Planning to visit China... Help! 帮助我!

November 08, 2009, 05:13 AM posted in General Discussion

Ok so it's really not THAT serious. But basically my friend has come up with the idea to go to China and for me to accompany him. So I just have a couple of questions and figured this would be a good place to ask them. I did try checking the boards, but couldn't really find anything, if this has been discussed already, please direct me with a link and I'll be appreciative! :)

But basically, just a couple things we want to get a general idea of real quick. 

1. For a 30 day trip, taking the train to about 5 different cities, staying at relatively cheap hotels/hostels, and not eating at touristy places (except I might have to grab a Starbucks once or twice :D ), how much would this run? Excluding airfare to and from. (which by the way I'm figuring is going to run around 1500 bucks, as the dates are going to be mid Dec through mid Jan)

2. Is it recommended to book most of your hotels/hostels beforehand, or just do it when you get there? Cheaper doing it there right?

3. Any other suggestions for low-budget college students are greatly appreciated! I'm basically planning to just, well plan this thing out myself without a travel agency as we're really low-budget.


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November 08, 2009, 05:28 AM

Hey there,

Id say average hotel prices are around 200 RMB/a night for a 2-bed in the big cities and a bit cheaper in the smaller ones and much cheaper in the countryside.

There's also things like There are a lot of expats and Chinese people alike very happy to host you and show you around. (of course, you have to be comfortable to meeting up with strangers though!) 

Food will be pretty cheap, but again also depends on where you eat. I'd give yourself at least 100 RMB a day for food. There will, of course, be many days that you don't spend that much, but a few when you do (and probably more. Especially in big cities) and it'll make up for it. 

The hotels, you don't need to book in advance. That's probably more trouble than it's worth. There are so many hotels in China, that if one is booked, you can easily find another!

You're other big expense will be the train tickets. You'll have to look into how much each trip is based on what kind of seat you want and where you're going, etc.

Hope any of that helps!

Ps, if you come to Shanghai, don't forget to drop by the office!

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November 15, 2009, 04:25 PM

Considering the time if year you're going, I would give serious consideration to Southwestern China.  I won't share all my favorites, but 白色/Bose in Guangxi is quite nice,  has a historical link to Deng Xiaoping, and is close to/part of the Zhuang minority area.

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November 08, 2009, 08:59 AM

I can't add much to Jason & Matt except to say that I usually travel more cheaply!  (What is wrong with me?)  I have stayed in hotels for 15 RMB per night (provincial city.)  If you are intermediate I recommend 'Chinese' hotels (where Chinese people generally stay) or hostels - bit more exciting and you don't have to endure 'Western' breakfasts.   If you are interested in hostels (there are now YHA Hostels pretty much everywhere - check the website), often they are more attractive than hotels and cheaper. You get a member discount. Single/double rooms in a hostel will be much like your cheap hotel, but you get a place to hang out as well, and get meals (except in HK where hostels follow the old British model.)  These days lots of Chinese use the hostels so it is not just a foreigner haunt. Breakfasts in hostels will usually be 'Western' (ranging from good to horrible), but you can usually choose to go down the road and look for any place busy to buy a local breakfast.   There is a Chinese  youth hostel association as well, and some hostels are a member of both.  You can expect to pay between say 25/night - 60/night in a dorm; big city locations are more expensive.  You can book beds on the Internet, sites like  Good luck; I'm always jealous of people setting out on China travels!     

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November 08, 2009, 08:59 AM

plug for the 798 artzone in Beijing.  It's free (unlike many of the attractions in Beijing), you can spend all day there if you like contemporary art, and it has other fringe benefits.

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November 08, 2009, 01:51 PM

I did pretty much exactly that in April last year, and it cost me about £400 (maybe a bit more, there were too many shops in HK...) Get sleeper trains to save on overnight accommodation. My budget was £20 a day, which at the rate of exchange back then was about $40, i.e. at probably around 28 RMB a dollar. However, I am not sure what inflation has been like in China over the past 18 months, you may want to check.

