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How I Came to Know the Old Road

Not from Lonely Planet nor TripAdvisor.

View A Thread of Silk on automidori's travel map.

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?

Posted by automidori 21:47 Archived in China Tagged china xinjiang lonely_planet hetian old_road_tours abdul_wahab_tours central_asia_traveler

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Hi, I have lived in China several years and am familiar with both the Central Asia Traveler and ORT and other travel agencies in XJ. I'd like to say that CAT and ORT have NO connections. If you had looked at CAT's date of posting, you would realize that it is WAY outdated, was done a LONG time ago. Any information that is more than 1 yr old regarding places in China is not to be trusted. You are making assumptions without any evidence, that is not fair to anyone. Yes, seems maybe ORT did not meet up to your expectations. Sounds like they did have some guides that could use some training, but I know several people who have taken tours with ORT and HIGHLY recommend them too. And what other agency would refund some of our money?! Honestly, reading the rest of your blog, I wonder what in the world you were doing traveling alone and what worldview you came with - most of your cultural understanding is totally inaccurate. Unless you have lived in XJ for several years, you should not judge things on YOUR 1st impression. Go with a more open attitude next time, stop blaming others, be more prepared, and learn to see things from the eyes of the locals!

by Dawn

Hi, Dawn.

Thanks for your comment.

I hope you've read the first sentence I copy paste from CAT: "I worked with the following two travel agents..." That's why I said they are related. Isn't working together to be called related? Or maybe it's not in Xinjiang?

Regarding to money refunding, the previous agency also offered a refund. So ORT wasn't the first and only. But I didn't accept the refund from the previous, because overall I regarded their service, fine. I haven't finished my stories about ORT's terrible service yet. If they hadn't refunded my money, that would be the same as robbing me. I didn't get to the places I required and was agreed with Melike. Please note that I had discussed about those destinations with Melike, many monthS in advance. I also told her that I got the references from CAT and I gave the link to Melike. (I still have all the emails.) She didn't tell me those places were outdated. Even on 1st day, when I mentioned Rose Winery (which I'm going to write about later) to Abdul Wahab, he didn't say that the place couldn't be visited. That night he asked what he could do for me to make up for the terrible first day, the cancelled camel trekking (the camel man didn't show up), etc. I asked him to check out about the Rose Winery. He said, yes. But it turned out the next morning, my tour guide had to search for the address.

Be more prepared? I prepared very well with Melike from ORT. Should I show you our emails?

Yes, Dawn, I'm writing about MY first impression. An impression, can be correct, can be wrong. I'm not writing a scientific report. It's just like I tell about eating, let's say, noodles. I say it's delicious. Others might think it's awful. Anybody wrong? If you don't like the impression I got about Xinjiang, maybe you have the opportunity now to change that.

by automidori

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