While I’m not new to traveling to and around China, I have not done it on my own and usually have a guide of some sort. While I vow every time I visit China to learn Mandarin, I have yet to master anything beyond hello and thank you. I guess it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. There are some who believe that you can be fluent in 3 months, which is probably possible under the right circumstances, but that’s for another posting…
So what’s a traveler to do? Group tours are very popular and offer great sightseeing opportunities. They often provide a one-stop-shop for air, hotel, and touring. While perfect for some, I prefer a smaller, lower-key type of tourism. I also prefer to be on my own schedule.
Private Tours from Group Tours
Fortunately, these same companies that offer group tours also offer the same itineraries for private tours. Unfortunately, they can be a bit pricey. For a 10-day trip for 4 (inclusive of airfare, hotels, and private guide), the cost was $8,600. After some haggling and rearranging, I was able to get this down to $7,700. This seems like a reasonable price for a 10-day international vacation for 4 if China was our only trip, but for us, it’s only about 1/4 of our trip.
Even after I booked the hotels and airfare myself, these companies still wanted approximately $3,800 to lead us around for 7 days which seemed too high.
Social Networking works!
Buried in amongst all the hotel and activity reviews in Trip Advisor are Things to Do reviews including an extremely positive review of private guide Catherine Lu. As it so happens, a friend of a friend wrote a very favorable review of Catherine Lu’s tours — social networking at its best!
Catherine Lu Tours
Catherine Lu Tours runs tours in Beijing and Xi’An. They offer personalized, custom tours without shopping stops or hidden fees.
Her tours (she has a team of tour guides) cost about $100 (USD) per day for a guide. It’s another $100/day for a vehicle, if required. So for 5 days, the tour guide cost is about $500 which is significantly less than $3,800. Catherine does offer a 4-day Beijing-Xi’An Tour with flights for $716/person. This works out to $2,864 which is still a savings.
Our private itinerary looks something like this:
Day 1 (1/2 day)
- Great Wall at the Mutianyu section
- Summer Palace
- Water Cube / Birds Nest Olympic Venues
Tour guide service fee: $100/day (8 to 9 hours)
7-seats van with a private driver: $150 (8 to 9 hours)
- Be picked up at the airport in Xi’an
- Transfer to the hotel
- Tour City Wall
- Shan’xi History Museum
- Bell Tower & Drum Tower
- Muslim Street
- Terricotta Warriors
- Big Googse Pogoda
- Transfer to the airport