Dollars and sense

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 May, 2005, 12:00am

When former United States president Bill Clinton visited China in 1998, Guilin was one of the places he toured. Clinton wasn't breaking new ground, however, merely following the lead of predecessor Richard Nixon in 1972. It's a safe bet that neither was taken for a ride by a dodgy antiques dealer, purveyor of 'personalised itineraries' or ruthless restaurateur.

The hills that dominate the eastern part of Guangxi province make Guilin one of China's most famous scenic areas. Tourism, therefore, is the powerhouse behind Guilin's economic growth. But exorbitant entrance fees and confidence tricks aimed at tourists have earned it the tag 'China's worst tourist trap' in more than one guidebook. Reports abound of taxi drivers offering 'Guilin personal tours', as do accounts of passengers never reaching their destinations but being dropped at souvenir shops or overpriced restaurants.

And consider practices that elsewhere would have lawyers and trauma counsellors screaming, 'Racial discrimination!' One of Guilin's finest diversions is the four-hour cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. Chinese tourists can buy a 180-yuan ticket or 420-yuan ticket, the only difference being that lunch is provided with the latter. Foreign tourists must fork out more than 600 yuan for the same 85-kilometre trip.

Shoppers make particularly easy targets

for scams, so go armed with these basic tips (which of course apply equally to Grand Cayman, Guelph, Gwabegar and Guilin) if you want to avoid spending three months reclining on packing cases wondering where your expensive new furniture has gone.

1 Protect your purchases. A shop may undertake to ship your goods home, but once you leave the store the salesman may 'forget' to do so. If you do not insure items and keep your receipts, you may never receive the goods you paid for.

2 Misrepresentation of quality goods. Be particularly careful in jewellery and antiques shops. Gems, pearls and jade may be fake.

3 Examine all goods carefully, assuming something could be or will go wrong.

4 Watch carefully how the salesman handles items from the moment they leave your hands until they are wrapped and bagged.

5 Ask for receipts showing specific items and the prices paid. Customs officers may demand to see them.

6 Be bold and photograph your purchases, as well as the salesman. Pictures amount to evidence of a transaction.

7 Payment by credit card usually means purchases are automatically insured, but check; the level of cover may prove inadequate, in which case arrange separate cover.

8 Trust no one with any of your cash unless certain you are receiving precisely what you agreed to buy.