Get a YHA card, that was about £2 and you can use it across the world - it paid itself off probably about 3 times in one night in a Western country. Compares favourably to the £20+ back home!

I often didn't bother booking anything, and just turned up (except for first couple of nights upon arrival, and I think we just found it on HostelBookers/Hostelworld etc.) I found Hostelbookers etc really useful in terms of getting reliable reviews. Lonely Planet etc can be out of date, but you are unlikely to need to book.

I think I got the CITS to book us some train tickets once, because for some reason they can book tickets from other stations, whereas I think you can only book tickets from the station you are travelling from, and you have to get them in advance... So that's not much use for a really short stop. The CITS also helped us get a sleeper bus when there weren't trains to where we were going to. However, I do not recommend the sleeper bus - they do not have toilets or toilet breaks, and neither do they have seatbelts! Though, if you don't mind that feeling of being flung from your bunk at 3 am as the bus goes over pot-holes, go for it!

Anyway, I had the most fun ever travelling round China, so enjoy!

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November 08, 2009, 02:03 PM

I'm not sure what the reference '28 RMB a dollar' means.  In the past couple of days friends got just under 10 RMB to the Euro (cash presented at a Chinese bank in China) and just under 7 RMB to the US Dollar.  Hope that helps.    

The inconvenience of having to buy train tickets at either your origin or destination (I know, it is a strange rule) and only up to (usually) three days before travel is off-set by the numerous train services in China.  If you use an agent to buy tickets there is an agency fee.   

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November 08, 2009, 05:20 PM

Hey Bodawei,

I am getting mixed up, doubling rather than dividing. Yes, 14 RMB = £1 = $2. Am being stupid.

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November 09, 2009, 01:29 AM


Matt, thanks man, so sounds like sleepers are the way to go for long distance trains. Jason, bodawei, sebire, Hostels I'm not too familiar with but I've been checking the sites that ya'll referenced and seems like the way to save a few bucks. Especially when all you need it just a place to rest for the night.

Oh and bus sleepers - a no no. Thanks for the tip sebire!

My schedule is going to depend on which city I can get a cheaper roundtrip ticket to China from Houston, Shanghai or Beijing, and from there the journey begins. For now I plan to go to the aforementioned cities with a visit to Praxis of course ;), check out the terra cotta soldiers in Xi'an,check out Chengdu, make it to Hong Kong, and other than that I'm not sure yet. I'm thinking with about 28/29 days, visiting 7/8 cities for 3/4 days each is reasonable, yes?

pretzellogic, the artzone sounds pretty interesting, thanks for the tip!

Thanks again everybody

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November 09, 2009, 09:59 AM


Sounds a fantastic trip. I'll add that the China experience is enhanced if you go to at least one of the famous natural features, like a 'famous' mountain, even if it is just for the cultural experience.  For example, Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), within striking distance of Shanghai - allow yourself three or four days all up.  If you would like something a little more unusual let me know and I could PM a couple of suggestions.  

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November 09, 2009, 09:13 PM

Hmm, I didn't have any choice regarding sleeper bus, as as far as I could tell from where I was, there was no direct train to Hong Kong. I went Beijing to Xi'an via Datong and Pinyao (Datong have these really cool grottoes and the Hanging Temple, which was super cool), then Shanghai and Hangzhou, Huang Shan, Yangshuo and Hong Kong. I think next time I would like to go to Sichuan and Yunnan province, and I would like to see more countryside. However, judging from the Chinese approach to countryside, I am not sure if I will ever find anything that hasn't had a concrete footpath poured on it, and half of it fenced off.

Another tip for saving money - bring a student card. Or claim you're a student. People seem to like that.

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November 08, 2009, 06:00 AM

@yueshuya Also you can book cheap hotels on Ctrip, Elong, Mango etc. You can even access these sites from the US (Chinese or English versions) - I THINK they quote the same prices on both language versions of these sites.

Jason was spot on with what you'd expect to pay per night in most low-cost hotels.

For train tickets check out its in Chinese but you can enter the depature and destination cities in English and select from a drop down menu in Chinese, make sure you look at the length of journey and the different seating/sleeper prices.

