Today sketchandtravel.com and bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest Shelley Jiang, editor of LET’S GO CHINA, 6th Edition, one of 57 guidebooks published by the bestselling budget series from LET'S GO PUBLICATIONS.
Norm Goldman, editor of Bookpleasures.com and Sketchandtravel.com, conducted the following interview. Norm is also a regular contributor to lovetripper.com.
Good Day Shelley and thank you for accepting our invitation to be interviewed.
NORM: Please tell our readers something about yourself and your expertise pertaining to China.
SHELLEY: Born in China, I spent the first six years of my life in Beijing, the city that I will always think of as my first home. Though I moved to America and attended school there, I remain deeply connected with China through books, news, movies, family, and spending summers there every two or three years. During these summer trips, I often travel around the country and have visited many of the places in Let’s Go: China.
NORM: Would you consider China a good choice for a romantic getaway or wedding and honeymoon destination? Why?
SHELLEY: China is vast enough to offer something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a fast-paced weekend in Shanghai, a trip into China’s gorgeous outdoors, or an immersion in centuries of tradition and history. But don’t come expecting Paris or the Caribbean—China isn’t your average romantic getaway, but a destination for the free-spirited and adventurous. No resorts or pampering here—part of the excitement and romance of a vacation in China is experiencing a new culture and taking in the grit as well as the beauty.
For those willing to ditch the conventional and leave the beaten path, breathtaking natural sights and unique cultural experiences await. Otherworldly landscapes familiar from many a martial arts film (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero) can serve as the backdrop for your personal love story as well. Ancient palaces, pagodas, and temples invites travelers to step back into a past that stretches more than 5000 years. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai proudly showcase their past alongside their future, with skyscrapers rising one after another and an urban culture to rival those of any American or European city.
NORM: What is the best time to visit China from the point of view of weather, costs, crowds, and the availability of flights from the USA, Canada and Europe and Australia, etc?
SHELLEY: China’s peak travel times are around Chinese New Year (some time in Jan. -Feb. , depending on lunar calendar), May 1st, July-August, and the first week of October. The best time to visit would be from late-April through June, when the weather is warm, students are still in school, and many establishments are still on low season pricing. The fall is also a pleasant time to travel without the crowds (but avoid the Oct. 1st holiday week) and see beautiful foliage, especially in the north.
Airfares to China are most expensive between June and September. Even flying on May 31 instead of Jun. 1st will get you a cheaper flight. Flying September-May will get you much cheaper flights. Plan ahead—the cheapest tickets for summer flights to China sell out by early March.
NORM: Could you give our readers an idea of the costs involved if travel originates from the USA, Canada and Europe and Australia?
SHELLEY: China is a budget traveler’s dream come true—with the exception of the airfare, which can cost anywhere from US$600-1500. It’s cheaper to fly from September-May. The best places to find low-fares are Chinese-run travel agencies in Chinatown—check the local Chinese newspaper or ask around to find their listings. The budget-conscious can often spend anywhere from US$2-10 per night for lodgings in a hostel or basic room, depending on destination. Food can cost as little as US$4 per person per day for meals from street vendors and small family-run restaurants.
Of course, splurges and treats are everywhere. A comfortable hotel room will cost around US$25-50 per night, and lavish suites range from US$60-150 per night. For US$8-25, a couple can dine at fancier restaurants serving distinctive, gourmet cuisines.
The cheapest and most convenient way to get around China is via rail. Short journeys can cost around US$5-12 for a one-way ticket, while longer journeys will cost up to US$50. Expect to pay more than US$100, however, for a private sleeper compartment for two people.
The number of domestic flights in China is on the rise. One-way fares range US$90-200; round-trip fares are always double the one-way fare.
NORM: If you had to choose 3-5 unequalled venues in China for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or wedding destination, what would they be and why?
