Avoid China travel during crowded tourism week: tour guides

By Tu Nguyen   October 6, 2023 | 09:00 pm PT
Avoid China travel during crowded tourism week: tour guides
Visitors pose for pictures at the Badaling section of the Great Wall in Beijing, 2023. Photo by Reuters
Vietnamese tour guides have said that overcrowding and poor services were huge issues during tours of China during the country's national Golden Week holiday.

Returning to Hanoi after the Kunming - Lijiang - Shangri-la tour in late September, Hoai Nam, a tour guide specializing in outbound tours to China, had a few days to rest as most Vietnamese travel companies do not organize tours to China during its annual Golden Week holiday to avoid the massive crowds.

"It was extremely crowded. Never visit China at that time," said Nam who used to lead groups of Vietnamese tourists to China during the Golden Week in 2018 and 2019.

The seven-day holiday from October 1-7 is called Golden Week as Chinese people celebrate its annual National Day holiday. Chinese people have a week off to travel and reunite with their families as part of its government to spur domestic tourism growth.

"The bus stations were too busy, and it was hard to breathe because streets were full of people," Nam said of his experience during the Golden Week holiday in the world’s second most populous country.

With road tours, tour groups had to wait 6-8 hours to cross the border gate. Though waiting time by air was faster, "people still felt tired due to overcrowding," he said.

Nam said when he took customers to Chinese restaurants, he even had to stand waiting at the kitchen door to help get food for diners.

"The waiting time for food was too long, and there was not enough seating," he added.

In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, he was "panicked" by the huge sea of people everywhere.

On a trip to Shanghai in 2018 with a group of more than 20 tourists to a temple, his group had one hour to explore. After an hour, two tourists, a middle-aged couple, failed to show up and did not have a Chinese SIM card to contact anyone.

Nam decided to let the local tour guide take the group to the restaurant while he stayed to wait for the couple. However, another three hours passed, and he still did not see them. After asking the local police for help, the two tourists were found in a "pale and panicked" state.

Nguyen Van Binh, a tour guide at Trang An Travel, shared the same feeling as Nam about the Golden Week.

He said lines of people queuing to enter the train station ticket gate could sometimes stretch up to one kilometer.

Waiting and queuing for too long leaves tourists tired. In 2019, when a Vietnamese tour group visited Jade Dragon Snow Mountain near Lijiang ancient city, a woman fainted while standing in line. She suffered spondylosis and could not stand for too long but did not inform tour guides of her medical condition in advance.

Binh said that traveling to China during the Golden Week affected tourists’ experience and left them with a bad impression. This year, his company did not even bother organizing tours to China for the holiday.

A travel agency said that Chinese officials strictly controlled applications for group visas from Vietnam in October and Vietnamese tour groups were likely to have 20-50% of their applications rejected, and even 100% at times.

This year, the annual mid-autumn festival coincided with the northern neighbor’s National Day (Oct. 1) celebrations, resulting in an eight-day holiday that wrapped up on Friday.

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