If you send us a list of places you will travel to and the order of travel, I'm sure one of us will help you get some prices.

I just checked your profile and saw that you are an intermediate so you probably won't have any problems with the sites I mentioned.

Hard seat 硬座

Soft seat 软座

Hard sleeper 硬卧

6 bunks per compartment, no doors.

Soft Sleeper 软卧

4 bunks per compartment, each compartment has a door that can be locked. Usually at least 50%+ more expensive than Hard sleeper

D train 动车组

(fast train - the train numbers all start with D) 

1st class seats:  一等

First class are only about 15% more expensive but there are power outlets to plug into for every set of 4 seats, the seats are way more comfy too.

2nd class seats: 二等

The train ticket you want all depends on the experience you want. Do you want to rough it out like half the population during festival times and get seats or standing tickets only, for a 24hr journey?

If you choose a sleeper, do you want to be in the middle of it all (noisy, stinky feet, snoring, never a dull moment)? Then get a hard sleeper.

Do you want to be a bit more cozy, and safer,  and hopefully get some nice compartment buddies then get a soft sleeper.

I've done the hard seat/soft seat for 16hrs and its not easy unless you got plenty of beer.

These days I prefer soft sleeper or 1st class on the D train - but I have to work to do when I'm on the train these days so I choose comfort.

Either way you'll have an awesome time.

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November 10, 2009, 01:29 PM

Their national parks are not what I expected. They don't seem very natural, and when you're on top of a mountain with people selling instant noodles and tour guides booming into their amplifying rucksacks, I thought it somewhat detracted from the natural beauty.

I wonder if it's just a place like Huangshan that is like that. I've seen some photos of other mountains, and there again seem to be lots of concrete featuring. There must be parks with less pressure on them.

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November 10, 2009, 04:07 PM


There are National Parks with Chinese characteristics.. :-)  

Seriously, Which ones did you visit?  I am drawing on my experience visiting two of the most famous ones in China: ChangBai Shan (on the North Korea border) and JiuZhaiGou (northern Sichuan); they are both extraordinary National Parks.  Although culturally, don't expect to be transported to a European or American National Park experience.  For example, Chinese people start out early in the morning!!  Too early for me.  So I am lucky to get any breakfast.  

Whether you consider these sites 'natural' is rather an intriguing question, because the natural features are unusual to say the least.  I have actually thought of them as 'un-natural' because it is so foreign to what I grew up with.  Other-world.  If you mean 'not quiet because of so many visitors' .. I would tend to agree, although in the large parks there is actually plenty of scope for getting away on your own.  In my experience it does not take much effort to walk further than the 'tour guide' sites - they are usually in a hurry and limit their stay.  Except on a busy weekend at HuangShan..:-)  

Actually, I was sometimes grateful to run into people; I would get lost and none of the maps are very helpful.  And I don't eat instant noodles.  And listening in to the booming commentary you can learn something..  

You need the time though, for a really wilderness experience ... And as I mentioned before, sometimes you have to pay a large extra fee to go off the 'concrete' paths.  

Even in ordinary countryside, far from National Parks, I have hiked for a day without seeing another person.  Again, you need the time...   

I recommended the 'mountain' experience (like HuangShan) to our fellow poddie for the cultural experience, not particularly for the natural beauty (see above.) Although the nature is still impressive - I can see what inspires the painters.  There are still areas of wilderness; it is just that you cannot access most of it.  In Australia our National Parks are similar in this respect - many areas of wilderness are inaccessible because we want to preserve them for posterity.   

I remain surprised that China has such beautiful natural areas, given the vastly different values underlying our cultures. Given the quantity and rate of development, and the pressure on natural resources.  Given the different attitudes to tourism and holidays.    

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November 14, 2009, 10:35 AM

Hi Bodawei,

I visited Huangshan, which seemed more like a giant natural theme park rather than a national park. It was fun, but there were too many people, and hotels/restaurants/concrete/barbed wire definitely detracted from what would have been a spectacular natural landscape. I would definitely still recommend it though, but I don't think there should be any expectation of it being an experience of a national park as you might find it in the West.

