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How to Plan China Tour

China, with its long history and rich geography, may be on your bucket list. It is also the top place to explore Far-Eastern elements and culture.

The specifics of how to plan a trip to China can stump even the most experienced of international travelers. Amidst the challenges posed by the many China ‘unknowns’, you might even wonder where to start with making arrangements.

While asking friends and family who’ve been there, done that can be helpful, sometimes, it can create even more confusion. One person’s negative experience can taint your perception and leave you unnecessarily concerned about planning your travel arrangements.

Over a decade of researching, designing and planning holidays to China means we know a thing or two about how to create beautiful travel memories for customers, so in the spirit of transparency, we’re sharing our insider knowledge about how to plan a trip to China when you have no idea where to start.

How to plan a trip to China: Start with destinations

If this is your first trip to China, your biggest hurdle will be narrowing down your list of must-see destinations.

Covering a landmass that is larger than either Australia or the USA, this won’t be an easy task, so it’s essential you pull out a map before you get too far into your planning.

A quick scan and you’ll soon see that favourite destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, and Lhasa aren’t exactly within easy reach of each other (they’re actually three corners of a very large triangle across the country!). So knowing how to make plans for your China trip means understanding travel distances and the potential limitations imposed by geography, available transport, and accessibility.

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with our list of recommended destinations for first time China trippers. Plan to visit Beijing, Xian, Guilin, Chengdu, and Shanghai, however if your schedule doesn’t allow, stick with the Golden Triangle - Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai.

Making plans for a China holiday: Getting there and getting around

The destinations at which you start and finish your trip will be dictated to some extent by the city you fly into.

Beijing and Guangzhou are the main international arrival hubs, but they’re not the only ones, so you may want to consider how to get the best deal to save money on flights, keeping in mind you may need to book in country flights or train travel.

Booking international flights yourself, rather than relying on a travel agency, means more holiday spending dollars in your pocket. Be sure to access these flights directly from an airline’s website instead of third party booking platforms. You might even be lucky enough to find a great seasonal promotion or offer.

Another point to keep in mind is that international flights with a stopover are less expensive than direct flights. If you don’t mind the longer travel time - or you want to take advantage of the opportunity to visit another destination, this is a great way to see more of the world. US travelers flying from Los Angeles to Beijing could stop in Tokyo for a couple of days. Similarly, if you’re on route from Shanghai to LA, why not consider two days in Osaka? Breaking up your travel this way just makes sense, and with leisure travel plans seriously curtailed, we envisage travelers will look for ways to maximise their vacations when borders reopen.

Choosing an China travel company: How to know what’s best

When it comes to choosing an in-country China travel company, the decision-making process can become very confusing, very quickly.

As tourism has boomed over the past decade, we’ve seen astronomical growth in China-based travel companies. It has become highly competitive, which is great for western travelers. It means you can pick and choose a provider according to your values.

As travelers ourselves, we always look for companies that tailor the experience to what the customer really wants; not what they think the customer wants. It’s on this point that many China travel agencies miss the mark. For example, companies offering commission-based shopping don’t realise that the majority of western travelers seek a real experience of China, not a shopping expedition. The opportunity to meet and connect with locals and their culture has far more value to them than visiting an overpriced retail outlet selling wares of questionable authenticity.

Another important tip: if you can, avoid making price your number one buying decision. Because there is such a vast difference between the good, the average, and everything in between, it pays to spend time doing your research.

Ask questions like what hotel chains do they use and where are they located? A quality hotel located in a premium city location means less time lost on unnecessary travel to and from sights. China’s big cities are notorious for their traffic, which seems to be on a perpetual peak hour. It’s not uncommon to be delayed a least an hour because of busy roads.

Planning your China trip: Deciding the best time to travel

The challenge with deciding the best time for a trip to China is coming up with a simple answer. This is because there are so many things to consider: Seasons, destinations and highlights on your bucket list, personal interests (are you fascinated by history, but not a fan of big cities?), how much time you have, and of course, your budget. 

As a general rule, there is no one best time to go to China, however the most common advice from those who know is to plan your travel for April, May, September and October. Why? Well, these are the most enjoyable from a weather and season perspective.

