China's Tribal Heartlands

Explore China's stunningly diverse regions of Upper Yunnan and Guizhou.
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Paying the Tourist price
In spite of all the variables travellers seem to have one thing in common.  No one likes to see hard earned holiday savings wasted on rip offs and profiteering.    Everyone...Read more...

In spite of all the variables travellers seem to have one thing in common.  No one likes to see hard earned holiday savings wasted on rip offs and profiteering.    Everyone likes to see value for money and I’m as much into saving pennies as the next person.    I used to prowl the currency exchange booths looking for the ‘best’ rate and often did it in the company of others keen to save a cent here or a small % there.   I initially thought that this was good fun but now I realise that it was pointless.    There are just too many folk out there in tourist land poised to gouge us for every cent saved at the currency exchange and more. Besides my efforts to save a bit on exchange were  just too small to warrant the effort and there is a sobering truth behind all this.   The moment you set foot in some else’s economy your hard earned cash becomes a target for some unscrupulous rat bag.   I’m not suggesting that this is ‘par for the course’ it isnt.   Every travel destination worthy of the name has plenty of good value places to eat and drink, shop and browse.     Just don’t expect to find them in the places where lots of travellers congregate and ocialise.

Overpricing is just one of the more visible things that get my goat. It’s easy to spot but not so easy to avoid.   You know the story about short seasons and high overheads. I say cut your cloth to suit. If you can’t make an honest buck without loading the price then be prepared to go hungry.   Pity is that I’m the one who caves in , eventually , but that doesnt mean that I have to like getting fleeced.    I reckon that people who price gouge travellers fall into four categories –

1. Commission Spivs   2. Blatent Profiteers   3. Enterprising Gougers   4. Honest Opportunists   I reserve my greatest disdain for the ‘Spivs’ who knowingly and deliberately rip off unsuspecting travellers.  These folk hang about at bus stations, airports, nightspots and tourist markets looking for ‘marks’ to shoehorn into purchases they otherwise wouldn’t make and couldn’t afford anyway.  Into this category go the ‘English speaking conversationalists’  the ‘curators of blind woman’s art collectives’ the ‘charity for the rehabilitation of war wounded’, and the battalion of seemingly kind and well intentioned people who just happen to be passing and couldn’t help but notice that you looked lost, bewildered, in need of a friend and so on.   These folk prey on the good nature of travellers in a foreign place so  they deserve to be in the sludge at the bottom of the barrel.

Blatant Profiteers are one level above the nasty mass of Commission Spivs.   They provide poor service and mediocre food because they can.   This is often because there is no competition to keep them honest.  Once upon a yesteryear ‘blatant profiteers’ used to be thinly disguised as state owned enterprises.  I don’t dare to suggest that this is still the case but I have to say that healthy competition is the one thing that profiteers have nightmares about.

Enterprising Gougers are everywhere where travellers gather to sleep, eat, drink and party.    I’m excluding shopping because it’s almost impossible for anyone to get a monopoly on the things that travellers might buy.   Anyone who expects a premium on a basic product or service without adding any value to it is a gouger.    These are the folk who plead short seasons and high overheads but are quick to shut up shop and go off on extended holiday when the cash flow starts to falter.

An honest entrepreneur

An honest opportunist

I have most sympathy with Honest Opportunists. These folk struggle to make a living in the shadow of the gougers.  You can spot them trading from premises rented from landlords who have already bailed for the season.  I don’t begrudge an extra % on coffee or food at a welcoming village or wayside cafe, still trading when all others have closed and fled.  These folk are in business for the thick and thin ends of the season and I prefer to spend my money with them.

In the end it all comes down to what travellers are prepared to tolerate.  A friend suggested that travellers had the power, either go with the flow or go without.   The ‘contact’ to buy and sell principal doesnt hold much appeal when you know that profiteers are out to gouge you and choice is limited or non existant.    I’m going with the little guy holed up in the corner cafe where the service is genuine and the intent is honourable, even if the price carries a wee premium.

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Say What!
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have just given a green light to British citizens who might want to visit Iran. Whoever controls those switches in Whitehall is on a...Read more...

