I'd be really grateful for some advice on backpacking in China:
- Is it easy to travel around solo in terms of booking tickets, tours and meeting other travellers? I've seen some really good package tours with the mainstream companies however they work out really expensive at around USD 120.00 per day not including meals. I travelled around Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 2008 and was surprised at how easy it was. Is China the same?
- Would a budget of USD 60 per day be realistic (staying in private rooms shared bathroom or onsuite + 3/4 nights out a week, tours, transport etc)?
- Do a lot of the hostels/guesthouses offer onward transport and accomodation booking services?
- How does this route look starting in mid August 2011 - Beijing, Xian, Chengdu,Leshan, Lijang, Tiger Leapong gorge, Dali, Kunming, Guiyang, Chongqing, three gorges, Hong Kong - Is 6 weeks enough time to do this comfortably? Should I try and fit in Shanghai?
Many thanks in advance
You wouldn't want to spoil your trip in China with some organized trip. Tourist infrastructure, meaning hotels/hostels are available everywhere, especially on the route you're planning. It is very easy to find one and cheap. Food is great and most tourist spots will offer you western dishes in case you don't fancy chinese cuisine...
The only challenge will be: getting around. But it is absolutely feasible and all hostels will offer you a service to buy ticket or help you out.
In case you need to buy it for yourself: i recommend lonely planet book, as it has the chinese characters for the places. You walk to the ticket office (that can be at a station, or a pre-book office in town) and you point at the destination, and give them train number and departure/arrival details. They will understand that.
You can find schedule, price, all details on this website:
Buy always sleeper ticket, either hard bed or luxurious soft bed.
You will always need to buy the ticket in advance as they get quickly sold out. So, as soon as you arrive and know your schedule, buy them. E.g. in beijing you can all tickets for all destination. However, there is a limit how much in advance you can buy it. I think it's a week, sometimes two. Be always the first. But you should be able to find something usually 7-5 days in advance.
There are regular trains and speed (250km/hr) and high speed (360km/hr) bullet trains. Speed rail network increases rapidly, and although only seat is available, you will be as fast as on an airplane.
Other option is to fly. See elong.com or ctrip.com for price/destination.
Buses are recommended only for shorter trips. Bus network is great and run very frequently.
From $60/day you will live like a king. Many travellers make it from max $15/day.
Beijing, Xian, Shanghai will be more expensive, but for 200-250 yuan a night you can get a very nice room. In other places, it's about a Y100. Or even Y50-60.
Food is very cheap: max Y15-20
Transportation is cheap, but since you cover long distances it may be the largest cost. However, for a Chendgu to HK distance you pay app Y500 for a hard sleeper, for soft maybe a Y1000, which is still very cheap.
Taxi, local transport very cheap as well. Beijing: one ride Y1, taxi from airport max Y80 to downtown.
Admission fees are compared to other services, vary Y50-100.
The planned route seems a bit too much for six weeks as you may find yourself staying longer at some places. Check train/flight schedule and plan accordingly.
Beijing: if you plan to go to the great wall, note: there is another sight that has very few tourists, totally renovated, as amazingly beautiful. You can make your way there just by catching a bus. But probably, easier if you hire a driver for that day. It's fantastic and 1000x better than where all the herd of tourists go.
Now, many travellers get fed up with big cities after a while, and usually in Chengdu when all they have seen before was xian and beijing.
I love chengdu, but it would not be my first place to go if i visit sichuan province. Leshan also nice, but I wouldn't travel 1000s kms to go there. So, you may cut on this part. Unless, you want to go hiking to the mountains or go up to the tibetan areas in sichuan. Which could be a highlight of a trip. You can make your way up to the southern-tibetan highway and down toward Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan. However, it is a very tough trip, you would need to accommodate yourself to a bit rough living standards.
Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge are a must! Seriously!
Dalli,. Kumining are also very nice.
If you make your way to Yangshou, skip Guillin (ugly city) but don't miss the Backbone Dragon Rice Terraces (few hours from Guillin)! You may want to stay overlooking these rice terraces for a long time...!
You can skip Chongqing. Same with Guangzhou.
Shanghai is also a very interesting and amazing city. especially if you like highrise buildings...
Enjoy China, it's my big time favourite!
"Beijing: if you plan to go to the great wall, note: there is another sight that has very few tourists, totally renovated, as amazingly beautiful. You can make your way there just by catching a bus. But probably, easier if you hire a driver for that day. It's fantastic and 1000x better than where all the herd of tourists go."
If you want to keep this place a secret that's okay, but I would love to know the 'other sight' you're talking about so I can add it to my trip