This summer, I have spent a whole month traveling in China with my wife. This experience was even better because we organized it all by ourselves. Hopefully some friends and colleagues helped and welcomed us. We arrived in Shanghai and did some round trip via famous places like Hangzhou, the yellow mountains, Guilin, Xi'an, Pingyao, the hanging temple, the Yungang grottoes and Beijing. Like every tourist in China (mostly Chinese people) we took a lot of pictures (\~1400) and had to cut the number down to something bearable (\~300).
There are a few tricks we learned or used for our trip:
- They don't have a centralized IT system for the train bookings. Train tickets can be purchased maximum 10 days before the departure, but don't rush to the next station or you could be fooled! First you need to pay 5 RMB more for each train ticket leaving from another station. Then, if you still want to buy your ticket here, keep in mind that they have only a small set of places: not all. Due to this we had to take sleepers in the afternoon and hard seats in the night for 7 hours long trips. Before taking that latter train we met an Australian guy who bought sleepers the day before... but in the very same city!
- You can see all the train schedules online to plan your trip before leaving (but you need to read a few chinese words): http://www.huochepiao.com
- To book the hotels, we used mostly ctrip and JinJiang Inns. The latter one is a cheap hotel brand, but you'll need to read chinese to look for the hotels and book them
- The CITS is a local travel agency present in almost every city. You need to pay attention before purchasing something from them: we had a quite bad tour in Guilin with them and a nice one around Datong.
- Don't forget that long distance busses are also an interesting travel option inside the country. It would have saved us a day by train to go from the yellow mountains to Hangzhou.