Category Archives: China

7 Ways to Get Hotel Discounts in Asia

Do you know how to get hotel discounts and guest house deals in Asia?

I know, saving money on places where you’d like to stay doesn’t sound that sexy – but the more money you save = the more you can travel, and that’s not just sexy, that’s orgasmic! So read on!

Travelling independently in Asia, almost every price is negotiable.

Yes, that’s including the price of your washing powder at the corner shop, and your headache tablets at the pharmacy. So I always negotiate the price of my room.

How do I do that?

I never book through accommodation booking sites.

They operate on commission, so their price will always be higher than booking direct.

Plus, you can’t negotiate price and room type…

And you can’t request a free pick up from the station…

And you can’t ask about other aspects of the guest house…

And you can’t get a feel for the service you might expect when you get there…

And you can’t start to build a relationship with the staff…

So I always negotiate with guest houses directly.

How? If you’ve never done it before, don’t worry one bit. It’s easy. Even if you don’t like bargaining, it’s easy to do over email, and not embarrassing at all:

Step 1 – Research guest houses online and choose a few options

get-hotel-deals-asia-1

I tend to use Trip Advisor, and initially search by price. Watch out for a couple of things:

[i] Dates of reviews – Things can change amazingly quickly as staff and seasons come and go – only focus on recent reviews.

[ii] Nationality of reviewers – Travellers from different parts of the world can have really different opinions about everything, including how clean a place is and how far it is from the town centre.

As a Western woman, when I’m researching accommodation in Asia, I look for places with reviews from other Westerners. Especially for India, I look for reviews from other Western women – not those only reviewed by Indian men. [You usually get a quick idea of the reviewer’s nationality from the name and location on their review].

Step 2 – Check prices on accommodation sites

Search the internet for the few guest houses you’re interested in.  If they show up on accommodation booking sites, note the best price they’re offering [Hostelworld, Booking.com and Agoda are good for Asia].

Unless you’re really short of time and really not worried about price, don’t book through them!

Step 3 – Find contact details

Check that internet search again to find an email address or Facebook page for each of your chosen guest houses. If they have web or social media sites they’re often not in English, but you’ll still be able to find contact information on them – or the Trip Advisor forums can often help.

Step 4 – Write to ask for best prices

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I try to communicate some interest and enthusiasm in a place, hoping that’ll encourage the reader to help me [and because I am usually genuinely interested and enthusiastic about a place!] If you’re not sure how to start, you can always look up the weather and refer to that:

Hello WXY guesthouse

I hope you’re really well in X X and not feeling too hot – the internet says it’s going to be 38 degrees today!

I’m an English lady who would love to stay with you next month. I’ve always wanted to visit X X and your guest house sounds great.

What’s the very best price you can offer me for a stay in a single room with fan and balcony, from Monday X November – Sunday Y November [a stay of 6 nights]?

Looking forward to hearing from you soon, and sending very best wishes

Hilary : )

Ms Hilary Mehew hilarymehew@hotmail.com

Step 5 – Agree to the price and book

If you get a price back that’s the same or higher than you’ve seen on a booking site, quote that, asking for a better rate because you can book directly and save them from paying commission.

If you know you want to stay long term, try to get a better price by offering to pay on a weekly basis.

If they really won’t better the price, ask to have free breakfast thrown in with the deal, or a room upgrade, or something else you want.

From the offers you get, and from the “feel” you get for the place [often as important as price!] you’re ready to choose and book.

Step 6 – Ask for free pick up

Fancy a free pick up from the local bus/train station or airport? Ask for one [or failing a free one, a reduced priced one].

Check if they have any guests they’re taking back to the station/airport at the time you arrive – this option often works, especially for airport transfers, when all you have to pay for is the driver’s waiting time and parking charges between someone else’s drop off and your collection.

Step 7 – Re-confirm 3 days before

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I usually do this by forwarding the last email between us, so they can easily see all the agreed arrangements re dates, room type, price, pick up arrangements etc, and tell them how much I’m looking forward to staying with them.

And that’s it!

Honestly, this approach has never failed me. Even when I couldn’t get a better rate, I’ve been able to negotiate a better room, or something else free or discounted, or at the very least got advance notice of when a special promotion will be on.

I also really appreciate arriving at a guest house, having got to know one or more staff members by name over the email, and receiving a very personal welcome.

Welcome to XYZ guesthouse and have a great stay…

hilary-mehew-headshotHilary Mehew is a big smiler and great traveller [it does make her cheeks ache!] She’s travelled extensively, but Asia is her passion – mostly as a backpacker and on business [though not at the same time!]. Years ago she thought she’d go travelling in the region for one year and ended up being away for three and a half. Since then she’s gone back every year for work and holidays. She’s just returned to the UK after backpacking for two years in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Contact her on hilarymehew@hotmail.com

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Research guest houses online and choose a few options

2. Check prices on accommodation sites

3. Find contact details

4. Write to ask for best prices

5. Agree to price and book

6. Ask for a free pick-up

7. Re-confirm 3 days before

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Free Tibet: Let the Voices of Oppression Be Heard

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Living in a place with so many Tibetan refugees, reading the Dalai Lama’s autobiography Freedom in Exile, and then hearing him speak during the famous and important kalachakra practice here in Ladakh has prompted me to do some research into the fascinating country of Tibet and it’s devastating and unfortunately ongoing downfall.

