Itinerary advice - China

Feb 10th, 2004, 01:02 PM
  #1  
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Itinerary advice - China

Hi all. I'm a first time poster here, but I have already researched the related posts, links, etc from the last few months. I'm looking for opinions on my upcoming trip to China. Although this is the first time my husband and I will travel to Asia, we are planning to do this on our own, without a tour group.

Our plan now is to fly into Beijing and out of Hong Kong in May of this year. I have tentatively reserved flights that will give us 14 days in China. At a minimum I would like to hit Beijing, Xi'an and Hong Kong. I'm wondering:

1. What cities/sites are worthwhile for a first visit other than those listed above? We will probably only spend 1 full day in Hong Kong so we have a lot of time available.

2. If you have traveled independently in China before, how long did you stay in each city? We are used to having a car rental at our disposal and rarely spend more than 1 or 2 nights in any destination. I'm trying to balance going stir crazy in one location with the hassle of traveling to others!

3. Is two weeks too long for a first trip? I've spoken with a few people who were so stressed by the language barrier that they stopped enjoying the trip. Would it be better to shorten our first trip to 9 days?

Thanks for any and all suggestions!
clt_trvlr is offline  
Feb 10th, 2004, 04:03 PM
  #2  
 
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One option is to plan out a rough itinerary and then play it by ear once you get there.

One caveat is that you should try to avoid, if you can, the first week in May, which is a national holiday (which means that millions of Chinese will also be traveling at that time).

Barring that, if you're able to go at the end of May, you shouldn't have a problem with hotels being full, particularly if you're not set on specific hotels.

The only city I'd add to your itinerary is Guilin/Yangshuo (stay in Yangshuo), which has breathtaking scenery; the Li river cruise is why people go (three hours is probably enough), but the countryside tours (by bike or golf-cart-like vehicle) are the highlight. There are other activities around the area too - cooking classes, other villages to see, and the Dragonback rice terraces (would take 2 days because it's pretty remote) - one thing I still haven't seen that I really would like to.

China is NOT a relaxing vacation, so it's good that you plan for that going in. I wouldn't recommend that you cut your trip short as a solution, however. If you're spending all the money and time to get here, you might as well explore it and see the things you really want to see. 14 days is a good amount of time with your itinerary (and my addition ).

If you're afraid you might get worn out, plan to stay in nicer hotels, which will be a welcome retreat from the bustling, chaotic cities, get massages (or manicures and pedicures - or all of them!) during the days. If you really get worn down by China, you might go to HK early. Much of Hong Kong is bustling and chaotic as well, but there are pockets of quiet places to explore.

Have a great trip!
Andrea_expat is offline  
Feb 10th, 2004, 04:10 PM
  #3  
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Andrea - Thank you so much for your advice. We were planning on arriving on May 10, will we still hit that holiday traffic?

We will be using points for all of our hotels, so we'll be in high-end Starwood properties - I was hoping that would add some "luxury" I'm digging through my Lonely Planet now to check out your suggestion. Thanks again!
clt_trvlr is offline  
Feb 10th, 2004, 04:34 PM
  #4  
epi
 
