a note on travel through China:
air tickets can sometimes be cheaper than train tickets. you can book with sites like elong.com and ctrip.com when in china, and elong.com will usually deliver to your location (good if you have a few days in a location and can wait for the tickets to arrive).
however, train travel is very rewarding and fun experience. Xi'an to Chengdu is pretty. Between Chengdu and Kunming you can fly for best time.
Highly recommend in Chengdu trying to make it out to Western Sichuan which is part of the Tibetan area (just not officially part of the Autonomous Region). Just go farther out than Kangding, Tagong is nice. If you have a lot of time you can make a wide C through Western Sichuan, down to Shangrila, throug Lijiang and Dali, then over to Kunming.
If you go from Kunming down to Hanoi by rail, it is supposed to be very interesting and a stop at Yang Yuan Rice Terraces can be nice - though I don't believe that is on the rail circuit.
Thank you, Casey. Most helpful.
I am generally planning on a month in each of China, Vietnam, and Thailand, though it is starting to look like I need lots more time in China. Your suggestion of the 'wide C' looks an interesting trip.
I have a map of China rail lines, which shows a line from Kunming to Lao Cai, but I read somewhere (and now can't find the reference) that the line has been closed for some years (landslide?) and that that part of the trip is now by bus. Any experience of this? - although I'm not overly worried about means of transport.
from http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm#Kunming, and it checks out with what i've heard from my friends who were along the Yunnan/Vietnam border recently:
Hanoi to Kunming train service currently suspended...
There used to be a direct metre-gauge sleeper train from Hanoi to Kunming in China twice a week. Unfortunately, floods and landslides damaged the Chinese part of the line in May 2002 and this train is currently suspended, and likely to remain so for many years. Because of a shortage of funds for repair, it is not clear exactly when (or if) it will start running again, although there are reports that work on a new fast standard-gauge line will start at some point. In the meantime, use a sleeper bus to the frontier then a train to Hanoi as shown below . . .
But that same site gives detailed options on how to take a sleeper bus. Most people take a stop at Lao Cai to go over to Sapa.
Depending on what you're looking to see in China - you could do that trip in a month easily if you cut out the "Big C". Beijing is a great city with lots of history, but if you are passing through as a tourist it can get old after a few days. You could do 3/4 days in Beijing and feel set with it. Xi'an is not known for its beauty or its night life, but the history is good. A train between should take a day, and in Xi'an I recommend spending a good afternoon in the Muslim Center of town. Hua Shan mountain is dangerous but a beautiful day trip, and of course the Terra Cotta Warriors. Honestly, you could get your fill of Xi'an in 2/3 days. It could take the better part of another day to get to Chengdu, but plenty to do around there for a week or more. Any guide book will fill your mind with ideas. The "Wide C" is a lot of time on winding roads in buses - but the parts i've done of it were very rewarding.
Adding in Northwestern Yunnan to your trip could mean adding two weeks. However, if you skipped the big C and flew from Chengdu to Kunming, you could overnight train to Dali, go up to Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge, and still see those areas but without the large overland trip through the ravines of the four rivers.
For travel time and prices on trains:
Thank you for the info (though I know it wasn't to me) all. I loved Travelfish when planning a trip to Vietnam and miss the advice I got here now I'm looking at China.
A followup question, does anyone know if it's really a bad idea to write "journalist" as occupation on your tourist visa. What do you do if that is indeed your occupation? I'd ask "what's the worst that could happen" but...
#9 shinynewcoin has been a member since 11/7/2007. Posts: 5
One area of China that is often overlooked is the countryside between Shanghai and Hong Kong. We spent about 5 days making our way between the two, stopping en route at the countryside around Wuyuan, home to some abosolutely beautiful scenery and little traditional villages where you can stay B&B with a local for $3.
The roundhouses in Yongding are also spectacular, superb historical sites and very pretty to look at too.
#10 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738
It shouldn't be a problem - depending on where you are trying to travel. Anywhere in the rural South or areas of Northern Yunnan and Western Sichuan, Qinghai, Xingjiang then I wouldn't put those destinations - you can always say your plans changed. Honestly, most paper work in China gets stamped in triplicate and stored in some bottomless pit somewhere - never to be seen again. If you're really worried, I'd never suggest that you lie on a visa application - though journalists do get a little more hassle from time to time . . .
Awesome, thanks. I didn't think it'd be a problem until I saw it mentioned on another forum & couldn't tell if it was a joke or not. One never knows.
#12 shinynewcoin has been a member since 11/7/2007. Posts: 5