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Calling PeterN_H: So what is your recommended perfect intro to China Itinerary

Calling PeterN_H: So what is your recommended perfect intro to China Itinerary

Old Dec 26th, 2008, 06:07 AM
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Calling PeterN_H: So what is your recommended perfect intro to China Itinerary

I am planning way ahead (travel in April 2010). I have been reading quite a bit on this forum and have come to realize that PeterN_H is the recognized China travel expert.

Peter, you have convinced me to travel on my own with my DH. We probably can't do more than 21 days but 16-18 would be better. This will probably be our only trip to China. We don't speak Chinese. We must see the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors. Other than that we are open. I was thinking of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Hong Kong. However, I can't help but feel I'll be missing something if I don't leave the cities.

Anyway, a long winded way to ask the question, what do YOU think people should see in China in 3 weeks or less?
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 09:35 AM
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I spent 10 weeks traveling alone through China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. You will not be able tosee everything, but you must decide what you really want to see and then you must be flexible. Many folks speak English in China. If you are short of time skip Shanghai. Or if you want to see how the people really live get on the subway or a bus and get off somewhere and walk around. Just remember where the train station is located. I took busses to the end of the lines and back just to see how folks really live and it was fascinating.

You have plenty of time to see the things that you want to see - just rough plan your itinerary then fine tune it as needed.
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 06:29 PM
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If you are thinking about trips Outside cities then an ideal destination is the West of China - Sichuan or Yunnan - with visits to either Chengdu or Kunmimg.
Both cities are served by many airlines and from them you can travel to nearby scenic areas - the Tibetan plateau, with nomadic herders, temples and Yak is only 8 hours drive from Chengdu. In these locals you'll find 'battery-charger' type destinations - which differ greatly from some of the crowded, noisy, polluted scenes that are part and parcel of mordern city China!!!!
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 10:19 PM
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> What do YOU think people should see in China in 3 weeks or less?

I think people should do whatever they want to do, although I do think they should do it with their eyes open, and aware of available options.

The problem with making specific recommendations lies in the immense variety of expectation, of obsession with planning and advance booking, and of the level of comfort required by different people.

But in general:

Beijing represents Beijing, Shanghai represents Shanghai, and neither represent China as a whole in any way. 'Real' China, and 70% of the population, is still down on the farm.

Luckily organised tourism (which effectively includes most backpackers, too, slavishly following the recommendations of their guidebooks) beats such a consistent and well-worn path round a mixture of truly great sights and dire ersatz rebuilt cod-Orientalism (with pizza) that 70% of China, and that includes 70% even of cities like Beijing, remains undiscovered by foreign visitors. So it really doesn't take much effort to leave the tour groups, the Coca-Cola, and the 'pearl' markets behind, and get a fresh experience where you won't see another foreign face all day.

Although transport and accommodation has become much more reliable than it used to be, and with many more options of both, in general there's still much to be said for NOT planning a detailed itinerary, but drawing up a list of priorities, and generally ambling round to see how far you get.

Domestic flights and rail tickets are much cheaper if bought at the point of departure. Hotel accommodation (outside foreign-run five-star hotels) is much cheaper if simply negotiated for at reception. Outside of certain key dates when the entire population of China takes to the road there's no shortage of transport options and far more beds than there are bodies. 2010 is a long way away, but 2009 is likely to see even more availability then usual and drop in even five-star rates down to something much nearer to the under US$100 that was common up until a few years ago (and is still common outside major cities). Newly-built three- and four-star hotels are often perfectly comfortable if erratic and cost only ¥2-300 a night.

With a starting point in Beijing and an ending point in Hong Kong, there really isn't any point in including other major cities if you want to have more of a look at real China, although Xi'an isn't exactly a village, either. Time to add some medium-sized towns, and some rural experience, which needn't by any means mean roughing it, if you're averse to that.

