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Budget guide to backpacking China travelThis budget guide to backpacking China will give you everything you need to know about China travel. From the cost of accommodation to cuisine and culture, we’ll cover it all right here! We travelled around China for a month and lived there for 13 months, so we consider ourselves experts on this amazing country. With world-class hostels, unbeatable history, second to none sights and extremely hospitable people, China is one of the most underrated backpacking destinations in the world!

Jump To: Must-see Places | Must-Have Experiences | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Health | Weather

How Much Will China Cost?

china for budget backpackers
Budget For China

$75/day for 2 people. 

This is a very comfortable budget allowing for lots of delicious food, plenty of beer, all of the sites and nice budget-level, private hostel room accommodation.

China is still a cheap place to visit, though costs of trains and sites can add up quickly.

Budget Accommodation: ($10-$30/night)

Accommodation

You may be surprised at how good the hostels are here in China! The staff is extremely helpful and speak great English, be sure to take advantage of this when you’re going to your next destination. Ask them to write down some Chinese directions for you to show taxi/bus drivers to ease your travel days. The rooms are always clean and comfortable, typically there are special nights (dumpling making, BBQ’s, etc.) and the hostels always have a great vibe.

**GOAT NOTE: Yangshuo Culture House is one of the best guest houses we’ve ever stayed at. The owner, Wei will feed you 3 delicious meals a day and treat you like family all for just $15/day/person.

Eating: ($0.50-$5/meal)

Chinese food is best enjoyed in large groups, so if you’re travelling with other people, definitely go to the restaurant together, order a bunch of dishes and share them around the table. Great dumplings, steamed buns, cold/hot noodles and  soup dishes can be ordered on the street for pennies, while amazing meals in restaurants can be had for under $3. Chinese food is some of the best in the world and it’s way better in China! (Go figure)

The Food in China Travel
Delicious Hot Pot

Entrance Fees: (Average $15/person)

Entrence fees For Budget Backpackers in Egypt

Most sites will cost around $10 – $25. The Great Wall Of China costs 45 Yuan ($7.50), The Forbidden City is 80 Yuan ($13.50), and 150 Yuan ($25) for the Terracotta Warriors. Use a student card (or even try your driver’s licence) and you can get 50% off all entrance fees.

A good tour to the Great Wall from Beijing can be arranged from Dragon Guest House for 280 Yuan ($48) includes pickup and drop off at the Great Wall, as well as a delicious lunch. This “tour” is not tacky or touristy as there is no guide and you are free to walk around and explore the Wall for 3 hours.

Alcohol: ($0.30 Big Beer, $3 Cocktails)

Tsingtao beer china travelBeer is tasty and cheap in China. In fact, it’s the cheapest beer we’ve ever come across. The most popular brew is Tsingtao, but other beers are much cheaper.

You can get a case of 12 big bottles (650 mL) for under $5! A big beer at a restaurant is almost always under a dollar.

Tipping:

china travel

DON’T TIP! There is absolutely no tipping in China. If you try to leave your change or give extra money to your taxi driver, he’ll probably just look at you in confusion. They don’t tip for ANYTHING in China so just take your change for everything you do. They won’t understand that you’re trying to give them gratuity, they’ll just tell you to take your money.

Must-See Places:

China is jam-packed full of amazing sights and incredible history. You could spend a lifetime here and not see it all. But here is a list of our favorite places (from south – north) that you should definitely try to visit while you’re here.

Hong Kong (香港) :

Hong Kong is expensive, but it’s a buzzing city with a modern vibe. There are great restaurants and bars here and the City is completely alive at night. Make sure to check out some of the ancient architecture, old towns and outlying islands as well. Hong Kong isn’t all about the nightlife!

Travelling In China The Hong Kong Skyline
The Hong Kong Skyline

backpacking china where to stay in hong kong Click here for the best hostels in Hong Kong!

Click here for the best hotels in Hong Kong!

Yangshuo (阳朔):

A stunning range of rice paddies, farmland and picturesque rivers all divided by massive limestone karsts that erupt from the ground like giant fingers. Rent a bicycle and peddle around the amazing countryside, go for hikes, take a boat ride down the Yangtze river and mingle with the friendly locals. This is one of the most beautiful places in China.

Cycling Yangshuo, China Travel
Cycling Yangshuo, China

backpacking china where to stay Click here for the best hostels in Yangshuo. (We stayed at and recommend the Yangshuo Culture House!)

Click here for the best hotels in Yangshuo.

Guilin & The Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces (龙胜梯田):

Another scenic little Chinese city where the main draw is a trip out to the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces. An awe-inspiring panoramic view of shimmering rice paddies etched out of the mountainside over 500 years ago. (Tour from Guilin is 130 yuan/person for transport, check with your hostel.)

The Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces Travelling China
The Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

backpacking china where to stayClick here for the best hostels in Guilin. (We stayed at and highly recommend Guilin Central Hostel!)

Click here for the best hotels in Guilin.

Túnxī (屯溪区):

This beautiful old town in An Hui province is well worth the trip. Old architecture, narrow alleys, friendly people and great hostels make this an excellent town to visit. If you are near Shanghai and you want to see an old Chinese town, which isn’t often frequented by tourists, Túnxī is a great choice.

Tunxi At Night Backpacking China
Tunxi At Night

backpacking china where to stayClick here for the best hostels in Tunxi

Click here for the best hotels in Tunxi.

Chengdu (成都):

This city is a sprawling metropolis of nearly 15,000,000 people. The city itself has a couple of nice gardens and a beautiful (if over-restored) old town. The main draw here is a trip to Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (Xiongmao Jidi) where you can see these amazing creatures sleep, eat, sit in trees and live out their panda lives. The enclosures are large and the pandas are well taken care of, but there is a zoo-ish feel to the complex.

