Advice on China Itinerary

Nov 23rd, 2012, 11:15 AM
  #1  
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Advice on China Itinerary

Hi there,

I am starting to plan a trip to China in April. We are already booked to fly in and out of Hong Kong, as we have friends there to visit. Aside from that, I have the following places on my wish list. You will note that I am not including Beijing, and while I know there will be those that say don't miss it, I have other places I'd rather do (no Shanghai either).

My husband and I are fairly experienced travelers, and prefer slightly off the beaten path experiences. We would most likely fly between cities if possible to minimize travel time, but trains are a possibility as well, especially if they're overnight ones.

Jiayuguan/Dunhuang - Great Wall, Mogao Caves (3-4 nights)
Xian - Terracotta Warriors (2-3 nights)
Chengdu - Pandas, Leshan, Emei Shan (3-4 nights)
Guillan/Yangshou OR Lijiang area - Torn between these two (3-4 nights)

We have 13 nights total for these destinations. I am trying to figure out how long and how hard it will be to travel from place to place, especially as we're in and out of Hong Kong. I am especially interested in feedback on the last dilemna, but also any advice on getting to the Jiayuguan/Dunhuang area (round trip from Xian I am thinking). This part of the Great Wall sounds great since we're missing Beijing, plus the other interesting sights/off the beaten path feel, even though I know this is a haul.

In general, we like interesting architecture, beautiful natural scenery, good food, and hiking/walking. I am anticipating that this trip will have more stops than some prefer, but am willing to give up a little relaxation time in order to see more.

As always, I appreciate your help. I always receive such helpful feedback from the forums, which makes me feel bad that I haven't done trip reports lately!
sealstep is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2012, 12:05 PM
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I am a little puzzled by what your interests might be as you are doing Xi'An rather than Beijing?
JPDeM is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2012, 12:34 PM
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I want to see the Terracotta Warriors. Just one of those strong desires, and I don't have the same feelings about the Forbidden City, for instance.
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Nov 23rd, 2012, 02:50 PM
  #4  
kja
 
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The only one of these destinations that I have visited so far is Xi'an, where I spent 3 days (4 nights). You might find some of my comments helpful - just click on my name to find my very long (but searchable!) trip report.
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Nov 23rd, 2012, 03:46 PM
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Last year we went to China for the second time and saw the Great Wall at Juyongguan quite a ways outside of Beijing. It was a much better experience than the location we saw on our first trip, Badaling.I don't know how you get to Jiayuguan, but it looks very interesting and should be a lot better thatn more crowded sections.
Last fall we visited Dunhuang and the incredible Mogao Caves. We flew there from Beijing.It is hard to describe the preserved beauty within the Mogao,caves, a top five travel moment for us. The monks who traveled from India bringing Buddhism to China left their artistic mark on these caves as did those who followed. We also went outside of Dunhuang to see sections of the ancient Han Dynasty Great Wall remnants which were quite interesting as well.I highly encourage you to see these ancient remains of the wall. You can take a taxi out there from Dunhuang, another must see. The town of Dunhuang itself is a pleasant small city for a visit and we wished we'd had more time there. There are huge, dramatic sand dunes outside of the city as well.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Nov 23rd, 2012, 05:40 PM
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I visited Jiayuguan and Dunhuang back in 2001. Then it was a long trek by train and bus, I think it's easier now - check Lonely Planet. However, Jiayuguan felt pretty fake even then. The caves at Dunhuang were definitely worthwhile, but perhaps not for such a short trip. (For photos go here: http://kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/Asia-2001)

The Guilin and Lijiang areas are both very touristy, but I think Lijiang is more spectacular. Fits better with Chengdu, too.
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Nov 23rd, 2012, 06:35 PM
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I think the flight from Beijing to Dunhuang was about 2 hours, direct flight.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Nov 23rd, 2012, 07:52 PM
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I hope that you will not be disappointed by the Terracotta Warriors. I waited for my 5th or 6th trip to China before going there. Thank god Xi'An has a lot more to offer as China's ancient capital as Beijing. Beijing is not only the capital of China it is also its cultural capital. You could spend a couple of weeks to explore the city and only spend 2-3 hours in the Forbidden city.
Guilin is not so interesting, you should go to Yangshuo directly. The scenery is amazing, much better than Lijiang but it can be super crowded. Lijiang is more about the culture than scenery (compared with Guilin). You have a number of minority groups and it can quite interesting if you leave Lijiang as such (which is also very crowded with tourists). In my opinion it only makes sense to go to Lijiang if you have more than 5 days and you prefer cultural experience over scenery (although there are nice mountain views and Tiger Gorge is nice if you like hiking).
Jiayuguan is the Disney version of the Great Wall. That part of the Wall mas built with mud and obviously could not survive the passage of time. It is completely rebuilt and looks kind of modern.
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Nov 26th, 2012, 12:04 AM
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It always difficult for me to understand why so many foreigners like to visit Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors. Not sure how many of them feel disappointed after visiting them. chengdu does has some traditional buildings and culture deserved to see, and their foods are unbelievable. If you want to see some natural sceneries of China, since you would go to sichuan province, I recommend you go to Jiuzhaigou Valley. There's a Chinese saying,"You don't need to see any river after you come back from Jiuzhaigou Valley". And please remember , never go to any popular scenery in weekend because it would be very crowded.
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Nov 30th, 2012, 04:48 AM
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Thank you everyone, some good feedback here.

Thursdaysd, great photos! And Kja, I enjoyed your trip report.