A few personal favourites on the middling scale you could look up in guide books:

Shaoxing (Zhejiang Province, south of Shanghai, east of Hangzhou). Little visited birthplace or place of residence of several important literary figures, including greatest ever calligrapher Wang Xizhi, and greatest modern novelist Lu Xun. Several ancient buildings connected with both are worth a visit, as is the quaint warren known as The Master Calligrapher's Native Place, where Wang Xizhi's home is found. You can have yourself poled around the canals and out to a lake in one of the traditional black-awning boats (a bit missable, but this is one of perhaps a dozen places supposedly known as 'the Venice of China'. An excellent countryside day trip by bus is to the even more watery village of Anchang, which offers excellent canalside walks around an assortment of ancient mansions and old banks (the money sort). Shaoxing's centre has been redeveloped but kept to a smaller and more homely scale. The town is famous for its 'yellow wine' (a spirit--nothing to do with grapes) and 'stinky' doufu (tofu), the aroma of which reaches out to you from many a restaurant.

Further south on the coast in Fujian Province, Quanzhou is an ancient trading port with Islamic connections, again with a redeveloped centre but again on a human scale. Several temples (the Kaiyuan Si and Tianhou Gong in particular), China's oldest surviving mosque, and two very long 11th-century bridges are amongst its attractions. The day trip to Chongwu, with its city wall, 2.5km long, intact, is well worth doing, and en route you pass through an area that specializes in stone carving and monumental sculpture, and which is also (like several other areas of China) reputed to have the country's most beautiful women.

You're unlikely to come across a single foreigner in either of these towns, which simply means fewer scams and rip-offs, real pricing, less pressure in general, and more natural interactions.

Not far south the rather better-known town of Xiamen is many people's favourite Chinese city, occupying an island, and one small corner with a warren of decaying shop-houses opposite an islet which is covered in treaty-port era pseudo-European housing, and which has no cars, is the part to visit. You can also take a little boat ride round the Taiwan-controlled Jinmen Dao if you please, and which would be just a short walk from the mainland if the sea weren't in the way. This town has been more developed for tourism, but still hasn't lost its charm.

The rural side-trip from here (can be day, but better a night or two) would be to the astonishing tulou or 'earth houses' of the Hakka (Kejia) minority up in the mountains inland. One group, at Yongding, has been readied for tourism but is still very well worth seeing, and there's nothing to stop you wandering in to some of the other vast fortress-like buildings not officially on the open list (the few remaining residents tend to be quite welcoming). You can stay overnight in primitive surroundings for next to nothing (single bare bulb, chamber pot or down four flights in the dark to the pit privy), or in more comfort in the neighbouring new town. There are direct buses from Xiamen but if you give it a couple of days you can travel by bus to several other villages with more of these places, at least one of which has been turned into a proper guesthouse with more comforts.

If you went from Beijing to Xi'an by overnight train, you could then fly over to Hangzhou and go by train (or more rapid and more frequent) by bus the short distance to Shaoxing. There are luxury aircon buses (free mineral water, tilting airline-style seating, computerised ticketing, frequent departures) that will take you down highways to Quanzhou and from Quanzhou to Xiamen. Xiamen has flights and direct buses to Hong Kong. So you could consider making a route out of this, although I think that would be tending more to the 21 days. But you'd get a proper idea of the size and variety of China, with several excursions into easily accessible countryside without having to rough it much.

You could also consider taking a long overland route to Xi'an from Beijing (rather more touristy--but involving medium-size towns, some spectacular sights, and some rural life).

First to Datong by train (Yungang Caves, Hanging Monastery, Wooden Pagoda, and some very ancient temples in the city itself). Then by bus to Wutai Shan, with multiple temples adorning five adjacent peaks (a bit too much for me). On down towards Taiyuan, stopping en route to see the oldest surviving temple buildings in China, and on to Pingyao (suffering from having been World Heritage listed, but still--city walls, ancient temples, ancient banks, major multi-courtyard buildings in the surrounding countryside). Then there are trains or buses from there to Xi'an.

You might finish by flying to otherwise highly avoidable Guangzhou and going on to Kaiping, before reaching Hong Kong by fast ferry from there.

More off the beaten track, and a bit more adventurous, continue by rail from Datong around the Yellow River loop to Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Province, whose eastern older part is full of pagodas and other relics of the long-forgotten Xi Xia dynasty, and whose neighbouring countryside offers a collection of tombs and monuments unique to the area, including those known (quite wrongly and confusingly) as 'China's Pyramids'. Lots of Mongolian and Hui (Muslim) influence here and excellent food to match.

