29 October 2010

Independent travel in China

Independent travel in China
From a month into China...
Obviously, all of our visas came through without any more problems. Subject as they seem to be to snap changes in regulations, especially in sensitive areas of Western China, I was relieved. But it means we are skipping out on Xinjiang Province, since a required tour group is way out of our budget right now...
That said, the major challenges to traveling independently here have amounted to our massive language barrier, and the way China's tourism infrastructure is oriented to tour groups.
Stop into a tourist information center looking for public transportation out to a major sight in the countryside, and we're only information on signing up with a group tour instead. So we go off to try to figure it out for ourselves, and public transportation information is generally only written in Chinese. Buying an inter-city train ticket can mean standing in long crowd-lines until reaching the ticket agent, trying hard to communicate by phrase book while squeezed in on both shoulders by other impatient travelers, and realizing it's a heavy travel week and the next available ticket is five days from now.
Tickets become available only 3 to 10 days ahead of the travel date (depending on the route and time of year), and travel companies buy in bulk -meaning that sometimes the only way to get a seat is to go through a privately run travel agent and pay their commission charge on top of the ticket price, a source of some frustration among the Chinese.
All in all, it hasn't been too hard now that we've gotten out of Beijing and into smaller cities, figured out how to buy from the train station ticket counter, and most importantly, gotten past the major holiday week called Golden Week, known by some as "Hell Week" now that so many people here go traveling...

The photo is of Beijing Xi Zhan (West Station), the largest rail terminal in Asia

3 comments:

Mr and Mrs Mogs said...

This really is adventurous travelling. It's obviously somewhat more testing than Budapest. I take it internet access isn't too easy but looking forward to reading more about your trip.

Angelina said...

Your blogs arouse my interests in travelling !

Mark McEnery said...

Hi Mr & Mrs. Mogs, Yeah -internet access wasn't super easy, and became much harder after my hard drive crashed and we had to rely on internet cafes to get it. It's not a good excuse, apparently, since my wife still did pretty good on hers (hereim.tumblr.com)

Anyway, since this ancient post we made it overland to Delhi and then back to visit family before our Peace Corps service in Morocco (which began yesterday). It's hard to say how much access we'll have down here over the next two+ years, but I really do intend to give this blog another try!