Adorable Pandas Near Chengdu Travelling China On A Budget
Adorable Pandas Near Chengdu

backpacking china where to stayClick here for the best hostels in Chengdu. (We stayed at and highly recommend Hello Chengdu International Youth Hostel!)

Click here for the best hotels in Chengdu.

Shanghai (上海):

The city’s infamous skyline, old architecture and funky walking street are definitely worth a visit. Although it can often be quite polluted, Shanghai is probably the coolest big city in China. There is a lot to do here and there are some excellent restaurants. We definitely recommend a stop in the city while you’re in China.

Travelling China Shanghai Skyline At Night
Shanghai Skyline At Night

backpacking china where to stayClick here for the top hostels in Shanghai. (We stayed Mingtown Etour International Youth Hostel many times and recommend it!

Click here for top hotels in Shanghai.

Xi’an & The Terracotta Warriors (西安)  :

Xi’an is a very nice city with an interesting Muslim district that is well worth a visit on its own, but most people are here to see the Terracotta army.

You’ll probably hear mixed reviews on this place while backpacking around China and we have no idea why! The army was created by and buried with the fist emperor of China,  Qin Shi Huang, in the year 210 B.C.

It’s an absolutely breathtaking site and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Terracotta Warriors. The intricately carved army of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses is enormous and unbelievable to see.

Travelling China To See The Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army

backpacking china where to stayClick here for the best hostels in Xi’an. (We stayed at Xiangzimen International Youth Hostel and highly recommend it!)

Click here for the best hotels in Xi’an.

Beijing (北京):

Although this city can often be choked to death with horrible pollution, everyone who comes to China should try to see the Great Wall. It’s a Wonder Of The World and rightly so.

8,850 km (5,500 mi) of decrepid brick structure stretches over mountains and hills from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west. A “tour” here from Beijing including lunch will cost you $48.

There are many different areas of the wall to visit and we recommend Mutianyu because it is less crowded and easy to find your way away from everyone! There’s much more to see in the city of Beijing itself – don’t miss it!

The Great Wall Of China On A Budget
Alone On The Great Wall Of China

backpacking china where to stayClick here for the best hostels in Beijing. (We stayed at and recommend the Dragon King Hostel!)

Click here for the best hotels in Beijing.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a definite must see in China. Vertical cliffs rise dramatically from the turquoise waters to the glaciated peak of Snow Dragon Snow Mountain. The Jinsha River meanders its way through terraced farmlands and imposing limestone ridges, creating one of the most stunning backdrops to be found anywhere in China.

Must-have Experiences:

Order Chinese Food With Chinese People:

Chinese food is absolutely delicious, but many of the best menus are in Chinese or in poorly translated English (Chinglish). Try to meet a local family to take you out and order up some dishes. The cuisine here comes in an astonishing variety of flavours, colors and body parts. You may be like us and realize that you really enjoy duck’s blood and ox tongue!

Chinese food while travelling China
Delicious Chinese Dumplings

Chinese Hot Pot:

Okay so 2 of these highlights already include food, but it’s a huge part of the culture here and hot-pot is the best way to experience Chinese food. Dip your thinly sliced meats, skewers and vegetables into a bubbling broth of herbs and spices. The best hot pots can be found in Sichuan province.

Hot Pot China Travel
Tasty Hot Pot

Try To Speak Chinese:

This is an incredibly difficult language to learn and the locals seem to know it! Try to learn a few phrases and surprise shop owners and taxi drivers. They’ll often get a kick out of your attempts and will love you for trying.

Wander Around An Old Town:

Even in China’s most modern cities, you’ll find an old town. It’s amazing to see islands of the olden day culture, trapped inside a sea of metropolitan modernity. Walk through the narrow alleys and meet friendly local people washing clothes in the canals or cooking outside. The old towns of China are a definite highlight!

Old Towns In China Travel
A Canal In The Old Town Of Yangzhou

Go To KTV:

KTV is the Chinese version of karaoke and it’s a huge part of the culture here. For Chinese people, a night out will almost always end at a KTV, where they rent a room with booze and sing their hearts away to a cheesy random music video displayed on screen. Going to KTV is a great way to meet Chinese people and to have a crazy time out.

Eat Something Weird:

There are loads of crazy things on the menus here, but they almost always taste good! Try something weird and you’ll probably like it!

Backpacking In China Some Insect Skewers In Beijing
Some Insect Skewers In Beijing

Go To A Garden:

Almost all of China’s cities and towns have some beautiful gardens you can stroll through. They’re a great way to get away from the city noise and enjoy some peace and quiet while surrounded by ancient architecture.

Travelling China
A Beautiful Garden In Suzhou, China

Go To A Tea House:

There are plenty of old style tea houses throughout China where you can mingle with old men and watch life go by. These tea houses also have a plethora of delicious herb drinks on the menu and often offer other strange services like ear cleaning and shoe shining.

Play Mahjong:

You’ll see this game played everywhere in China. Commonly refered to as Chinese rummy, the bet at these small round tables are placed to the clatter of tiny porcelain tiles. If you can learn it, you’ll probably love it.

Drink Baijiu:

This toxic petroleum flavoured liquor is the shot of choice for Chinese men. The only reason I’m adding this putrid fuel to this list is because it’s a great (and often the only) way to bond with Chinese men over dinner.

Off The Beaten Path In China:

Off The Beaten Path

China is huge!

There are over 1.3 billion Chinese people here, so the few foreign people who inhabit this country barely make a chip in the population.

You’ll see plenty of white faces around major tourist sites and cities but for the most part, you’ll only bump into other travellers at your hostel. In General, the western part of China is less touristy, as is the north.

