Below are some of my favourite resources for China trips. These are all products or services I often use myself, and I’ve compiled them here to try to make your planning easier.
The first thing you want to do is plan your trip. For me, a guidebook is the best way to do this. I prefer Lonely Planet Books because of the layout and well organised information. What I usually do when planning a trip is get a guidebook for the country/region I want to visit, and use it to make my main plan. Lonely Planet books have a lot of essential information at the beginning of the book, including some suggested itineries based on different time frames or interests. They also have a section breaking down a country by interest, for example “if you like culture go here”, “if you like nightlife go here” etc. The vast bulk of the book then introduces each region, with information on how to get from place to place and what to see, where to eat and sleep etc. This book will be enough to give you a framework, and then you can use the internet to get more detailed reviews of restaurants, sites and hotels.
The Chinese internet is heavily censored, so say goodbye to Facebook, Youtube, Google and most other foreign media sites. Fortunately, there is a way around this, using a program called a VPN. For almost all of my time in China, I have been using Astrill, which you can get here.
Booking Trains & Internal Flights
I always use Ctrip. From this one website, you can book all your train journeys or flights within China. Not only that, but you can even book a pickup or dropoff service from your hotel to your train station/airport. I always find this the most reliable way, as taxi drivers have a tendency to have a few tricks up their sleeves to make the meter go up. The only downside is that for Chinese train tickets, as a foreigner, you still have to go and queue up to have them printed off at the train station.
For hotels, I think Booking.com is the best resource. I’ve always used them as they have the best selection of hotels, as well as a best price guarantee. You could book through Ctrip along with your trains and flights, but actually Ctrip is owned by Booking anyway… and the customer service is much better.
Before going to any country, you should know something about it. Check out my list of top reads about China here. On top of that, its worth taking the time to learn some basic Mandarin phrases, you can do this pretty easily from any Youtube videos. There are phrasebooks, but I don’t think they are very useful as you can’t hear how it should sound, you are just trying to read foreign words you’ve never heard before.