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I would choose Shanghai rather than Guilin. If you do go to Shanghai, you might want to arrange a day tour to Suzhou or another one of the interesting towns around.
In Beijing , Shanghai, and Hong Kong, you will be able to manage well on your own, sightseeing and at the airports. Other airports might be a bit harder. A few years ago we found that in some airports, nothing was written in English or even English letters. Certainly understandable, but it makes it hard to know from which gate and when your flight is going. That may have changed.
I would also not go for less than 2 weeks. it's a long way to go and you will have some jet lag in the beginning.
Staying in Starwood hotels helps because the concierges will be able to give you advice and information in English.
You can easily spend 4-5 days in Beijing and environs. If you see the Forbidden city, the summer palace, the great wall, Tienaman square., and wander whatever is left of the hutongs, you will have a hard time doing it all in 5 days. If you go to Shanghai, and see the museum, wander the streets, and take a day trip, that is easily 3 days although you could certainly stay longer. At Xian of course you will see the terra cotta warriors and the big wild goos pagoda. You can also add some wandering time and spend two days there.
You could then add in Guilin if you like and cruise on the Li river.
In fact the more I write, the more I want to add, so I will stop. I love China and am about to go for the fourth time. Just don't make the trip too short , and enjoy!
epi is offline  
Feb 10th, 2004, 05:48 PM
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My advice would be to spend at least 4 full days in Beijing, possibly 5. There are so many "A-list" sights there: Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Old Summer Palace, etc. If you find yourself running out of things to do, just look through the Lonely Planet guide and I guarantee you'll find some little museum or historic site that interests you. Also allow time for shopping, whether in the Friendship stores, Silk Alley, or elsewhere.

I have not been to Xi'an or Guilin, but from what I have heard both are well worth a visit. The weather in May should be nice pretty much everywhere. To me, Shanghai is somewhat less interesting, since it feels a lot like Hong Kong these days. But it is worth seeing, and a good base for excursions such as Suzhou, with its fabulous gardens. Another place to consider is Hangzhou, which is considered one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities in China.

If I were planning an itinerary for your situation, it would look something like this:
5 nights Beijing
2 nights Xi'an
2 nights Shanghai
2 nights Guilin
3 nights Hong Kong

It might look like a bit of zig-zagging on a map, but there are nonstop flights in each case, and all are less than 2 hours. Chinese domestic airlines, by the way, have improved considerably in recent years and are now more or less on par with U.S. domestic airlines. They're not Singapore or Cathay, but they fly modern aircraft and will get you where you need to go.

As for the language barrier, don't worry too much. The first time I visited Beijing (independently), I didn't speak a word of Chinese (I later learned the language), but I still loved it. Just hire a driver and English-speaking guide in each city. It will not be expensive, but it will make your trip much more enjoyable. China can be frustrating at times, but try to go with the flow and get into the local rhythm. I love the country and its people, and hope you will too!
aag2000 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2004, 09:00 PM
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Hi

My wife and I went on vacation to China in March last year. We started out with about 6 days in Beijing, from there we took a train to Xi'an where we spent 2 days. And from here we took a flight to get to Hong Kong. I have posted a long trip report with lots of pictures from our trip on my personal homepage www.gardkarlsen.com Maybe you can find some useful information there. We were really positivelly surprised by Beijing...the only negative about our trip is that we came to China and Hong Kong as SARS hit

Have a great trip. Get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

Regards
Gard
Stavanger, Norway
gard is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 07:14 PM
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One place that I never see mentioned and that we really enjoyed was Chengdu. We did Beijing, Xi'an and Chengdu. The panda breeding grounds are very near Chengdu and that was a highlight of our trip last April. We also did a day trip to the Giant Buddha at Leshan and the Sanzingdui Museum (very new) is one of the nicest we saw with the ancient Shu culture. We wanted to see one of the mask performers but did not have time. We spent 4 days in Beijing and could have spent longer. A day and half in Xi'an was not long enough. Enjoy your trip.
LouUS is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 08:20 PM
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how are you planning too get around china. plane. train, bus.?
orgy7 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 08:39 PM
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I'm one of these people who do not like organized tour. I went to China three times on my ownr--heading back out there again this coming summer to Duahuang.
Beijing, Xi'an, Hong Kong---everyone should visit those places once, but my favorite cities were Lijang and Dali. They are not to be missed and I want to go back there. Do check them out.
harman is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 11:55 PM
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I like aag2000's itinerary above (except for Shanghai). However if you have never been to Asia, I would suggest you go to Hong Kong first. This will be a more "gentle" introduction to Asia, as English is widely spoken, things are a bit more "westernized", and you can also recover a bit from jet lag before heading out to China proper. It could be a bit daunting to land at Beijing airport at the first thing you have to do is figure out Chinese customs and immigration and either get a taxi or find your driver. Hong Kong airport is easy to understand (although huge) and you can either take the express train into the city, hop in a cab (English speaking driver) or have a hotel car meet you.