Yangzhou:

There are hardly any westerners here and the ones who are here, live here. Yangzhou is a lovely town (we’re bias because we lived here) and it’s worth a visit for the old town, beautiful Slender West Lake Park and the friendly, inquisitive locals.

The Great Wall:

There are areas of the wall that are completely crowded and pointless to see. We met plenty of people who hiked great distances along the wall and camped along the way. Even in our short visit to Mutianyu we were able to walk far away from people and find a part of the wall to ourselves. If you want an off the beaten path adventure, we’d recommend hiking from Badaling to Mutianyu and spending a night on the wall in a tent or under one of the outpost huts.

Suzhou:

Considered the “Venice Of The East“, Suzhou is a beautiful canal town with a great old district. Nowadays the boats usually patrol the waters looking to pick up Chinese tourists, but there are hardly any foreigners here and the place as a great ancient vibe.

Get Lost:

Almost everywhere you go in China will have great opportunities to get off the beaten path. Get lost in old towns or ride your bike out to surrounding villages and you’ll definitely find some authentic Chinese culture. It’s a very easy place to get away from crowds, despite its immense population.

Pros Of Backpacking China:

ProsChina is a great place to travel and there are plenty of reasons to come here. It’s not on the traveller’s radar yet, but it’s slowly starting to appear on the backpacker’s itinerary, and for good reason!

There’s so much to see and do here. These are just some of the reasons why we love China travel!

The People:

Chinese people are full of smiles and are extremely honest. It’s one of the few places you’ll visit in the east, where you can actually trust your taxi driver to use the meter. People at markets and hotels are never out to rip you off and all those stares you get are from sheer curiosity and amazement. The people in China are some of the friendliest in the world… for sure!

A Typical Friendly Old Chinese Woman
A Typical Friendly Old Chinese Woman

The Hostels:

Chinese hostels are incredibly funky, convenient and efficient. You’ll be treated by some of the most informative staff you’ll find in any hospitality business anywhere in the world! The hostels in China are some of our favourite for sure.

Click here to book awesome hostels and guesthouses around China. We use and recommend Hostel World 🙂

The Food:

It’s hard to beat China for sheer diversity and flavor. Probably rivalled only by Indian cuisine, Chinese food is delicious and memorable. You may be surprised at how different it is from Chinese food at home, but it’s better in every way… especially the amazing street food!

Food in China Travel
Delicious Boiled Meatballs

Cons Of Backpacking China:

ConsChina’s a great place to travel, but like everywhere, there are some cons to travelling China.

You’ll hear people raving about China both positively and negatively, but the greatness of the destination far outweighs any bad experiences you may have here.

There are just a few cons that stand out for us.

Sanitation:

A Typical Sight In China
A Typical Sight In China

Chinese cities are surprisingly clean. The government spends a lot of time and money on landscaping and garbage control. But there are some habits that the Chinese people maintain, that make for questionable sanitation standards. You’ll often see children with holes cut out of their pants and this is not so they can use the bathrooms easier.

Chinese children are frequently encouraged to use the public world as their toilet. From super markets to restaurants, train platforms to sidewalks, you’ll see plenty of number 1’s and 2’s being left in public places. A little hard to get used to, but hey, it’s a different country.

Pollution:

This is an increasingly unhealthy issue for travelling and living in China. Levels of air pollution have reached record levels in recent months with air particles considered extremely hazardous to human health floating around the eastern half of the country. Check out the true Air Quality Index Here and wear a mask when it looks smoggy outside.

The Actual View From Our Apartment During Terrible Pollution
The Actual View From Our Apartment During Terrible Pollution

The Language Barrier:

For a fast-developing nation, China has a surprisingly low-level of spoken English. Aside from hostels, hotels and some restaurants, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who can speak English.

The best way to get past this is to use the staff at your hostel and have them write out directions and simple phrases for your travel days. Keep in mind that this language barrier is part of what makes China so delightfully foreign.

Limited & Censored Internet:

This can be a bit of a hassle for those of us who use Facebook, Twitter and certain blog websites to keep our families and friends updated on our travels. The Chinese government continually cracks down on these types of sites and it’s a good idea to download FreeGate or purchase a VPN before coming here. For a full list of blocked websites Click Here.

Smoking Everywhere!

Designated-Smoking-cigarette-smokers-824105_1920_1920Whether you’re a smoker or not, it may be hard to get used to the amount of tobacco often floating in the air. Men here smoke before, during and after just about everything they do, both inside and out. If you don’t like it… too bad!

The People In China:

The people you encounter while backpacking through a country can have a profound impact on the way you view a destination. Not only the local people, but the types of other travellers as well.

Types Of Other Travellers:

china travel
Types Of Travellers

As China slowly starts to appear on the backpacker radar, there is an increasing number of visitors to the country. There are generally 3 types of foreigners here: Expats who work and live here now, tour groups who visit sites and cities on a bus trip, or independent travellers like us.

The latter are a great group of intrepid souls who will make great company at a hostel dinner table. Expats are great to meet up with as they know a lot about China that you would never learn from just travelling here.

The Locals:

People Of China Travel
People Of China

As we stated above, Chinese people are incredibly friendly and hospitable.

The best thing about them is their honesty, always giving you genuine smiles and true prices. It’s endearing to see how excited they get when they see you and yell “waiguoren!” (foreigner) to alert their friends and family.

Unless you’re at a very touristy site, you can expect that everyone that approaches you really does just want to talk.

Communication In China:

Communication
Communication

This can be one of the hardest parts of travelling China. Mandarin is by far the most widely spoken language and very few people can speak English. Each region has a different dialect that can be so distinct, that even Chinese people can have a hard time understanding each other. Try to learn a few key phrases and work on pronouncing tones! (it’s very hard)

Getting Around In China:

China has an excellent network of trains, buses and hired taxis. Many of the trains are extremely modern and can reach speeds of nearly 400km/hour! Travelling here is comfortable and affordable, given the great distances involved.

