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ON A BUDGET

Bicycling, Diving and Driving Deals

May 28, 2000|ARTHUR FROMMER

We've all seen those photos of cyclists in China, coursing by the hundreds through city streets, children propped in seats on the back, lunches or satchels perched in the baskets. Can you imagine the excitement of cycling with them? This form of down-to-earth touring has recently become an affordable option from an official Chinese travel firm known as CYTS/Guangdong, and at a price that's sure to draw many takers--$1,730, or $112 per day, for 15 days, for nearly everything other than air fare.

CYTS is one of three official government travel organizations in China. Formerly a purveyor of youth tours (the acronym stands for China Youth Travel Services), the organization has branched out in recent years to serve people of all ages. It has been involved in bike touring since 1984, when it provided permits, local guides and logistical help to such companies as Backroads and Worldwide Adventure. By dealing directly with the public now, it claims to be able to undercut the rate that the U.S.-based companies charge.

The $1,730 tour will be offered Sept. 14 to 29 and Oct. 14 to 29 this year. Starting in Hong Kong, the cyclists will travel by catamaran up the Pearl River to Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton). Biking through the Guangdong and Guanxi regions, the group will tour Guilin and, most unusually, the Yao and Dong minority villages. There the visitors will be treated to shows and banquets. The group will fly back to Guangzhou for a stay at the White Swan Hotel and a half-day tour of the city's highlights (including "a colorful visit to the odorous Qingping Market," according to the brochure--something to look forward to). An express train whisks the group back to Hong Kong for more sightseeing, and then it's back to the States.

Add-ons are available to Beijing and Xian.

The tour price does not cover your flight to China, although it does include everything else you'll need: 21-speed mountain bike rental; four- and five-star fully air-conditioned accommodations; English-speaking guides; luggage transport; air, train and catamaran transportation within China; and all meals, including two banquets.

Telephone (619) 294-4535 or visit the Internet site http://www.channel21.com/Asia/CYTS.

Belize: One tour operator that never seems at a loss for a bargain is Central America specialist Capricorn Leisure Services, tel. (800) 426-6544, Internet http://www.capricorntours.com.

For September, October and November, it's offering a five-night stay at a pleasant little divers' hangout in sleepy Belize (look just south of Mexico's Yucatan on your map), along with two days of diving (double tank) and round-trip air fare from Los Angeles for $700 per person (double occupancy).

The lodging available at this price is the small, beachfront Trends Hotel on Caye Caulker, a microscopic island off Belize's coast. You won't be pampered at the Trends, but that's not the local style anyhow; Caye Caulker is relentlessly laid-back.

Extra diving days are available at reasonable cost. Prices are based on Monday-through-Friday travel; weekends come with a $60 surcharge each way. Taxes and airport fees are not included.

Driving: Interstate4U.com--on the Internet at http://www.interstate4u.com--isn't the first Web site that purports to get you from Point A to Point B, but this new service works as well as or better than any I've used. The site is too new--it went up April 17--to have been thoroughly tested; however, I recently put it through a personal test on a 250-mile trip I make annually between two mid-size boroughs that crosses several state lines and requires five or six changes of highway.

Interstate4U handled the challenge effortlessly. It mapped out precisely the route I've found most efficient over the years, did it with clarity and even told me to the tenth of a mile how far I would travel on each road.

And better yet, the cost is nothing, although you are required to register by providing some basic information.

So how does Interstate4U make its money? Primarily, from the look of it, by suggesting hotel, chain restaurant and fueling opportunities along the way. You can find listings for hotels, restaurants and service stations all across the country. And you can download maps that will help locate these services off major highway exits. For now, the offerings are limited to those three categories, although the site's organizers claim that they'll be adding listings for malls, amusement parks, sports sites, even libraries.

There are also plans for the site to sponsor its own auto club, which (if all goes as the organizers plan) will include purchasing capabilities for car insurance, airline tickets, hotels and auto rentals.

I can't vouch for any of these other services, but I will be watching this site as it develops--and using its directions.

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