The Dalai Lama was exiled to India in 1959, where he has since lived as a refugee with over 100,000 other Tibetans.  This exile came about after having tried to negotiate with the Chinese government for a decade once they began their disastrous take-over of Tibet in 1949.

At just fifteen, the fourteenth Dalai Lama was faced not only with the prospect of becoming the spiritual and governmental leader of six million people, but also with the impending doom brought on by the invading Chinese army and the thought of war.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army invaded during the 1950s in order to “peacefully liberate Tibet,” a ruse ridiculous on every front because a) Tibet needed liberation from no one, it was its own free and happy country, and b) because the following fifty-five years of torture, execution, and war have proven that China’s intentions have been anything but peaceful.

At the beginning the fighting was kept to a minimum in Lhasa as to keep the Dalai Lama in the dark as to what was really going on. Gradually, horrific stories emerged from the countryside where the Chinese had completely taken over.

During years of war and oppression the PLA destroyed thousands of monasteries and tortured, imprisoned, and slaughtered thousands of innocent lives in the most brutal ways imaginable.

Along with increased amounts of violence, the cultural revolution then imposed laws against religion, free speech, and virtually every other aspect of the Tibetan’s traditional lifestyle.

Though they tried to fight back, they were untrained, lacked ammunition and weapons, and were overwhelmingly outnumbered by their obviously much larger oppressor.

Tibet, which had been independent for decades, suddenly found itself engulfed and overtaken by its powerful and ruthless neighbor who would stop at nothing to conquer its people and culture by force.

“Your attitude is good you know” said chairman Mao in 1954 during the Dalai Lama’s visit to China. “Religion is poison. Firstly, it reduces the population, because monks and nuns must stay celibate, and secondly it neglects material progress.”

Mao had greatly underestimated the Dalai Lama who, though he thought parts of Marxism were great (equality for all), knew that material progress was not what counted and that the abolishment of religion would destroy humanity.

In 1957 the situation worsened when China forced monks and nuns to have sex in public, formally ending their vows of celibacy, while the army beat, starved, and raped thousands of others.

This lead to the 1959 Tibetan rebellion during which the Dalai Lama fled to India. China had requested the Dalai Lama’s appearance in secret and without body guards to a celebration, and when the people of Lhasa found out, thousands upon thousands arrived at his palace to protect him.

This was the official beginning of the uprising, which was spurred into action two days later when the Tibetans took to the streets declaring their independence. Then, a week later when the Dalai Lama fled into exile, the Chinese opened fire upon his palace and his people, killing tens of thousands over the coming days.

Nearly thirty years after China had invaded it attempted to get both the Dalai Lama and many of his fellow refugees to return to Tibet.

China wanted to show everyone that it was doing well after the atrocities of the cultural revolution began to leak out to a horrified world. The government wanted to prove that Tibet had indeed progressed under its regime and that it’s people were “as happy as ever.”

The Dalai Lama, being slow to trust China after everything it had done, sent out many delegations of people in order to see what was truly happening in his country.

The delegates, including the Dalai Lama’s brother, were mobbed by thousands of sobbing Tibetans in every village they passed through which caused great distress to the Chinese authorities. Though the spirits of his people were not yet broken and the oppression had united them like never before, his delegates came back with films, photos, and stories that depicted how ruthlessly and systematically the Chinese had worked to destroy their culture.

There were years of famine, countless human rights violations, and the deaths of thousands of nuns and monks in concentration camps.

Sure, there were more hospitals and schools, just as China had promised, but not for the native Tibetans to use, only for the invading Chinese. Progress in his country had flown backwards since the Chinese had come and the Dalai Lama knew it was critical to appeal to the Western world for help, an attempt that sadly didn’t amount to much.

By the 1980’s China had begun its last phase in its conquest of Tibet, one that is still going on today.

In order to wipe out the Tibetan culture by sheer force of numbers, the government has been offering compensation (higher wages, housing…) for Chinese willing to move into Tibet.

Because of this there are more than twice as many Chinese than Tibetans residing in the region. They have deprived the natives of their resources, have ruined the environment (in some cases beyond repair), and have overtaken Tibetan culture by restricting the people’s lives in every domain.

It is now said that there is more of the Tibetan culture left in India where the refugees have settled than in their own homeland. Even to this day  in Tibet, religion, the Dalai Lama, and anything to do with the old Tibet are strictly forbidden.

2008 marked the largest protest for a Free Tibet in over fifty years. Six thousand Tibetans were arrested or beaten for possessing a picture of the Dalai Lama, waving a Tibetan flag, or showing that they are still Tibetan in any way. 

Since 2011, there have been over one hundred monks and nuns participating in self-immolations as well as other protests in a desperate cry for their oppression to be acknowledged. 

In response, China has tightened its security and brutality against the people in their conquest to completely eradicate their culture.