Remember to have your hostel write down instructions so that you can just hand it to the Chinese ticket sales assistant instead of trying to pronounce the city names yourself. (you’ll probably end up in the wrong place if you do!)

Taxi drivers are honest and will always use the meter.

Transportation In China Travel
A Pair of Bullet Trains In China

Visa Regulations For China:

china travel
Visa Regulations

Most travelLers will need a visa to visit mainland China. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure (No Visas On Arrival). However, citizens from most Western countries do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau.

Getting a tourist visa (L-Visa) is fairly easy for most passports as you don’t need an invitation, which is required for business or working visas. The usual tourist single-entry visa is valid for a visit of 30 days and must be used within three months of the date of issue. A double-entry tourist visa must be used within six months of the date of issue. It is possible to secure a tourist visa for up to 90 days for citizens of some countries. Canadians pay $60, while Americans pay $140.

If you have the option, it’s best to land in Hong Kong, where you don’t need a visa, and apply for the Chinese Visa there. Hostels, hotels and guesthouses can also arrange to get you your visa for a fee. You’ll need 2 photos, a photocopy of your passport and the filled out application forms.

Always check with the Chinese embassy before your trip, as visa situations are constantly changing.

Entry Requirements To China:

budget backpacking china
Entry Requirements

You will need to have at least one blank page in your passport which must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry.

China is a very easy place to visit and there aren’t too many regulations to follow before arrival. The visa situation is always changing so check the current regulations here.

There are no required vaccinations, no invitation letters and no hassles entering the borders by land or by air.

Health In China:

HealthThe biggest health risk in China is probably food poisoning and traveller’s diarrhea, although sanitation standards in restaurants are relatively high so this shouldn’t be a huge issue.

We would suggest packing a medical kit that includes some antibiotics for traveller’s diarrhea, Peptol Bismol for upset stomachs and Tylenol for hangover headaches (Baijieu hangovers are painful). Be sure that all medications are in their original marked containers to avoid problems with immigration officials.

Phone & Internet In China:

china travel
Phone & Internet

Most hostels, hotels and tourist restaurants will have wi-fi, but as stated above, the internet is censored and limited in China.

You can get good internet on your smart phone. Sim cards and airtime is extremely cheap in China, especially if you stick to mainly text messages.

It’s a good idea to have a mobile phone so that you can call a hostel or bilingual friend to get you out of a communication jam.

When Is The Best Time To Visit China?

travel china backpackers
Weather In China

China stretches across a vast territory that includes some climactic extremes. From the bitter cold of the far northern border near Mongolia, to the sub-tropical climate in the south, China has a varied weather system. The best time to visit China is generally either spring (March to May) or autumn (September to early November).

Beijing can be bitterly cold in the winter and even Shanghai reaches temperatures below freezing. Hong Kong is considerably warmer but can be drenched in the rainy season, with typhoons liable to hit the southeast coast between July and September.

Overall Rating:

7 Stars1

China is a perfect place to don a backpack and explore. The people are friendly, the food is incredible and the sights are fantastic! The language barrier, sanitation and smoking may cost it a couple of stars, but it’s still one of the most underrated places to travel!

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69 thoughts on “Budget Guide To Backpacking China

  1. This is brilliant! Thank so much. I’ve just printed this out and added it to my china folder. I’m a 19 year old male and I will be travelling travelling China and Thailand for 2 months starting mid june.
    Really looking forward to China but also very nervous since I’ll be travelling solo.
    Quick question. How hard was it for you to get train tickets 2/3 days before your travel as I’ve heard there sold out by then.
    I think its amazing what your doing!

    1. Hi Phil!

      Thanks so much for the comment. We’re glad the guide was useful for you. China is an amazing country, we love living here and we loved travelling here. Thailand is great as well.

      Don’t worry about travelling alone, you’ll meet lots of backpackers at the hostels and will have a great time.

      We always purchased our train tickets about 3 days in advance, sometimes less. Depending on the journey, it may or may not be sold out. Popular journeys could be sold out, and if it’s a holiday, then book as far in advance as you can! We always rode on Hard Sleeper (it’s the cheapest and is still comfortable)

      The best plan is to book tickets through your hostel, as the people at the train offices don’t typically speak English…or, do as we did and have the hostel write down in Chinese what you want and then buy it yourself, it’s cheaper that way!

      Let us know if you have any other Q’s.

      Cheers.

    2. [email protected] says:

      Thank you so much, this website is awesome, it was just what I was looking for.

      All I need to do now is find some travel companions who want to travel April 2015.

      Thanks.

  2. Thank you so much for your great posts on China. We just got our tourist visa approved and will be departing for China within the month- and then onto Mongolia. Keep up the great blog!

      1. Hi, I’m 18 years old and I have saved around 10000 chinese yuan, I was wondering if that would be enough to have a good tour of China (not the entire country, of course)?

        1. Hi Jobran,

          It will cost you about $40 USD/day to travel in China.

          10,000 RMB (Yuan) = $1,612 USD, so based on that, you will be able to stay for for about 40 days! That’s lots of time.

          Enjoy

  3. Thanks for this. I’m a fellow Canadian as well and will be backpacking through China in March 2014, starting in Beijing and working my way south into Vietnam and Cambodia. A little worried that I don’t know any Mandarin (I’ll eventually get a phrasebook to help me), but that’ll be part of the adventure!

    1. Hey Jaison!
      Glad to hear from a fellow Canadian 🙂

      We didn’t know any Chinese when we first travelled here (and now know a bit), but we had no issues getting around. If you stay at the hostels, the staff there will speak English. They’ll write down anything you need to show to a taxi driver or a train/bus station. I’d suggest brushing up on your charades 😉

      Cheers, have a great time…it’s an awesome country.

