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Travel Advice: China

Author: Peter Tolman, Issue: June 2005, Topic: Travel

My ten 11 days in China was fantastic. I visited Shanghai, Beijing (and surrounding sights), then Xian before heading back to Shanghai. Xian was definately the top highlight, for its fascinating city culture (especially the Muslim Quarter) and the Terracotta Warriors. Xian is a must.

Independent travel I found to be a breeze, and the Chinese tourism infrastructure is well-established, and getting more so with the approaching 2008 Olympics, so there's no problem getting tours or bookings on a walk-in basis, nor is there a problem getting cheap public transport to most sights. I think I paid 5RMB for an efficient bus service from Xian to the Terracotta Warriors. Domestic flights are easy to book as well, and generally pretty cheap.

The one piece of advice I pass on to anyone thinking of going to China next Golden Week. Don't. May 1st marks the start of a week long holiday in China, I knew this, prepared for it, but the crowds at top sights like the Forbidden City and Great Wall were suffocating. Prices were high. A billion Chinese on the move that week. Go to China any other time; the April spring break would be ideal. If you have to go at Golden Week, like me, just be prepared for huge crowds and lineups, and get your bookings in advance.

Also, my Rough Guide to China often proved useless, and in fact an impediment to my travels there. Not only did the book binding fall apart prior to my departure (!), but the city maps lacked key landmarks, which made finding my way down inner city streets a bit frustrating at times; some areas and towns had no maps at all! Some landmarks were wrongly placed on some city maps. The getting to and from sections in the Rough Guide were deficient. For example, Shanghai has two main airports, yet the guide says nothing about getting from one to the other via public transport - something many people have to do when transfering from domestic to international flights. Nor did the Rough Guide list any airport hotels in Shanghai or Beijing. I had a very early departure flight from Shanghai and had to find all the info for airport hotels myself. And another startling omission regarding Shanghai Pudong Airport. There's a new high speed train from airport to downtown that takes 7 minutes and reaches a top speed of 400 km/hour!! The Rough Guide mentioned nothing! Usually the LP guide will say something like: ".. a high speed train is planned for 2005..."

Unlike the LP guides, Rough Guide China has no walking tours. The LP walking tours are some of the best things I've done. I could list other complaints about Rough, but won't. This is one traveller who will not be using any Rough Guide ever again.

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