Real China

I want to go to China, but how? Do I go solo, go with a tour, or hire a guide or interpreter for the month? I don't speak a word of Mandarin or Cantonese and I don't have much more than a thousand pounds to spend.

I want to get as close as possible to the real nature, history and people of China. Ideally, that would include Peking, the Great Wall, the Three Gorges, Shanghai, Tibet, Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Terracotta Warriors. Do you have any recommendations, contacts or tips on who, what and how to see China in September/August?

Bertie Dickson


The Travel Editor replies: There are several tour operators that provide a range of trips to China. However, they tend to be slightly over your budget limit. Explore Worldwide (tel: 01252 319448) offers a 22-day tour called Perfect China, which takes in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, a cruise from Guilin to Yangzhou, Kunming, Emei Shan and the great Buddha, Xian, Peking and the Great Wall. It costs pounds 1,790 and includes return flights from London and b&b accommodation - all other meals have to be paid for.

Exodus (tel: 0181-675 5550) also offers a 16-day Eastern Highlights tour, taking in the main cities in the East and an option to include a visit to the Shanghai Circus and National Opera. This tour costs pounds 1,620 and includes return flights and b&b and some half-board accommodation.

If you cannot stretch to these prices then you could go solo. But decide carefully which area you are going to concentrate on, because without all the resources of a tour operator, travelling around could take a lot longer. Travelling in and around the main tourist areas and the coastal cities is reasonably simple, but quite an expensive option compared with some of the more rural areas. If you are on a tight budget then spend more time in such areas - it won't be as comfortable but if you're looking for real China then a visit to such areas is essential.

Also, bear in mind that summer is the rainy season, and travelling in some areas can prove to be difficult, and sometimes dangerous.

Language is another important consideration. If you do not speak Chinese then the country, to some degree, will remain a mystery to you. As a consequence of this, in more rural situations you might want to hire a guide from a local guest-house or tourist office. They can also help with booking train or bus tickets since this can be very difficult without a knowledge of Mandarin.

In some cities, travellers' cafes can make arrangements for you. STA Travel (tel: 0171-361 6262) offers flights to Peking for pounds 394 and Hong Kong for pounds 443 (both including tax). These tickets are open to students and non-students until the end of August. Trailfinders (tel: 0171-938 3366) offers a return flight to Peking for pounds 297 and Hong Kong for pounds 421; both include tax in the price and you must return within three months. Tibet is another matter entirely: leave it for another trip.

A good source of information for the independent traveller is The Rough Guide to China (pounds 15.99).


My children love horses and I would like to find a holiday that could allow them to do some riding while we have a bit of time for ourselves, somewhere not too far afield.

Jane Franklin


The Travel Editor replies: Ireland is the ideal place for such a holiday. Only a ferry-ride away, it has some of the most beautiful countryside and best riding holidays around.

Leisure Breaks (tel: 0151-734 2344) offers riding holidays all over Ireland, including Ballingale Farm in County Wexford which takes unaccompanied children for the week.

For pounds 355, each child spends a week in horsy heaven with stable management lectures, riding and, of course, the mucking out. All meals and accommodation are included.

Meanwhile, you could book into one of several bed &breakfasts in the area and spend your time exploring many of this beautiful county's other attractions, safe in the knowledge that your children will be well looked after. It is a good idea either to take your car across on the ferry or hire one there, since you only really explore the countryside by car.

Leisure Breaks also takes bookings for Mount Juliet Equestrian Centre in Kilkenny, which provides all sorts of activities as well as horseriding, shooting and fishing. This centre is a lot more upmarket - a junior double room with breakfast costs around pounds 980 for a week, and that does not include all the activities.

Irish Ferry Holidays (tel: 0990 170000) is another operator dealing in such holidays. It can book cottages in Devil's Glen, County Wicklow.

The ferry-ride with a car and self-catering for a week for two adults and two children (aged 15 and under) costs approximately pounds 800 in peak season. Horse-riding can be booked in the area when you get there. You could also try Equestrian Holidays Ireland (tel: 00 353 21 831950).

For further information and brochures about holidays in Ireland, contact the Irish Tourist Board (tel: 0171-493 3201).


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Write to: the Travel Editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171-293 2043. E-mail to: sundaytravel@