  4. Hi there,

    I am writing from Switzerland (watches and chees :).

    My plan is to travel from Moscow by Transsib and from there through China to Vietnam, Laos etc…
    I’ve spoken to some people who were afraid of china because of the security. They said that kidnapping and organ trafficking is a huge problem. Have you ever been in dangerous situations?

    Thanks again for your great blog.

    Cheers,
    Oliver

    1. Hi Oliver!

      That sounds like a great journey you have planned.

      We have literally never felt safer than our time spent in China. There is definitely no security threats or need to worry about organ trafficking or kidnapping.

      Go and enjoy China, it’s awesome!

    2. Hello Oliver! I’m Chinese myself. Don’t worry, they only kidnap kids who are left alone. Since you are adult, there won’t be a problem. As to organ trafficking, well, they mainly come from executed inmates and those who sell their organs willingly. Basically those two things you mentioned above rarely happen given China’s huge population, and have nothing to do with foreign tourists, rest assure! By people who were afraid of china because of the security, do you mean China’s security force? If that’s so, it’s fine, really, as long as you don’t get involved in sensitve issues!

      And kudos to our dear Goats! I’m from Jiangsu Province myself! It’s shame that people only know about Beijing and Shanghai while Suzhou,Yangzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou are such a treat! Hope you can come back to China again!

      Best regards!
      Señol Aloz

  5. dear sir, my friends and I would like to go to visit china next may for about 3 wks. would you be kind enough to enlighten us with an internary and the best place to visit during these three wks plus we would like to include Tibet in the visit. we would like to travel backpack as our budget is low. thank you for your help, awaiting your reply.

    1. Hello Ray,
      It really depends on what you are interested in! Try to see Yunnan Province, Shanghai, Beijing (Great Wall of China), Xian (Terracotta Warriors). The south is hot in May but still beautiful. Yangshuo and Guilin are nice – rice terraces and karsts.

      China can be travelled quite inexpensively as well. Beer, accommodation and food are cheap. Transportation can add up, but it’s great value.

      Let us know if you have specific questions on a particular area and we’d be glad to help 🙂

      Enjoy China.

  6. Hey guys,
    First of all thanks for this post its soo interesting and helpful. It boosted my confidence on my trip a bit because the only downsides you give are things that I would have expected.
    Well anyways I’m Spanish and Im on an exchange year at NUS in Singapore. I have just had the spontaneous idea to travel for at least 3 weeks around china solo. Im a bit nervous because some friends have been telling me that it could get dangerous being a 20 year old tourist even tho I am a guy for me to be going around the very rural or non-modern areas of China, like fataly dangerouse and i’m not about that. My past experience in Baijing however was awesome so i suspect they are trying to mess with me but I don’t know if it is even comparable to an actual backpacking trip around other areas in China such as Lama and Anhui as well as the other touristic areas like Xian. What do you think about the safety situation?
    And I know that it will be quite a bit colder as I am planning to start my travels in Shanghai just b4 the new year around Christmas untill mid January. So do you have any idea of how the temperatures differ in different areas? Is there any places you believe might be really tough during this period?
    Finally, this might be a very trivial question but how would you guys go about travelling to see these amazing views as backpackers, because this would be my first trip as a backpacker? Do you try to get a local agency to have a guide on the spot or in advance or do you guys just read up and attempt it alone??
    I hope that I can improve my Chinese on my trip and meet new people I’m sure if all goes well it will be the experience of a lifetime.
    Thanks for the blog and awaiting your reply, and sorry for such a long post XD,
    Sami

    1. Hey Sami,
      Thanks for the comment. We hope you’re enjoying Singapore!

      China is a big, beautiful country with amazing culture, food and people. It can be a bit difficult to travel around because of the language barrier – but people do it all the time! If we can do it, you can do it.

      The hostels in China are fantastic. The staff speak English and they have great amenities for tourists. So, if you want to go to the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, your hostel can point you in the right direction. They can write things down for you in Chinese as well so that you can show your taxi driver.

      China is NOT dangerous. Out of all of the countries we’ve travelled to, we felt the safest in China. Period.

      It will be cold in January. But, if you stick to the southern provinces, it’s not too bad. Yunan is beautiful and is 8-17 degrees in January. The cities of Guilin and Yangshuo in the south are about 9 degrees at that time. It is VERY hot and humid in China in the summer, so winter/fall is preferable. Even though January is cold, the air is crisper and clearer!

      We didn’t take any guides in China. If you have a Lonely Planet guidebook or something else like that, and you talk to your hostel for information, you can definitely travel by yourself. You will also meet fellow backpackers along the way.

      I hope this helps.
      Let us know if you have any other questions.

      Cheers!

  7. Hi to you both
    I am going on a six month backpack journey down through Asia for my 50 Birthday
    I will be visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangkok, I am going on my own from the month of October 2014 to March 2015 can’t wait 🙂 I travelled to Thailand about 8 times,But never backpack so this is a new experience for me. So all I like to know how easy is it to find backpackers hostels in China and how would I get in to a hostel as I never done it before
    Cheers Nigel

    1. Hey Nigel!

      Your upcoming trip sounds amazing. You’ve chosen some pretty great countries to travel through!

      In China, you can find hostels to stay at by going online, try:

      HostelWorld:

      http://www.hostelworld.com/index.php?affiliate=goatsontheroad

      or HostelBookers:

      http://www.hostelbookers.com/

      Another way to find Hostels are ones listed in your Guidebook (ie: Lonely Planet China).

      Once you’ve chosen a place to stay, you could check for further reviews about it on TripAdvisor:

      http://www.tripadvisor.com/

      Good luck and Happy Travels!