I am not a fan of Shanghai as it is a huge, modern city. But the modern architecture is striking, and there are very little bits of the colonial areas left. I guess for 2 days it would be OK, I just think there are more interesting places. I agree the museum is good, and there are some excellent restaurants.

Aag2000's itinerary looks like 14 nights, which may be more than you have. If that is the case, I would cut out Shanghai, as the others are more interesting. Don?t' forget that you "lose" a day flying west from the US, and "gain" a day flying back.

You will need to start organizing your visa for China. You will need a visa to enter China (don't need one for Hong Kong). Assuming you are US citizens, contact the Visa Section of the Chinese Embassy in the US:

2201 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202/338-6688)
Internet: www.china-embassy.org

US citizen can obtain a visa as a "walk-in" applicant at the PRC embassy in Washington or a consulate in the US. Depending on where you live, you either have to go to DC or a particular consulate, check the website. The fee for a single-entry visa is $50 and it normally takes 4 days to issue the visa (which means you have to go back to collect the visa). In addition to the embassy in Washington, there are PRC consulates NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston. The Chinese recently changed their procedures and no longer accept visa applicators by mail, so if you cannot go in person, you can appoint a travel agent or a third party to obtain the visa on your behalf, so you don't have to actually go to the embassy or consulate yourself, but you would have to mail the agent your passport and photos. If your travel agent cannot obtain a visa for you, there are many companies which will obtain visas for you for a few. Check the web. One I have seen advertised is traveldocscom. I don't know anything about their reputation.

Check the website for the PRC embassy in Washington for further details. You will need a "L" visa which is for tourists. The visa is generally good for 90 days, which means you must enter the PRC within 90 days of its issuance; in other words, don't get it too early. The visa is good for a stay of up to 30 days in the PRC.

You can also get a visa in 2-3 days in Hong Kong at the PRC Consulate. Most people who do this use a travel agent in Hong Kong. However, if you will only be there a few days, it is not worth the time and trouble to wait until you get to Hong Kong to do this, IMHO. This is especially true if you will be in Hong Kong on a weekend, as the PRC consulate in Hong Kong is only open from 9 am to 12:30 on Saturdays. If you are going to try to get the visa in Hong Kong, bring passport-size photos as you will need them for the application, and you won't waste time getting them taken there.

Starwood properties high on my list in China:

St Regis, Beijing
St Regis, Shangahi
Cicerone is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 07:57 AM
  #11  
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Thanks again for all the replies! To answer the questions that have been asked:

We are planning to travel by both air and train. We will likely do the train between Beijing and Xi'an and flights for other destinations.

Cicerone - Thank you for the wealth of information I have looked into the Visa requirements - since I work in DC weekly I'll be able to apply in person for my husband and I. I'm also interested to hear any info you have on the Starwood properties. You mentioned the St Regis Beijing, which I had booked for 3 nights. It looked as if it may not be very central - is that a concern? We are still undecided regarding Shanghai, but leaning towards spending more time elsewhere or adding Chengdu. I appreciate your advice!
clt_trvlr is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 08:23 AM
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The St Regis Shanghai is in Pudong, which is the new commercial area across the river and was developed out of marsh land the last 10 years. It is not as conveniently located as other hotels, but I think the faculties and service more than make up for it.

I just looked at Starwoods website and notice they have a new Westin at the Bund Center. I believe this is a brand new hotel, others may have been there and can give a report on facilities. From the map, the location looks good, about 1-2 blocks from the river and near the Bund with its colonial buildings. Might be worth a look as well.
Cicerone is offline  
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