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have just given a green light to British citizens who might want to visit Iran. Whoever controls those switches in Whitehall is on a roll. First Pakistan, now Iran.   There are plenty of cautions attached to the new travel advisory but a ‘cautious’ green light is definitely a positive in these enlightened times.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in the statement on July 15th said “Under President Hassan Rouhani’s government risk to British nationals has lessened.   I very much hope that we will be in a position to reopen our respective embassies before the end of this year.”

Barak and Hussain

Hammond’s remarks followed the conclusion of intensive talks between Iran and the 5+1 group over Tehran’s nuclear program.  Now everyone is happy……I think!

On July 14, Iran and the 5+1 group – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany – finalized the text of an agreement, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to put an end to months of tough negotiations around Iran’s Nuclear programme .

The New Zealand Government travel advisory service SAFETRAVEL has a similar view of the risk to New Zealand travellers to Iran… potentially hazardous around the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq borders but situation normal elsewhere.   That sounds like good advice.

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Myanmar takes flight
Its official, The Republic of the Union of Myanmar exists. It took the UK and USA a long time to get to this point but when I recently heard a...Read more...

Its official, The Republic of the Union of Myanmar exists. It took the UK and USA a long time to get to this point but when I recently heard a BBC football commentator at the FIFA U-20 World Cup refer to the country as Myanmar I knew that the Brits had finally laid ‘Burma’ to rest.

It’s been a funny old thing, this Anglicisation of other people’s countries and places. I never could figure why if the Ceylonese could become Sri Lankans that the Burmese couldn’t become The People of Myanmar. After all it is a union of 135 different ethnic groups all of whom think their particular ethnicity is more important than being lumped in with the Burmese majority. More power to them I say.

In the ‘troubled’ decade while the west was staying away from Myanmar plenty of Spanish, Italian and French sanction busters were having a right old time on the road to Mandalay. It was a great spot for an inexpensive holiday in an exotic location but it was too good to last. Myanmar’s change to a more inclusive form of governance also brought a change of fortune along with a market economy.   In the past 5 years investment capital has been pouring into Myanmar and tourism infrastructure has literally taken flight.

In a region where airlines are struggling Myanmar has added 3 new domestic carriers in as many years. Seems that big and small investors alike are making hay around the Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay tourist circuit and business is booming. It may be shoulder to shoulder at the tourist hot spots but out in the sticks Myanmar retains the intriguing and exotic flavour of things past. If you have a taste for the exotic then why not join us in December for our Mandalay-Kohima Trail small group tour. You can find the trip dossier here.

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WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT
Yipee!   The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has decided that it’s safe for British citizens to go back to Hunza.  And well they should!   That decade old travel advisory against...Read more...

Yipee!   The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has decided that it’s safe for British citizens to go back to Hunza.  And well they should!   That decade old travel advisory against Pakistan’s hospitable Ismaili dominated northern Area of Gilgit and Baltistan was a very effective nail in the coffin of the regions struggling tourist sector.    More effective than a truck load of Kalashnikovs in search of an insurrection could ever be.

Passu Peaks, HunzaWe are all mightily pleased about this turn of events but frankly there is a lot of head scratching going on about it.  Something must have changed to warrant this shift in policy but it’s hard to see what that might have been.   Well, its true things are happening in Hunza.  In fact it would be an understatement to say that things are on the ‘up and up’ when the truth is that on the geo-political front things are positively glowing.

Last month China and Pakistan announced a multi-billion dollar economic development package that includes stuff that would make the Greek Governments eyes water.   The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a development megaproject which aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas.  Overall construction costs are estimated at $46 billion, with the entire project expected to be completed in several years.  According to a report, “this is the biggest overseas investment by China yet announced and the corridor is expected to be operational within three years. It will be a strategic game changer in the region making Pakistan a richer and stronger entity than ever before.”

Other than transport infrastructure, the economic corridor will provide Pakistan with telecommunications and energy infrastructure.  The project will open trade routes for Western China and provide China direct access to the resource-rich Middle-East  region, bypassing longer logistical routes currently through the Strait of Malacca.

This month the newly reconstructed Karakoram Super Highway with 25km of tunnels to bypass the landslide induced Attabad lake is to be opened, an ultra-high speed broadband hub is to be established in Gilgit,   This is heady stuff and  it’s good to see the Brits raising a small flag in support of these changed circumstances.  If the Chinese are going to be opening their pockets to set up the infrastructure it’s only a matter of time before China’s billion dollar tourist industry follows.

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