If you are an American on a budget or on a tight timeline, I would strongly advise against including China in your Asia travels. Visas are expensive (ca. $200) and flights from China to Southeast Asian countries can take over 6 hours, taking up a large chunk of your travel time. That being said, there is a loophole!
Despite China being the size of America, with mountains, beaches, grasslands, and deserts, 72 hours can certainly give you a taste of China which will leave you wanting more.
China offers a 72-hour free-transit-visa, which requires no application and is issued upon arrival. As long as you enter and exit from the same airport and are coming in from one country and are departing to another you may spend up to 3 days in China (i.e. ✈️ Chicago-Beijing, Beijing-Bangkok). This could enable you to see the Great Wall of China on your way to say India, just expect lots of travel time.
It should also be noted airport security will require you to show your exit ticket which should be within 72 hours of arrival. Larger airports like Beijing and Shanghai are more familiar with the transit visa so I suggest going to one of those. However, smaller airports, like Xi’an, will also issue them, just expect some more questions and time coming your way as they do not frequently encounter these requests.
I personally had no problem (other than extra questions) using the 72-hour transit visa to collect my belongings in Xi’an after my visa expired and I returned from traveling.
For any additional questions, I suggest checking out the Chinese Embassy website .
Safe travels millennials!