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China itinerary advice

Posted by RTruter132 on 9/6/2015 at 05:26

Hi All

I am trying to arrange a trip across China for later this year (late September to early October). It will be my first time traveling to China (I have backpacked across Indonesia/Western Europe before), and would appreciate some advice. We plan to stay c.25 days, I'll be traveling with two friends, and we will be fairly budget conscious (budget is around $2,000 excl flights to get there from South Africa). I'm not really one for big cities, so I'd like to limit the time spent in places like Beijing and Hong Kong (although we'd still like to see some of the main sights). But I'm much more interested in experiencing the landscape and culture in smaller towns. Also, none of us speak any Mandarin whatsoever...

Rough intended itinerary, with some of the key sights (the 1st day in each new region is typically intended as a bit of a buffer for traveling):
> Beijing - 4 nights
Forbidden Palace, Great Wall, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven
> Xi'an - 3 nights
Terracotta Army, city wall, view from the Bell Tower
> Sichuan - 3 nights
Jiuzhaigou National Park
> Yunnan - 8 nights
Dali - 2 nights
Three Pagodas, Erhai Lake
Lijiang - 4 nights
Old Town, Black Dragon Pool, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge
Shangri-La (Zhongdian) - 2 nights
> Guangxi - 5 nights
Guilin - 2 nights
Longji rice terraces
Yangshuo - 3 nights
Li River boat trip
> Hong Kong - 2 nights (one day buffer in case we need an extra day somewhere else)

1) Is September/October a good time to go (considering our intended itinerary)? I understand there's some public holidays early October, will local tourists be a problem?

2) Any recommended changes (i.t.o. time spent or places visited)? I'd say Yunnan is a must, but is the trip to Shangri-La worth it (post the fire)? Also, is Yangshuo and the Longsheng rice terraces worth the trip or would you replace the 5 days in Guanxi with something else (I've seen some people complain that it's become "too touristy")?

3) I would really like to go to Tibet. If we can find a couple of days (e.g. skip Gaungxi and spend less time in Yunnan), would you recommend it (also considering the hassle around permits and extra costs since we'll have to join a tour group)? Would you go overland or fly from Zhondiang, and what would be the approximate cost be?

4) Any tips on best mode of transport for each of the main legs (Beijing -> Xi'an -> Jiuzhaigou -> Dali/Lijiang -> Guilin -> Hong Kong). We'd prefer overnight trains were possible, but would also consider local flights since time is limited (as long as it fits our budget).


#1 RTruter132 has been a member since 9/6/2015. Posts: 2

Posted by gecktrek on 9/6/2015 at 08:50

hey, nice circular trip, i'd consider beijing, xian, jiuzhaigou, chengdu fight to shangri-la, lijiang, dali fight to guilin, longsheng, yangshuo, guilin, hong kong... not sure you would have time for tibet, train tickets are always worth arranging asap...

#2 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 182

Posted by MWasser6 on 9/6/2015 at 13:37

This seems pretty rushed in my opinion and might be a stretch with the budget. That itinerary needs a lot of flights which will probably eat up at least a quarter of your budget if its $2,000pp before accounting for anything else. With 25 days you cant really afford to take only trains with that itinerary because they all require changes or are longer than 24 hours except for Beijing-Xian. The flights are expensive since they aren't all that common: Xian-Jiuzhaigou (at least $100), Chengdu-Shangrila (at least $150), Dali-Guilin (only via Kunming, at least $200), and Guilin-Hong Kong ($75-100). Alternatively long distance trains for some of those routes will eat up a few days, not just overnight. Beijing-Xian long distance is over $75 on the fast train (6 hours or so), but eats a night and half day on the slow train. Xian to Juizhaigou by train/bus would require a transfer in Chengdu (xian-Chengdu 18 hours; Chengdu-Juizhaigou: 10 hours; there might be a shorter bus route but still assume at least 14-16 hours) and take minimum 2 days transit. Chengdu-Shangrila overland takes minimum 2-3 days via Litang (Chengdu-Kangding-Litang-Daocheng-Zhongdian: ~30 hours in a bus) or via Panzhihua (Chengdu-Panzhihua: 14 hour train; Panzhihua-Lijiang: 10 hour bus), overland from Dali to Guilin takes minimum 2 days via Kunming (Dali-Kunming: 5 hour bus; Kunming Guilin: 18 hour train) and Guilin to Hong Kong takes 2 days as well. It would be an interesting trip, but you'd be on the road probably 70% of your trip.

With this you could probably do a combination of flights and trains, but with only 25 days I still think its a bit much, and you'd have a lot of time on the road. Even flying essentially will lose you a full day getting to/from the airport. So with that, I would recommend cutting out either Xian or Sichuan to save a few days if Yunnan is a must and then add a night or two in Yunnan and Guangxi. This will not only save you some money in flights, but also give you some extra time to explore some of the more off the beaten path places around Lijiang and Yangshuo. I recently spent 22 days just in Yunnan and didn't get to see everything I wanted to. Alternatively, instead of going to Jiuzhaigou, use Chengdu as a stopping point between Xi'an and Shangrila which serves as a great place to see Leshan, Emei and the Pandas (although I still think this is too much for 4 weeks).

The rest of my post got deleted for some reason, but in essense I think its too much to go to Tibet given that it would cost around $500-1000 per person to go for 4-8 days and would require a lot more logistics and flights. happy to answer more questions if you need them though!

Don't worry about mandarin, except for in Yunnan where not many people speak english. all the other places on your route should be fine.

#3 MWasser6 has been a member since 6/8/2012. Posts: 19

Posted by RTruter132 on 9/6/2015 at 13:50

Thanks, appreciate the feedback. Will think a bit more about what we want to see most and revise accordly. Agree that it's definitely not ideal to spend that much time in transit!

#4 RTruter132 has been a member since 9/6/2015. Posts: 2

Posted by mikal83 on 8/7/2015 at 08:24

We Traveled, HK......Shanghai.......Xian.....Beijing, all on overnight trains and was easy.

#5 mikal83 has been a member since 19/1/2015. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 140

Posted by amylee on 31/7/2015 at 06:11

I really want to go to china .How food, people and culture ? If you have been gone before you can write ?

#6 amylee has been a member since 30/7/2015. Posts: 5

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