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China- 3 week itinerary assistance needed- major cities and SW China- LONG!

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Hi, (WARNING- VERY LONG POST- Thank you in advance for reading and advice!)

I have been reading China threads for the last few weeks in order to help us make a few decisions on both general itinerary and whether to take a tour or not. We have opted for independent travel and have finally decided on our dates and bought round-trip tix. A little info on who we are and our goals, plus tentative itinerary. We need help filling in gaps on our SW china itinerary, plus the major city portion due to certain needs of the additional travelers we will have with us.

We are in our mid-30's, husband and wife who have traveled the world independently, and live in the West Village of NYC. We were only considering a tour because of the following caveat on this particular trip- we are traveling with my husband's parents who are in their 70's and 80's and as they grow older, want seamless and affordable travel experiences. We aren't on the same page as them, but have to respect making the trip easy on them and their wallet, once they arrive in China. My husband's father grew up in Macao during the war, his parents are buried in Hong Kong, and he has been wanting to go back to see China and HK/Macao for a long time, but asked if we would escort them. My husband and I decided to go 12 days early so we could see parts of SW China on our own time, budget and without the worry of escorting his older parents through a trickier and possibly on-the-fly itinerary.

What we are considering for our portion of the trip:
We fly into HK in the evening on May 20th. We have to meet my husband's parents in Beijing on May 30th. We can fly to Beijing on the morning or afternoon of the 30th though, leaving us 10 nights (one in HK upon arrival) to do SW china. The parts of SW China we are considering are Guilin/Yangshao/Ping An/Longshen Rice Terraces and then heading to the Yunnan Province to Lijiang and....what? The breakdown could be 3-4 nights in the Guilin region, then a flight to Lijiang (do we need to go through Kunming?), and 5-6 nights in the region. How should we best spend that time?

We are interested in food, interesting and unique shopping, SCENERY! (I am a amateur photog), culture and peoples (so visiting minority villages somewhere, somehow). We don't mind overnight trains, but would fly where possible to cut down times. We aren't on a tight budget, but would save the money and use a train, if the time savings weren't significantly better on a plane. What needs to be booked in advance? Are plane tix cheaper in China than online? Train tix? I read the trains often sell out, whereas some say you just need to book a few days in advance. We wanted to leave some things open in case we change our mind while there, but not to the detriment of not getting somewhere we really want to see, once we decide what that is.

As for where to visit- I have been reading lots of mixed opinions on Yunnan, at least as far as the tourist circuit of cities are concerned. Some people think get in/out of Kunming fast, which I would agree on my readings. But the rest seems up for debate: Dali- fine, but just has a lake, no big deal. Lijiang- beautiful, but like disneyland. Although, I am okay with this, based on what I have read. From Lijiang, then where? Is Shangri-la worth an overnight trip? I hear the scenery up is beautiful. I hear the Gorge is lovely, but some say if you have seen mountains, its no big deal. I am not sure how to interpret that. Not terribly interested in an overnight gorge hike, maybe just a half-day. As an alternative, there is the southern part of the province, such as the rice terraces in Yuang Yuan. Are they similar to Longshen, as we have that tentatively on the itinerary? Also, what about hiring a driver for day trips out to minority villages out of any of the cities on the itinerary? Finally, are there any other areas of China we should consider rather than Yunnan? I am pretty stuck on the Guilin region for the scenery and photo-ops, as it stands, but open to other ideas as to how to spend these 9 nights before heading to beijing.

What we are considering for the parents portion of the trip:
Arrive in Beijing on May 30th. Total of 11 nights before we all depart on June 10th from Hong Kong back home.
3/4 nights Beijing? One day should be the Great Wall.
Then high-speed train to Shanghai? We were considering skipping Xian and the warriors, just for ease of itinerary and to keep the cost of inter-travel down, but open to the suggestion. Nobody in our group has it as a top priority thus far.
3/4 nights in Shanghai? a day trip to a water-town? Flight to HK.
3/4 nights in Hong Kong with a day trip or one night in Macao.

We can of course add in a day or two somewhere- a night in Xian, for instance, and only do 3 nights in the other cities. Open to ideas, but also like the thought of getting to know the cities with day trips, rather then getting up and moving too often, given that we will be in charge of all the travel arrangements and making sure it will run smoothly for his parents. We talked them out of a package tour, so we must deliver on our promise of price and ease of travel.
ALSO- WE DO NOT SPEAK MANDARIN. My father-in-law speaks Cantonese, but I don't think that will help us much on the mainland?

His parents get in around 3 pm in the afternoon of May 30th, flying from San Fran. We presume they will be tired, so the afternoon may just be my husband and I exploring, with them resting. As for lodging, they really want to keep hotels/inns/b&b's, whatever it is (and we are flexible. We tend to prefer charm- like a hutong inn- to a 2/3 star soulless hotel, but will consider any based on recs) to between 40-80 us dollars a night, for 2 person double. If we can get 2/3 cheap nights in, then we would maybe splurge for something a little nicer on a final night in any of the cities we will be visiting. Again, we prefer hotels with authenticity and charm, but will consider anything based on price.

Beijing- would like to stay in a Hutong, possibly, but not to the extent a taxi can't get there and we have to drag his parents bags down alleyways looking for signs in Chinese. I don't want them to work too hard:)

Shanghai- open to any lodging suggestions. any ultra-modern, reasonably priced places? Or historic type inns? or are we stuck with soulless due to our budget?

HK- we were thinking of renting an apartment off Air Bnb, etc. particularly if we stay 4 nights, as HK is pricey. Have been before and will be there a night when we arrive, so we are leaning against 4 nights there, but being there is part of the point for his dad, and we have to get at least a day in on Macao.

As it stands, we have the tentative outline for our trip, including round-trip tix already purchased. We fly round-trip out of NY to HK.
Saturday, May 19th- leave NYC on Continental, direct flight to HK arriving May 20th in the evening.
Sunday, May 20th- Arrive HK
Monday, May 21st- flight to Guilin? There is an evening flight on China Southern, allowing us part of the day in HK (we have been to HK before and may contact tailors, shoe makers, etc. that we worked with in the past, to put in clothing requests for pick-up when we return through HK at the end of the trip.)
Tuesday, May 21st- early boat ride down to Yangshao? overnight in Yangshao?
Wednesday, May 22nd- 2nd night in Yangshao, bike around the region or return to Guilin?
Thursday, May 23rd- Longhsen/Ping-an day trip? Or overnight?
Friday, May 24th- flight from Guilin to Lijiang (necessary to go through Kunming?)
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday??
Wednesday, May 30th- flight to Beijing (from where?)
Thursday, Friday, Saturday- Beijing with a day trip to the Great Wall. would like a less touristed stop, but not sure about the places that are 3 hour drives away. Anything in between badaling and a 3 hour drive?
Sunday- train to Shanghai? or Xian?
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday- Shanghai with a day trip to a water town
Thursday- flight to HK
Friday, Saturday- HK, with a day trip to macao
Sunday June 10th- flight home in the morning.

Sorry for the really long post, but wanted to be as thorough as possible!! Please help if you have any knowledge of any of the areas, any suggestions and ways to streamline/tighten up the itinerary.

Also, I have read repeatedly that we should negotiate rooms in person, as rates are always better. How do we reconcile that with having his parents in tow when we arrive in a city? Have back-up reservations? Drag them along to hotels to negotiate? Looking for any and all tips.

Thanks again!!
Lauren and Bart

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