I'm looking to travel to China for 5 months starting in April, and I was wondering if any of you guys have travelled in China on tours. I can't sem to find any tours which are appropriate for the amount of time I'm in China. The longest ones I can find are about 3 weeks, and they cover the whole of China. And there's no point whizzing through all the cities spending a day in each if I'm going to have another 3 months to re-visit them.
From what I've gathered, the east coast (Hong-Kong, Shanghai, Beijing at least)is easy enough to manage on your own, as there is enough tourism/english there, but elsewhere it seems pretty difficult to do without being on a tour...
I've not done any tours but know the kind of thing you're refering to. They're not really aimed at independent travellers, but that may be with good reason. I don't think China is a great place to travel across country, particularly on your own and without speaking Mandarin. The large cities are exceptions, so if you stick to the likes of Beijing, Shanghai etc., you will be fine, but if you go off-track, you may be risking things a little. The people in the countryside may not be able to understand strangers who just wander into town, and you must remember you will seem impossibly wealthy to them.
Plan carefully, work out your transport and don't expect to just make it up as you go, unless sticking to the big cities.
And don't forget you will hit Beijing smack in the middle of the Olypmics!
Woah, I'm ahead of myself, the Olympics are next year!
If you want to go for five months, you don't need an organised tour.
Fly to Beijing to start with. Before you leave your home country buy a copy of Lonely planet or Frommers or whatever (they have useful phone numbers and maps), and take things as you go.
Major cities have China Tourism Service travel agents that will book you train tickets or flights on to your next destination. There are websites where you can book hotels online, and in many cases if you are travelling to a small town the hotel can arrange to pick up at the airport if that is what you want. Trains, by the way, are a great way to meet people. Just remember to book your hard sleeper ticket a few days in advance.
You don't need to speak Mandarin. People are very friendly. The tourism industry, even in "small town" tourist destinations, will go out of their way to help foreigners.
Go to Xian, Lijiang in Yunnan province, Yangshuo (near Guilin). Enjoy
you shouldbe just fine if you take along a recent version of the China lonely planet guide. It is more fun and a bit of a challenge travelling independently as opposed to on a tour as not many people speak english, but you will have a great time, guaranteed.
My advice is to try and stay out of the cities as much as possible as they tend to be crowded and polluted. definately go to dali, lijiang and yangshuo.