newspapers, and magazines provide such a wealth of travel lore and advice. Hundreds of cities and towns are open to foreign travelers now and can be visited without special travel permits. Areas that are still not open can be visited only with a travel permit issued by the Public Security Bureau (gonganju). Foreign affairs officials should be asked to help secure these permits. Travelers willing to explore on their own can consult the guidebooks noted on page 40.
Inexpensive casual travel is no longer limited to students. Many hardy travelers with no Chinese-language expertise are striking out through China on their own. One such traveler reports, "It was exhilarating to plan my own itinerary, to leave the beaten path and stir up a town with my presence, to eat and travel and suffer with the average Chinese. But it was also aggravating to cope with the lines and the language barrier while buying food or train tickets, and there were times when I was exhausted by 'hard class' trains and spitting passengers and lying hotel staff who insisted that there was no room at the inn."
A strong sense of adventure is essential for this type of travel, but almost all who have struck out on their own discover that the warmth and hospitality they received along the way far outweighed the frustrations. For many, travel Chinese-style remains one of the most memorable parts of their stay.
The first step in arranging travel is to purchase train tickets at the local train station or airline tickets at one of the airline offices. As soon as you know when you will leave, it is a good idea to make hotel reservations, especially during busy tourist times (May through October) in popular tourist sites. Remember, too, that Chinese people are traveling more these days; trains will be packed during national holidays and plane reservations will be more difficult to secure.
While the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has been decentralized and there are now many regionally based airlines, most domestic airline tickets can still be purchased at a central office. Prices have gone up in recent years, but domestic air travel in China remains inexpensive by international travel standards. Air cargo, air freight, and excess baggage costs are also going up. Round-trip air tickets can be purchased, but only for unbroken routing which returns to the city of origin. Otherwise, you must purchase separate tickets for your next destination at each stop. If you need help, consult the local China Travel Service (luxingshe) counter at your hotel and be prepared to wait a day or two for your reservation.
In nearly all cases, only one-way train tickets can be bought. If you buy tickets at the train station, you can sometimes avoid the tourist surcharge, but if you do not speak Chinese, the process can be confusing. Few service personnel speak English, and the demand for tickets is