Category Archives: China

Cheap China Tour Package in Winter

Off-season package with air included makes China affordable

The first of my three visits to China was on a tour package for a rockbottom price including air fare from the US, good hotels in Beijing, Xi’an, Giulin and Hong Kong, and an upstream cruise on the Yangtze before the completion of the Three Gorges Dam. There were English-speaking city guides in each city (three of whom took the English name, Richard) and an English-speaking crew on the Yangtze riverboat.

The city guides met us at each airport and escorted us back to the airport again, but there was no full-time tour guide with us from beginning to end. Also not included were dinners (except on the ship), which meant we were free to try out local restaurants or just wander over to the nearest night market and graze the street-food stalls. I’ve returned to China twice since then, but that first visit in some ways remains the most memorable — and the fact that we didn’t break the bank stays with us as a big bonus.

Now comes word of a really inexpensive package from Friendly Planet Travel, whose Taste of China package has a similar low-frills format and also an astonishingly low price. There is no Yangztze cruise on this package, but the beguiling cities of Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, which I visited on both of my subsequent trips, are on the itinerary. If booked before September 23, Friendly Planet’s package starts at $999 per person, double occupancy, including airfare from Los Angeles, fuel surcharges, hotels, transfers, many meals and most of the tours. Happily for travelers who want the comfort and convenience of a package but don’t care to be babysat all the time, it has built-in free time as well.

The lowest prices are for remaining dates in December and January. I’ve been to China in winter, both to cold gray Beijing and to colder, grayer Harbin, which is so far north that is north of North Korea. No touristic hordes and a more refined sense of being in China and not Chinaland. Of course, you’ll need warm clothes (wool, fleece, hat gloves), but you’d need them if you were visiting (or living in) New York, Washington, Boston or Chicago too. Winter days in Shanghai, Guagzhou (formerly Canton, which I have also visited) and Giulin are positively balmy.

I have never dealt with Friendly Planet Travel, but the price is right and the itinerary covers most of the main touristic highlights. 800-555-5765.

New Terminal at Beijing

World’s largest terminal opens to serve the capital of world’s most populous country — in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics

Yesterday I reported on the new Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). Today I share the news that Terminal 3 is about to open at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). At 1.8 miles long and five stories high, it dwarfs Heathrow’s new terminal and, in fact, by most measures is the largest building on the planet. In order to construct it, the Chinese government leveled five villages — something the People’s Republic can do with impunity. The Kingdom or Great Britain and Northern Ireland fortunately cannot simply destroy neighborhoods and villages to expand Heathrow’s runway system, much as airlines and their customers would want that to happen.

Again, I write fortunately, because all of China’s mind-blowing construction projects — whether the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, the railroad to Lhasa, Tibet, and now this terminal — come at untold human cost. The villages are gone and an unknown number of villagers dispersed, and the feng shui principles reportedly used in the terminal’s design that melds Eastern and Western styles didn’t do them much good. Twenty-seven airlines will be at home there. The massive building — ironically designed by British architect Norman Foster of Foster & Partners — cost $2.8 billion, plus $4.6 billion in related infrastructure improvements. Some 50,000 workers labored to build the new terminal in less than four years (about the amount of time the British spent holding hearings and discussing their Terminal 5), ups the airport’s capacity from 35 million passengers per year to 85 million. Last year, the airport actually saw nearly $48 million passengers crowding through the existing terminals, four miles from the new behemoth, with one entire concourse devoted only to charter flights. A rail link connects the airport to the city, which is a very good thing in this congested, polluted but ultimately impressive capital.

China is banking on the upcoming Olympics and projects like this impressive terminal to raise its stature in the eyes of the world. But the production tainted pet foods, questionable medicines, potentially hazardous toys and most significantly, the current brutal suppression of Tibetan protests snag the headlines from what the country hopes to accomplish.

British Airways and Qantas have already moved into the new building with four other OneWorld alliance airlines (Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Finnair and Japan Airlines) joining them by the end of the month. In decidedly un-Communist fashion, premium passengers of these six carriers will share the luxurious OneWorld lounge, and for Cathay Pacific and Dragonair will be soon open their own lounge soon. Also moving their operations to the new terminal in the next few weeks are Air China, Shanghai Airlines and Star Alliance airlines (including United).

The new terminal appears to be visually stunning, but I do wonder whether the villagers who were dislocated in order to build it have been moved someplace from which they can see it, and if so, what they might think. It is impressive, to be sure, and it’s all in the name of progress, Chinese-style, regardless of the cost to its people.