Spring falls in April and May (and March), making these months ideal times to visit China. Equally appealing for seasonal travel are September and October, when it is Fall in the northern hemisphere. As the months that land either side of the super busy, crowded Summer, planning your holiday to align with these times will make for comfortable travel weather. It also means avoiding the bitter cold of winter, which is a feature of high traffic destinations like Beijing or Tibet or bypassing the searing heat of places like Turpan or even Shanghai with its more humid climate. 

If the weather doesn’t bother you, traveling in the off-season means there are smaller crowds of domestic and foreign travelers, which in itself can make for a more enjoyable time.

Choose Where to Go

With our knowledge of China and feedback from our customers, we suggest you visit Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai for your first trip, extending it to Guilin and/or Chengdu if you have the time.

1) Beijing — Explore China’s Imperial Past

As an imperial and modern capital of China, Beijing is a must-see, because it is home to many of the finest icons of China's medieval and recent past. It is also China's top gateway city.

The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City are both must-see attractions, especially if you are interested in China’s architectural marvels and dynastic history.

For a special experience and some private time, we can arrange a less-crowded sunset visit to the Great Wall with a romantic picnic for you.

If you are interested in Beijing’s local lifestyle, a locally-guided walk through Beijing's hutongs with your children or husband/wife is highly recommended.

2) Xi'an — Discover China's Ancient Civilization

Xi’an is an excellent and interesting place to discover where the nation of China really began. China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, established the first capital of a united China there.

The Terracotta Warriors are definitely a must-see. We offer a more interesting and in-depth experience to learn more about the Terracotta Warriors: make a mini clay warrior with local artisans and visit their disappearing cave dwellings.

For couples and families, a hanfu costume experience in an ancient academy could be a highlight. A bike ride on the 600-year-old city wall is also great to do with kids.

3) Chengdu — Have a Close Encounter with Pandas

Chengdu's giant pandas are for many the icing on the cake, the finishing touch to a China must-do list.

An even more special experience would be to have a close encounter with pandas by taking part in our giant panda volunteer program — clean panda enclosures, make panda food, watch a panda eat it, and more.

Chengdu is also famous for delicious Sichuan food like kung pao chicken and spicy hotpot. A food hunting tour is the best way to taste the delicious specialties of Chengdu.

If you are interested in cooking, you can try cooking the most authentic Sichuan cuisine with a local chef.

4) Guilin — A Relaxing Escape with Picturesque Scenery and Minority Culture

First-timers love Guilin for its beautiful landscapes and relaxing places to escape from the cities — it is a true masterpiece of classic rural China.

A Li River cruise is the best way to enjoy karst peaks combined sublimely with the Li River.

Yangshuo and Longsheng, two counties next to the city of Guilin, offer most of Guilin’s top highlights.

Yangshuo is a place where children can put down their phones and iPads and still be well entertained… by cycling around the idyllic countryside and even experiencing the life and work of a Chinese farmer.

Yangshuo also offers a natural romantic atmosphere for couples. A romantic riverside candlelit dinner set in a mountain retreat garden could be a great way to celebrate your 20th, 30th, 40th, etc. anniversary. Contact us to design a special time for you.

Consider When to Travel to China

China's cultural and historical attractions are good for a visit all year around. Things to do in Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai are seldom affected by the seasons.

Spring (April–May) and autumn (September–October) are generally the most comfortable and recommended times for a China tour. They are neither too hot nor too cold, but fall is generally drier and warmer than spring.

A more ideal travel time for you could be March and early April or September, when there are smaller crowds, favorable prices, and still good weather.

China is a good summer holiday destination too. There are not many rainy days in summer. It rarely rains continuously for a whole day, with rain coming in less and less frequent downpours as the summer draws on.

It can get a little hot in summer, but air conditioning and expert arrangements would help you avoid the heat as much as possible.

A final word on planning your China trip

There are many resources for finessing the details of your trip to China, however one of the best you’ll find is a competent, caring travel consultant. With experience and knowledge of what works best down to the last detail, you can feel confident that by working together you’ll experience China as the kind of place you always imagined it would be.

Experienced international traveler, but finding it hard to get the details right for the ideal trip to China? Relax! We can help. Explore our library of articles about all things China travel, or simply get in touch to discover what’s really possible when you plan and design a tour with people who truly care about your experience. We welcome online enquiries via direct contact and with responses delivered within 24 hours, we’re sure we can help create your next beautiful travel memory.

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