I’m kind of excited and anxious all rolled into one. I’ve never visited Asia so this is a first in a few ways–to Asia, to a communist country, and with a new traveling companion. I’m traveling with a large group which I’ve done before and disliked but for Asia and China in particular–I feel it’s the only way to go with some peace of mind. My traveling companion is a woman from work whom I know but not that well. She has traveled extensively when she worked in the airline industry so we have travelling in common. We started out talking about checking Manchu Picchu in Peru off the bucket list and would up booking this trip to China instead.
The trip leaves from New York and travels direct to Shanghai (the longest flight I’ve ever been on–and consequently I bought compression socks!). We start off in Shanghai, fly to X’ian and the terracotta army, and finally we’re in Beijing and the Great Wall of China–I’ll wave to the satellite cameras. I’ve been reading up on what to bring, where you should go (though our itinerary is so tight I don’t think we’ll be able to hit the loo without an explicit schedule in place). Most of our meals are included as well–we just have to buy a few dinners. Speaking of food, I’ll probably be a vegetarian while in China–bring on the rice and tea!
To travel to China, I had to apply for a visa. It was quite a process–between providing a passport picture (so expensive and they are so picky about the picture), answering strange questions like, “Who will pay for your expenses in China?” (uhmm–me), and handing over my passport to a visa company (yeah I didn’t like that) was an odd experience. Number one, it’s expensive between $200-300 with all of the fees and service charges. Number two, needing an invitation from a Chinese national or in this case a Chinese tour company who takes over from my tour company when we land and it’s just a list of the 70 perfect strangers I’ll be traveling with for a little over a week. I received my visa last week and it’s a multiple entry visa good for 10 years. I thought I was getting a single journey visa–so I guess I can return in the next ten years without the hassle of applying for another visa?
The travel company sent a long list of tips for our trip–among the tips that make me unnerved are the “use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth”, “it is wise to bring anti-diarrhea meds”, and “keep a copy of the [ATM] number if your bankcard is confiscated by the ATM machine”. I will admit this last tip makes me nervous–ATM card eating machines. Really? However, in my research I have seen that tip several times both online and in travel books.
No mention of the “squatty potty” in my list of tips from the tour company. My friend’s father went to China several years ago and he said, “go whenever the bathroom is available and bring tissues.” After the 2008 Summer Olympics, I’m hoping it won’t be as much of an issue. But I will be using every Western style toilet I come across since I don’t trust my squatting muscles in such a precarious position………..
I have trepidation of traveling in such a large group–I don’t want it to be cliquey and such a large group can be unwieldy to manage. I know that I inwardly groan when I come across large tour groups travelling through Europe. Now I’m one of them! The first time I went to Ireland, it was with my mother, her BFF, and my youngest sister and we used a tour company. Now the positives are that I saw so much countryside of Ireland traveling from the west coast around the to the east coast and cut back across to Galway to go home. We never could have covered so much countryside on our own. The negatives were being dropped off at every souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere–so boring. Not having enough time for some things like Kilkenny Castle as we had barely an hour of free time and the guide didn’t think we could get through in time. Waiting upon careless, rude people who were always late and made 50 people wait. I hated that family–every single time we were waiting for them–annoying!
I’m looking forward to this being an amazing experience and hopefully, I’ll be back in Asia next year. Maybe Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam…..