I made a last minute decision to go to China in October, and now I'm trying to decide whether to go with a tour or without.. So your help will be really appreciated!
I'm originally from Taiwan and have been living in Australia for the last 20 years. I came to Oz when I was 12, so my Mandarin is reasonably okay. (ohoh.. you can work out my age!) It would be my first time to visit China, and I've done quite a lot of independent travelling in SE Asia and South America, but due to my current job I'm only able to go for a maximum of 3 weeks.
So, is it easy to travel around independently in China if you speak the language? How easy is it to organise transport on the spot?
I guess I would like to make the most use of the short time, so tours are tempting. Been flipping through several brochures and found a couple of interesting ones:
1. Gecko - Inland China
1-2 Hong Kong
6-9 Yangtze River Cruise
10-12 Giant Buddha - Chengdu
13-14 Xian - Terracotta Warriors
15-17 Beijing - Great Wall
2. Gecko - The Road to Beijing
6-8 Tiger Leaping Gorge
13-17 Yangtze River - Cruise
18-19 Xian - Terracotta Warriors
20-22 Beijing - Great Wall
3. Intrepid - Essence of China - Northbound
Days 1-2 Hong Kong
Days 3-5 Yangshuo
Days 6-8 Yangzi River
Days 9-10 Chengdu
Days 11-14 Leshan/Emei Shan
Days 15-17 Xi'an
Days 18-21 Beijing
Trip 1 and 3 are very similar, except 3 is with Intrepid and includes Emei Shan and is a little more expensive. Trip 2 sounds really good but I'm wondering if it's too rushed. I have gone with Intrepid before and found them to be pretty good, but I'm not sure about Gecko.. Can anyone give any recommendations on Gecko, and/or any other companies or tours I should consider? I'm interested in budget tours with a focus on culture and adventure..
Alternatively I'm also thinking of looking at Chineses speaking tours, but I don't know where to start. It would be interesting to go with a small group rather than the large coach groups.
If all fails and I end up going without a tour, then I'd love to hear from people going around the same time. I can be a free interpreter
Thank you for your help!
[ Edit: Promo URL removed. ]
1&3: choose 1, as Leshan/Emei Shan, both are mountain. One is enough.
2: Day 1-12, Scenery are too similar. Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge & Yangshuo is enough
I arrived in Hong KOng with no clue where to stay and I cant speak a word in Mandarin.
Yet things went great. I met some friendly locals and back packers and that was better than any guide books.
I was in some tour bus on my 1st visit to HK and it sucked.
This time I got to the mainland and macau... solo flight.
i have seen all of the mentioned places (+ some others). it took us about 3 months, travelling independantly. travelling around is quiet easy. if you speak the language you shouldnt have problems. i only speak very basic chinese but it helped a lot. organising on the spot works if you dont want to travel too long distances otherwise you might have some difficulties as the trains can be fully booked. the tour the less intersting in my opinion is tour no. 1. no. 2 has interesting points like the tiger leaping gorge (stunning), dali (very relaxing), kunming (for me the nicest chinese city) and yanghshuo (looks like on an other planet, great for climbing). what i like from tour 3 is leshan (biggest sitting buddha in the world --> very impressive) and emei shan if you do mount emei. normally the base is in emei shan and to leshan you do day trip. "climbing" mount emei is a great experience. it takes you some 60 000 stairs up to the peak. xian and the great wall in beijing are must dos anyway... i hope i helped a bit!
I've been to all these (May 2007) and I don't speak ANY Chinese and I was travelling alone. I met up with so many different people and booked some day/overnight tours instead of travelling in a tour group as it allows so much more freedom and you meet a great variety of people. Use the tour itinerary as a guide butgo yourself .. you'll love it
I did the Intrepid tour in May/June.
Loved it. Can not recommend it enough.
Hey guys.. thanks for your responses so far, it's been really helpful. I am leaning towards the independent option, but still wondering if I can fit everything in by myself. After some research I really want to do Yunnan now, so my ideal itenery would look like #2, but the distances seem pretty great to cover in 3 weeks, unless if I fly, which will not be all that cheap!
Would you recommend the Yantzee cruise?
I would totally recommend doing Yunnan, which is stunning, and would vouch for the possiblity (indeed relative ease) of doing it by yourself, without a tour.
If I was doing it myself I'd probably skip the Yantzee cruise. It was pleasant but there scenery isn't that spectacular and the budget boats aren't exactly clean by western standards.
Thats not to put it down - it was still a great experience, but if you had a choice between doing it and doing something else, I'd do something else.