If the efficiency of the Website for China's National Tourist Office (tel. 888/760-8218, www.cnto.org) is any indication of China's ability to become the next global leader, then the rest of the world needs to watch out. From tourist statistics on the number of visitors over time to a concise summary of the country's history to tour operators to city guides to geographical information on China's different regions to tourist visa information to compelling photographs to population figures to information regarding family names, the website is one the most comprehensive sites out there. This is no exaggeration. After disregarding the slightly kitschy intro, you'll see it's written in an extremely simple and informative manner with the answers to important questions available at the click of the mouse. When considering traveling to China, it's as helpful a starting point as any.
In addition to helpful information regarding country facts, the "Discover China Now" link (www.discoverchinanow.com; a red box found in the right-hand navigation column) leads you to a listing of China tours offered by a bevy of global tour operators. We found from Collette Vacations (tel. 800/340-5158; www.collettevacations.com) a 13-day air and hotel package that includes 29 different meals and a host of sightseeing excursions starting from $2,089. The trip leaves out of Los Angeles Airport throughout the fall including October 20 and November 3, 2005 with stops in Beijing, Xian, Guilin and Shanghai. The site also provides a link to Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com), which has trips to several cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. A seven-day trip to Hong Kong is base-priced at $729 (before taxes and fees) with departures throughout the fall and winter. The trip includes airfare from Los Angeles, five-nights' accommodations at your choice of hotel (prices vary based on your hotel choice) and daily buffet breakfast. The price of the trip drops to $699 if you pay cash and travel between January 27 and March 18, 2006.
Other great deals can be had at Club ABC Tours (tel. 888/868-7722, www.clubabc.com), a tour operator that operates as a travel club where a $30 annual per couple entrance fee gets you discounted travel to most global destinations. An eight-day "Beijing Blowout" combines roundtrip airfare from New York City, accommodations at a centrally located four-star hotel (including hotel tax and service charges), daily breakfast and hotel transfers starting from $799 per person, based on double occupancy. Prices vary by departure date with travel good from November 20, 2005 to March 26, 2006. Full-day tours cost approximately $49 per day and include excursions to the Great Wall, Ming's Tomb, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and Beijing's back streets; lunch is included. Travelers can substitute two nights in Xian, the home of the famed terra cotta warriors, for $199 that includes airfare and hotels. Membership involves a simple one-page sign-up, and you can pay the fee with a credit card.
Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555-5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) has a 17-day tour that covers a great deal of China including Hong Kong, Beijing, the Yangtze River, Xian, Guilin, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. The tour costs approximately $1,999 if you pay in cash and $2,099 if you pay with a credit card. Most of the 2005 tours are sold out, but if you call now you can be assured a place on the 2006 scheduled trips that depart often. This trip is all-inclusive meaning meals are pre-paid. Friendly Planet guides are local and very well informed. About 15 percent of the trip is available for free time so you can enjoy China, shop for antiquities, and enjoy the delicious street food.
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