Since 1951 over one million Tibetans have been killed, with over 6,000 monasteries destroyed.

Tibet and it’s people are literally being whipped off the map through routine and widespread torture and oppression, and along with North Korea and Syria, Tibet is ranked as one of the most repressed countries in the world.

The Dalai Lama has traveled around the world in a way none of his predecessors were able to do and has used this opportunity to spread his global message of peace and compassion (winning him the noble peace prize in 1989).

For the last 45 years, he has tried to make the world aware of the devastating situation still happening today in his homeland.

Tibet is nowhere close to being free unless something drastic is done, and even if that happens soon, one can only hope that all of these years of violent oppression haven’t completely destroyed the Tibetan culture to the point of no return.

As the Dalai Lama himself says, “My countrymen and women are today in grave danger of becoming nothing more than a tourist attraction in their own country.”

Shirine Taylor is a solo female backpacker cycling around the world. This post originally appeared on her blog, awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

photo courtesy of National Geographic

Have you traveled to Tibet?

Would you travel there given the situation?  Is “ethical travel” in Tibet possible?

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Culture Shock in Kunming, China

“KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.”

I’m awoken from a dead sleep when – “KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.”

Ok, ok, Jesus.

I fling the door open, still half asleep, and see my driver from last night standing with another man, both of them frowning at me seriously.

The driver cues the man, who takes a deep breath and announces “LETS. GO.”

They both regard me, satisfied with their English instructions. I get the feeling new guy has been recruited by the driver because of his mad English skills.

“What time is it?” I ask.

They look at each other, and the new guy answers deliberately, proud as punch, “Ten. Oh. Clock.”

And then again, in unison, “LETS. GO.”

“Ok, ok, I’ll be right down.”

Christ almighty. I’m not sure if they mean “Hey, wake up, get ready, we’re leaving in 30 minutes” or “We are leaving in 2 minutes with or without you. Good luck.”

I throw clothes on in a frenzy, sloppily pack my bag, and make it downstairs in time to climb back into last night’s workhorse of a van.

It’s only after the third massive jolt and hitting my head on the roof of the shuttle that I finally manage to look out the window – holy CRAP.

I’m amazed at what I see – we’re descending from a steep hilltop, the twisting dirt road winding around a ramshackle cluster of dilapidated homes that double as small shops, restaurants and garages. A man squats in the mud, slurping a bowl of steaming noodles from a tray while stray dogs trot past like back up dancers in a Broadway musical.

I inhale dirt and bright colors and cement and wetness; everything wet and dirty and cold. “This is poverty,” I think suddenly, a bit taken aback at the obviousness of my own epiphany.

The shuttle makes its way out of the small settlement (neighborhood? ghetto?) and reaches for the highway like a teenager who can’t wait to leave home for college.

One of the other shuttle passengers makes small talk, excited to practice his English. I’m not quite sure where he came from (and btw, where was he last night when I needed him?), but I appreciate his friendliness.

The large, sweeping facade atop the main Kunming Airport building stands stark against the sky like an ancient temple. I wonder at such beauty, such superior design adjacent such filth, such destitution. The wings of the temple seem to mock the people living their lives just a few miles away, breaking their backs to eat a few noodles in the mud.

It’s cold and misty, but I can just barely make out a few rolling hills in the distance. Large signs adorn the airport, advertising all of the incredible adventures one can have in Kunming and the surrounding regions – see elephants and tigers in our SAFARI PARK! Take a hot air balloon ride over this AWESOME RIVER! Indulge your senses at our MOUNTAIN SKI LODGE! Live with NO HEAT and eat your breakfast IN THE MUD!

Oh wait, that last one’s mine.

What a curious, curious place. I remind myself that in every city around the world, the area nearest the airport is almost never the nice area.

Would I have ever, ever stayed in that hotel had I seen it in broad daylight? Probably not. My room was freezing, yes, but it was clean, and I was picked up and taken the airport in plenty of time to catch my flight.

So no, there are not “hotel stands” at the Kunming airport, at least not that I could see. But yes, you can simply walk outside and get a hotel. And apart from a bumpy shuttle ride and the sudden appearance of a few deep thoughts about poverty and governments and inequity and fairness and irony and entitlement and “we have it so much better than we realize,” you’ll probably get through it in one piece.

Just be sure to bring enough cash.

UPDATE: THERE IS A HOTEL INSIDE THE KUNMING AIRPORT! I don’t know how I missed this the first time, but there is an expensive hotel that doubles as an hourly lounge. It’s on the second floor. Go to the main arrivals area on the second floor and take the glass elevator up two stories. A proper hotel room is around $90 USD. You can also hang out in the lounge and pay by the hour, but I’m not sure if there are showers. The room was overpriced but very nice and it was worth it to not have to get a cab and deal with the hassle of leaving the airport.

Have you ever been to Kungming airport? What was your experience like?

photo credit: arup.com

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Be sure to ask what time you'll be leaving for the airport in the morning - it may have nothing to do with what time your flight leaves, and everything to do with when the shuttle driver feels like leaving.

2. You can stay inside the Kunming Airport and avoid this entire fiasco!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!