Which Group Tour to Choose

I don’t do Group Tours unless a group comes to me and asks me to put a tour together with perhaps some special interests which I like to do.  Otherwise I do not do sell or organize Group Tours.  My specialty with 26 years of travel throughout China has been doing customized tours to customer’s specific interests and budget.   So how do you pick out a good Group Tour as there are many.  DO NOT GO JUST BY PRICE!  There are many low budget tours available but you may only go to China once in your life and you do not want to be greatly disappointed. Once you are there, it is too late and you have to stick it out.   (continue below the photos)Chinese food0003XishuangbannaGuides-and-TippingLocal-restarurants Ask the tour company you are looking at for some references of people who have used them and are able to contact them directly.  If they just give you a list of references with no contact information forget them.  Low budget tours use hotels out in the suburbs or away from the areas where you can walk around and explore on your own.  Meals often are steam table buffets rather than sit down and be served meals.   A good group tour uses centrally located hotels, most dinners and lunches as well as all breakfasts.  Sights should be the main sights and not glossed over free sights that cost the tour company little or no money.  The best group tours usually have 12 to 16 tour members.  Many poor ones have 50 to 80 tourists and slow down your tour having to follow a local guide with a Bull Horn leading you around like a herd of sheep.  For more information I am always glad to answer your individual questions.

If You Like It; Buy It!

This is a phrase that I often tell my clients.   China has so many unique and interesting things to buy it is often difficult to decide on many things.  Pictured here is a 3 colored Jade piece that I took a photo of and wanted but the price was very high.  I didn’t buy it but after returning home thought I missed a great opportunity to buy something that is one of a kind.  I went back the following year and it was gone.  The tea pots shown here are one of a kind hand chiseled from a rare stone.  I have 8 of them but have never found them again as the craft is no longer done.  Art pieces of many kinds are all over China but as I say, “If you like it; buy it” because you may never see the same thing again.  One can always bargain for lower prices sometimes half of what they are asking except in department stores.  Your guide on a tour can take you to places that are not always open to the public but he usually also gets a commission for taking you there. You of course do not have to buy.  Bringing home little treasures one finds is fun and brings many future memories especially if you have met the artist in person.  One of my favorites is a painting done by a man without arms and uses his feet to paint. It is so good we have it hung in our living room.  For more tips on purchasing you can contact me at  email:  interlak@eskimo.com    My name is Dave and we live in Seattle.  People are asking about the painting below.  It is not a painting by a hand made embroidery which took the woman 3 months to make.   Made of hand dyed silk.

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Trains to Lhasa

FacingPotalaPalace_01Many people like to ride trains and some who have never ridden a train in their home country often want to take a train in China just for the experience.  With the new fast trains now in China that go up to 185 mph it takes much less time between cities and you see much more of the countryside.  Since the Lhasa trains have been put into service there has been a great deal of interest in taking them.  Pictured here is one of the Lhasa trains.  These trains go from Beijing to Lhasa with several stops along the way and returning go to Chengdu and Chongqing too.  One needs to remember that these trains travel all night as well so scenery is only during the daylight hours.  There are approximately 25 to 30 cars per train.  You should only take First Class sleepers where smoking is limited.  Second class sleepers and coaches allow smoking.  Oxygen is pumped into the cars to compensate for the thin atmosphere at 10,000 feet otherwise the cars are like any other trains.  Prices listed for the trains will vary depending on the season.  Tickets are sold through second sources and are often priced higher than listed ones and sometimes twice the cost due to supply and demand.  It is best to book the train through a tour operator or travel agent well in advance.  My personal experience is that the trains are always full.  For more information feel free to contact me at  email:  interlak@eskimo.com   You won’t be put on any spam list or get a sales pitch from me.  My 25 years of travel in China and over 2,500 client’s feedbackLhasa-Train0005 has given me many insights into travel in China and Tibet.

A Visa is Needed to Enter China

China requires a visa to enter the country which is glued into your passport.  Cost presently is $140 at the Chinese Consulates located in several major cities if you appear in person.  The Consulates do not accept applications mailed directly to them anymore.  If you are not in one of those areas, you can use a Visa Service to submit it.  There are many Visa Services but it is important to use a well known one that can be trusted since you must send in your passport.  Cost is usually about $200 more or less plus FedEx or other couriers.  The application and instructions can be gotten on line or if you send me your email address and state in which you reside, I can email you the 4 page application along with the instructions.  Visas can be good for up to 10 years now. My email address is  Email:   interlak@eskimo. My name is Dave and I am located in Seattle, Washington.  26 years Experience in Travel to China and Tibet.Great-Wall0010

Arriving In China By Air

Most tourists arrive in either Beijing or Shanghai.  During your flight you will be given an Arrival Card to fill out.  This plus your passport will be needed to give to the Security Agents.  You then will continue on to the luggage areas.  Everything is in English so you will be able to find your luggage carousal.  After procuring your luggage you then exit where you will see many people waiting to meet other passengers.  If you are on a tour, a guide may be waiting for you holding up a sign with your name on it.  If you arrive on your own, there are signs to direct you to the taxi stand.  DO NOT go with anyone asking you if you want a Taxi.  They overcharge you and are illegal.  There is a train  that goes into the city in both Beijing and Shanghai.  The Shanghai train is a MagLev train that goes up to speeds of over 200 mph.  It arrives at a station in Pudong across the river from Shanghai proper.  You will need to take a taxi from there to your hotel.  One problem is that taxi drivers in China seldom if ever speak English. A Taxi Starter at the airports speaks English and you tell him where you want to go and he relates it to the driver.  There is a meter on all taxis but there is also a toll fee to be paid when the toll road is used which is in addition to the meter.  For more information on arrival in China please feel free to ask me at  email:  interlak@eskimo.com    I am always willing to share my 26 years of travel in China.   Silk-Road-TourDave-and-the-Pandas-03Hainan-Air0002

