Contracts, Tour Agencies etc.

Because many people have asked how we arranged the China part of our trip and in particular which travel agencies we used below is a summary of our arrangements in China.

(Note that since this trip in 2002, some members of the Silkroute Club have returned to China en-route to Siberia. See also the relevant pages of that trip for far better news about some agencies and guides. Stephen Stewart. Kashgar, China. 2004-05-31.)

This page will be updated as the trip progresses with our assessment of the performance of these agencies and the guides they provided.

Important. I have had a surprising number of requests for more information about the use of travel agencies to facilitate driving in China, I had not appreciated how many groups there were out there hoping to drive in China nor how difficult it was getting accurate information. Please be patient! I will respond to your e-mails as soon as I can.

Below is a list of other agencies thought to be able to support foreign vehicles in China (all of them of course untested by us!).

  1. Zhu Yuan International Travel Agency
    Tel: 00-86-10-6401 1085
    Fax: 00-86-10-6404 9242, 6401 2633
    Email: bgtours@163.com
    Contact: Mr. Baoying Shi
    His mobile: 00-86-1370 121 1477

  2. The China Travel Agency
    Tel: 00-86-10-6464 6400, 6462 2288
    Fax: 00-86-10-6461 2551
    Email: Lx.dny@ctsho.com
    Contact: Non-group Tourists Department.

  3. Zhong Yi International Travel Agency
    Tel: 00-86-10-6406 8423, 6406 8451
    Fax: 00-86-10-6404 8440
    Email: Joe@catstour.com
    Contact: Mr. Zhian Zhou.

Background Information: Two years ago (2000) l'Association Camping-Cars sur les Routes de la Soie et du Monde organized a similar trip to China. On this occasion they used the China Iron and Steel International Travel Service. Their experience in 2000 was generally satisfactory with a tendency to "over organize" the group. On that occasion the tour guides provided by "Iron and Steel" were keen to show China to the group.

In 2002 the club naturally approached "Iron and Steel" again and invited them to submit a bid for the 2002 trip. For whatever reason "Iron and Steel" were very slow in responding and a competitive agency was contacted, namely China Comfort Travel France. China Comfort submitted a quotation, based on the 2000 "Iron and Steel" contract and their representative Mr. Yao Xiaojing presented his company's services at the clubs AGM. From this presentation it was clear that "China Comfort" would sub-contract the provision all services in China to China Swan International Tours. Although both the French and Anglophone groups had some misgivings about this Mr. Yao was very persuasive and assured us that should there be any problems we need only contact him and he would sort them out, and if unable to do so from Paris he would personally fly out to China to fix them.

Indeed "China Comfort" were sufficiently confident to include "our" trip in their 2002 brochure before the contract was signed with them.

Current Situation:

2002-07-19. So far the performance of the (first) "China Swan's" guide has not been impressive, this is partly due to the inexperience of the individual but mostly due to "China Swan" appearing to have a very different view of his role to ours.

The Anglophone group have now contacted "China Comfort" with a list of problems. We await a response. In the mean time we are arranging our own "camp sites" and excursions. We are also hoping that the authorities do not notice the discrepancies between our vehicles and the paperwork provided by "China Swan".

2002-08-11. We have now met with Mr. Yao and Mr. Yang Niandong (the manager of the Special Tours Department of China Swan in Beijing.) At this meeting the inadequacies of our guide (including less than 3 months practical experience as a guide and poor English) were acknowledged, as were the errors in our vehicle documentation. At the end of our meeting Mr. Yao even agreed that some compensation might be in order for the shortcomings of the service during the first month. An offer unfortunately reduced to the level of a token gesture by the evening!

A new guide has now been provided although initial impressions still leave us very concerned. So far there is no evidence of any progress in correcting the temporary vehicle registration documents, these still contain inaccuracies in vehicle type, manufacturer and chassis number.

