DW and I just came back from a 3 week vacation in east-central China. Just ourselves, no organized tour. Worked out pretty good, with the Rough Guide's instructions and Mandarin phrases to help us. Plus the occasional Chinese speaking English, and the even more occasional Westerner speaking Mandarin.
Some pictures are available at http://www.coxklosek.com/Photos/China2007/index.html
- It's easier to point at the phrase written in Chinese characters than it is to pronounce it. Much easier.
- White skinned people are exotic there, especially in places off the foreign-tourist tracks, and most people we ran into were pretty helpful. For example, at bus stations, the clerks in every case were pretty nice, considering the communication barrier.
- There are lots of Chinese tourists everywhere. A very visible manifestation of the new middle class.
- We stayed in '2 star' hotels, mostly. About US$20-30 per night. Most places had plumbing glitches -- toilets that overflow easily, showerheads that come off when the shower is turned on, etc. Nothing too bad.
We flew to/from Shanghai on frequent flyer miles (AA), so the whole trip cost about US$2000. Probably about $500 of that was admission fees to various sites. Not a bad total for 20 days vacation.
Thinking about Tibet for next year!
-- P.S. -- I don't post much here, since I feel I'd mostly be saying 'I LBYM too', and stuff like that. But I find it a very interesting forum.