suv that we used in the mountains otherwise cars are used in the city unless you have more than two people, a van is then used. The guide on the right above is a personal friend as well as a top official in his company. His English name is Frank. We worked a full week together developing an Ecological tour in the Sichuan mountains. The driver noticed I called my friend by his English name and after the first day asked through Frank if I would give him an English name. So I named him “Fred”. Fred and Frank, right? The next day he very shyly told Frank in Chinese of course that he didn’t think Fred was a “cool” name and would I give him another one. I asked him what he thought a cool name was. He smiled and said, “Risky”. I could only laugh and ask him where he got that name. He said from an American movie. I told him “Risky” was not a good name for a driver after I explained what it meant. He laughed and said, “Fred” it is then. Chinese people are friendly and engaging and I am sure you will find that is so too. I have a book entitled “Encountering the Chinese” A Guide for Americans. I use it all the time. Send us $25. and we will send you a copy post paid.
Interlake China Tours, Inc. P.O. Box 33652 Seattle, Wa. 98133

Visiting Yunnan Families in Their Homes

One of the most interesting things to do in China is visiting families in their homes. You learn so much about the culture and really get a first hand personal experience with people. The families pictured above are from Yunnan province. The first is a Muoso woman at Lugu Lake, the second a Dai family near Jinghong and a Hani family in Xishuangbanna which while dancing and singing sounded like American Indians. Each experience I had was very memorable and I learned so much about each minority tribe. There are 57 different minority peoples or tribes in China and you can often visit them in their homes over a cup of tea. I have visited over 20 different nationalities in their homes learning about each one. Many of my clients have visited China more than one time and Yunnan province in the south of China is probably one of the most interesting. North Yunnan is in the mountains and south Yunnan is in hilly jungle forests. Many people who have taken a standard or group tour of China have seen the major sites and tourist areas. Many of my clients I have arranged private custom tours to many other parts of China that meet their interests and take advantage of my 25 years experience of travel through out China. As a China Tour Operator working directly with my Chinese partners; you can depend on a great personal tour of China. References are available from many of my former clients upon request.

Money and Exchanges

As a Tour Operator to China and Tibet for the past 17 years one of the questions I get asked about is Money and exchanges. Credit cards can be used in department stores, hotels and a few of the better restaurants but not all. As uncommon as they are, Travelers Checks and in particular American Express travelers checks get the best exchange rate…better than cash. But only in major cities as they usually are not accepted in villages and small remote cities. Your hotel is the best place for exchanges as they do it as a courtesy rather than a high exchange fee. Some banks will accept them but it often takes much longer and the hours are varied. Cash machines are available in some cities but do charge a larger fee and no receipt. All receipts should be kept in order to exchange back into dollars usually at the airport on your way home. Chinese money, yuan, is not always exchangeable by your home bank. Exchange what you think you will need for a couple days unless you are going into remote areas where you will not be able to exchange checks or U.S. dollars either. For more answers on money, credit cards or travelers checks, contact me at

Applying for a Chinese Visa

A Visa is needed to go to China. You may download the application form from the Chinese Embassy web site or obtain the forms and instructions from your tour operator. The cost is about $180 per visa plus the Fedex charge as you must send in your passport with the application and you need to be able to trace it. If you live in a city where there is a Chinese Consulate you can appear in person and only need to pay the visa fee alone. It takes two days unless you are getting a rush visa which costs more. The visa is valid for a 30 day period and that starts the day you enter China. You should apply for the visa about 30 days before your departure. Your passport MUST be valid 6 months past the time you depart from China according to Chinese law. You should make a photo copy of both your passport and your visa and carry it with you in your luggage. American Passports are worth $20,000. on the black market in China which is a great incentive for pick pockets and thieves. Always keep your passport in a secure area. Most hotel rooms have a safe in them and you set your own combination for safety. If you carry your passport with you, carry it in a pouch around your neck or a inside s secure pocket. For any questions, contact me at ChinaDave

Chinese Friends

After traveling through China for over 20 years one meets many people and some become good friends. The photo above is Shi Mao Ting or Sherry as we call her by her western name. I saw Sherry when she was only two or three years old in a small village outside of Chengdu in Sichuan province. She was quite shy but the photo turned out very well. Enough so that I have a poster size photo framed and in our home. I have been visiting Sherry and her family now for 14 years watching the changes in their lives. Mom has a small shop selling things to tourists and they live in what can’t be more than 75 square feet in back of the shop and sleep in a loft. Dad died just two years ago and was deaf and could not speak. Mom is also disabled. Grandma lives with them and helps out in the shop while Mom works 7 days a week and 14 hours a day. Sherry is now at boarding school near Chengdu and is able to get home most weekends by Saturday afternoon by bus as she has classes on Saturday mornings. She must be back by Sunday afternoon as she has class on Sunday evenings from 6 to 9. Classes during the week are from 7:20 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a two hour break for lunch. Classes again in the evening from 6:30 until 9:00. She must study usually until midnight. Sherry will graduate in 2010 from high school and will enter the university hoping to be a teacher at this point. Knowing Sherry and her family has been a wonderful experience and I hope to attend her university graduation. For more stories, check in with my blog that I try to write each week.
There are over 90 stories now. China tourism is my business; but Chinese culture and people are my passion. Let me by your China Travel Agent for customized private tours to China and Tibet. 20 Years experience and over 50 trips since 1989.

Meeting Chinese People in Their Homes

One of the things you want to do when you go to China is to meet the Chinese people so you learn more about the culture. Group Tours unfortunately seldom give you the opportunity to meet people. In China it is not uncommon to be allowed into a Chinese home to visit with them over tea. Chinese hospitality is fantastic. Can you imagine someone coming to your door and asking if they can come in and have tea and meet you. In China that is possible and not just set up for tourists. The photos above are during a visit to a Tibetan home in Sichuan province about 300 miles from Chengdu. We actually had lunch with the family, played with the children and learned so much about their every day life. This is possible in China during a private custom tour which we have been doing for 20 years. I have dined with farmers, city people, mountain people, Muslims, and many of the minority people’s homes through out China. These experiences are ones that you will remember for many years getting to know people and their families. Tours to China are my business; but my real love is getting to know more and more Chinese people as friends. I have four people in China that I have known for 18 years more or less and am following their lives year to year. My youngest one is now 17 and will be graduating from high school and hopefully going on to college. Let me plan a China Tour for you. Check my web site at Your China Tour Operator in the U.S with over 20 years experience in travel in China and Tibet.