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ON A BUDGET

Worth a trip to the far side of the Earth

Tours to China, regardless of price, all rate high on the vacation-value scale.

January 21, 2007|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

CHINA tourism is soaring, and there are great deals to be found.

But there's a world of difference in the price and quality of those deals, as illustrated by two couples who recently made the trip. One couple paid $999 per person to visit five Chinese cities in 10 days, including round-trip airfare from San Francisco. The other couple spent $4,000 per person for 14 nights in six Chinese cities, including round-trip airfare from the West Coast.

Both couples walked on the same stretch of the Great Wall, attended the same show of Chinese acrobats in Shanghai, trod the same ancient brick floors of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, strolled around Tiananmen Square and ate in the same mammoth restaurant with singers and orchestra -- a place frequented by nearly every tour group that visits Beijing.

But their tours differed in some respects. The number of passengers was greater in the cheaper tour, hotels weren't as elegant and some activities were different.

Regardless of tour, the price of a Chinese vacation is remarkably low. Take advantage of the cheap price of Chinese goods and services by scheduling a trip there this year.

Here's a sampling of options:

Ten nights in China, $999 to $1,399: San Francisco-based China Focus, (800) 868-7244, www.chinafocustravel.com, is a price leader. Its 10-night trip includes six cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Ji'nan, Tai'an, Qufu and Suzhou. The trip includes round-trip airfare on Air China from San Francisco, train or motor coach from city to city, standard hotels for 10 nights, meals, daily sightseeing and an evening acrobatics show in Shanghai. The cost is $999 to $1,299, depending on the month. (Fees and visa charges add another $265 per person.)

Seven nights in China from $999 to $1,469: New York-based Champion Holidays charges slightly more. The company, (800) 868-7658, www.china-discovery.com, offers LAX departures. You'll receive round-trip airfare (Air China or Japan Airlines), seven nights in China (Beijing, Suzhou, Wuxi and Shanghai) at first-class hotels, transportation among Chinese cities by air or motor coach, most meals and an acrobatics show in Beijing.

The $999 rate is available in late November and early December; the rate increases to $1,569 at its highest point (March through May). Departure taxes and other fees are not included.

Eight nights in China for $2,298 to $2,798: Uniworld, a long-established company that's known for its river cruises, offers a midvalue product. The company, (800) 733-7820, www.uniworld.com, offers river cruising in China on more expensive itineraries. With this trip, you receive round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, air transportation among Chinese cities, eight nights in deluxe hotels in Beijing, Xi'an, Suzhou and Shanghai, most meals, daily sightseeing, the Beijing Opera, the Tang Dynasty Review in Xi'an and much more.

Twelve nights in China from $3,448 to $4,118: Pacific Delight Tours, (800) 221-7179, www.pacificdelighttours.com also offers low-priced tours, such as a seven-day Beijing trip, from $783 per person, air and land. But the company is better known for its more luxurious trips. Its Golden Route Imperial Experience, the 12-night trip listed here, includes airfare from Los Angeles, three nights in Beijing, two nights in Shanghai, two nights in Xian (site of the Terra-cotta Army of life-size warrior figures), two nights in Guilin and three nights in Hong Kong at luxury hotels. The trip is available at a $100-per-person discount, if booked by Feb. 22. Many extras include a U.S. tour director who escorts the group from Los Angeles.

You'll need to spend about $70 for a visa, varying amounts for government taxes and $7 to $15 a day in tips.

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