User Submitted Q and A

Q?Hey Matt, So my original Yunnan plan was delayed, and now my girlfriend and I will be going on August 15th, and we may have an extra few days. Instead of having to shorten your guide, we’ll be lengthening it–a great surprise. Any recommendations for that? Is there another stop beyond shangri-la? Also, we are really infatuated with Tibet, any thought on that? Thanks Matt. Best wishes, Jake
A.

Hey Jake,

What a great surprise! there is a path to continue beyond Shangri-La and my understanding is that it is only possible during the summer months. You can travel by bus north to the next mountain town of Deqin. Make sure you take this trip from Kunming as a reasonable pace because you want to allow time for your body to adjust so that you don't get elevation sickness in that region. I never had a problem with it in Yunnan, but I have had issues getting elevation sickness in other regions of China.

From Deqin you can continue by bus into Sichuan making your way through the Tibetan autonomous region of Yunnan / Sichuan eventually ending up in Chengdu. Chengdu is fantastic if you have never been. From Chengdu it all depends on how much time you have. You can continue North through Western / Northern Sichuan and see Jiuzhaigou / some really cool Amdo-Tibetan areas ending up in Lanzhou OR you can take a train to Lhasa direct from Chengdu.

I have never been to Tibet so i really can't help you too much there. I loved Western / Northern Sichuan and there were lots of Tibetan areas that are much less traveled and regulated than Tibet. Definitely not discouraging you from checking out Tibet I'm sure its great. Just expect to be further under the microscope of the Chinese government if you know what I mean ;-)

Whatever you decide let me know and I'll tell you what I know!!!!!

Happy travels,

Matt

Q?Hi! I Am alejandro from Costa Rica and will arrive to china next monday sept 2 at 4 am to Beijing Int. Airport. My plan is to leave that day either to Giulin or to Lijiang for 5 days and come back to Beijing on Sept 7. However, I am having trouble a good travel agency to join for group tours in Giulin or Lijiang. In this sense, I would like to seek your recommendation. Furthermore, ask if there is any way to get to this areas besides airplane. Is there fast train for instance? Thank you very much and cheers, Alejandro
A.

Hey Alejandro,

I do not have any suggestions for travel agencies. Both of these destinations draw a lot of international tourism, and have a great infrastructure for travelers.

You can book hostels through hostel bookers.com and do the trip on your own. Usually you can rely on hostel workers to help book travel tickets. Unfortunately at the current time there are no fast trains directly to these destinations from Beijing.

As an alternative to flying directly to Lijiang you can fly to Kunming and take a train or bus to Dali, and then on to Lijiang. Dali is worth checking out also.

Happy travels,

Matt

Q?Hi Matt, This is Max from the Netherlands. I’m planning on backpacking through East-Asia, including China (ofcourse :-) ). I saw your great website whilst I was gathering information to prepare my trip to China. I have one main important question which I hope you can answer: My parents went in 2008 for a pre-organized group-roundtrip through China. Everywhere they visited (musea, temple, etc.) there was a mandatory local guide, next to their group guide. Do you know if these local guides are also mandatory for backpackers who are travelling alone / small numbers? Thank in advance for your reply, Kind Regards, Max, The Netherlands
A.

Hey Max,

In my experience I have never had a mandatory guide. You can purchase a guide at most famous attractions, and depending on where you are going it can be worth it if you are interested in history. How long will you spend in China, and where will you go?

