CHINA | 3-week travel route

CHINA | 3-week travel route

China is such an amazingly beautiful and interesting country. However it’s so big and there are so many different ways to explore this country that it can be difficult to start planning your trip. In this post I want to share with you the travel route I composed for my trip through China. This route is entirely over land and passes the major cities, as well as some lesser known cities, beautiful nature and charming villages.


Beijing – 3 days

The route starts off in Beijing, where we stayed 3 full days. I felt like this was the perfect amount of time to explore the city and get over our jet lag and get somewhat accustomed with the Chinese culture. We stayed near the Wangfujing shopping street, which was super central. When in Beijing you definitely have to spend a couple hours visiting the forbidden city and take at least a full day to go to the Great Wall. We visited the Mutianyu part with an organized tour from our hotel. I also loved walking around the business district and visiting the Hutongs. If you go to the Hutongs just make sure to walk into some of the side street, as we found that almost all the tourists stay on the main street.


High speed train to Shanghai – 4 hours

We did all of our traveling over land, mostly by train, which is probably my favorite way to travel. The train system in China is very well organized, so it’s a super easy and comfortable way to travel. Just make sure to book your tickets online in advance (for example via ctrip.com), as they do sell out. We traveled 2nd class which was more than comfortable enough in my opinion.


Shanghai – 2.5 days

I absolutely loved Shanghai, so if you have some extra time I can definitely recommend staying there longer. However, 2.5 days is enough to get a good feeling for the city. My favourite thing in Shanghai was watching the sunrise over Pudong from the Bund promenade. In the morning all the locals are working out here and your view is not obstructed by thousands of other tourists, so it’s worth waking up early for. However, the view is also amazing at night time. Some other things to do are going to people’s square, walking along the Nanjing East shopping street, taking the ferry from the bund to Pudong and visiting the Tianzifang market. We also visited the Urban Planning Exhibition center, which I can for sure recommend if your interested in seeing how the city has developed.


Train to Hangzhou – 1.5 hours


Hangzhou – 1 day

Honestly, Hangzhou was my least favorite part of our itinerary. However, I still wanted to mention it, because I know there are a lot of people that do love it. Maybe I just didn’t really get to appreciate it because I was too tired. Anyways if you decide to go to Hangzhou you definitely have to walk around the West Lake, which is the main attraction. It is beautiful, but prepare to be among a lot of Chinese tourists. In my opinion 1 day is more than enough to explore Hangzhou.


Train to Yichang – 5 hours


Yichang – 1 day

We stayed in Yichang for two nights. Out of all the places we visited I think this was the one where they were least accustomed with foreign tourists. The city itself is not that special, but it is a really good representation of a typical Chinese city, with a lot of massive residential flats. The city is really popular with Chinese tourists because of the Three Gorges Dam, the biggest dam in the world. We joined a Chinese spoken tour as there were no English tours available in March. It was really impressive to visit the dam, so I’d recommend it if you are interested in man made structures and if you have enough time. Otherwise I’d say maybe skip Yichang, although it does give you a really good view into the real Chinese urban life.


Train to Zhangjiajie – 5 hours

This was the only ‘normal’ (not high speed) train that we took. It was honestly still pretty nice, but definitely a little less clean, comfortable and modern than the other trains. It was so fun though, because all the other people on the train were so fascinated by us and at some point basically the entire carrige was standing around us and we all tried to communicate using translating apps. If you want a cool experience than I definitely recommend taking one of these ‘older’, more local trains at some point in your journey.


Zhangjiajie (or Wulingyuan) – 1 or 2 full days

We spent 2 nights, so one full day in Wulingyuan. This is a town located about an hour driving from Zhangjiajie city. The main attraction in this area is the Wulingyuan scenic and historic area, better known as Zhangjiajie National Park. This is an amazing area with beautiful sandstone peaks. I’m planning to make a separate post on the best ways to explore the area, but for now I’ll tell you that it’s a great idea to stay in Wulinyuan as it’s walking distance from one of the entrances of the park and the town has some great guesthouses. If I could plan this trip again I would definitely plan an extra day here, because the park is massive and especially if you want to go hiking you’ll need at least 2 full days to explore the park properly. For more tips check out my full Zhangjiajie travel guide.


Bus to Fenghuang – 6 hours

It’s super easy to take the bus from Wulingyuan (or Zhangjiajie city) to Fenguang ancient town. You can buy your tickets on the day or a few days in advance at the local bus station. There are two buses a day, at 8.30am and 2.30pm.


Fenghuang ancient town – 1 day

Fenghuang is a town consisting of mostly wooden houses built along the riverside and narrow alleys. It’s beautiful, but definitely taken over by tourism. However, if you keep away from the main streets and just stick to the back alleys where the real life takes place, it’s great. Also all the houses along the riverside are lit up beautifully at night. It’s a small town so half a day (afternoon and evening) is more than enough to explore it.


