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Guilin/Yangshao and Yunnan- 9 nights- need advice on itinerary

Hi,
I started a very long post under China, 3 week trip, but decided to break it up since I am getting very few responses. I particularly need assistance with deciding on the Guilin/Yangshao then Yunnan itinerary. I will excerpt from my other post as follows:

What we are considering:
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.

I have also read that Lijiang is 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 Yuan Yuang. 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.

Last question- If we need to be in Beijing on the 30th, and we are in the Yunnan province, where do we fly out of? Lijiang-Kunming-Beijing? Or dali-Kunming-Beijing? We want to avoid having to spend a night in Kunming, if possible.

Thanks!
Lauren

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