As the posters above said, 7 days in Beijing, especially in the winter, is too long. BJ is freezing, many of the attractions are outdoors, and you'll want to get to warm southern China as soon as you can!
Hangzhou and Suzhou, near Shanghai, are worth seeing (plan 1 day each). Winter is also a good time to visit Hong Kong, as it's not too hot then.
Hangzhou and Suzhou in winter? Which month do cherry blossoms start to bloom.
Everyone who plans to visit Yangshuo, would make statements, like "I'm only going to Guilin to get to Yangshuo."
Yes, Guilin is a city... but it is actually a beautiful city, how often to see a city views of Limestone formations or karst.... Well, rush to Yangshuo, if you are in a hurry to hang out with expats and students practicing their English, and join a mass of tourist. Ofcourse Yangshuo is paradise, but I just want to say that Guilin can be more charming, if you forget that it is a city.
You might want to reconsider flying in China. It's not quite the arduous time stealing experience that you're thinking of. The boarding process is much faster than in many western countries and flights can be quite reasonable. I agree with some of the other comments, it's a shame you don't have more time in Shanghai, not for Shanghai itself which can be missed, but the areas around Shanghai are quite nice. Hangzhou and Suzhou are some the most pleasant cities in China.
- Dakota, travel writer living in Hong Kong
Cheers for all the advice to date - have finalised payment of my airfares and tentatively booked accommodation for Beijing/Xi'an/Chengdu.
Was thinking about taking a day trip to Harbin while in Beijing - any thoughts?
Keeping the same basic itinerary - the reason for the considerably time in Beijing is that I didnt want to catch a train to close to Chinese New Year/Eve thus the 5 days in Beijing at the start of the trip.
Budget wise I have allowed $40 AUD per day this won't include any of the transportation costs. I am not a fancy traveller and hate paying a lot for accommodation since I am barely in my room. Plus plan to eat local cusine from street stalls and the like.
Has anyone travelled on less (I'm sure there is) plus tips to keeps costs down would be great?
Cheers for everyones advice so far.
It's great that you are travelling to China, you are sure to have a fantastic time! In regards to your itinerary, I would say that 3-4 days is definitely enough to see everything in Beijing, if you are organised. I spent 4 days/3 nights there earlier this year and was able to visit the Great Wall, the Lama temple, the temple of Heavenly Peace, The Forbidden city, Tiananmen Square, the Birds-nest Stadium, the Water Cube, Hou Hai Lake, and the hutongs with-in this time. This is not including the shows and restaurant areas that I visited in the evenings.
I would definitely look to adding more time in Yangshuo, I spent a week there and could easily have spent longer there as there is so much to see and do in that area. It's much better to extend your stay here instead, you will not regret it. I did a similar itinerary to yours and after Beijing, Xian and Chengdu I was quite happy to spend some time in the Chinese countryside (with fresh air) cycling around, taking Kung-Fu classes and cooking classes.
I would recommend getting one flight which is Chengdu to Guilin as the train is not nice at all on this leg and it is a very long journey. I did most of my trip by sleeper train but was happy to cut one out and I was told to cut this one out and I am glad I did.
I really hope this helps and have a great trip!