‘Golden weeks’ in China

My wife and I returned on Oct. 16, ’05, from an 18-day tour of China and Hong Kong. The trip, called “Yangtze River Splendors,” was operated by Orient Flexi-Pax Tours (New York, NY; 800/545-5540 or www.orientflexipax.com) and booked for us by our local travel agent. Our departure was from San Francisco on Sept. 29, with arrival in Beijing late on the 30th. Touring activities began on Oct. 1.

Unknown to us and everyone else in our 16-person tour group was the fact that the week of Oct. 1-8, honoring National Day, was the biggest of China’s three week-long holidays, called “golden weeks.” During National Day week, virtually everyone in China is on holiday and is encouraged to travel across the country to visit tourist sites and spend some of their savings.

Without going into detail, I offer here some excerpts about the Chinese tourists from the Oct. 4 China Daily newspaper, English edition: “In Beijing, a city management officer is quoted as saying he had never seen so many people in Tian’anmen Square as he did on Saturday. The three subway stops near the square were closed from Saturday to Tuesday due to overcrowding.”

According to the National Holiday Office, the major 126 scenic spots across China received 2.54 million tourists on Sunday alone.

In Beijing, visitors to the Forbidden City on Saturday exceeded its maximum capacity by 12%. The Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven were equally overrun with tourists from all over China.

Most businesses close during China’s “golden weeks.” In hotels, business centers either close or curtail their operating hours.

The incredible traffic jams and constant crowding we experienced during our first week of touring detracted considerably from our vacation enjoyment. In fact, it made for a lot of misery until the week ended on Oct. 8. The number of Chinese families able and anxious to travel is increasing each year as more people acquire the wealth needed to take a holiday away from home. This trend is expected to continue.

Here’s a word of warning to those planning to visit China: review your travel dates carefully if you wish to avoid the millions of Chinese on holiday touring their country and competing everywhere with you for service and space. Obviously, neither we nor our travel agent nor the tour company had the slightest idea of what happens in China during “golden weeks.”

Los Angeles, CA

ITN sent an e-mail to the China National Tourist Office (Los Angeles, CA; phone 818/545-7507 or visit www.cnto.org) inquiring about upcoming dates of “golden weeks” and received the reply, “One is in May, the first week. (This is a Labor Day.) One is in October, the first week. (This is China National Day.) The other one is Chinese New Year, but there’s no actual date. It’s usually in January or February. Some businesses are closed and some are still open.”