SHELLEY: Jiuzhaigou: Nestled deep in the mountains of northern Sichuan, the “Valley of the Nine Tibetan Villages” is known for its pristine lakes and waterfalls that sparkle a spectrum of shades under the sunshine. You may remember the impossibly blue lakes from the fight sequence filmed here in Hero. Nature lovers can hike beneath the shadow of snowy peaks, experience local Tibetan culture, and in nearby Songpan, embark upon horse treks into the wild. Convenient tourist services are nearby, offering everything from budget lodgings to five-star hotels.
Hangzhou: Those in love with classical China can head to this graceful city of the south and historic dynastic capital. Willows, gardens, pavilions, and delicately arched bridges dot the shores of the West Lake, the setting for ancient China’s most famous love stories. Sip fragrant Dragon Well tea while dining at one of China’s oldest restaurants that once served emperors. The misty waters and city pleasures are enough to captivate anyone; if not nearby Shanghai promises a plunge back into modernity.
Yunnan: This province on the border with Vietnam and Myanmar is the ideal destination for the adventurous, with its 22 colorful ethnic minority cultures and diverse natural scenery. Its capital, Kunming, “City of Eternal Spring, ” enchants travelers with flowers on every street, but the true attractions lie in the countryside. Pack your gear for a trek south into tropical rainforests and rice paddies, dotted by Dai villages and gleaming Buddhist stupas. Northern Yunnan is better known as “Shangri-La, ” where red-robed monks walk the streets of mountain villages and snowy peaks beckon in the distance.
Xinjiang: Xinjiang takes romance and writes it large upon vast expanses of deserts and horizons. Experience the exoticism of a nomadic lifestyle with camel rides across the dunes and nights under the stars upon China’s last frontier. Or trek up to the legendary Tianshan Mountains overlooking the “Heavenly Pool. ” Friendly Uighur musicians will be happy to play at Uighur-style wedding celebrations, filled with tasty food, fresh grapes and melons, and plenty of singing and dancing.
Hong Kong: Hong Kong offers a vacation as sophisticated and exciting as it is expensive. From luxury malls to teeming street markets, Hong Kong easily combines class and chaos. Dinner cruises on Victoria Harbour, stylish hotels and restaurants, and endless clubs, bars, and entertainment options ensure that you’ll never run out of things to do. Macau lures travelers away with its many casinos and Portuguese-influenced cuisine and architecture, but you’ll find yourself back in Hong Kong before long.
NORM: What should people know about celebrating a wedding in China from the point of view of requirements, experience of the various hotels, etc.
SHELLEY: Large fancy hotels are readily available, with the best and widest selection obviously being in Beijing and Shanghai. Restaurants make another good venue, and Let’s Go: China lists many of the best restaurants in Beijing. Book months in advance for celebrations in June and August, popular wedding months in China.
China also excels in gorgeously done wedding photo shoots, often involving lavish sets and costumes, professional make-up artists, and more. Popular options include traditional Chinese wedding garb, emperor and empress outfits, and turn of the century cheongsam robes. A full set often includes an entire album’s worth of photos, the cost of which averages US125-300.
NORM: How far in advance should a couple prepare themselves for their honeymoon, romantic getaway or wedding in China?
SHELLEY: For the cheapest airfares, it’s best to start planning at least four or five months in advance. Unless you are familiar with the country, it’s best not to leave a trip to China to the last minute.
NORM: What resources are available on the Internet pertaining to weddings and honeymoon vacations in China?
SHELLEY: CTRIP offers a great destination guide, often with photographs. Their flight search is helpful for planning, but only those with Chinese credit cards can make reservations.
CHINA TOUR COM provides a wealth of practical information, from visas to currency to vaccines. They also collect news stories related to travel in China, provide information on organized tours, and offer brief guides on Chinese culture.
TRAVEL CHINA GUIDE is another good resource for destination guides.
TRAVEL INFORMATION GUIDE is a forum for those traveling to China.
Norm Goldman is editor of Bookpleasures.com , a book reviewing and author interviewing site. He is also editor of sketchandtravel.com . The latter site contains all of Norm's travel articles as well as his wife Lily's water colors.
They are a unique husband and wife team that meld words with art.