CHENGDU, China — Visitors to this country can include Tibet, one of the world's most exotic destinations, in their travel plans.
Packages are available here from the China Youth Travel Service. Before you venture into Tibet, however, study the history of the area and check the political climate. In October, 1987, after protests and unrest, police ordered all travelers to leave within one week.
The travel service is one of the largest tour operators in China. Travelers can make arrangements for joining a small group to visit Tibet through its office at Room 252, Jin Jiang Hotel, 180 The South People's Road, Chengdu.
English-speaking staff members who organize tour programs for Western visitors include Western Department Manager Chen Jian and Kuange Zio. (In China, surnames are always printed first.)
Both available packages include only one-way air fare because the China travel service has found that most independent travelers choose to continue to other countries.
Chengdu to Lhasa
A four-night package with accommodations in the north wing of the Lhasa Hotel, air transportation from Chengdu to Lhasa and transportation from airport to hotel costs 1,050 yuan (about $283 U.S.). A similar four-night package at the Lhasa Holiday Inn, with four breakfasts, costs 1,250 yuan.
Foreigners are required to pay for these packages with foreign exchange certificates, a special currency issued to foreigners when they exchange their money at banks.
China has a very active black market. Exchange certificates are in demand by Chinese residents, and so visitors are often asked to exchange their money on the street.
Keep two things in mind: You may be getting counterfeit funds, and you will be asked to fill in a declaration of funds when you enter the country. You may be asked to produce the declaration when you leave--with receipts for all your exchange transactions.
There is now a weekly air connection between Hong Kong and Chengdu by Air China, which is still known domestically as the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Until recently, foreigners were charged a different rate than Chinese residents for domestic air travel. This also happens in restaurants and with entrance fees to tourist sights.
Due to the large demand for seats on domestic flights, the rate for Chinese residents was raised this year during the high travel season to encourage more train travel.
If you are traveling to or from China by air, try to avoid making tight connections. Domestic air travel can grind to a halt when the weather is bad. Of my three flights, one was delayed seven hours and another 20 hours because planes couldn't land at the Chengdu airport.
There are two types of rail seating plans: "hard" and "soft" class. When a foreigner goes to a travel service to buy a ticket, he is usually encouraged to travel soft-class.
The service charge is the same for arranging a seat in either class. The problem is that there is such a great demand for rail seats that it's easier for the travel service to get a soft-class seat because most Chinese residents can't afford the soft-class section.
All domestic transportation services have to be booked at least three days in advance, and a service charge is added when booking from a local agency.
A flight between Chengdu and the historic city of Xian costs 140 yuan, plus a service charge of 15 yuan. To travel soft class by train, in an upper berth, is 107 yuan, plus a service charge of 10 yuan. Rail travel by hard class in an upper berth costs 54.40 yuan, plus 10 yuan for service.