Desert directions The best times to visit the Taklimakan are spring and autumn. The main city of the region is Urumqi. This is one of the hardest places in the world to reach from Britain, with only infrequent air connections via Almaty, Baku, Islamabad, Moscow or Peking. A round- trip ticket via Peking with an operator such as Silk Steps (0117-940 2800) costs around pounds 650.

Martin Buckley left China from Kashgar to northern Pakistan, via the tortuous mountain pass known as the Karakorum Highway. It's not unknown for travellers with time to spare to fly to Gilgit in Pakistan, cross the Karakorum to Kashgar, and cross back to Pakistan for the return leg. The London Flight Centre (0171-727 4290) can sell you a flight to Islamabad for around pounds 500; the mountain-hopping return flight to Gilgit costs a mere pounds 50.

Getting to the rest of China The best fare is on the twice-weekly Air China service (three times each week from April), available for around pounds 475 return through specialist discount agents such as Regent Holidays (0117-921 1711). There may be good offers on indirect routings such as on Swissair via Zurich - if you don't mind changing planes, phone around.

There are some excellent deals for Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region. Quest Worldwide has a fare on Emirates from London or Manchester via Dubai to Hong Kong for around pounds 400 including tax. Bridge The World (0171-911 0900) has a flexible ticket on Gulf Air taking in Bangkok and Singapore as well as Hong Kong for around pounds 500, if you fly out before 14 June.

Red tape British passport holders need a Chinese visa. It is most easily obtained through the China Travel Service, 7 Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9DL (0171-836 9911); by post, this agency charges pounds 15 on top of the normal pounds 25 fee for a single-entry tourist visa. Allow a week for processing.

Reading China: a Travel Survival Kit (Lonely Planet, pounds 16.99). A new edition of the Rough Guide to China (pounds 15.99) will be published in March.