Bus to Guilin – 6hours

There is one bus a day from Fenguang to Guilin departing at 11am from the local bus station. The owner of the hotel we were staying at got the tickets for us online in advance, but I don’t think it will be a problem to just get them at the bus station on the day.


Guilin – 1 night

This is more just a layover night as you’ll arrive by bus in the evening it will be hard to find transport onwards until the next day, unless you book private transport of course. Guilin is a pretty nice city with enough things to explore, but I’ll get back to that later.


Bus to Ping An – 3 hours

Most ho(s)tels will be able to help you book transport to Ping An. We traveled on a minibus that was going to Dazhai village, then the driver told us to get out at a particular cross road from where we cramped into a bus to Ping An. For more info on how to get from Guilin to Ping An you can check out my Longji rice terraces travel guide.


Ping An village – 1 day

Ping An is one of the villages located between the Longji rice terraces. It’s such a charming village and staying there is one of my favorite experiences of this trip. They have some good guesthouses, most with beautiful views of the rice fields. The village stretches quite a but uphill from where the bus drops you off. Don’t just stay in the lower part, as this mostly just consists of touristy shops. Go to the upper part of the village and just walk around to explore the lanes and see the locals going about their day. It’s especially lively in the late afternoon as everybody is coming back from the fields with their donkeys. Be mindful though, because it’s very easy to get lost. There are some great hikes to do in this area. We only did a small hike from the village to the ‘nine dragons and five tigers viewpoint’, which was about 30 min uphill. I’ve heard it’s also great to hike from Ping An village to Dazhai village, which should take around 4 hours and there is supposed to be a bus to take you back. Just double check with the people of your guesthouse though before embarking on this journey. Check out my full Longjie rice terraces travel guide for more information on Ping An and it’s surroundings.


Bus back to Guilin – 3 hours


Guilin – 1 day

As mentioned above, Guilin is a pretty nice city, much to my surprise honestly. You should definitely walk along the promenade in the morning or afternoon when there are a ton of dance and tai chi classes going on. It’s also lovely to walk around the lakes after dawn, because some of the temples are lit up beautifully. Most people just see Guilin as a gateway to the surrounding areas, but I liked that we actually took an afternoon and evening to properly explore it.


Boat to Yangshuo – 4 hours

A great way to get from Guilin to Yangshuo is by boat. There are two main ways to do that. One is on a raft, usually with max 6 people. The other option is a cruise boat with about 50 people. We chose the latter and it was a great experience. The views of the karst mountains were amazing and I think this is definitely the most comfortable option out of the two.


Yangshuo – 1.5 days

The town Yangshuo itself honestly wasn’t my favorite place, but it’s surrounding are spectacular. The town is super touristy and especially the Main Street is just absolute mayhem at night, it was fun to see though. The best thing to do in Yangshuo in my opinion is rent bikes and explore the area. Within about 10 minutes of cycling you’ll find you’ll be out of the craziness and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a beautiful piece of nature. It’s great to cycle along the river, you’ll have to carry your bike over little set of stairs, but then you’ll be on a path with just cyclists and pedestrians which is great. Another must when visiting Yangshuo is the Impression Sanjie Liu show. It’s a show performed by around 600 people, using the river as their stage and the karst mountains as a backdrop.


Bus, train & subway to Hong Kong – 6 hours

It might sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty easy to travel to Hong Kong over land. You need to take the train to Shenzhen, either from the Yangshuo station or the Guilin station. The tickets from Yangshuo were already sold out, so we went from Guilin, which meant we first had to take a bus there. These busses go super frequently, so that’s no problem. Also the Yangshuo station is located pretty far out of town, so timewise it doesn’t really matter from where you take the train. After arriving in Shenzhen we hopped on the subway to Fution checkpoint station, where we crossed the border with Hong Kong.


Hong Kong

The last stop on this route is Hong Kong and you could honestly spend as much time as you want (or still have left) there. You can probably see most highlights within two days, but you can also easily keep yourself entertained for much longer. My top tip is probably to have lunch on a weekday around Stanley and Graham street, together with the locals on their lunch break. Some other fun things to do are taking the tram to the peak, visiting the temple street night market, going on the star ferry,  and if you have a little more time I can definitely recommend doing the Dragon’s backbone hike.

This is probably the longest post I’ve ever done, but I hope it will help some of you reading this in planning your trip to China. As I mentioned above China is a massive country with a lot of great areas and cities to explore, this is just one way to do it. If you are planning a trip to China I would love to hear what your plans are! Please tell me in the comments and also let me know if you have any questions or are interest in other China travel guides.

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