A Taiwanese Tour Group Experience!
Before I arrived in Southeast Asia, I didn’t expect that it would be too different from South America. After all, I wouldn’t understand the local language, the standard of living would be lower than what I was used to, and it would be a culturally different environment. Right?
I have probably never been so wrong in my life. (Let’s just pretend that’s true.)
The biggest difference between Southeast Asia and South America was the presence of mainland Chinese tourists everywhere I went. Whereas I would see a lot of Americans, Europeans, and other South Americans in Peru, Southeast Asia was overwhelmed with Chinese tourists. They are so many that even the youngest sellers – children barely of school age – can ask whether you want to buy one or two t-shirts in Chinese.
Why People Hate Chinese Tour Groups
Speaking with most travelers will show you that almost no one enjoys the Chinese crowd. I have spoken with many Beijing natives, all of whom express their distaste for tour groups. Even I, as a Taiwanese American who feel somewhat defensive against insults to Chinese people when I’m abroad, can only agree.
The reason they draw so much hate is simple: they are loud, pushy, and don’t follow the rules. If you see a tourist trying to keep a cup of water from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, you might be surprised if he were not Chinese.
If you travel to China, why they behave this way is apparent. China has ~15% of the world’s population – and their standard of living has grown exponentially in the past 20-30 years. In some ways, this exponential growth has created a disconnect between the average family’s wealth and their everyday habits. In China, I often hear people playing loud music from their phones on the subway without any consideration of the people around them, or spitting on the side of the street. The subway requires pushing to get on or off during rush hour, and traffic lights are a suggestion, not law.
Since Chinese groups tour together, they often keep their habits even in a different environment. On some tours, everybody knows everybody. On all tours, they live on the same floors of hotels, eat at restaurants targeted specifically towards Chinese tourists, and move as a single mass. This leads them to the same environment as they have China, which means a lot of their habits bleed through in their behavior.
But even if you can’t stand them, they are likely here to stay.
The Difference Between a Taiwanese and Chinese Tour Group
When talking to Chinese and Taiwanese people, don’t ever get confused. This is worse than a New Yorker being called a New Jerseyan and vice versa. They might understand that you don’t understand, but they will probably also be deeply offended. The political history behind these two groups stretches decades deep and is still very tense.
If you observe them, you will notice a difference between Chinese and Taiwanese groups. In general, a Taiwanese tour group consists of people who go abroad with a chip on their shoulders. They know that most people around the world have heard of China but not Taiwan, so they are extra aware and work extra hard to make a good impression. They also actively try to differentiate themselves (carrying a Taiwanese flag and speaking some Taiwanese dialect, for example) from Chinese groups. Some of them have gone to dozens of countries but still choose to go with a tour group for convenience. They may have gone to many countries (such as Japan and Thailand) many times, so sometimes itineraries to these countries are much more creative and go to lesser-traveled places.
In contrast, many Chinese tour groups are people who don’t have much experience going abroad or traveling in general. (Anyone with any experience will prefer to travel independently.) They don’t necessarily realize that speaking loudly is annoying, and may touch relics because they don’t know how harmful touches can be to historical objects.
There are exceptions to every generalization.
Why I Went on a Taiwanese Tour Group
I would never have chosen to go on an extended tour by myself. However, a good chunk of my extended family planned on going and my grandparents would cover the cost, so I tagged along.
For this trip, we were a group of about 30, and we spent 5 full days traveling Shikoku, Japan. It’s the island south of the main Japanese island, and is in the area between Himeji and Hiroshima. We spent a day of travel before and after the trip. I took this trip before I thought it was a good idea to save things in case I write a blog post about them, so the itinerary is pieced together from photo evidence as best as possible.
First Day: Arrival to Hiroshima
Second Day: Senkojiyama Ropeway, Yumi Katsura Lover’s Sanctuary, Kurashiki Bikan (Aestheric Area) Historical Quarter, Okayama Korakuen Park + Castle, Sunset over the ocean
Third Day: Ritsurin Garden, Kotohira-gū Shrine and shopping street, Kotohiti Park and the Zenigata Sand Sculpture
Fourth Day: Zentsū-ji Temple, Kanchi-in Temple, Goshya-Myojin Shrine, the Harimaya-bashi Bridge in the Iya Valley, Oboke Koboke and the Yoshino River
Fifth Day: Kochi Park, Towel Museum Ichihiro, Matsuyama Castle，Dōgo Onsen shopping arcade and Botchan Karakuri Clock
Sixth Day: Kintai Bridge and Kikko Park, Miyajima Island, the floating gate, and Itsukushima Shrine
What I Enjoyed About the Taiwanese Tour Group
Honestly, the Taiwanese tour group surprised me. I didn’t expect it, but there were a lot of things that I liked about it.
The itinerary was completely planned in advance.
Much of the stress that I have during trips is having to plan where to go and how to get there. Not having to worry about any of that and knowing that we would go to all the important places was freeing! While I prefer to see a city/town more thoroughly before moving on, I didn’t feel stress or have to spend my nights planning the next days.
