Travel Steals & Deals


All the reasons you have for not visiting China--it's too far, too expensive, too complicated to arrange--are just excuses. China is none of those things. Here's how to arrange a painless and edifying trip to the world's most populous and unpredictable country.

Use the Northwest passage
You'll slash as much as seven hours of travel time from a China itinerary if you fly Northwest Airlines' new nonstop flights from Detroit to Beijing. To capitalize on the speed of the direct service, WorldVacations (800-800-1504) has created a whirlwind 5-night visit to Beijing and Hong Kong. The package includes three nights at the Novotel Beijing, a favorite of French business travelers, and two nights in Hong Kong at the New World Hotel, the perfect hotel for travelers intent on shopping Hong Kong in a hurry. Also bundled into the vacation are a first-time tourist's highlights: a half-day tour of Beijing; a full-day tour of the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs; and tours of Victoria Peak, Stanley Market, and Aberdeen in Hong Kong. The price is $2,270 per person (double occupancy).

Buy an all-inclusive tour
Travelers who want a more extensive overview can book the 13-day "Marco Polo Tour" from Blue Heart Tours (800-882-0025). It hits the highlights of Beijing; spends two nights in Xian, home of the terra-cotta warriors; stops at Suzhou, a major silk centers; and lingers two days in Shanghai. The package, while not overly luxurious, is comfortable and all-inclusive. The price covers all the sightseeing; three meals daily; accommodations; and trans-Pacific flights via Tokyo from New York, Washington or Chicago. Expect to pay about $2,500 per person (double occupancy) for departures through October.

Add a Yangtze River cruise
First-time visitors who have 18 days should consider the "China and the Yangtze River Spectacular" from SmarTours (800-337-7773). Besides the Beijing and Xian stops, this package includes a 4-night cruise on the Yangtze and two days in Hong Kong. Land accommodations included the package aren't elaborate, but the cruise on the twisty, scenic Yangtze is spectacular and travelers are guaranteed air-conditioned outside cabins. The package price for departures through October cost $2,499 or $2,599 per person (double occupancy) and includes: roundtrip transportation via Tokyo from Los Angeles; all sightseeing and shore excursions, and most meals.

Know the practicalities
Travel to China isn't burdensome, but there are some caveats. You'll need a visa ($30); be smart and pay your tour operator to handle the paperwork. Chinese medical facilities are spotty, so purchase comprehensive travel-medical coverage, preferable from International SOS Assistance (800-523-8930), which maintains an office in Beijing. Western-style pharmacies are rare in China, so bring an adequate supply of your prescription medicine and over-the-counter drugs. Finally, read "Tips for Travelers to the People's Republic of China," an invaluable guide from the U.S. State Department. Get a copy by fax (call 202-647-3000 from your fax machine and request document 1010) or from the Superintendent of Documents (202-512-1800).

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.