We're wrapping up our trip to China today. It will be interesting to see what swine flu precautions are being taken at the airports in Beijing and Tokyo.
Some parting thoughts:
--We traveled on our own in China three years ago. Independent travel then wasn't all that difficult, and it's even easier now. We flew between cities on our last trip, mainly to save time and hassles with trains, but this time we found the night trains more convenient and of course, less expensive. Nevertheless, air travel within China is easy to book from here. No real need to book flights from the U.S. Any hotel can book the tickets here and at a much cheaper price.
--We've been taking buses to get around, and in Beijing, the subway. Very easy, with stops announced in English and everything well-signed. Buses cost about 14 cents; a subway ride is 28 cents.
--All the young people are learning English. It seems there's always someone around who will step in and help if you're in a jam. It helps to have your hotel write down in Chinese any information you might need, but phone numbers help too. All the taxi drivers have cell phones and can make a call if they can't find the hotel or understand where it is you want to go.
--More and more menus are printed in English and Chinese. We went to a very good restaurant near our hotel the other night that we found suggested on someone's blog. Everyone there was Chinese. At the time the person wrote the blog, they warned that the restaurant had no English menu. Now it does.
The coffee craze has hit the big cities. Starbucks has competition from European-style coffee houses such as Klub Coffee, above, and UBC. These spots provide a nice break from the usual bright lights and hustle and bustle of Chinese bars and restaurants. Most of the customers are Chinese who seem to be looking for a different atmosphere as well.
--It's much more fun to travel around independently than with a large tour group. If you want a personal guide or a car and driver for day, that's easy to arrange from here. Hotels can arrange most anything anyone needs. That goes for hostels, small inns or big hotels.
--No one thinks of taking a "vacation'' to China the way they do to Thailand or Vietnam, but why not? The historical and scenic sites are incomparable. The food is great. The hotels are great values. Service is excellent. Dress is casual. Even the international air fare is a good value compared to fares to Europe. We paid about$750 round-trip. The only catch is a visa, but even those are easy and quick to obtain now that the Olympics are over.
If you're thinking of a trip, start planning! The Chinese people are welcoming and friendly. They seem to really anxious to help foreigners enjoy their country. You won't regret coming!