This blog is sponsored by the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport. Call 6450 4827 to book a Family Staycation.
Everyone hopes to return from their vacations refreshed, relaxed, and eager to share photos and experiences from the trip. But when jostling through crowds, avoiding scams and suffering through traffic and flight delays can make things turn out quite the opposite when you go out of town over long weekends. We’ve rounded up some of the worst of the worst – read on at your own peril because some of the these scenarios will make even the most adventurous of travellers long for a more convenient alternative closer to home.
1. Torturous Traffic Jams
Some holidays get ruined even before they begin. Such was the case for travellers during the May 1st long weekend in 2014 when 470,000 cars clogged up the roads round Beijing leading to a traffic jam that snaked on for 55 kilometers.
But this “minor delay”was child’s play compared to the traffic jam that wreaked havoc on Beijing’s surrounding highways in 2010 for eleven (yes eleven) days.
And because Beijingers always want to do it even bigger and better, the city went on to top that record with a 62-mile, 12-day marathon traffic jam in July of 2012 thanks to fleets of coal trucks delivering their carcinogenic, smog-producing cargo to the Capital.
2. Flight Delays from Here to Eternity
If there were a special level of hell devoted to making condemned souls suffer through Beijing’s bumper-to-bumper traffic, then there would most certainly be an entire dimension of suffering devoted to the Capital’s accursed flight delays.
According to Bloomberg our fair city was ranked dead last in the world for on-time departures based on data compiled by Flightstats – only 18 percent of flights reportedly took off on time in 2013. This depressing statistic was especially galling because despite having one of the newest state-of-the-art airports in the world, Beijing’s on-time rating trailed third-to-last Istanbul by 20 percentage points and was over 50 percentage point behind New York’s downright decrepit Laguardia Airport.
These delays have not surprisingly caused tempers to flare, with numerous media reports of fights, riots and other unruly behavior at airports across the country. One of the worst such incidents occurred at Nanchang Airport when a 30-passenger rampage that spilled out onto the runway at Nanchang airport after a seven-hour delay. And in another lowlight, a female passenger literally knocked an airport employee off of their feet after the cancellation of a flight from Wenzhou to Beijing – an outburst which the enraged passenger justified by saying: ”I waited there for such a long time. Nobody served me a bottle of water or a piece of cake or anything…They were poker-faced, with no response or explanation.”
3. Stomach-Churning Eats
Half of the joy of travel is trying out the local cuisine, but unfortunately indiscriminate dining on the road can have unforeseen consequences. The tempting-looking dishes and street eats you see in local dives and quaint stalls are very likely to be teeming bacteria, viruses or parasites – especially in more humid climates. The author of The Kiwi Has Landed travel blog posted a particularly horrific account of spending his overnight hard sleeper train trip from Beijing to Xi’an perched atop a squat toilet after eating a downing some rancid Peking duck.
Of course our city is far from the only place where you can get sick. The founder of the Legal Nomads travel blog also wrote about sampling a street vendor’s soup at the Kachin State Fair in northern Burma, only to be taken “out of commission for a solid 48 hours of total ugliness”– an incident made all the worse by the paper-thin walls of his guesthouse’s hotel, which prompted the “Filipino guy whose room was unfortunately located next to the toilet (to turn)…and say ‘you vomited 6 times, eh? That sucks.’”
4. Conniving Cabbies
Tourists are easy prey for unscrupulous taxi drivers around the world, and China, of course, is no exception. Long detours and sketchy meters are but just a couple of ways passengers can get cheated – and unfortunately this is common practice in cities across Asia, including Kuala Lumpur, where cabbies often refuse to use their meters and charge inconsistent rates. The same issue happens here in China, with cabbies often claiming to hapless tourists that their meter is faulty in order to swindle passengers out of more money.
5. Sly Tour Guides
Most longer-term residents of Beijing have heard of the “Teahouse Scam”in which unsuspecting tourists are approached by seemingly earnest-looking “English stu-dents”who offer to show them around the city after inviting them for a cup of tea and a chat. Only problem is that this cup of tea typically costs an extortionate amount and the victims are caught completely off guard with no easy access to help and are more often than not strong-armed into paying.
