I'll be spending about 3 weeks in China during March and April, before going on to Vietnam etc. I have a rough idea of what I want to do in China, but as it'll be my first time there it's a bit of fumbling in the dark. I'm not sure how much land I can expect to cover in 3 weeks, but from what I've heard and read the over-night trains are pretty efficient and enable the average backpacker to see different areas easily.
I will arrive in Bejing on March 17th so that's my starting point, but now I've started thinking that maybe my plan is too obvious and that I might be missing out on something. Roughly I'd been planning on:
Bejing for 5 days
Shanghai for ca. 4 days
1-2 days in Hangzhou
2-3 days in Xian (maybe)
Guilin and Yangshuo
Through Nanning (not necessarily stopping) to Vietnam
Haven't planned it in more detail than that. I would like your opinion if you have one on things I should add/take out.
-Have considered visiting the 3 gorges dam, would you recommend that?
-Would love to visit Yunnan as I've heard it has spectacular scenery and I love the outdoors; recommended?
Do you think I could add this without skipping something of the aforementioned, or would that be too much for 3 weeks? Is Shanghai perhaps something that could be traded out for something else without regret?
I'm sorry if this is a confusing post, I'm just trying to gather my thoughts hehe....it just suddenly came to me that maybe I should just skip Shanghai and go more rural, and then I started to get confused.
Any recommendations would be highly appreciated!
Beijing for 5 days is a great idea to start with. Xi'an is very nice and not crowded that time of year. I lived in Shanghai for a year and for tourist reasons, unless you like buildings or shopping, no more then 2 days top. If you like nature man cut out Hangzhou, although the gardens are nice it is an industrial city. I would say if you really want to see Shanghai and you need an outdoor bite go to Huangshan (yellow mountain) in Anhui. There are overnight trains to Huangshan every day from Shanghai and the mountains are great. It is also super pretty and great hiking. I went with three buddies last early June and we hiked 17 km across and caught a car back to the hotel in a nearby town. You don't need to stay in Guilin, just go straight to Yangshou.
Yunnan is super pretty and nice although i have only been to the south. My friends that have been to the central and northern part love it. If you want to do Yunnan i would i catch a flight from Shanghai to Lijiang then work your way to Yangshou. That way you save time and don't have to do any back tracking. From Lijiang hike tiger leaping gorge, go down to kunming then from kunming to Guilin, if enough time, if not go straight to Nanning and over the border.
Hope this helps
I've been to all of the places you mention several times. Personally I think you've got too many cities in there. Chinese cities are great but after a while they all start to look the same. Definately keep Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an, but skip Hangzhou. Nice place, but with 3 weeks you should get out an enjoy the countryside. Five days in Beijing may be too long.
Three Gorges is great, but most tourists take a cruise boat which I hate. They are too carefully orchestrateed and you're not often 'allowed' to get off the boat for a wander. I spent 2 weeks in the 3 gorges this past summer but took local ferrries and stayed in riverside villages. far better but very difficult to organize.
I would recommend Yunnan. Kunming is a nice city but no need to spend long there. Lijiang is great, as is Dali. From Lijiang you could hike Tiger Leaping Gorge in 2 days (make sure you stay at Sean's guest house!)....well worth it. Stone Forest near Kunming is also a great day trip.
Guilin is OK, but as the previous poster said if you go to that area head straight to Yangshuo (by riverboat).
Thanks to both of you, Mike and Bogman, you've definitely been very helpful. I will take your advice and limit my time in Shanghai, as well as cutting out Hangzhou and Guilin to make more space for being in the outdoors and smaller towns of China. From what you say, and also what I've heard from others, I'm doubtful that I'll do the Three Gorge Dam this time, the organized tourist trips there just don't sound good enough and I don't think I have time to do what you did and organize it myself.
Can I ask you as well, which route would you rather recommend taking then; Beijing - Xi'an - Shanghai, and then on to the Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, or Beijing - Shanghai - Xi'an and then on from there? Just by looking at the map I'm not sure which would be better, or if it even matters at all?
Although I guess if the I were to fly from Shanghai to Lijiang like you suggest Mike, I'd better do Xi'an straight after Beijing. Are there frequent and relatively cheap flights, then, between Shanghai and Lijiang?
Thanks again so much for you're help, it's always great to get tips from those who have a better feel for the place!
Oh one more question; in order to hike Tiger leaping gorge and/or Huangshan, are good hiking boots essential or is it sufficient to wear sneakers or sport-shoes? I do have excellent Meindl gore-tex hiking boots, just would rather not carry them along in my backpack for 3 months
I too would suggest flying to Lijiang (I don't think it has a train station!). Almost all flights to Lijiang go through Kunming. they should be relatively cheap (Xi'an to Lijiang for maybe US $100). You could also get a flight from Shanghai. I think its really a question of choice which way you do it, but a train from Shanghai to Kunming / Lijiang would be a very long way.
As for Tiger Leaping Gorge, the main trail for hiking is definately a hiking boot thing. There are two roads in the gorge but I wouldn't recommend them for hiking. I haven't been to Huangshan to hike, but, I assume if Chinese people are climbing it there will be stairs to the top. Tiger Leaping Gorge is far more like ecotourism, and the Chinese really have little concept about that. Check out my blog, originally set up for one of my classes (I teach some stuff about environmental issues in China at a US university and lead student trips there every year), that has a few stories about several of these places. It can be found at http://sluchina2007.blogspot.com/
Sorry for a late response. I would agree with the Beijing to Xi'an to Shanghai. From Shanghai just make sure to book your train tickets to Huangshan on the first day you get there. The hiking at huangshan is stairs but not easy. Over a 45 degree angle up then the same coming down over and over again. I would wear hiking boots. It is much better to hike up then take the cable cars unless you have too (some areas have no trails). Also once you get about 200 meters away from a cable car the numbers of tourists drop drastically.
For a place to stay there is a nice International Youth hostel just left of the train station at Huangshan City. From there you can book transport to the mountain at 6 the next morning. Three buddies and I took the shuttle to the mountain hiked across the mountain (17-20 Kms depending on routes). Then took the cable car down on the other side and paid 200 rmb for a taxi back to Huangshan city. Also around Huangshan city there is some nice hiking and hills, we found an old zoo by accident with a bear just by following a random trail from a neighborhood. The city itself has a nice old town too.
For flight information on flights within China check out www.elong.net or www.ctrip.com these are the two main budget ticket bookers in China. I have used them dozens of times. Right now there is no information on Huangshan on the wiki, but i might make a page pretty soon (right now working on the western China stuff, just put stuff up on Xi'an).
I know carrying hiking boots might seem like a pain but if you like hiking then they are worth bringing. Also hiking boots double as an ok emergency dress shoe or battle terrible rain shoe
[ Edit: Edited on Feb 17, 2008, at 1:43 PM by Lavafalls ]
i spent 3 days in bejing and then went to the wall in Simatai it was less crowded and the countryside is beautiful i took the overnight train to xian and was there for about 3 days which i think is long enough im sure 2 days is actually long enough for xian