- Bike option (14 days): Xi'an to Beijing bike ride with REI. Guarantees seeing a large chunk of the country side. Will require getting into shape a bit, although a decade ago I could manage 25-40 a day without having heavily trained up for it. $4250 or so.
- Cheap option (15 days).At least a thousand less than the other options. I'd actually consider offering $500 to entice a Mandarin speaker to come with. Hong Kong to Beijing with a good amount of train rides and a river cruise along the way. Main downside is that there's a lot of free days that I may not be able to exploit that effectively without language skills. I might just be able to hang out with better speakers, but that's a gamble. $3500 or so if I don't offer an incentive to get a CSIS intern or the like to accompany.
- Long option (29 days). Gets at a lot of the variety of China including but not exclusively a fair number of ethnic minority issues. Includes staying at some places with extremely basic accommodations, so I think that means I'll actually get to see some rural China. It will end up costing more than $6000 though when including salary lost by taking administrative leave.
Any advice, particularly from those with relevant experience, is welcome.