Sincerely,

Matt

Q?Hey Matt, Great website! I have found it really helpful as I have been researching for my trip to China. I have a few questions for you so I will just start with an overview. My friend Gary and I are visiting our friend who is teaching English in Korea starting June 8. We are going to hang around Korea for a week, then do Japan for a week, and then venture to China for a week. I came across your blog and the 1 week China itinerary and it seems like something we would both like to do. Our plan is to arrive in Beijing from Tokyo on June 21 (approximately), do the week long itinerary, and fly back to the states on the 28ish. We liked your itinerary because, while we do not know a lot about China, we do know we want to visit the wild great wall and the terra cotta warriors. We only have a few concerns about the trip which hopefully you can answer for us. First, what about the smog in Beijing? I have heard some horror stories from family friends and seen some grimy stuff on the news. Is it really that bad? What do you think? We were also concerned about train travel in China. I have read in other blogs that train travel is a serious hassle and is risky, yet your itinerary includes lots of train travel. Is it relatively easy for an English speaker with no experience in China to get tickets and all that jazz? Also, what do you know about flying out of Xi’an? Is it easier and more importantly cheaper to fly or train back to Beijing and then fly back home? (I have done a bit of research on this but I’d value your input) Finally, do you have any advice as far as getting travel visas for China? Thanks again for putting your website together. It has been a huge help. If you have any other advice or recommendations for the trip I would really appreciate it. I hope to hear from you soon! Ben
A.

Hey Ben,

Thanks for the positive feedback on the site. To answer your questions:

The smog in Beijing can be very bad. Generally you will have a few days of pollution, and a few days of sunshine with a transition day or two in between. The pollution gets even worse during the winter months when the city is burning coal to heat the homes of its 18,000,000 inhabitants. In June you can expect HOT weather. If you happen to arrive into the pollution, at least you can be say that you experienced it yourself. It would not stop me from going there on vacation.

I would hardly call train travel in China risky. I think it is very safe and comfortable. I have no problem booking tickets in China myself because I speak mandarin, but if i did not I would handle it this way....Usually hostels will book train tickets for you for a small fee. They send someone to the train station on your behalf and deliver the tickets within a day or so. The charge is usually 30RMB or so per ticket. In Beijing there are train ticket office windows all around the city. if you stay near Qianmen, there are two in the vicinity where you can purchase tickets; or just have the hostel do it for you.

About flying out of Xian; It all depends on your time schedule. If you already know the date you need to fly out of Beijing or Xian, you can use elong.com or ctrip.com to book your plane tickets back to Beijing. i think if you are planning to fly international the tickets will be much cheaper from Beijing, but you can also check on any travel website from Xi'an.

As a side note, I think the itinerary will show you some very interesting and diverse areas of China. Pingyao city is certainly an adventure. Just go with an open mind and prepare to deal with the the crazy situations that come up all the time. This is the norm when traveling in China. The trains I suggested are overnight, and are pretty slow however I always prefer to take trains as they are cheaper and offer a real social experience allowing you to mingle with local Chinese who will be very curious why you are on a train in the middle of the countryside. Don't be surprised if locals try and make you drink home-made alcohol with them, or invite you to join in on whatever they are doing.

As far as Visas go, you can use any company for your Visa. They are all around the same price. There is one in particular that I used last time that was a little cheaper, but required that I put together most of the forms myself. http://uschinavisa.com. However if you arent comfortable you can use any visa service that specializes in China.

Hope this helps,

Matt

Q?Matt, Quick question. In the 2014 summer, me and 6 buddies are trying to plan a walking trip around 1,500km. I’ve talked to a few other people… Some say we could do it if we planned properly, others say we would probably die. Do you think with 4 native chinese/3 americans, and a safe route. This could be done? Or would it simply be too dangerous. Thanks, Ryan
A.

Hey Ryan,

Im glad you found the site and thanks for reaching out. What are you worried about? I do not think its dangerous to walk and travel in China. I would probably be more concerned about getting stranded in the middle of nowhere than security concerns. What are your concerns and where were you thinking about walking?

Matt

Q?Matt, Backpackinchina has been my bible lately, since I’m planning two successive trips at basically the same time. So first. Thanks. I owe you a beer or a jowtzi or something. I am looking at your 10 Day Yunnan itinerary and I may have to cut something short, since I cant afford the plane from Shanghai, I’ll be taking the long trip by train. I have 13 days to use, and it will take me 3-4 to get there and back, leaving only 8 or 9 to complete the itinerary you suggest. It seems obvious that to save time, I cut Shangri-La from the trip, and turn back after Tiger Leaping Gorge, but something called Shangri-La, paradise, doesn’t seem like it should me missed. Is there anything that you would suggest I strike from the record before another? Was anything slightly disappointing that I should skip over? Any bit of advice would be a huge help. Best wishes, Jacob
A.