Unfortunately this kind of activity is not limited to the capital – similar scams abound across the country. One of the most common tricks is for a seemingly friendly tour guide to approach travelers and offer an “expert tour” – travelers who fall for it are then charged exorbitant fees at the end of the tour and while refusing to pay can sometimes get them to back off, things can quickly go from awkward to dangerous if you have the misfortune of en-countering less scrupulous tour guides (some of whom operate in gangs). The best advice is to always negotiate a price before setting off – or, perhaps, simply invest in a good guidebook and a load up on some decent travel apps.
6. Check Things Out Before You Check-in
Traveling with your family always brings about certain moments of suspense –one of the most consistently nerve-wracking parts is making your way from the airport or train station to your hotel, especially if you haven’t arranged to be picked up. One scam that happens a lot in southwestern China is the “bait-and-switch”in which dis-honest drivers or bus/train station employees will tell you that the hotel you booked has been closed or burned down, to which they will suggest an alternate place (that is, surprise, surprise, paying them kickbacks for the bogus referrals).
If you ever find yourself in such a situation, China Travel Savvy says that you should simply “…let them tell you the story and then say, ‘that’s strange. I just phoned the hotel an hour ago and they didn’t mention that it had burnt down yesterday.’If they persist, then tell them to stop and flag down a different taxi.”
7. Bumpy Bus Rides
Speaking of bus stations, many travelers are all-too familiar with the special kind of suffering that comes with taking long-distance bus rides in Asia, where flat tires, bad road conditions, body odor, unpredictable weather and mind-numbing boredom are just some of things you have to look forward to during the trip.
Unfortunately boredom is probably the best kind of experience you can hope for – you certainly wouldn’t want to have a driver like this guy, who got in a shouting match with another driver who tried to pass him, which then proceeded into a roadside brawl before the bus driver was hit with a brick and ultimately abandoned his vehicle (with all of the passengers inside) on a side road in the middle of the night.
8. Utter Filth
Squat toilets are common throughout Asia, which in theory, this is a good thing –after all, we were optimally designed to do our business on our haunches. But un-fortunately this God-given efficiency is not always matched with clean conditions –nearly every tourist has at least one horror story about the gruesome state of a bathroom they visited on their journeys in Asia. If you’re going to be on the road, be mentally prepared for the prospect of pooing in plain sight of your neighbors in a stall-less bathroom, or, perhaps, to be sharing a trough with livestock, flies and maggots, or, perhaps, even worse, to be expressly forbidden from being able to do your dirty work in certain facilities that forbid The Big “Number Two.”
Oh, and if you’re like most Westerners who have grown up on a steady regimen of sit-down thrones, you might want to brush up on your squatting skills lest you misfire. That and don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper, because in most places, you will quite literally be sh*t out of luck.
9. Life’s a Beach (and You May Want to Die)
Asia is home to some of the most popular and beautiful beaches in the world –but here in China, not so much. That is, unless your idea of fun in the sun is standing, lying, swimming and jostling shoulder-to-shoulder with tens of thousands of other beachgoers. Take this year’s May Day Holiday, for instance, when 130,000 people descended on Shenzhen’s Demaisha Beach Park. Or try hitting Hainan’s relatively pleasant seaside strips over any given holiday period –you’ll wish you hadn’t.
10. Sometimes the Best Getaways are Right at Your Doorstep
Yes, travel can be life changing – but not always for the better. If you consider the time, energy, money and, sometimes, risk involved – it can make more sense to spend your next long weekend right here in Beijing. But rather than languishing with your kids in boredom at home, book a Staycation package at The Hilton Beijing Capital Airport instead, and enjoy spreading out in luxury in their deluxe rooms, dine at the restaurants and weekend buffet, relax while your kids play in the supervised playrooms, participate in fun events and activities, stroll in the garden and watching the planes as they take off and land.
The next time you need a break and want a relaxing family getaway, save yourself the hassle of planning an elaborate and exhausting trip and book a Staycation at the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport. Call 6450 4827 (weekdays) and 156 1197 9131 (weekends) for reservations and more information.