Taking a Train in China

Booking trains in China is a bit complicated.  Best is to book through a tour operator or from a Travel Agent in advance.  As you will see some popular routes are booked in advance up to 60 days before by local Chinese.  Around Chinese holidays train tickets are very difficult at best if not booked well in advance.  There are several kinds of trains.  G-trains are the fastest going 185 mph with few stops.  The next is a D-train which has more stops.  Then a T-train has the most trains on secondary routes.  The K-trains are the slowest with many stops.  Examples of price and speed are for example:   Beijing  to Xian:  G trains take 5.5 hours and cost about $145 and run during the day.  T-trains run at night and take 14 hours but cost about $75.  There is one Z-train that costs $70 and takes  11.5 hours.  The problem is that it arrives in Xian at 3:25 in the morning after leaving Beijing the day before at  mid afternoon..  T trains arrive at 5:00 in the morning.  So often it  is   (continue below)Trains0002Trains0001Lhasa-Train0004Breakfastsbest to take a G train during the day.  Prices are current without commission and are based on First Class tickets.  Second class saves a bit but smoking is allowed and not as comfortable.  Sleepers are 4 to a compartment.  Two uppers and two lowers.  The uppers before going to sleep normally sit  on the lower bunk.  Mixed sexes are in each compartment.  The Z-trains between Beijing and Xian have Private cars for two people but there are only a few of these and usually only one per car.  The very fast G-trains are ultra modern and extremely smooth and worth the  money.  The negative is that train stations are extremely crowded.  If you are on a guided tour the guides help you.  Signs are all in English/Chinese however few people in the train stations speak English.   For more information on taking trains including the Tibet trains you may email me at:   interlak@eskimo.com   My name is Dave.

What to Expect on Travel to Tibet….

Tibet is one of those places in the world that people look at as being an exotic destination.  Before you go you should do a lot of research on why you would like to go there.  That is the first question I ask clients.  If you are interested in religion, it is a great place to visit.  If you are interested in Tibetan culture of course it is the best place to visit although only 1/3rd of the Tibetans live in Tibet.  Some people tell me they want to see the mountains.  Lhasa is on top of the mountains at 12,000 feet.  The viewing mountains are in the western part of Tibet such as Mt. Everest.  Lhasa is about 400,000 people now and much more modern than you would think.  Modern hospitals, stores, restaurants with many choices of food and hotels that are modern.  One hotel is a Facing-Potala-Palace_07Monastery-0002tibet-mountluxury hotel with a swimming pool lined in 24ct. gold leaf.  Rooms are fantastic some with views of the Potala Palace.  A Tibet Permit is needed to go there and can be obtained by your tour operator in addition to your Chinese Visa.  One should be healthy as Tibet is from 12,000 to 17,000 feet above sea level with very intense sun.  People over 80 I ask to obtain a letter from their doctor.  You will feel the difference just getting off the plane which is about 50 miles from Lhasa.  Altitude medicine is available everywhere but you may want to bring your own prescription.  There are modern hospitals in Lhasa.  Do not buy those oxygen bottles that they sell.  They last only about 30 minutes and are a waste of money.  Just move slowly and take your time.  For more information on Tibet, you are welcome to contact me directly with questions.  You will not be put on any spam list or be subject to a sales pitch.  I am semi-retired and have travelled through China and Tibet for 25 years and love sharing my experiences and knowledge of both China and Tibet.  You might want to check some of my packaged tours on Tibet here on my web site for examples although I do customized tours to your interests and budget too.  email:   interlak@eskimo.com  My name is Dave or as some of my friends call me   China Dave

What to Wear While Touring

That is a question I hear often.  For touring casual wear is fine everywhere…unless you are going to a business meeting, or special event.  Slacks and shirt for the men.  Slacks or skirts for the ladies.  Shorts at the knees is acceptable as well.  Leave your expensive jewelry at home.  Laundry can add up and is accepted in the hotels for one day service or Express service.  Average cost for a pair of pants or skirt is about $5.00. A good pair of sturdy shoes is highly recommended….no high heals.   Umbrellas, rain hats or ponchos are available everywhere.  A hat is also recommended for warm sunny days as well as sun glasses especially if you are going to Tibet or desert areas along the Silk Road.  For more recommendations feel free to contact me at  Email:  interlak@eskimo.com   My name is Dave and you will not be put on any spam list or get a sales pitch from me.   Just always glad to help with any advice needed.Family-Visits0002GroupLiJiang0001

Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple

The home of Fung Fu is the Shaolin Temple between the cities of Luoyang and Zhengzhou.  Both just west of Beijing or east of Xian.  Here KungFu was born and still exists as it did in the past.  You see here the #1 Monk who has the rice bowl on his stomach.  He challenges anyone to remove it  (only one time in the past was it ever removed)  I was the only foreigner in the audience and of course they pushed me to do it.  I noticed that his skin was moist from the other activities and thought perhaps if I twisted it rather than try to pull it off, it may work.  Indeed it did but you would have thought the audience would have cheered me but they were silent.  The Monk had lost face which is important in their culture.  After the show was over, the Monk came out and called me up on stage.  He bowed to me and presented me with his rice bowl.  An act of humility which I truly respected.  If you are unable due to a time constraint can not visit the Shaolin Temple there is a wonderful FungFu Opera in Beijing that is presented more like a story but has much KungFu during the show.   I still have the bowl of course and it brings back many good memories.  That is what China is all about….having some great memories of an ancient Asian Culture in the Modern World.Shaolin-TempleShaolin-Temple0002Shaolin-Temple0001