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The Mature Traveler

How to See China On Your Own

December 18, 1988|HANK KOVELL | Kovell is a veteran journalist in seniors' interests

Many tours to the People's Republic of China, until recently, were considered by some mature travelers to be punishment rather than pleasure.

Government-authorized tour operators tried to cram some form of activity into every daylight hour so tourists could see as much of this vast nation as possible.

More often than not, the allure of visiting the mysterious Far East was dampened by a grueling daily schedule. It would include lots of time boarding or debarking buses, boats, planes and trains, checking into and out of hotels, and waiting for luggage, all the while wasting precious time because of stragglers among the large groups of fellow tourists.

The development of more services and tourist facilities in China has made it possible for two or more people to arrange a leisurely tour with a private automobile, a driver and an English-speaking tour guide, a choice that many senior travelers find appealing.

More Options Available

China Express, a firm that creates independent travel itineraries for seniors, says that mature travelers can choose varying levels of independent travel arrangements. A full-service package, for example, provides that all arrangements be made before departure from home, while a free-lance package allows for most travel decisions to be made after arrival in China.

Through these methods of travel, not only is the pace of the visit under control of the traveler but, if desired, travelers can tailor part or all of their trip to pursue special interests.

Full-service arrangements include the cost of round-trip air transportation to China from the U.S. West Coast, first-class hotel accommodations in China, all transportation in China by air, rail, boat or motor coach, private transfers between airports, train stations and hotels, three meals daily in China, including an American breakfast, and the services of an English-speaking guide with car and driver.

Under that plan, even though the day-to-day itinerary is planned in advance, travelers can change itineraries whenever they wish. For example, if seniors are tired from a day of sightseeing and decide to sleep in the next morning, the guide will adjust the next day's sightseeing schedule.

Greater Flexibility

The mini-package approach offers great flexibility, because travelers can make on-the-spot travel decisions. The package will include the cost of air travel, hotel accommodations and an American breakfast daily.

Senior travelers can then make their own daily sightseeing arrangements at tour desks in the hotels, with the option of joining motor-coach excursions or making arrangements for a private car and guide as needed.

All-day tours include lunch, so only dinner arrangements are left to the discretion of the traveler. One finds excellent dining in most cities at any of the international-class hotels, from provincial Chinese cooking to continental cuisine.

For the more adventurous mature traveler, or those who have plenty of time and travel experience, the free-lance package may be preferable. China Express can offer discounted air fares on regularly scheduled flights to Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai.

Hotel reservations are made in advance only for the arrival city. After arrival travelers can plan the remainder of the tour. China Express cautions that only the most experienced of travelers should attempt this type of travel. And this approach is not recommended during China's peak travel periods.

The cost of these plans varies, as they are subject to factors including itinerary, number of days in each city, cost of hotel accommodations, transportation and the level of service (moderate, superior, first-class or deluxe).

Generally, China Express says that the full-service independent tour would cost 25% to 30% more than a group tour following the same itinerary.

For example, a 15-day group tour itinerary that includes such cities as Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Guilin, including round-trip air from the U.S. West Coast, would cost about $2,500. The same itinerary using the full-service arrangement, which includes a private car, driver and guide, would cost about $3,400.

In addition to the above choices, China Express also offers a series of China and Far East Discovery group tours that cover from 10 to 21 days.

These tours may include as many as seven cities in China, or combinations of China and other destinations in Asia, including Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bali. Prices vary according to tours.

China Express has prepared some tour itineraries that seniors can review before consulting their travel agents. These are designed for both first-time and repeat visitors to China.

For brochures and information on China Express independent or group tours, contact China Express, 278 Post St., No. 408, San Francisco 94108. Or call toll-free (800) 547-9200.

A comprehensive and practical handbook on the People's Republic of China, with color illustrations, is available, including thumbnail descriptions of tourist attractions in most major cities plus a temperature table and hotel, restaurant, entertainment and visa information.

For a free copy, contact the China National Tourist Office, 333 W. Broadway, Suite 201, Glendale 91204, (818) 545-7505.

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