I am taking my 83-year old mother on an overseas odyssey this Summer, with Istanbul as the hinge--we will fly roundtrip to/from Ataturk International Airport from/to gateway Houston International. STA gave me an extremely lucrative price. A high point (pun intended) of our trip will be China, with emphasis on Tibet. Of course, a visa (tourist) for China is required, and I've closely monitored discussion on Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet Thorn Tree regarding the timing, etc., which has been invaluable.
I took my two children (then 12, daughter, & 14, son) abroad in 2004(those exploits are recorded in my 2nd & 3rd books, written under my pseudonym "Juanito Hayburg"), part of which involved journeying to China (where we were fortunately able to catch International Train K3 back to Moscow!) and I was able to obtain "open" (we were able to enter, but had no definite exit plan) visas for us then, but that was a decade ago; things inevitably change.
I was concerned about the latest visa requirements, but after much vacillation in considering which agency to use, my son, now a World-traveler for IBM, advised me to contact Wooee Visa [www.ExpressVisa2China.com; +1.832.455.2401] in HoustonTX-USA.
Following the website's explicit directions and speaking with rep Daisy, I had tourist visas in our passports for both myself and my mother WITHIN A MONTH! The visa is valid for a year, (expires 22APR2015) with no entry period to exceed 60 days. I was amazed! This is GREAT, and I highly recommend this visa service.
I will state that filling out the official visa request form was more challenging because an itinerary is expected, along with certain details, including specific addresses. Also, I did not included any indication of going to Tibet, which another TA poster had written would result in no visa.
In fact, if one is wanting to go Tibet, you need another permit (or more, depending upon where you are going) and must be part of a "tour group", which can be efficiently handled by an excellent tour company--I am using www.tibetCtrip.com (also LP recommended).
I now have virtually no qualms about this magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime journey (although, I do intend to return in the hopefully not-to-distant future--maybe as a retiree?-- to pedal the Friendship Highway!), with the only challenge of paying for it. I have been saving for years by using of a credit card in which I've been able to accumulate airmiles reward points, which will be quickly depleted.
Being a USA citizen, I have rarely ever been denied access when traveling, although Brother Nils & I were refused entry into Albania, East Germany and the Soviet Union when we pedaled that continent in 1981. Flash forward to 2004, my next overseas opportunity, and how the World had changed. A decade later, the World politic continues to change--mostly for the better, I might add, though there are still hotspots of problems.
I hope this latest update is useful to you. Keep on traveling--"You don't know until you go!"