It's possible then to follow a river valley southeast from here through numerous small towns and villages, by rail or bus to Xi'an, stopping as you please (including Guyuan), and perhaps wiggling to see the remarkable cave temple site at Tianshui, where an odd muffin-shaped mountain of red rock is riddled with statue-stocked caves, connected by a mesh of ladders and aerial walkways.

All of this assumes merely that you have a bit of gumption and refuse to be daunted by the lack of a shared language, which is only a problem to those who choose to make it one. All transport and hotels can (and should) be booked as you go, and no really detailed fixed itinerary should be arranged, so that you can spend more time in the places you enjoy. If you run short of time you just jump on a flight. Look up the places mentioned in a decent guide book and see which (if any appeal). Most of the towns mentioned have centres that are walkable, a relatively slow pace of life (by the rather frantic standards of China), and are of a scale that can just be enjoyed by strolling about as long as you're not of the cast of mind that's only satisfied by being dragged around a shopping list of must-sees by a hectoring (and entirely inaccurate) guide.

And, needless to say, these are only random thoughts, none of these routes is actually challenging or involves discomfort (the Ningxia one would be nearest), and there are myriad other possibilities.

In Beijing by all means give up a day to the Great Wall, and another to the Forbidden City, but after that spend a couple of days on less visited corners of the city: hutong walks around Huguo Si with its plethora of Beijing snack shops, or the old guildhall areas in the south of the city, or even in the ones around the old ice houses between Bei Hai and Jing Shan parks. Go nowhere near the Silk Alley or Pearl Market, but do enjoy the multi-storey markets where real locals shop (Vantone, Tianyi, etc.) and the real traditional markets such as the one at Baoguo Si. Don't forget that one of the main pleasures of travel to China is food, and come well prepared with a guide to regional cuisine, to the key dishes, and to where to go.

I don't think I have time to read through all this at the moment and see if it makes sense, or to remove punctuation and spelling errors. So apologies for those, but hope these thoughts might stimulate some further reading. By 2010, China will be a different place of course.

End of rambling.

Peter N-H
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 11:44 PM
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"Many folks speak English in China"

jemappell, I'd just add a note of caution here insofar as it takes only a small proportion of 1.4 billion people to amount to "many".

We found a good number of English speakers in the main tourist areas and in western-style hotels, mostly people in the business of selling you something. You might get lucky, but as a rule you can't walk off the beaten track even in Shanghai and Beijing and expect to find an English-speaker on every corner.

There are certainly a lot of people who've had some exposure to English lessons at school. However, unless they're in the minority who've been taught by a native English speaker or whose job has allowed them to attain some proficiency they'll have had little chance to practice meaningful spoken English, and may be nervous about getting into a conversation with a foreigner*. Often they'll be more comfortable with written English - a couple of times I found a written note helped.

It doesn't really matter that much, though - it's surprising how far a bit of preparation and some sign language will get you.

* Having studied high school French for three years and emerged with lots of grammar and vocabulary but virtually no ability to speak with a real live Frenchman I know how they feel.
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Old Dec 27th, 2008, 08:43 AM
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Thanks to all for your responses but especially to Peter for putting in so much detail.

You might be able to tell that I am a planner. This is a real departure for me not to have every minute planned, but I am willing to go for it. After having traveled to more than 30 countries, DH and I went on our first "group tour" to Russia last year. I loved the trip, but I have to admit, that I still like being independent. We thought we would have to do a tour due to the written language being so different but we had two independent days and we did great even in areas where no one spoke English. I am getting inspired by all the great trip reports and photos. Although the trip isn't until April 2010, we are traveling on frequent flier miles so I need to have at least a rudimentary plan to be able to book the tickets almost a year out. That should be around the end of May I think. My DH reminded me that he plans to retire again in Feb 2010, so I think we will have more time. I will keep reading and take your ideas into consideration.

Finally, two more ideas I had that I would love an opinion on. It seems from other trip reports that getting into Hong Kong from other parts of China is difficult. Has this changed in the last year with new political developments? Or would it be easier to fly into Hong Kong and start the trip from there. It certainly seems to make sense from a weather standpoint to move north as the weather gets warmer.

