Note: Strong language is used. #angry
Now that I’ve finally finished recording my trip to Guilin and Yangshuo, it’s time to share the negative experiences I had left out—specifically with Travelers Society. Based in Shanghai, the foreigner-oriented travel agency plans its trips to and from the city, while the expats based elsewhere would have to find alternative ways to meet the group. I found out about the company through someone whom I am more than happy to talk about if you care to ask. He’s part of two, let’s say, interesting experiences I had while in Guangzhou. (read: ask me to share China stories! I have many, if you can believe, that aren’t on this blog).
Anyway, some background: Taking into consideration Travelers Society’s well-designed WeChat account and website complete with great photos, reviews, mission statement, and itineraries, I knew I had to try it out before leaving China. I added the user and followed the official account, both sending pushes for its upcoming trips. It’s the user account that I initially communicated with. I spent only half of my time with the group, the rest on my own. Coming from Guangzhou and newly unemployed, I had the freedom to take the train in the morning to spend a day in Guilin before heading to Yangshuo to spend the night with the rest of the group.
Here’s a glance at the itinerary:
Day 1 – Friday [didn’t apply to me]
21:40 – Board our flight to Guilin
00:35 – Airport pick up and transfer to Yangshuo to check in our hotel
Day 2 – Saturday
8:00 – Breakfast
9:00 – Our guide will take you for a cycle tour along Yulong River, and then bamboo raft down the river
Before I start delineating the problems I had, I should point out how I find it weird that I tend to be the only one who cares to ask for missing details that seem necessary to me on group trips. Having to do so much work just to plan for this pre-planned trip reminded me of my spring break trip in college, when I went to Atlanta for a week to volunteer at a refugee center. One of the student coordinators told me that I had asked a lot of questions before the trip. And now thinking about this poorly planned Guilin trip, I can’t help but wonder how others can place so much damn trust into plans made by others, literally no questions asked. I’m not a born leader nor passive follower, but I can’t just agree on shit without knowing essential details, such as—oh, I don’t know, the fucking hotel name?! Sure, it might not matter in the end, but it’s details like these that when missing, I question all of humanity.
And with that, here’s where Travelers Society fucked up.
Problem 1: Having people arrive at midnight
I get that the idea is to make it as easy as possible for people with full-time jobs to escape for literally only the weekend, nothing more. But if you’re going to have people dedicate the weekend to fly across the country to join a tour, I feel like it should require at least half a day off from work on Friday to allow for earlier arrivals, rather than have people likely already exhausted from the work week to travel and not arrive until 2 a.m. and then have them wake up five hours later to spend a full day biking and hiking.
So while you would assume that going with a tour group means less work for you in terms of planning and headaches, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. I wasn’t going to catch the same flights and therefore needed to think of a better plan than waiting at an airport at midnight only to then take a two-hour bus ride to another town. Note how none of this is communicated with us and is disguised simply as “pickup and transfer,” which at most sounds like it should take an hour.
- My Proposed Solution: Check in at the hotel first. Simple enough, right? Nope. I asked the user account multiple times to give me the name of the hotel, but each time, I was be told that it was too far from the airport and that it was better to wait at the Guilin airport to take the bus together. It’s something that could’ve been so, so simple, but ended up making me worry unnecessarily about whether it was because the hotel sucked or they hadn’t even booked one or something that would make some sense.
- Actual Solution: I gave up on the user account and decided to add the local tour guide who was also in our WeChat group. AND WHAT A DIFFERENCE. We immediately exchanged voice messages, which led to him calling me to chat, and immediately he said it was totally fine to take the bus after spending my day in Guilin to check in early. In fact, he would even meet me at the bus station in Yangshuo to take me to the hotel and check in. No thanks to Travelers Society.
Problem 2: Tour guide calling me out on his mistake
This one hurt more than I would have liked. I had enjoyed bonding with the tour guide over Travelers Society’s poor planning and getting to meet him first when he went out of his way to pick me up from the bus station to check in before the rest of the group.
