budgeting 1 week between Beijing and Xi'an
This is a forum reply to a traveler who will be visiting Beijing and Xi'an in late September. He has only a week in China and wants to know how to budget his time between Beijing and Xi'an. These are my thoughts:
a) late September is generally an excellent time to visit Beijing. Warm days and cool nights, but not hot or cold. Xi'an is less predicable but should be OK.
b) take the sleeper train if you won't have occasion to otherwise take a train. It will also save you one night's lodging expense.
c) Beijing is a huge, sprawling city. The points of interest are spread out so you need ample time there. Xi'an is an awesome city and yuo won't be sorry for spending as much time there as possible. Hahah, so you have a conflict.
Suggestion - in Beijing, budget one full day for the Great Wall, another full day for the Summer Palace/Gu Gong/Mao Masoleum/Temple of Heaven/Tiananmen Square (you can select some of these, if you miss one or two, no biggie), and perhaps one more day in BJ if you really want. I'd spend the rest of the time in Xi'an because (i) you can get a much better flavor of the 'real China', (ii) it has excellent food and you can eat just as well and more cheaply than in Beijing, (iii) if you ever go back to China again, chances are it will be a flight to Beijing again, but Xi'an might be a 'once in a lifetime' place, and (iv) Xi'an is also spread out - not like Beijing - but to get to the Terracotta Warriors and other points of interest, you will need some time, (v) you can do all your shopping in Xi'an rather than Beijing.
(d) Try the "Home Inn" (ru jia bin guan) chain. They are cheap, clean and efficient.
(e) A tour guide is not necessary, but you might want to ask other VTers about a private car and driver rental. I don't have any contacts.