One of the best ways to explore a totally different culture is through the experienced guidance of a local tour guide. When you travel in Asia, a continent that is vastly different from many Westernized regions of the world, it can be helpful to plan your trip through an Asian tour company.
In order to get the best out of your experience, here are 20 tips for guided tours in China – and many are applicable when you take an Asian tour in other nearby countries.
1. You will need a visa
If you book travel in Asia with a tour in advance, the organizers may be able to secure a visa on your behalf (although it’s not required for travelers to all Asian countries).
2. Book your tour well ahead of time
It’s best to book your tour well ahead of time to give yourself the chance to find the best tour company for your needs, and to make sure that there’s room on the tour for you! Planning ahead will also help with securing the documentation you’ll need to get a visa.
3. Find the perfect tour package
The best tour packages to travel in Asia have everything for the price that a round-trip flight would usually cost. Finding something with flights, hotels, ground transportation and tours included means that all you have to worry about is showing up and enjoying the experience!
4. Avoid traveling during Chinese holidays
Check China-briefing.com to find out when the major Chinese holidays occur. Avoiding these will make for a much more enjoyable travel experience when you travel Asia.
5. Learn some basic Chinese words and phrases
Study up ahead of time, or ask your guide. The locals will appreciate your efforts, even if you can’t exactly achieve fluency before your trip!
6. Don’t schedule tours for your entire trip
Save some time to explore China on your own, outside of your tour group. Many tour packages offer activity options for every day, but you need to allow for some time to check out the local scene on your own to really get the full experience.
7. Figure out public transportation
Though your guided tours will likely be on an air-conditioned charter bus or something of the sort, you’ll want to figure out the local public transportation options for when you want to get out on your own outside of tour time. Your tour guide will be an excellent resource for figuring out where to go and how to get there.
8. Guided tours are more expensive than self-guided tours
Guided tours will definitely cost more than you seeing an attraction on your own in China, but the price you pay covers easy entry (sometimes ahead of individuals who didn’t come with a tour group), expert knowledge you may not otherwise have, and transportation, which may be tough to arrange on your own – especially if it’s outside of a major city.
9. Be inquisitive
Don’t be afraid to be inquisitive about what’s going on around you during an Asian tour. Tour guides are happy to tell you all about their home – all you have to do is ask. It’s also OK to dig past the surface and ask about the tough stuff. The more you understand about the world around you, the better a global citizen you become.
10. Ask your guide when to visit popular attractions on your own
Your guide will have the most expert insights as to the best dates and times to check out popular attractions during your trip, to avoid the worst of the crowds. As far as planning travel to the country, off-season in China is late October through March, with less crowds and cooler temperatures. Additionally, most tours groups go to popular attractions in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon hours, which are best avoided when venturing out on your own.
11. Don’t talk about the three Ts
There are three Ts that will set off any government official who may be happening to listen: Tiananmen, Taiwan and Tibet. Your tour guide will warn you if there are places where government spies (yes, really) may be hiding. In general, don’t say anything bad about the Chinese government in public. Save the politics for talk back home.
12. Make friends with people in your group
There’s safety in numbers when going out on your own. And though China isn’t necessarily an unsafe place, having a group can make it easier to figure out where to go and how to get back to your hotel when all is said and done.
13. If you have blond hair, you’ll become a paparazzi target
The Chinese people are a bit taken with the traditional American look – especially with blond hair. The locals may swarm you, asking for photos. Indulge them and feel like a movie star.
14. Trust the tour guide when it comes to drinking water
Though you should stick to bottled water when it comes to regular hydration, tour guides usually know to bring tourists to places that are careful with water. So if a dining host offers you juice or something similar, it’s likely ok to drink without worry – just make sure to ask. Hotels will always have water and juice that are safe to drink, even if it’s not bottled.
15. Your guide will know the best markets
Ask your guide for their recommendations, especially if you’re looking for a specific item or luxury product (like jade). They’ll let you know where you might get ripped off, and what markets are actually worth your time.
16. Don’t feel compelled to buy something during a factory tour
If you’re on an extensive, multi-day Asian tour, you’ll probably be taken to a silk or jade factory (or something of the like). These places offer ridiculously expensive goods at the end of the tour, so don’t be afraid to just appreciate – and not buy. That said, they are some of the best places to find authentic goods, if you’re into that.
17. Tour stop restaurants aren’t always something to get excited about
Restaurants where tour guides take larger groups won’t be the most authentic, so make sure to ask your guide for dining suggestions for when you’re on your own, outside of the tour.
18. Tour guides can help you find what you forgot to pack
Forgot to bring a special converter plug? Your tour guide or tour mates may have an extra one you can borrow. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
19. Don’t overexert yourself
China (and its many historic attractions) wasn’t built with accessibility or disabilities in mind. Don’t feel like you have to walk the entire Great Wall in order to get the full experience. Sometimes, just being in the presence of these historic monuments is enough.
20. Don’t forget to tip your tour guide
Your tour guide likely doesn’t make a lot from the tour company, and depends on tips. It’s customary to tip for this type of profession, so make it good!
If you’ve ever been on a guided tour in China or elsewhere, you’ve already lived many of these tips. If that’s the case, share your knowledge in the comments below.
What are your best tips for guided tours in China, or Southeast Asia, in general?
To learn about AAA Vacations packages to Asia, click here.