But then at Longji rice terraces, it went downhill. The tour guide had already been in a frenzy communicating with these two other young tourists from Shanghai that had booked an earlier flight home because, according to the itinerary, we should have finished hiking at the terraces by lunchtime, which meant they should have been able to catch their late-afternoon flight. Of course, since Travelers Society underestimated travel times and apparently sucked at communication, our poor tour guide stayed up the night before to help the young tourists re-plan their day by themselves so that they would still have time to explore the terraces without us. While we were on the bus to Longji, I overheard him on the phone trying to help the young tourists who had gotten into trouble with getting to the terraces. I have no idea how or if they managed to have a decent time on their own, but the point is that our tour guide was already stressed as fuck.
Now, at the base of the terraces, you have to transfer buses to get to the actual village. I didn’t think that the second bus ride to the village would take another 30 minutes, so I followed his instructions to leave our things on the first bus, even though unlike the others, I would be staying in the village for the night.
It wasn’t until I was on the second bus for more than a few minutes that I realized I should’ve taken my things. I chose to wait to tell my tour guide until we arrived at the village, since I didn’t want to stress out the tour guide even more with everyone else seated so closely.
And so while we hiked through the steep steps of the village to take photos and get lunch, my tour guide tried calling this person and that person to help get my backpack off the bus and then into the station and then see if someone could bring it up on the next bus and leave it at the entrance of the village. Basically, it took a lot of yelling over the phone while huffing and puffing up and down the village, leading a group of foreigners confused at what was going on. Seeing all the trouble he was going through and deeply embarrassed that he had to go through it in the first place in front of everyone, I would have been fine with taking the bus back down to get it myself, but he had already set his mind to getting the backpack up, since the trip itself would’ve taken out a chunk of my day.
In the end, he had to apologize to the group for not being able to share as much about the village while we hiked because he had been on the phone for most of it trying to deal with my problem. He kept calling and receiving calls, prompting him to yell at me at one point, “YOU! All because of you!”
The supremely annoying expats simply said, “Oooh.” The type of “oooh” that kids say when someone else gets in trouble. Yeah, how mature. Meanwhile, I’m already dying of shame over something that shouldn’t have even been blamed on me, and yet I still found myself apologizing profusely to him and everyone else when all I truly wanted to do was tell everyone to fuck off.
PROBLEM 3: Travelers Society accepting my money for nothing
Consumed in shame, I even felt obligated to send our tour guide a red envelope on WeChat after we parted ways, PLUS another one to the Travelers Society WeChat group for any potential stress this situation had caused. Each worth 88 RMB (8 is lucky in Chinese culture). How fucked up is that? That I felt the need to compensate others for my tour guide’s fuck-up? What’s even more fucked up is that while some travelers never opened the envelope (amount each member of the group got was random; I’d like to think the reason some didn’t was because they didn’t think it was right to accept money from me, WHICH IS TRUE), the Travelers Society account, which didn’t even know or ask about what happened, opened the envelope to accept money.
Out of everyone in that group, Travelers Society should not have bothered to open the envelope or at least should have asked what had prompted me to give 88 RMB to the group. While 88 RMB isn’t much, red envelopes sent over WeChat are usually less than 5 RMB or just sent for fun during the holidays. So to have this ridiculous faceless user account open it and not say anything seriously made me lose any remaining ounce of respect I had for whoever operated that account.
MORAL OF THE STORY?
Fuck traveling with snooty Americans from Shanghai. I prefer traveling alone than with them any day.
But really, while I like Travelers Society’s mission and intentions, I hated their execution and have lost too much respect for them to want to go another trip with them. Sure, if you join their trips, I’m sure you’ll have a great time, but I would rather avoid the headaches of interacting with them again.
I also believe that traveling with these expats forced me to remember how annoying people can be in general. While a few are kind and lovely, I think I’ve become too in love with traveling solo to want to join groups with entitled Western millennials. Chinese people are better in this way—I don’t find them to be insufferably, unwittingly egotistical.
Phew, did that feel good to get off my chest.