I've just returned from a 12 days DIY tour to 4 cities in China. 3 member of my family & I toured Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai and Hangzhou during Nov 2012. We chose the DIY method firstly because my mom of 88 required a wheelchair and joining a tour was not an option and secondly I hate tour packages. They are a rip-off. Making your own arrangements is made much easier with the internet. Everything can be booked and arranged before you even leave your home country.
The only thing we did not arranged prior to arrival was the guide & driver for Xi'an. Not because we were unable to but because of a hiccup in Beijing which delayed our arrival to Xi'an by one day. So we decided to take our chances on arrival.
We arrived by overnight train from Beijing and before we knew it we were approached by this young lady who offered a taxi service to our hotel. We were sceptical about touts and only accepted the offer as the cost was reasonable and she did not push any other offers. Being Mandarin speakers was an advantage, I suppose.
Stephanie, the guide took us to her vehicle which was a minivan which also has a driver. We were pleasantly surprised. The van was spacious to accomodate the three of us plus our suitcases and mom's wheelchair. Enroute we brought up the subject of guided tours which Stephanie enthusiastically informed us is right up their alley. The rates were reasonable enough that we did not have to consider searching for someone else.
Stephanie and her driver, Mr. Ma took really good care of us and took us for meals at local restaurants away from the touristy areas where we could try authentic local dishes.
On the last day when we due to depart Xi'an by overnight train to Shanghai they even sent us right to our sleeper cabin. They have to buy special tickets to gain entry to the platform which was something we did not know till a fellow passenger told us.
Stephanie is conversant in English though we did not test her out as we spoke Mandarin.
These two people are the nicest we came across during our travels in China.
I thoroughly recommend Stephanie and Mr. Ma to whomever will be visiting Xi'an and needing a private vehicle and guide.
To contact Steph: email@example.com