Self-drive travel is becoming increasingly popular among Chinese tourists, who love the freedom of steering their own trips. Yang Feiyue reports.
Jin Xin has taken his car in for service and has started stocking up on boxes of ready-to-eat rice. Jin, from Tianjin, is preparing for a road trip around and across the Chinese border in July.
“I signed myself up for a 13-day self-drive trip from Beijing through Inner Mongolia’s Erenhot to Russia’s Lake Baikal,” Jin says. The trip will cost him 19,800 yuan ($3,171).
Frontier inspection and visa applications may take some time and money, but the idea of experiencing wild nature and capturing amazing photos makes all the trouble worth it, he says.
Self-driving travel are expected to become increasingly popular. Authorities are working on making it easier for Chinese to drive to neighboring countries.
China’s General Administration of Customs is working on the development of self-drive routes to China’s neighboring nations, such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, according to the administration’s port management office.
“Russia and Mongolia offer vast landscape sceneries and abundant natural resources,” says Zhu Huashan, managing director of the Beijing-based Century of Self-driving Tour Travel Service Co.
“The two countries are sparsely populated and are therefore ideal for self-drive travelers.”
Zhu’s company is arranging the July trip from Beijing to Lake Baikal.
Reports show that roughly 30 percent of Chinese outbound tourists have shown an interest in self-drive travel, says Bai Shi, deputy director of the port management office.
Several major Chinese travel agencies have offered to contribute to the development of self-driving tours to China’s bordering countries.
If things go well, self-drive tourists will be able to embark on outbound trips this year, according to Ge Lei, marketing director of the China Youth Travel Service.
“We are planning trips from Northeast China to Russia, from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region to Mongolia, and from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to Kazakhstan or Russia,” Ge says.
Those travel routes are expected to enable tourists to enjoy both domestic scenic spots and cross-border vistas.
Russia is the most-sought destination for self-drive travelers, he adds.
“At the moment, we are waiting for specific rules from the Chinese customs administration,” says Li Yongwei, marketing manager of Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps CYTS Tour Co.
Li has helped self-drive tourists travel from Xinjiang to nearby countries since July 2013. He says one problem is the vehicles, with some tourists simply abandoning their cars in different countries when they break down.
The difficulty and high costs of visa application processes also discourage potential customers.
“The Kazakhstan visa application requires a face-to-face interview,” Li says.
“If we tour the five countries in Central Asia, each tourist needs to pay 15,000 yuan for visa applications alone.”
He hopes the government’s efforts will improve the situation, which he believes will open the floodgates to potential self-drivers which, in turn, will boost the domestic travel market.
“At the moment, many Chinese tourists in the northwestern part of China will turn back once they make it to Dunhuang (in Gansu province),” Li says.
When the border tourism market opens, they will have to visit Xinjiang before they drive to countries such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Li explains.
Self-drive trips are especially popular among photographers, because they enable them to see breathtaking scenery off the beaten track, Li says.
The boundless primitive forest in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, the large-scale wild Przewalski’s horse free-ranging facility at Mongolia’s Khustai National Park, approximately 100 km southwest from Ulan Bator, and dinosaur fossils at Bayankhongor are among highlights along the way.
Trips to countries bordering southern China, such as those near the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and Yunnan province, have relatively mature itineraries.
“Self-driving tours to Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar from Yunnan province are common,” says Zhu Huashan.
Normally, it takes approximately seven days for a tourist to get an in-depth experience of those countries, Zhu explains.
“Half of the fun of self-driving trips is the driving experience itself,” Zhu says.
He says getting a first-hand look at local folk customs and the magnificent Mongolian grasslands is an amazing experience.
Li Yongwei says the self-drive tour market has a huge potential with an increasing number of Chinese people being able to afford a car.
Europe is a good testament to the Chinese interest in self-drive holidays.
“Many of our guests have chosen to drive themselves from Belgium to the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Germany over the years,” says Qiu Zhenzhen, financial supervisor of the Euro-China Linkup Sprl, a company specializing in arranging self-drive tours in Europe.
“Self-driving enables them to savor many small, beautiful cities along the way, as well as local customs and picturesque mountain and lake sceneries.”
Qiu says all those in-depth experiences will be missed if one chooses to travel by air.
She says self-driving is also a very leisurely way to travel.
“I can go 200-300 km a day and make stops anywhere I fancy,” she says.
“I can take all my things in my car and don’t need a taxi service, which is considerably expensive in Europe,” she says.
Precise GPS service and a well-developed highway system in Europe also encourage people to choose self-drive holidays.
Qiu says the GPS assistance means she doesn’t need to worry about getting lost and there is no customs red tape to go through when passing highway stops.
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(China Daily 05/13/2015 page24)