Hey Jake,

Thanks for the positive feedback! All of the destinations in Yunnan (with the exception of Kunming) are worth spending time. If it was up to me I would cut back on Lijiang. Lijiang is neat, but is more or less a larger version of many similar old towns you find elsewhere in China. Whatever you end up deciding, don't worry; You can't go wrong with any of these destinations.

Thanks,

Matt

Q?Hey Matt, I’ll be getting into Jiuzhaigou tomorrow night and want to stay in the park for two days. I read your blog post and you said that the hotel we stay in in the town may be able to help us find places inside? This seems against their interest (you don’t stay a second night) so I’m curious which places do this. Alternatively, do you have the direct contact info of any places inside the park? Thanks! Peter
A.

Hey Peter,

Sorry I responded late to your email about staying in Jiuzhaigou. I do not have any direct contact info for people in the park but I have heard that you can stay in Shuzheng village if you ask around maybe you can find a home stay. Some of the hostels are friendly and will help you if you find the right person.

Good luck!

Matt

Q?Last time I traveled China was 8 years ago. The buses and trains weren’t in good condition and I’ve especially heard horror stories about the buses and the safety issues. Obviously the trains have drastically changed, but did you find the buses to be safe? I will be traveling from Lanzhou down through Langmusi, probably stopping at Songpan and reaching Chengdu, then heading west to Kangding and Xiangcheng and then going south to Shangri-La and Yunnan. I know it’s more rural and the roads are rough. Basically, is it safe to travel those areas? Any travel advice through this region? Also, I think on your blog you mentioned you traveled with your girlfriend. I’m wondering how safe she felt, and if she herself has traveled China solo. Everywhere else I’ve traveled alone has been pretty safe (Canada, US, and Israel) but I’m wondering how it may be in those areas as a woman by own her own. (Then again, I’ve lived in New York City my whole life…) Any other travel tips you can think of, please do share! Thanks so much!
A.

I have never really been too concerned about buses in China. If you have previously traveled in China then you already know that drivers in China have less concern for driving rules then elsewhere in the world. Besides this, I have never had a bus break down, or had at traffic accident in China *knock on wood* :-)

Be careful during the wet seasons if you plan on taking busses through mountainous roads in the sichuan region. Just check reports for flooding. Specifically if you plan to take the bus from Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu. You should definitely just fly this route if there is mountain slides or flooding on the route as they will still run the busses and not only is it a bit dangerous, but you can experience insane delays if the road goes out ahead.

Every place you listed is safe to travel in my opinion. The government has been known to shut off travel to Kanding and western Sichuan areas in the past during the summer months depending on the situation in Tibet. If there is extreme unrest in Tibet you may want to avoid the Tibetan areas but the last few years have been fine. Even still, its more for Chinese tourists to avoid these areas. The amdo tibetans you will find in northern / western sichuan in general are super friendly.

My fiancé is sitting next to me and i just asked her if she ever felt sketched out during our China travels. She said the only place she ever felt sketched out was when we were in tashgurgan on the border of Pakistan and I had severe elevation sickness but thats a whole different story!!!!

I would be a little more concerned traveling SOLO as a woman in Xinjiang or other muslim parts of China but it shouldn't be an issue in those parts. There is a Muslim town called Hezuo that you will stop in on the ride from xiahe to Lanzhou. Its only a bathroom stop really so i wouldn't be too worried about it :-)

The areas you plan to travel in are really amazing (except Lanzhou hahaha)!!!! your going to have a blast. let me know how it goes.

just a few tips. if you plan on traveling during any national holidays make sure you have your accommodations booked in advance. Also you can purchase your bus / train tickets in advance from train stations in different cities. So if you get into the habit of booking tickets with a several day buffer you can guarantee that you will always have a ticket. If you wait until the last minute you may not be able to get a ticket. Eather way be flexible and patient while traveling in China and keep your guard up to fend off scammers in touristy places like everywhere else in the world.

Safe travels,

Matt