Originally Posted by clee1982
All these things are pulling out of memories, haven't been back to Asia for 2 to 3 years (from Taiwan here).
China..., well, the options are
1. you get ripped by the tour guy, so he make sure you don't get ripped by the locals, or at least not as much
2. you get ripped by the tour guy, AND ripped by the local
3. you don't get ripped, sorry, that only happens in lala land,
all right I am exaggerating, don't get discouraged, as Jiuzhaigou Valley is one of those place I would go myself when I get the time. I would say some kind of surcharge somewhere is almost inevitable for tourist, just to what degree.
To answer your real question, there are tour guys that you pay for take you around for 1 day (which might not quite work, too short), or the ones you hire from the start (at least for the particular area). I would go for the 2nd route, you definitely need more than 1 day, you would also need their car/van anyway (so really tour guy+driver, sometimes all in one sometimes not). The last time I checked, it's freaking hard for foreigner to drive in China legally without going through a lot of hassale.
Maybe some of the guys from Mainland China can clarify for me, but that has always been my impression and experience (even the in state guys rip the out state guys in China). On another note, even if you do get ripped it is still decently cheap compare to other places, just negotitate it down when they say something that you think is ridiculous. When I was in China the first time (as a kid), my father's usually tactic is, 90% off everything the guy ask (street vendor, sight scen, but not ticket though, those things are posted). It has been getting better by a lot these years (last time there was in 2006/7, but was mostly in the cities), haggling on price still exists to a very large degree.
Now on the other note, if you want to do some backpacking trip, then Taiwan might not be a bad idea, I would not stay for 2 month though, 2 weeks should be enough, I can give you ideas on those ones pretty quick. I am certainly more familiar with my own home town.
I have no idea what's American's experience in the more rural part of China, City is city everywhere (though all have its own charm), but rural area is different, not that it is dangerous, it's just different. It's much harder to get by with English (not that it's easy to get by with English in the first place). You should find the trip quite interesting if you go to somewhere remote.
By the way, I am pretty sure you find a package to Hokkaido from the States (and might just try your American Express card service for that matter). As to Jiuzhaigou Valley, hum, lots of travel agency in Taiwan/Hong Kong does that, but from the States, absolutely no idea.
P.S. are you going alone with girlfriend or a few close friends?
I am going by myself - solo trip. Not too interested in packaged tours but the local guide option sounds enticing. I am trying to avoid the American tourist tax wherever possible. Chinese cities sound nice and I'll surely roll through, but it is more the remote places that I'm interested in - as long as it is reasonably safe and I won't be paying an arm and a leg. I am prepared to have a language barrier and to be pretty lonely when in the more remote areas. I'm not looking for a vacation, rather an experience.