Tours make most of trip to China


March 11, 2007|By Mercury News

I'm planning to take a trip to China with my 13-year-old son. Should we take a tour or hire private guides?

The Internet is full of companies offering China tours, and most brick-and-mortar travel agencies can hook you up with an excursion of any length to the most popular cities and sites: Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and the Great Wall.

You're probably better off arranging a tour or private guide before departing rather than after your arrival. Language barriers can make it difficult to find a guide or even to take public transportation.

China specialists such as International Tour Center ( in California offer a variety of tours from 10 to 20 days that cover the requisite stops, with prices starting at $1,299. Prices include airfare, hotels, all meals, admission to sites and ground transportation.

Group tours can be as large as 20 to 25 people; if that's too much for you, many companies can arrange a private tour guide in advance. But you'll pay more.

I've heard that pollution in China, particularly sand dust from the interior desert that blows toward Beijing, is bad. Will I encounter this if I visit late this month or early next month?

Although sandstorms typically intensify in the spring, it's possible you might avoid them because you're visiting early in the season. The best weather is usually from September to November, when temperatures cool and there is less wind and dust.

That said, you're more likely to encounter sandstorms while visiting Beijing than cities farther south. That's because the Chinese capital is in the northeast part of the country, making it susceptible to the sands blowing south from the deserts of Inner Mongolia.

March 12 of each year is tree-planting day, with volunteers joining in to plant trees in Beijing's suburbs.

San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News

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