I've seen some photos of some of the other mountains, and it looked like the same sort of thing. Maybe I am only seeing the big tourist traps.

I will definitely have to find somewhere a bit less crowded next time. What is this big insurance charge you are talking about?

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November 15, 2009, 06:00 AM

Hi Sebire

Well, I have only experienced two of the nine famous mountains (HuangShan and E'meiShan). Huangshan is certainly developed but it is fascinating that everything is carried up and down the mountain 'by hand'.  Materials and supplies up, rubbish down.  No vehicles.  The three 'big' National Parks in Australia, Kosciusko, Kakadu and Uluru (comparable I think to HuangShan) also have hotels and restaurants, and use motor vehicles for these tasks of servicing the facilities - the three big Australian parks also have airports, and planes and helicopters flying over the parks.  So, I see what you mean, but it is hard for me to agree that Western national parks are in every way more 'natural'.  

Some of the other Chinese parks I have been to do make extensive use of vehicles, probably because of the greater scale - JiuZhaiGou, Huanglong, ChangBaiShan etc.  At JiuzhaiGou they call them 'green' buses but they are not especially green! 

The 'insurance' charge is my translation - we were told at ChangBaiShan (not one of the 9 'famous' mountains by the way) that we could walk in the hills, off the made paths, (right on the border with North Korea), if we paid an extra 800 RMB each.  I considered it to be like insurance because it would be a great deal of trouble for them if we got lost!  It would not be hard to become lost there - it is what you might call wilderness.  Visitors becoming lost happens fairly often in Australian national parks, and the cost of rescue operations is usually contentious.  I would be in favour of this system being introduced in Australia.  

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November 15, 2009, 02:21 PM

What is the map situation like? I had terrible trouble cycling around the countryside in China trying to read this stupid tourist map that wasn't to scale. I am not a hardcore trekker or anything, but I do like discreet natural footpaths and a nice walk up to the top of a hill. From the sounds of it, it seems like it is either wilderness or concrete. Is there anything in between?

It's funny, my companion was complaining that China had the audacity to charge us to see something that was natural. Turns out, I think, that Britain must be unusual because our national parks are free.

Those parks you mention look spectacular. I must visit one day. I wonder if there are any lessons on Chinese national parks...

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November 15, 2009, 02:41 PM

Hey, Bodawei. Were there any traces left of the famous E'mei martial arts at E'meishan?

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November 15, 2009, 02:58 PM

@simonpetterson I know a guy who lives in Germany who studied E'Mei gongfu about 2 years ago...there should be ppl still practicing it.

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November 15, 2009, 03:12 PM

@yueshuya I'd suggest Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province, and also Changsha or some small towns near there for super yummy spicy 湘菜  xiāngcài Hunanese cuisine.

I'd pick Suzhou OR Hangzhou, although they are close to each other (2.5 hrs apart by D train).

I'm sure you'll be getting enough suggestions from Poddies but what ever you do - try to eat where locals eat, not touristy places, find out the local specialities not the tourist specialities eg scorpion on a skewer in Beijing is tourist food, deep fried scorpionson a plate in Xuzhou is local food etc.

Go for packed out with patrons over nice looking interior decoration, when you can try to have 农家菜  nóngjiācài - but preferably at someones house.

If you do go to Changsha I can suggest the best place for 夜宵 yèxiāo night food.

Be daring with your explorations but also remember safety.

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November 10, 2009, 11:18 AM


There is a direct train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, it's very convenient.  

There is Chinese 'countryside', actually quite a lot of it, but not necessarily tourist friendly.  Or, if you wish to wander in the wilds you may be faced with a hefty fee (call it insurance) - a reasonable solution under the circumstances.  'Concrete' paths are, again, a wise solution for a country with massive visitor numbers to desirable spots.  They are not always concrete - some are environmentally friendly and aesthetically smart.    

PS. The student card trick does not work everywhere, even if you really are a student in China, and it is less likely to work if you are a student in your home country.   However, there are gullible people everywhere.