2002-08-19. We have now asked China Comfort to instruct China Swan to replace our new guide as soon as possible because of his behavior and attitude. (It also seems that China Swan were unable to provide a guide from their own staff and our new guide is a "free-lance"). We await a response.

2002-08-30. Our contract with China Comfort requires us to leave China within 90 days via Nepal. However the contract also contains an "escape route" we can invoke if there are "...problems with the [India-]Pakistan border due to crossing permit, [or] the crossing of this country proves to be impossible..."

On the 2002-08-30 we e-mailed both China Comfort and China Swan to warn them that given the information and advice we had received from the UK Government FCO it seemed probable we would need to use our "escape route". On the 2002-09-02 we received an e-mail from Mr. Yang Niandong of China Swan that said:

...According to the contract between French Comfort travel and us, only if there is war between Pakistan and India, the way to the Nepal is broken or other force majeure result in the unable to exit, the group tour can apply for change route via Horgos pass to Kazakstan. We also need to provide favorable evidence to apply for these to some related authorities of China. If there were the wars between India and Pakistan or way broken, it is no problem change route. But if apply for change route to authority only can provide one plan...

2002-09-05. Having had no response to our initial request to China Swan to replace our new guide we sent the e-mail below to both China Swan and China Comfort.

Mr. Gong's Resignation.

Mr. Gong' has asked us to tell you that he wishes to resign.

As we have told you before, Mr. Gong has proved to be a guide who is very difficult to work with. We have also found him to be an inadequate guide:

1. he is a poor communicator: his comprehension of English is good but his spoken English is too often difficult to understand. This is made worse by the fact that Mr. Gong often chooses not to communicate. Often he refuses to speak to members of the group when spoken to;

2. he is a poor interpreter: this partially reflects the weaknesses of his English, but often he simply refuses to interpret either from Chinese into English or vice versa;

3. he is lazy: we have had several debates with Mr. Gong about the time we will set off. 07.30 is always "too early" for him. He often protests when asked to undertake a simple task. For example, when asked to walk 100m to find the cause of a traffic jam and how long we would be stopped, he refused saying it was "too far";

4. he has no commitment to work as our guide; it is common for him to disappear as soon as we find a night stop and he rarely initiates anything for our benefit.

It is now clear that Mr. Gong also feels he is not the right person for the job. Three days ago he told us he had neither the temperament nor the experience for it and asked us to tell you that he should be replaced. We are happy to do this.

MR. GONG SHOULD BE AND MUST BE REPLACED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. HE DOES NOT WISH TO DO THE JOB AND WE DO NOT WANT HIM AS OUR GUIDE. (Mr. Gong has told us he will be informing Me Yang directly of his resignation).

Your earliest response will be appreciated.
Clive Barker UK Coordinator

It is now ten days since we sent this e-mail and we have not had the courtesy of a reply from either China Swan or China Comfort. Mr. Gong has told us that he has been told by China Swan that he can not resign.

Post Script.

Although by the time we reached Tibet Gong definitely wanted to quit and we desperately wanted him to go, this was not to be. He stayed with us all the way to Lhasa. From Lhasa to the Nepal border we traveled with the French campervans and shared their guide Simon.

Problems with Chinese agencies and their guides seem to be fairly common. For an even more extreme solution see the account of the Seoul-Paris-Seoul journey undertaken by Choi Mi Ae and Jean-Louis Wolff (Bulletin 94 and 101). To see the entire story (in French) click here.

We were furious with our Chinese agency. We refused to pay the balance of 500 dollars still owing of the 7000 dollar bill for transit in China. Tempers were fraying, Shen Ayin threatened us again, this time with keeping us in China till the end of time. As a protest we threw our guide out on a motorway sliproad. Although it was supposed to be illegal to drive a foreign vehicle without a guide, we were happy to find that we passed through checkpoints without any difficulty. The police were even quite friendly towards us.

Stephen Stewart.

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