im lucky enough to be doing the trans siberian railway and then 2 weeks in china in december, i have herd off a few people that it is quite a pain in the backside booking train tickets from train stations. is there any truth in this and does anyone one have any tricks or advise for train travel in china. just as a guide im doing beijing then xi an then staying more in the country side untill i fly out of china.
also i would love to do a 3 gourges cruise, but one of the full on cheap, with the locals type. anyone done this and have any advice .
Hostels can book your tickets for a small commission to save the hassle of getting to the station a few days before you go. Trying to buy Beijing to Xi'an on the day is a no go as usually pretty busy and sold out. You have 3 choices of seating 1. soft sleeper - 4 beds to a compartment, sliding door, lace curtains 2. hard sleeper - EXACT same beds as soft sleeper but 6 beds to a compartment and no door and 3. hard seat - as it is!! I took the hard sleeper which worked out perfectly. Train leaves around 7 or 8pm I think and gets in around 8am. Rule of thumb is to try and get a middle bunk and everyone sits on the lower bunks while waiting for 'bedtime/lights out' and the top bunk is beside the air con so you can freeze. Also, if you're on a train with smokers you'll be in a haze of smoke on the top bunk!!
I stayed in Leo hostel in the Hutang district in Beijing which was excellent for meeting people and I ended up travelling through the rest of China with various people from that hostel , just make sure it's Leo 1 as I heard afterwards there's a Leo 2. The Red Lantern is also meant to be very good.
As for other journey's, get your hostel to write out where you want to go in Chinese but also specify what bunk or seat type if on a bus as they'll give you the worst one otherwise. Travelling around China was an absolute pleasure and I'm sure you'll love it (once you learn to ignore the hocking )
As for Trains Suncol is pretty much right. For your budge 3 gorges tour it is possible BUT it will be for Chinese tourists. Unlike S.E.A. 80% of tourists in China are Chinese. Meaning that if you want to take a budget tour you can but everything will be in Chinese and your tour guide will most likely not know English. One place i would add to your list is Yangshou and Guilin, maybe skip the gorges. I lived in China for 2 and half years and never saw the gorges.