Student round trip 3 weeks
Q: I am studying as an exchange student in Hong Kong. Before I leave HK I want to do an extended round trip in China. I want to see economic centres as well as rural areas (maybe all the way down to Tibet). What are your recommended places? I am just startin my research - what is the best way to travel to those rural areas. Where to sleep?
Since you have three weeks, you can travel to quite a few places in China. You can choose a combination of destinations to see various aspects of life in China. For example, on your itinerary you can include places such as big urban centers, important historical sites, notable spots of nature and wilderness, regions of ethnic and/or folk culture, etc.
In terms of big cities or economic centers, on the must-see list are Beijing and Shanghai. In and around Beijing there are many historically important attractions - the Imperial Forbidden City and the Great Wall among them. The First Qin Emperor's Terracotta Warriors outside the city Xian is another important historical attraction. If you're particularly interested in that Chinese tradition, you may also pay a visit to the Confucian hometown Qufu in Shandong Province, where you'll the Confucian family residence, temple and cemetory. Qufu is about half way between Beijing and Shanghai. If you visit Qufu, you should also go to Mount Tai, which is about an hour away and combines natural beauty with history (a lot of inscriptions, etc).
Speaking of mountains, among the most well-known in China are Huangshan (Mt. Huang) in Anhui Province (close to Shanghai); Emeishan and Qingchengshan in Sichuan Province; and Zhangjiajie (also known as Wulingyuan) in Hunan Province.
Another popular scenic region is Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan Province. The Three Gorges on the Yangzi River used to be a must-see. With the construction of the Three Gorges Reservoir, the view is no longer as impressive. Many people still go there, however.
If you want to see wilderness and remote corners of China, you have a number of choices. You can travel through Sichuan and move into Tibet. On the way there are quite a few places known for their extraordinary beauty. Another popular destination is Yunnan Province, where you get to see both nature and ethnic culture in places such as Lijiang and Dali. In the northwest, there lies the silk road. The view here is very different from that in Sichuan or Yunnan. Here you encounter deserts and barren land. Dunhuang, with Mogao Caves, is historically significant.
Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, is a major city and is also one of the most beautiful cities in China, largely due to the views around Xihu (West Lake). Same kind of situation for Guilin, where one can cruise down Lijiang (Li River - different from Lijiang in Yunnan, which is a city). Yangshuo downstream from Guilin is a small town that has drawn quite some Western tourists. Huangzhou is a distance south of Shanghai. Guilin is in the southwestern Guangxi Province.
It is unrealistic for a Westerner to truly experience rural life in China, but there are trips and tours that feature life in villages, featuring folk culture and cuisine. Not too far outside Beijing, for instance, there are some of such places, where people from cities can visit and stay for a couple of days with local people.
If you travel on your own instead of going on a guided tour, it is very important to plan well and figure out means of transportations, etc. - combinations of planes, trains and buses. Train tickets may be hard to come by with short notice, but there are many buses nowadays that depart throughout the day. For small fees, your hotels may help you to purchase train tickets, etc. If you do not spend a whole lot money to stay in expensive hotels, you may be able to find a few youth hostels where you pay a little to share a room with other young travelers. There are now also economical inns. One of the chains is Super 8.
If you travel alone, you should keep the safety issue in mind. It is generally safe for foreigners to travel around China. Most Chinese are very friendly toward foreign travelers. Violent crime on foreign tourists are rare. The most common issue is pickpocketing and things like that. Just use common sense. Many young Chinese are eager to practice their English and want to chat with foreigners. You can some help that way when you need it. It is also a good idea to carry a cellphone. It is inexpensive to do so now as you can buy a card and use a phone for a short period of time.