  8. Hey there! Awesome write up! I’m an Aussie off to China in Dec and I really want to go the Harbin Ice festival as it looks AMAZING! Apparently it gets to minus 30 degrees? Have you been? I feel I will freeze to death! If you have been – any tips for avoiding this? 😉 Also, it will be okay to navigate there from Beijing without a tour… suuurely?
    Also, I’m panda obsessed and will definitely be heading to Chengdu. Any other recommendations for amazing panda experiences?
    Loved reading your post, cheers, Amanda

    1. Hey Amanda!

      Well, being Canadian, we’re used to the cold 😉 haha. Never been to Dalian but would LOVE to go. Just wear a jacket, scarf and boots and you’ll be fine!

      Yes, you can most definitely go by train. There is a bullet (fast) train or a normal train available. You can book the tickets when you are in Beijing, either from your guest house or at the station. If you’re going for the ice festival, I’d recommend booking your tickets as early as you can, maybe lots of people will be heading there?

      Have a look at this link for times and fares – but do check when you’re in Beijing to make sure these times are correct:
      http://www.beijingchina.net.cn/transportation/train/train-from-dalian.html

      Apart from Chengdu, I’m not sure about any other panda experiences, but I do recommend seeing them, they are soooo adorable 🙂

      Cheers and happy travels.

  9. Awesome site guys with really useful information. I’m considering teaching and traveling in China and your site has helped answer a lot of questions I had. Thanks! Keep up the good work

  10. Hey guys!

    We are currently in Beijing and are looking to book the trip to the Great Wall that you spoke about, the one through Dragon Guest House, just wondering if this is ‘Happy Dragon Guest House’ or ‘New Dragon Guest House’ ? Or even better, do you happen to have their website where we can find an address.

    Thanks so much for the back packing guide, has really helped us plan our trip, not just in China!

    Abby & Justin

  11. Hi,

    What a wonderful post – so very helpful! We have never done backpacking before but we’ve been to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines on separate trips. We love Asia and now we are planning a backpacking trip across China and Thailand (mainly China and briefly Thailand).
    We are thinking to go in mid May for 4 weeks. Around 3 weeks in China and 1 week in Thailand. We will most likely fly to Shanghai. Would you recommend traveling south of the country – Shanghai, Guilin, Kunming and then Bangkok or stay in Shanghai for a few days and fly to Beijing to travel north/central? We prefer temperature to be around 24-27 degrees Celsius, so no heat!
    We understand that 3 weeks is very little for this massive country, so we will need to concentrate on a certain route/area. We want to see natural beauty, landscapes, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, meet other travelers and enjoy great food. We don’t have to see Great Wall or Terracotta Warriors. We prefer somewhere less touristic. Any suggestions?

    Thank you are keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Jolanta!

      We’re so happy you found the post useful 🙂 China is a massive country with so much to see and do. If you’re interested in being places that are less touristy, going in May is a good idea as it’s the shoulder season. May 1 – 3 is a holiday in China and it can be quite busy with locals.

      We enjoyed the south – Guilin, Yangshuo, Hangzhou, Suzhou and if you can, Yunnan Province. You could always take a train to get to Beijing if you wanted to – Although touristy, the Wall is beautiful. Also, May is technically the rainy season for some of the country, but it makes it look much more lush and green! Plus, you can’t predict the weather anymore.

      Enjoy China 🙂

  12. Hey guys
    I am going to have a business trip in shenzhen for two weeks ;would you please guide me for any cool attractions or places in this city?

    1. That’s awesome that you’re going to China! Personally, we’ve never spent any time in Shenzhen though 🙁 We’ve only taken a train from Hong Kong to there and then left right away. It’s easy to pop into Hong Kong though and I suggest doing that (if you are able to?)

      Check out this article for more on Shenzhen:
      http://wikitravel.org/en/Shenzhen

      Have fun!

  13. Hi Goats,

    Great article and website, it’s been really helpful in assisting me to plan my trip. I’m planning 3 months in SE Asia and then 3 months in China with maybe a week or two in Mongolia. Followed by a year living in Chiang Mai, Thailand while I study at an Australian University externally (online) for a year doing postgrad studies. At the moment my plan is looking something like this; Yangshou, Longji, Zhangjiajie, Yichang, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, Shanghai, Huangshan, Beijing. Would you recommend adding or dropping anywhere from that list?

    So I’m pretty comfortable with everything you’ve said and I have a couple more questions. Firstly the $75 per day that you’ve suggested is for couples, what would the solo traveller requirement be? Secondly, I’m confused by the requirement for visas. My understanding of the difficulty of the process has been very different from your discription. My main concern has been that I’m not going on a tour group or staying with locals that can vouch for me and am planning to be there for 3 months. All I do know if is that I’ll need at least a double entry into China visa if I plan to go to Mongolia. I’m Australian if that matters when considering the visa.

    My last nuggest is that I made all of these plans after finding out I was being made redundant less than two weeks ago and that my contract finishes on Dec 31st and so I’m planning to leave Jan 1st which I’m super excited about! It just doesn’t leave much time to organise the visas.

    Thanks again, Jaime

    1. Hi Gang, here is an epic link I was looking at that went into some detail about visas. If I’m travelling from Vietnam could I potentially get a visa there? Had planned to go to Hong Kong from there but if it means getting a visa I’d be happy to make other arrangements.

