I'm planning my first trip to China for fall 2002. I am still deciding whether to travel independently in China or to join an organized group. I've traveled on 6 continents before, often independently, occasionally with a group. I've been advised that China is several orders of magnitude more difficult for independent travel than other places I've traveled.
I'm looking at 3 IT trips: China Unmasked, Yangtse and the Southwest, and Journey Across China. (If I join an organized trip, I definitely want the trip to include a cruise through the 3 Gorges.)
My first questions are to anyone who has taken any of these trips before: Will I feel rushed on these itineraries? Do the trips offer sufficient time to explore a place on my own in addition to the time spent in group activities?
My next question is to anyone who has traveled in China: What are your thoughts on the differences among these trips? Those differences are the grasslands, villages, and cities of Mongolia and a camel trek (China Unmasked) vs Hong Kong, Guilin/Yangshuo, Kunming/Shilin, the pandas, Giant Buddha in Leshan, and Dazu (Yangtse and the Southwest) vs Guilin/Yangshuo, Kunming/Shilin, Dali, Tiger Leaping Gorge, and Lijiang (Journey Across China). It seems all 3 trips include the 3 Gorges cruise, Beijing and the Great Wall, Luoyang and the caves, and Xian and the terra cotta warriors. At the conclusion of any of the trips, I will probably visit Shanghai on my own.
Thank you for any answers or suggestions.