Secondly, I am considering renting one or more apartments on a daily basis through VRBO.com. There aren't many in China, but the few they have look nice for the price. That would certainly give us a real experience that we might not get in a hotel. Any thoughts?

Peter, I bought one of the guidebooks you authored or edited and I subscribed to your listserv.

Everyone, thanks for your patience. You are likely to hear from me many times in the next year. I promise to do a TR when I get back. Thanks again.
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Old Dec 27th, 2008, 09:07 AM
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There are non-stop flights from all major cities in China to Hong Kong. Or you can fly to Shenzhen (SZX) and take a direct bus - about 1.5 hours - to Hong Kong.

From Guangzhou, you can take a non-stop train that takes under 2 hours.

Some of the border crossings are crowded and messy, and I believe that's what you're reading. As long as you choose the right crossing to cross, it's very easy.
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Old Dec 27th, 2008, 09:15 AM
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> It seems from other trip reports that getting into Hong Kong from other parts of China is difficult.

There is no difficulty entering Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland whatsoever, nor has there been for many years, save that walking across the border from Shenzhen can take a couple of hours at busy times. But there are direct flights to Hong Kong from very many points around China; direct rail services from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and other points; direct buses from Shenzhen airport and assorted other towns around the Pearl River Delta and as far as Shenzhen; and direct boat links from Macau and other points around the delta, too. A direct highway-bridge link to Macau is under construction.

> Secondly, I am considering renting one or more apartments on a daily basis through VRBO.com.

Well don't. These prices are absurd, and it's booking services like this through English-language websites targeting gullible foreigners that simply ensure you'll pay vastly more than you need to for everything. Don't even think about accommodation until 2010, and then book as little in advance as you can bear to.

Peter N-H
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Old Dec 27th, 2008, 11:46 AM
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One of the highlights of my China trip was a vist to the Yellow Mountain (Huangshan). I went there in October, so I don't know whether it's doable in April. Huangshan is the most beautiful mountain I've seen.

Around Huangshan, in the Anhui province, there are two ancient villages that i find very interesting.
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Old Dec 27th, 2008, 11:21 PM
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I do not see any of the reliable and trusted fordorites on this thread so the advise on this thread cannot be trusted imho.

Most fodorites here know that PeterN_H is one of the most unreliable and prejudiced persons on this site . I cannot believe anyone would believe a word he writes.

If you have really searched for information on China you would find that Peter NH's opinions are tainted and opinionated to say the least
seek other opinions sdtravels if you are really serious about travel within China, if not well its all up to you.

Ask your questions without Peter's name in the subject. You might get a real answer by a real fodorite. Most China fodorite experts ignore threads with Peter Nhs name in it because of his bad behavior and attitude against any opinion other than his. It is obviously your choice but you are limiting your answers if you only ask for only Peter's advise
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 05:04 AM
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I don't want to get in the middle of anything here, but I will go on record that PeterNH seems to have a good deal of information about China and appears to have written a couple of Cadogan China guides, which would make his advice worth reading, at the least.

Peter, do you live in Hong Kong?
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 12:08 PM
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Actually, it is precisely because I noticed that Peter is critical of most itineraries that I asked him directly. He does seem to give a lot of "don'ts" without many "dos". He obviously has a lot of experience and credits to his name, so I want to know what the "dos" are in his opinion. As far as I've noticed, he always says "do what you want, just know what you are doing". He hasn't ever criticized a trip report that I have seen. In fact there is one he was very complimentary toward that I plan to read later.

In the end, I think that he may over estimate people's abilities to deal with a completely foreign environment, because he himself can't understand what is so hard. I am an accountant and I can't figure out why people think its so hard to do taxes. It all lies in one's own experience level. If I can benefit from someone's experience in even a small way I will take advantage of it. Future questions will probably not have Peter's name in them. In this case, I really did want his opinion and I appreciate his willingness to take the time to answer me in such detail. Peter is obviously passionate about China and genuinely wants others to experience the China that he has seen.

There is so much on this forum that may not be right for everyone. That's why I read a lot, take what I need and leave the rest. Downunderjack, I hope you will be willing to give me your opinions and let me benefit from your experience in my future posts.