      Cheers,
      Jaime

    2. Hey Jaime!

      Sounds like an epic adventure you’re about to embark on!! How exciting. You’ll need a visa ahead of time for China and for Mongolia. The ones for SE Asia you can get on the road. We haven’t entered China from Vietnam, but I found a blogger who has – she is American. I hope this is useful for you:
      http://www.bemytravelmuse.com/chinese-visa-in-hanoi/

      Also, make sure to look into the duration of the tourist visa for Australian citizens going to China, I thought it was only good for 30 days, but according to this, it’s valid for 90! Definitely get a double entry visa if you’re planning on going to Mongolia. Here’s some more info:
      http://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/entry.htm

      Happy trails 🙂

  14. This site has some very misleading information on china,
    I have lived there for five years and most of what is said is untrue. China is an amazing place to visit but is a hard and hostile land. It is not as easy to travel as this site makes it out to be. I would really recommend further research on traveling in china.

    1. Hi Lilly,

      Thanks for your comment and for your opinion. This website is aimed to inspire and to aid travellers in their travel plans, not to set unwarranted fear in their minds. China is very easy to travel in, it is safe and it is a very friendly place. Like everywhere in the world (including Canada where we’re from), there are places that are unsafe, but that is up to the individual reader to research and in China, travellers are very unlikely to end up in such places. If we were to say that China is unsafe to travel, that would be untrue. Fear is not something we promote and we like to give other people a realistic impression of the countries we visit, not just what government warnings say about them. If China is unsafe, I’d hate to think what would be said about some of the other amazing places we’ve visited :S

      We will continue to report with confidence that China is one of the safest, friendliest and easiest places to travel and visitors are very unlikely to run into any issues. This site is based on our opinion and that is our honest opinion.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      1. I would have no concerns about personal safety in China, but a lot of your experiences at hostels don’t reflect what I’ve seen there.

        Chinese hygiene standards are very different than Western standards—especially when it comes to bathrooms—and many hostels live down to their reputation. This is especially the case if you go to places where there aren’t as many Western tourists, or at places that cater mainly to Chinese.

        Depending on where you travel, you may also have difficulty finding a place that has the permits necessary to allow foreigners to stay there (this is more of a problem as you get closer to Tibet and Xinjiang).

        And I have personally found that the hostels that offer the most services are also those most likely to be helpful only if you book services through them (telling you, for example, that all train seats are sold out for the next week, but that you can buy a bus ticket through them). Hostels and the services they offer are definitely not something I would describe as being one of the best things about China.

        1. Hey Bryce,

          I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t really like the hostels in China. We absolutely loved them and travelled in Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin, Yangshuo, Xi’an, Yangzhou, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Chengdu, Tunxi…and I think that’s it?! We also lived in China for 13 months.

          We found the hostels to usually have great restaurants, lots of backpackers, the staff spoke English (which is hard to find usually) and when it came to booking trains and onward travel, we actually had staff write it down in Mandarin for us so we could take it to the train station directly.

          As for hygiene, no, China isn’t like the western world, but we did find that the hostels were clean. We haven’t travelled in the areas that you described though, so perhaps the hostels aren’t as great there.

          Thanks for sharing you opinion, we hope you enjoyed the guide otherwise.

          Happy travels!

  15. Hey Nick and Dariece!

    Thank you very much for your blog. Been reading it for quite some time now and love your advice.
    I have a question for you: did you happen to visit Tibet while travelling in China?
    If yes, how did you get the permits and so on. Sorry if this question has been asked and answered before.
    Alex

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for the kind words, we always love hearing from our readers 🙂

      We didn’t go to Tibet when we were in China and as far as I know, you need to travel there with a guide/tour. Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

  16. Help please!!
    Hoping to go backpacking from UK to china, Japan and other places in February – giving up work and travelling until money runs out!! 🙂
    Having great difficulty finding out about tourist visa. Travel agent said rules had changed and I need to go on organised trip or have letter of invitation. Neither applies, I just wanted to travel round China for a month – Bejing, shangai, xian chengdu, then head for Japan.
    Any advice, suggestions greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Mags,

      You don’t need to travel to China on a tour. You can go independently on a tourist visa.

      I would suggest arriving in Hong Kong and getting your visa there. Some of the hostels will even do it for you (for a small fee), or you can go down to the embassy yourself.

      You can see some info here – I would just double check the address and hours of the embassy though. CTS services can also help you out. If you want to get your visa in the UK beforehand, head to the nearest embassy! Keep in mind it’s valid for 90 days after it’s issued.

      http://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/practical-information/visas

  17. Epic guide guys! We’re sitting here in Lao Cai on the border waiting to cross tomorrow morning. This article is the first research we have done for China, haha. Thanks for making it so awesome 😀

    1. So exciting! Have a great time guys. Thanks for the feedback on the guide too 🙂 There’s so many more “highlights” and “must dos” in China, I’m sure you’ll find many more awesome things!

  18. Hi there!

    Great and informative guide. I am traveling to China for my first solo trip. Is it recommended for me to prebook hostels and transportation (trains) or would it be better for me to just go along with the flow and end up at my end destination. I will be travelling from Hong Kong and back.

    Cheers!

    1. Hi Eddy,

      It depends on when you are going. If you are travelling during a Chinese holiday (May Day, Chinese New Year, etc) you will need to book trains in advance. Hostels can be booked online a few days in advance (you don’t have to book your whole trip)

      Check out http://www.hostelsclub.com

      So, basically, if you book trains about 5 days in advance if it’s not a holiday, then you won’t have a problem.

      Cheers!

  19. Hi there guys!!

    Your guide is AMAZING!!!! It’s so complete and useful, thanks so much!!! I’m planning on going to China next year! But I was wandering about applying to the visa from HK! How long would that take? Do you guys know?

    Thanks in advance and keep on doing this, your blog is INCREDIBLE!!!

    Javier.

    1. Thanks so much Javier 🙂

      China is a very interesting destination for backpacking. The visa in Hong Kong only takes a few days. Your hostel can arrange it, tour co’s can, or you can go to the embassy yourself.

      Cheers.

