Notes from visit to China

This item appears on page 48 of the June 2010 issue.
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I joined a group of 34 well-traveled people on May 14, 2009, for an 18-day trip to China with smarTours (New York, NY; 800/337-7773, www.smartours.com). It included a Yangtze river cruise and time in Hong Kong.

I highly recommend smarTours, which delivered a top-notch trip at a terrific value for the money. The cost was $3,099 per person, double occupancy, with air from JFK in New York. This included $185 for departure taxes/fees, in-country airfare and almost all meals. The single supplement ran $799-$999.

A China visa cost $130 at the time of our trip. Although I had easy access to the Chinese Consulate in New York, it was so crowded that it would have taken all day just to reach someone to submit an application, so I used Travel Document Systems (in New York City, 877/874-5104; Washington, DC, 800/874-5100, and San Francisco, CA, 888/874-5100; www.traveldocs.com).

I was very pleased with their prompt, efficient and professional handling of my visa application; I had the visa in four business days. For a China visa, TDS charged $50 for handling plus charges to FedEx the documents back.

On top of the cost of this trip, be prepared to spend $300-$400 per person in tips, not including the tip to the tour director.

If you choose to do some tipping in US currency, take brand-new, crisp bills (no crumples) that have no tears or any ink marks on them. Otherwise, the Bank of China will not accept them and the locals will not benefit from your largesse, not to mention the foreign currency conversion fee which would deplete the value of your tip.

Local guides, drivers and hotel maids prefer to be tipped in yuan. You may tip the tour director in either US currency or yuan but not in Hong Kong dollars.

By the way, the Tiananmen Square massacre is never mentioned in China. Don’t ask about it.

SONIA IBANEZ

New York, NY

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I joined a group of 34 well-traveled people on May 14, 2009, for an 18-day trip to China with smarTours (New York, NY; 800/337-7773, www.smartours.com). It included a Yangtze river cruise and time in Hong Kong.

I highly recommend smarTours, which delivered a top-notch trip at a terrific value for the money. The cost was $3,099 per person, double occupancy, with air from JFK in New York. This included $185 for departure taxes/fees, in-country airfare and almost all meals. The single supplement ran $799-$999.

A China visa cost $130 at the time of our trip. Although I had easy access to the Chinese Consulate in New York, it was so crowded that it would have taken all day just to reach someone to submit an application, so I used Travel Document Systems (in New York City, 877/874-5104; Washington, DC, 800/874-5100, and San Francisco, CA, 888/874-5100; www.traveldocs.com).

I was very pleased with their prompt, efficient and professional handling of my visa application; I had the visa in four business days. For a China visa, TDS charged $50 for handling plus charges to FedEx the documents back.

On top of the cost of this trip, be prepared to spend $300-$400 per person in tips, not including the tip to the tour director.

If you choose to do some tipping in US currency, take brand-new, crisp bills (no crumples) that have no tears or any ink marks on them. Otherwise, the Bank of China will not accept them and the locals will not benefit from your largesse, not to mention the foreign currency conversion fee which would deplete the value of your tip.

Local guides, drivers and hotel maids prefer to be tipped in yuan. You may tip the tour director in either US currency or yuan but not in Hong Kong dollars.

By the way, the Tiananmen Square massacre is never mentioned in China. Don’t ask about it.

SONIA IBANEZ

New York, NY