Thanks to everyone who contributes to this site. I have been using it and sometimes contributing to it in various forums for probably more than 10 years.
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 06:16 PM
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sdtravels writes -

"There is so much on this forum that may not be right for everyone"

which I reckon is dead right - and why very opinionated advice seems to stick in some reader's craws.
But the passage in this thread that gets me head-scratching - which seems mainly focused on the Peter post - comes from downunderjack -

"I do not see any of the reliable and trusted fordorites on this thread so the advise on this thread cannot be trusted imho"

Dearest downunder how does one get into this reliable and trusted brotherhood - has poor Peter cheated and misled you in some way after all I never see him advertising any services in his posts. Maybe a better way of joining a thread like this would be to display a reliable, trustworthy, knowledge regarding China travel giving the kind of advice that could better suite some readers than that given by other posters.

As for me Ill just repeat my piece any trip to China that misses out on the scenic splendor of the West is one that misses out on some of the best and most exciting this country has to offer!!!

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Chengdu Travel Blog - http://chengdutravel.blogspot.com/
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 06:50 PM
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Laowai:

I think that Peter's advice to me was right on. I am so glad that he responded. I agree that it is good to see a balance. And I do so hate big cities having worked in NYC for many years.

Your post also intrigues me. I have been on and off again on going to Lhasa, Tibet. And having just finished watching "7 Years in Tibet", I may be on it again. What would you say I should see in the west? Keep in mind, I am very adverse to roughing it too much. Don't like camping without color TV and never pee in the woods.

Are you a travel industry professional?

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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 07:16 PM
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Im hardly a professional - more a kind of plodding amateur who 'exploits' tourism to help pay for one of the serious loves of my life - birding
http://sichuanbirds.blogspot.com/

Birding often takes us to some remarkable spots - but with many of them peeing in the forest is a bit of the must - since luckily mainstream tourist development hasn't yet converted vast swathes of pristine environment into crowded tourist ghettos such as Jiuzhaigou (this seems to be the number 1 scenic tourist spot of Sichuan)

But in the spirit of advising about places to go rather than putting folk off - I'd recommend a tour up onto the Tibetan Plateau - driving from Chengdu to Kangding the gateway to the plateau takes abour 6/7 hours - and another couple of hours you're up on the Grasslands at heights over 3,000m - yaks, Temples, locals that still look like they've just emerged out of the Heinrich Harrer book etc etc. And although you wont find opulent luxury in the way of accommodation - you can still find some good hotels (run by Chinese) - but then again living in a slightly more primitive Tibetan type guesthouse can be a far more memorable experience for some
As us brits say - it's horses for courses!!!
Heres a pic report on a 5 day trip we did with some young birders - Chengdu to the grassland and back in 5 days - that was in November - still a lot of sun up on the plateau - but brrrrrrrrr, at the moment, it can get cold during the nights!!!!!!!!!!!!!
http://chengdutravel.blogspot.com/20...blog-post.html

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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 10:20 AM
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Someone's bored. Check out post #18 onwards...

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/china...any-ideas.html
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 10:33 AM
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Laowai, I think that's cool. I'm a backyard birdwatcher and this time of year I see some really unusual and colorful birds that seem to just be passing through the area because I dont' see them any other time of year.
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 12:22 PM
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Ah, yes, Ray.
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Old Dec 31st, 2008, 01:38 AM
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thanks Jaya - although this thread isn't about birding - the very fact that China is such a hotspot for birders indicates how much wildlife does still hang-on outside the polluted mess of the more developed areas. The more tourists that seek the 'clean' will give more reason for locals to conserve rather than develop - like they have in so many of the better known tourist spots/ghettos.
If you really like bird photos - then visit our 'hard-core' China birding blog - on the web's biggest biding forum - birdforum. My wife takes nearly all our bird pics. We go by the name of China guy in the blogs the latest blog written today, after a visit with some German guests to Bi Feng Xia Panda research center, can be found at -
http://www.birdforum.net/blog.php?b=1030
You can find 20 of our blog articles about Sichuan birds on that site
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Old Dec 31st, 2008, 05:49 AM
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Thanks for the link. I'll look at it today. It'll be a nice diversion from the snow that's coming down right now!
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