Happy Trvlr, it's good to know there's a section of the Wall we could do from Dunhuang without going to Jiayuguan, as it sounds that the section there might not be very authentic feeling according to JPDeM and thursdaysd. I know it might sound silly, but I am not sure I want to miss seeing at least SOME piece of the Great Wall if I'm in China, even if it's not one of the more spectacular parts. And I know the Terracotta Warriors are touristy, but I want to see them, and there are other things to see in Xi'An as well.

I am leaning towards Lijiang now, for the culture. I know Yangshou is gorgeous, but we did see lovely limestone Karst scenery a couple of years ago in Thailand, and I still hope to get back to SE Asia one day for more of that.

Plus, Monffy, I am now seriously considering the Ziuzhaigou Valley. Beautiful, accessible from Chengdu, and there is a Sheraton there - we have Starwood points

Of course, I really need to be cutting, not adding. I am not sure how to make this work yet!
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Nov 30th, 2012, 10:44 AM
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One more thing - if we did not get to Lijiang, are there any other places around Xi'An or Chengdu that might give a similar feel to the Old Town area there (fewer tourists would be good too.) Any other recommendations for different places are welcome. Lijiang looks so lovely and charming, but I know it is very, very touristy...
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Nov 30th, 2012, 11:24 PM
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There are old towns all over China, but just outside Chengdu is Huanglongxi. I have not been there and do not know if it's worth visiting, but you can look into it.

Thing is there are so much to see in around Chengdu...
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Dec 1st, 2012, 06:30 AM
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While it is a nice place, I have 2 problems with LiJiang. First is that there are too many tourists (same as Yangshuo now). But the old town is reasonably big and if you walk away from the center then it is quieter and you have some interesting restaurants as reasonable prices (restaurants in the old town have inflated prices). Second, because they suffered some pretty bad earthquakes, the old town has been rebuilt and a lot of it is not so ancient. Many of the buildings look the same and many of the shops sell the same thing. In other word, very commercial.
However, I found Shuhe to be quite more interesting. It is just minutes from Lijiang old town and only a 14RMB taxi ride from the old town). Shuhe is actually old, mostly not rebuilt, not as crowded, more relaxed and the shops and restaurants are more interesting. They have some nice small hotels. I will definitely stay there next time. One can take a taxi to Lijiang old town for half a day anytime. See http://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/ite...ing_away_shuhe
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Dec 1st, 2012, 07:11 AM
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What I found most interesting was not "old towns", which are most probably new towns built to look old, but just taking a bus to somewhere off the tourist trail.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 1st, 2012, 03:33 PM
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Thank you everyone, this is very helpful.

I am now thinking that we will not add that additional stop, either in Lijiang or Yangshou (although Shuhe looks great.) Instead, I am going to add time to the Chengdu area and probably two nights in the Jiuzhaigou Valley.

Rkkwan, Huanglongxi is definitely an option, and I'm finding other places nearby as well, Pingle, Shangli, and Luodai.

Thursdaysd, I am still planning to go to Dunhuang. Would you recommend adding on Jiayuguan or just staying around Dunhuang? I'd probably have 3-4 nights for this leg.
sealstep is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2012, 10:57 PM
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if 3 days in xi'an, you need to add some landscapes like Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian Museum, Shadow Puppet, Great Mosque
i like Beijing most where there are great-wall, palaces, Snacks, Hotongs...

but so many places and much time will be wasted on traffic, have a plan or travel advisor will be better.
triker is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2012, 03:45 AM
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sealstep - I am traveling and don't have any China info with me, but I seem to remember there is a Tibetan area in that general vicinity that I would consider ahead of Jiayuguan. (Assuming it's currently open to foreigners.) Xiahe, I think. However, there is plenty to do in and around Chengdu.

Did you read the TR that goes with my photos? See wilhelmswords.com, asia2001 for the west and rtw2004 for Chengdu.
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Jan 24th, 2013, 04:32 PM
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Okay, the holidays are over and I'm now ready to book this trip. Here's my (hopefully) final itinerary, based on flight times, etc. We will mostly stay at Sheraton properties because we have Starwood points.

Arrive in Hong Kong, overnight, next day HK to Xi'An, over night in Xi'An - not sure which hotels for these two nights yet
Xi'An to Dunhuang - 3 nights at the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel
Dunhuang to Xi'An - 2 nights (evening flight out the third day) Sheraton Xi'An
Xi'An to Chengdu - 3 nights at the Sheraton Chengdu Lido Hotel
Chengdu to Jiuazhaigou Valley - 3 nights at the Sheraton Resort
Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu - 1 night at the Sheraton Chengdu Lido Hotel
Chengdu to Hong Kong - 2 final nights at the JW Marriott

Any advice on restaurants, can't miss activities, anything at all is welcome! I am continuing to research the destinations based on above ideas and my books - and need to get on our Visa's as soon as possible.
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Jan 24th, 2013, 05:11 PM
  #19  
kja
 
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Have a great trip! I think I already sent you to my trip report for my experiences in Xi'an.
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Jan 31st, 2013, 12:09 AM
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I enjoyed the towns you are missing (Shanghai, Beijing) but also the towns you are visiting: Xi'An, Guilin, Yangshuo.

In Xi'An try to get a hotel near the Bell Tower. We spent our first two days at the Mercure. Although it is a nice hotel it is in a full-block walled Accor compound that is like a western enclave in the city. We moved to a cheap hotel near the Bell Tower for a much better ambience.

Don't go "straight to Yangshuo", because a significant part of the Yangshuo experience is the boat trip down the Li River.

Cheers, Alan
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