The Lhasa Train

I was reading in ITN magazine a report from a couple who were disappointed in their train trip from Beijing to Lhasa.  It wasn’t what they had expected thinking it was a super modern train perhaps like the new Fast Trains in China.  Pictured here is the Lhasa train which is not unlike most trains in China other than the new Fast Trains.  The cars are equipped with oxygen somewhat like an airplane.  They even have extra oxygen tubes in each car.  Otherwise they are like  most of the trains in China.
The photo here is the First Class compartments that have two upper and two lower berths.  During the day the  people in the upper berths can sit with the people on the lower berths.  Sheets and blankets are provided.  There is plenty of room to store luggage.  The trains of course travel at night as well as during the day so the scenery is only during the day part of the trip.  I myself have ridden from Lhasa/near Xian down to Chengdu and finally Chongqing.   I took the train so as a Tour Operator I could give first hand information on it.  I too was a bit disappointed expecting much more.  You MUST book first class as second class is  quite crowded and they allow smoking in those cars.  The dining room is fair but the food is train food and I suggest taking food with you.  Tea is available and there are sellers with carts selling snacks and drinks also during the trip.  For more information on the Lhasa train, contact me at   interlak@eskimo.com   My friends call me ChinaDave.
      Click on the photos for a full screen view.  

Breakfasts in China

As a tour operator I can never quite explain to clients how much food there is in China, especially breakfasts.  Breakfasts are always in the hotels as most have Western and Asian food to select from.  You see here in this photo a typical buffet breakfast in a 4 or 5 star hotel.  3 star hotels it may be a bit less but still large by our standards.  Click on the photo for a full screen view!  Eggs are cooked in front of you the way you request.  You will never go hungry in China.  Breakfasts are usually included in the cost of the hotel room but not always.  For group or private tours arranged by a tour operator such as myself, the breakfasts are always included.  If you book your hotel on line, be sure to check to see if the breakfasts are included or extra.  Breakfasts can range from $10 to $25 per person depending on the hotel level.  There is an automatic 15% service charge also on your hotel bill that may or may not be included in your price quote on line.    Breakfasts in restaurants are usually not served except if you can find a McDonalds.  Chinese people in their homes eat a very basic breakfast and young people often eat on the run from street peddlers.  So a good western breakfast is nice to start the day off.  On tours, lunch is the main meal of the day so they are usually much larger than we are use to.  Dinners are large as well.  I often go out and have a bowl of noodles with chicken and some dumplings for dinner rather than another large meal.  Food is hospitality in China and the Chinese would have a great loss of face if they only took you out for a smaller meal.  Please feel free to contact me with questions on travel in China with no obligation.   My 25 years experience in travel in China has left me with a great deal of information that I enjoy sharing.  interlak@eskimo.com
My friends call me “ChinaDave”

Exchanging Money in China

I have written on the subject of money in the past and I go back and update all my blog entries often.  Chinese money is called  Yuan.  As of Dec. 2014 the exchange rate is 6.13 yuan = $1.00 U.S.  I will try to update this often but the rate has been steady around 6.10 this past year.  Pictured here is the Yuan in different denominations.   The largest bill is 100 yuan or roughly $16.00.  There are cash machines located in many larger cities; but you can also exchange cash in your hotels with a small charge.  It is a service to guests.  You can also exchange money at some banks but not all especially in the countryside or remote areas.  So be sure to change money before going to those areas.  Cash is King in China and credit cards are generally not accepted except in large department stores, hotels and some limited restaurants.  Debit cards are limited as well.   You will see people making large purchases with cash.  One couple I know purchased their apartment and paid cash for it.  It took three people with large bags to carry it to the previous owner.  I have also seen people making luxury purchases in department stores also paying large amounts in cash.  If you are on an organized tour you will find that you will not need to carry much cash with you unless you want to make a large purchase.  Exchanging enough to use for about 3 days is sufficient unless you are going to spend some time in the more remote areas.   For more information or questions on Money in China please feel free to contact me at  interlak@eskimo.com   They call me ChinaDave.   Doing Quality tours to China and Tibet for 25 Years!

Booking Hotels in China On Line

Booking hotels on line can seem like a money saving way to book your own tour in China.  Be sure to read the fine print for each hotel.  As a tour operator for 25 years in China I think I have seen it all.  One customer said he could book a hotel in Xian which is listed as a 5 star hotel.   He said he could book a room for $89.  I know the hotel well and have been a consultant to them.  So I checked out his price with the hotel.  He indeed could book the room for $89……..plus a 15% service charge, city tax, and no breakfast included.  Room was in an old section bottom floor with no window to the outside but facing inside a dark courtyard used for storage.  Breakfasts in China are usually included in most hotels in the cost IF they list it as included.  If it does not list it as included,  then it is in addition.  Hotels have such rooms so they can list a low price and attract business.  One does not go to a restaurant for breakfast unless it is McDonalds.  Western breakfasts are only served in Hotels and then they are large buffets with mixed Asian and Western food of many kinds.  Cost ranges from $12 to $25 per person depending on the hotel.  Add it up.  That poor room costs $151 plus tax for two people including breakfast and service charges.  Be careful of hotels that give rave reviews by customers as many are often written by friends or staff members of hotels.   Booking through a Tour Operator or ‘Travel Agency that KNOWS China well, can often be less expensive since we have contracts with our partners in China with quality hotels that are well located and suitable for Western people.    You get what you pay for in China.   Make sure your tour is a pleasant experience rather than a  disappointing one. Visit my web site at:  www.interlakechinatours.com 
In Seattle, Washington in our 25th year of doing Quality tours to China and Tibet.

          It is too late once you are there and you have to stick it out.