Not from Lonely Planet nor TripAdvisor.
11.08.2012 - 02.09.2012
Hetian, August 24-25th 2012
As I searched the internet for reference on the Silk Road, I bumped into www.centralasiatraveler.com What a great source, I thought to myself. I have to admit that much of my Hetian itinerary was based on their/his/her link about sights to visit in Hotan (same as Hetian). To this moment, I haven't met other information about Hetian in such a detailed way. Bingo!
Thinking that such a person/team must have tons of knowledge on the Silk Road, I clicked "contact us" down, down, the page there and sent an email. I got a reply signed by "Cat" but the second email's sender was "Louise Herndon Wells". Herewith I copy paste what she (or Cat) recommended me in the email on June 12th 2012:
"I worked with the following two travel agents in Kashgar and in Hotan. I found them helpful, reliable and knowledgable, and they have been in business for many years. They speak Uyghur, Mandarin and English. Other folks at the ThornTree and elsewhere have also found them helpful. They would likely be helpful to you. ... Abdul Wahab and his five brothers, silkroadinn.com, based in Kashgar..."
With the greatest eagerness, I clicked on the link given. (I didn't contact the other agent Cat mentioned to me.) My inquiry was replied by Melike and I was referred to another website address: http://oldroadtours.com/ I was told that their website address has changed. Meanwhile, thanks to Google, I also found Xinjiang Far West China in the internet. When Cat (Central Asia Travel) recommended me to download Josh Summer's Turpan e-Guidebook through the blog Xinjiang Far West China, I already had. That e-guidebook sounded to me more like a review of Turpan than a guide. Both Josh and Cat, weren't in much favor of Aydingkol or Turpan Pendi. I am extremely glad that I didn't put their thoughts about Turpan Pendi into my consideration, because after I went there, obviously we -- me and them -- are carrying a rather different point of view. The story has been told.
I am extremely sorry, though, that I did take their advice about Old Road Tours. When I sent Josh Summer a private message, he also referred me to Abdul Wahab. It seems that Louise Herndon Wells or Central Asia Travel, Josh Summer, and Abdul Wahab, are linked in one way or another. My two days in Hetian became way different than what I had expected it to be. I had thought that for Hetian being the heart of the Silk Road, it would be worthwhile to spend a handsome money hiring a professional guide instead of going on my own like in previous places. That was the worst decision I had ever made along this Silk Road.
The funny thing is that my driver from Old Road Tours got furious because I asked him to bring me to a place that doesn't exist. That was confirmed by Melike through email later. Oh, hello... Where did I get the address of those places? From Central Asia Traveler! Where did I first know about Old Road Tours? From Central Asia Traveler also! So, if Cat's information about the places in Hetian is misleading, I shouldn't be surprise that Cat's recommendation on Abdul Wahab or Old Road Tours is also misleading.
Later on, Melike said that Old Road Tours is recommended in Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. Phew. Dear travel agents, tell me that you have been recommended by any of those, you get 1 minus point from me. It's not that I never, but I almost never, use Lonely Planet for reference. Except one travel photography book, none of LP's is on my bookshelf. LP's guidebook just doesn't appeal to me. I know another friend who has the same feeling about LP. I believe there are actually more than the two of us in this whole world. But, LP has merely become a brand -- exactly like Blackberry. Especially those who call themselves backpackers, even if they know there are other more reliable references, they don't feel smart enough if they don't take LP along. A pose with a Lonely Planet in hand just spells "I am a true (and smart) backpacker." When Cat mentioned that she has written on LP's forum, I was already alarmed but I shove that feeling away. Now, after experiencing the disaster tour with Old Road Tours which is said to be recommended by Lonely Planet, the more I feel Lonely Planet isn't for me.
About TripAdvisor, several years ago I was very excited them. However, the deeper I got involved, the more I found out that TripAdvisor is more a business game. Either good reviews or bad reviews, they can't be fully trusted. I fully understand that to build something like TA, money is essential and that doesn't just fall down from the sky. But that's not a reason to be unfair.
Folks, I'm not suggesting anyone to leave LP or TA. If that suits your type of traveling, stick to it. Just don't stick to it because everyone does. That's silly. Moreover, don't be deceived by the looks of a website. I've just come to realize that it's much easier to create a professional look for one's business on the internet than on ground. My Dad used to be attracted to restaurants that were crowded and stayed away from the opposite. Nevertheless, for a business advertised through the internet, we can't really know whether they are actually 'crowded' or not. They say they are recommended here and there. Maybe they recommended the 'here and there' on their site, and as a token of gratitude, they got recommended as well. They twit that they have sold out this and that. Who can proof that?