All the hotels and restaurants were 5-star and above.
Don’t let it be said that a Taiwanese tour group doesn’t know quality. In Japan, all the places we stayed had high-quality Japanese-style sheets on the floor, with Japanese robes. Many of them had comprehensive dinners and breakfasts, and onsen (hot springs/spas) to relax in at night. The meals we ate were chock full of sushi and sashimi – with raw fish at almost every meal – to the point that I was threatening to eat McDonald’s if there wasn’t an alternative (anything!!) towards the end. I am not a fan of fish, especially raw fish, but everyone else really liked it. Plus, sashimi is expensive.
The total price of the Taiwanese tour group was incredibly cheap for the value.
Speaking of price, the total cost of the tour was actually pretty inexpensive considering the quality of hotels and restaurants. The amount paid was approximately $1,500, which included round-trip flights, six nights of 5-star hotels, all meals (3/day) and transportation included, private bus driver, a tour leader, and a tour guide. The flights ($600) and accommodation (~$200 for 6 nights = $1200) alone would have cost us more than that individually, so the price really is worth it.
The experience was local enough.
There weren’t house stays or language lessons, or anything like that. However, we did eat lots of Japanese food, learn a lot about Japanese culture from our tour guide, and stayed in classic Japanese living spaces complete with Ryokan hot spring spas. I really felt like I was part of the culture for that week.
I got to go to more obscure, hole-in-the-wall places.
Because Japan is a well-traveled area for Taiwanese people, the Taiwanese tour group itinerary included smaller, farther places. I would never have gone to the Towel Museum on my own, nor would I have gone to some of the castles. To be honest, I probably would have skipped Shikoku altogether had I traveled alone.
Traveling with the comfort and convenience of a private car really makes a difference!
I got to spend time with my family, stress-free.
Along with the fact that I didn’t have to plan anything, I got to actually enjoy some time with my extended family! When I visit Taipei, I typically see them for a couple hours a week at most. This was the first time I spent a lot more time with them. It was actually pretty nice, especially now that I’m older and can appreciate family more.
My family got to spend time with old friends.
The thing about tour groups is that they have the “summer camp” feel. Everyone lives together, travels together, eats together. My family members have known some of their former colleagues (everyone was already retired) for decades. These tour groups are extended time they spend together as friends. Even though I didn’t know any of them, there was certainly a lot of camaraderie between them.
What I Hated About the Taiwanese Tour Group
For all the things that I enjoyed about the week, there were a lot that I didn’t as well.
Big groups move so slowly.
Especially with 30 retirees, it took forever to get back on the bus after getting off. I took some of that extra time to explore the sites we went to more in-depth, but those who don’t walk fast anymore saw even less than I did. I wouldn’t be surprised if they only had pictures of the front of the castles we saw, any thing else.
When we went to Miyajima, we had minimal time to explore the whole island. Something that could have taken us a whole day took us just two hours. You can imagine how much we missed! Once the tour left, I went back to see the rest of Miyajima myself.
I couldn’t stand being around everyone 24/7.
I’m very introverted. I enjoyed having a lot of people interested in me at first because my grandma was introducing me to everyone. But being around very enthusiastic and verbose retirees 24 hours a day is exhausting! I had to take a breather after a couple of days.
The great tour price is subsidized heavily through commissions. Which means you have to buy.
In this type of tour, you’re a fool if you don’t know this. The tour operators fully expect you to spend big – hundreds of dollars or the local equivalent – on specific partnered souvenirs and products.
In Japan, our tour guide hyped up these health products the whole week, telling us to wait until we got to a specific store to buy them. On the last day he brought us to that store – which stocked exactly the same products as those I had seen throughout the week. However, he joined the rewards program and asked the cashier to swipe his personal membership card for every purchase that everyone made. He personally made 2% credit on everyone’s purchases.
I’m not against affiliate income or commissions at all, but I do value transparency. I was pissed off that there wasn’t more of it, and a lot of the people around me felt the same.
We spent several hours per day on the bus.
The thing about the itinerary was that we spent hours on the bus every day. Though I understand it takes time to get places, couldn’t they pick places that were not hours away from each other?
This Taiwanese tour group expected us to wake up super early. Every day.
Leaving at 8 every day, with a wake up call at 6:30? Are you trying to enjoy your time or see how much of it you can spend on the bus?? It’s honestly hard to tell.
There’s no such thing as sleeping on the bus with a Taiwanese tour group.
If you think the lack of sleep at night can be made up by naps on the bus, you’re wrong. It’s not the chatting amongst old colleagues and friends that keeps you up. It’s the fact that the guide is giving you the unabridged version of the encyclopedia on the history and culture of Japan. I learned everything I never need to know about Japan – and I think I would rather have napped.
Half the day feels rushed.
Gotta cut your visit time short to get to the bus on time!!!!!
Okay, slight exaggeration, but because the agency designed the itinerary to see everything very quickly, you are lucky if you spend even one hour somewhere.
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