  20. Great PAGE. A lot of useful & practical information.
    I have a University Teacher´s Certificate to teach English. (Certificado de Aptitud. Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Málaga)I also have the “Further Education Teaching Certificate Spanish”. Ashington Technical College. England)
    I want to learn Chinese (Mandarin). I would like to teach English and with the income received, pay for my Chinese tuition. I also have a BSc. Applied Sociology and a Master´s Degree in Health & Safety (Ergonomy and Social Psychology)
    I am 70. Retired and have a pension of 1.050 € per month.
    I would like to stay for a longer period in order to travel all around the country.
    Ideally, I would like to find a small rural town where I could find a Chinese woman and live over there for good. I follow the Buddhist path and do not need luxuries.
    I need suggestions and help.
    Elias

  21. Thought it might be helpful to post these links for people who want to plan trips by train in China.

    The easiest way I’ve found to see what trains are available is to used the C-trip website (or their App). It gives the times and prices for all the trains from A to B for each ticket class, along with how long the journeys are: http://english.ctrip.com/trains/#ctm_ref=%20nb_tn_top

    It doesn’t tell you whether there are seats left, but this site does: https://kyfw.12306.cn/otn/

    Although that second site is in Chinese, you can still type the names of the to/from cities etc in Western characters. For those who can’t read Chinese, an explanation of what the results mean is given on this site: http://www.bamboocompass.com/how-to-buy-train-tickets-online-in-china-143747.html

    If you don’t have an address in China to deliver tickets to, its still easiest to just buy the tickets at a travel agency or train station rather than via these websites – but at least you can easily work out your itinerary (and see how busy/not busy the trains are) in advance of booking a trip.

    Andy

  22. Really apprecite this website as I am planning my first visit to China. Well, I will travel with my fiancé and visited China some 15 years ago.
    We will fly in to Hong Kong to visit friends and I am thinking about gettin the visas there. I am Swedish and he is British, so supposedly it should be not problems obtaining visas. I could of course get a visa in Sweden before I go but it is about 10 times as expensive. My fiancé lives in remote parts of Indonesia so he can not get a visa before hand. Do you think we will have any problems?

    We will have about 7-10 days to travel in China. Is there any region you will recommend to us? Something that is not too far away from Hong Kong (a short flight or a few hours on train). We will travel mid to end of March and are just looking to have a nice and relaxing time, enjoy some nice scenery and food.

    Our budget is of around 40 US / person and day. Will that suffice for a midrange journey including travels, accommodation and food?

    Any input would be greatly appreciated, thank you!

  23. Hi Goats on the Road,
    My 17 yr old daughter and I are heading to China for 5 weeks starting June 2, 2016. We are flying into Shanghai and staying with friends there for the first week (our friends will not be in Shanghai after the first week of June). We would like to go to see the water towns, perhaps Xitang (day trip perhaps?). Now from this point forward, I need help figuring out in what order the next destinations make the most sense. We would like to do the Yangtze River Cruise, we would like to see the dragon boat festival, we would like to go bamboo rafting on the Dragon Jade River, we would like to visit Xi’an, Chengdu, the Yellow Mountains in Huangshan, Guilin, Yangshuo, Tibet, Yunnan Province – Shangri La, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, and Beijing. Can you suggest in what order it makes the most sense for us to do the places after Shanghai and where we should take trains and airplanes? If we cannot fit all these places in 5 weeks, I can take Tibet, Yunnan Province – Shangri La, and Hong Kong off the list. I am also thinking it might make sense to fly back to the U.S. from Beijing. Your feedback on all of these points is greatly appreciated.
    Ilovelucy

    1. Hi lucy,
      I was read ur post avout ur plan to visit china in june2016.
      I thought what a coincidence that also have plan to visit beijing around that period of time. Hope we can share our info or plan to visit there as this will b my first time to visit beijing. Regards citra

  24. Thanks for sharing all this information, it will come in very useful when I go on my upcoming trip to China! I feel like I need to take a map and scribble all over it but i’m planning to get the trains from Beijing to Hong Kong (making a lot of stops along the way of course) – is this feasible? I’ve also got family in Liaoyuan so will be spending some time there – and will hopefully be leaving with a notebook full of written Chinese instructions to help in any emergency!

  25. Hi Thanks for all the info, I have question my travel agent is charging me $170 cad for Chinese visa how can I get it for only $60??? is there some kind of processing fee???

  26. Hi goats!

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog on backpacking. definitely some useful information on here 😀 I’m a solo female traveller from Calgary. I’m starting my trip in Hong Kong. My must-see places are Yangshuo, Guilin, Dali, Leshan, Mount Tai, Shanghai + Suzhou/Hangzhou area and ofc Bejing. Would you have any recommendations for train routes for this journey? I’ve been searching trains for a while now and haven’t had much luck with getting to Guilin, Dali and Leshan at a reasonable time. I have about 3 weeks so I understand that all of the places might not be possible.

    Cheers,
    Varada

    1. Thanks Kevin! If I’m not mistaken, you were one of our very first readers of our website actually 🙂 We started this blog back in China – seems fitting that you commented on this China post 😉

      Cheers!
      Dariece

  27. Hi there!
    Thank you SO much for your incredible blog!
    My husband and I are planning a 1 month trip around China, 1 month around Vietnam, and maybe Cambodia.
    In China, we are planning to go to Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Yunnan Provence – Lijiang & Dali (Tiger Leaping Gorge), Yangshuo, and Hong Kong.
    Regarding vaccinations – we are concerned about Malaria… We are not sure if we should take malaria pills or not. (We have already done some research, but it’s not that clear to us.)
    What is your advice about this? Also, any other travel immunizations you would recommend ?
    Thanks in advance!

  28. Before reading this stuff I had conception that china will never be on my go to list. Thanks for brilliant write up and changing my perception about china.

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