I can't make my mind up about our trip to China. I thought I had our plans fairly settled, but the more I read, the more places I want to see.
Take Jiayuguan. The Lonely Planet China says that "… the city and its surrounding sights are not so amazing as to merit a special visit," but the photograph of the Fort in the desert against a snow-capped mountain backdrop is so evocative, so different to Australia, that I feel that we should see it. And if we are visiting the western end of the wall, then why not see where it meets the sea at Shanhaiguan?
Talking about landscapes different to anything else, how could we go past the Himalayas? Would it not be magnificent to catch the train to Lhasa in Tibet? Or to see the unique mountain scenery of Huangshan?
Pingyao is unique in retaining its Ming city walls intact, while Suzhou's gardens and the canals of the water towns like Tongli and Zhouzhang all offer the opportunity to contrast with other places we have visited. I haven't even mentioned the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and the pandas of Chengdu.
The magnificence of the Three Gorges along the Yangtze is rapidly being lost to the rising waters of the dam. Logic would dictate that we see it while we can. But B gets motion sick on boats and a three day voyage would be both cruel to her and a big chunk of time. Plus the end points aren't the most convenient. So, I thought of an 11 hour hydrofoil trip, that is until I saw photos of the hydrofoil and read reviews like this one. Is being trapped inside a dirty-windowed boat really going to give us a great experience?
Mad itineraries are fine for the developed world with it integrated and predictable transport infrastructure. We managed to plan and book complex multicountry journeys across Europe without difficulty. China appears to be different. Purchasing train tickets seems to mean being in the departure city and who knows if seats will be available on the day? Flights are often delayed and Tibet requires a permit. Sometimes the cities just don't seem to link.
I gave Travel China Guide a go at building an itinerary for us, but the Chinese tour operators just don't get the concept of independent travel. We don't want to go to the Cantonese restaurant in Xian, we want to eat at the stalls and we definitely don't want to listen to Chinese Opera, watch Tang dynasty dance shows etc, etc, etc. Oh, and eight and a half grand US$ is a bit out of our budget, sorry.
A Geckos or Intrepid tour is still a possibility, travelling independently is more likely. And who knows? Perhaps we still take a quick tour of China and a cheap flight on Oasis Hong Kong to Europe…