China on budget
--- the ultimate backpacking travel guide ---
This post is written by our host blogger nomadiciv@.
China is not a classical backpacker’s destination like other countries in Southeast Asia. Long distances and high entrance fees makes traveling in this country more expensive. Regarding the food and accommodation there is a wide range of standards you can choose from according to your budget.
The local currency is Chinese Yuan (CNY). The exchange rate in 2017 is 1 USD = 6.5 CNY. Like everywhere else it is best to bring US dollars and exchange them. Otherwise you can withdraw money from ATM.
Average cost per person: 45 USD per day
including accommodation, food, transport, entrance fees, souvenirs
excluding visa and flight tickets
Check also top things to see in China in our photo journey.
The main thing you can save money on are the flight tickets. Read our tips how to find cheap flights.
Due to the long distances between the cities traveling by the night trains are favorable, relatively comfortable and cheap. The only problem is that you can buy train tickets only 3 weeks in advance which may cause troubles in your plan schedule when you get to the counter and find out there are no free places on the train. In order to avoid this inconvenience we paid the agency to buy the tickets for us as soon as they are available. There is a fee for this service 5-10 dollars per ticket. But you won’t end up desperately searching Chinese train websites. They also advised us to select a better connection.
In order to shorten the travel times we took 3 flights to take us from Xi´An to Jiuzhaighou, from Chengdu to Zhangjaije and from Guilin to Nanjing. In Beijing we used the local subway that takes you to everywhere you want and luckily all the names of stops are written also in English.
Prices of accommodation vary depending on the destination and the standard you are searching for. There are small hidden hostels with dorms as well as luxurious hotels in the main squares. We paid from 5 dollars (Lonji rice fields) up to 15 dollars (Huangshan) so the average per person may be 12 dollars per night .
At some destination you will face a problem that hotels do not accommodate foreigners or they charge more to international visitors. For example in Huangshan when we get off the bus, all the taxi drivers knew that we could only go to one guesthouse.
Another example was in in Xi´An. We had a reservation in a small hotel made by our Chinese friend for a certain price. When we got to the hotel, the receptionist charged us automatically more than we expected.
Food is generally cheap if you choose local street restaurants and stalls. The variety of dumplings and noodles is enormous. Sometimes it is difficult to choose from a local menu because of the weird translation or missing translation at all. Our first order was chicken claws and another time we ordered the most expensive meal on the menu – chicken bones and innards.
Chinese food in China is not what we are used to in Europe. Meat is usually cut into pieces with bones. We ate best sweet and sour in hostel in Guilin – delicious, but I guess adapted to foreigners taste.
Don't miss Snack street in Beijing. There are stalls with fruit, vegetables, insect, sea food, snakes – everything on the stick. Even if you don´t dare to taste anything, all that display is amazing.
Great national parks are expensive, but definitely worth it, except for Terracota Army.
The greatest unease was with getting to the Great Wall of China. We did not want to spend whole day on the journey to the wall so we made a deal with a local travel agency. What a surprise was in the morning when pretty young English talking guide (lady) told us that we have to visit shops on the way to the Great Wall. We had an argument and had to pay her and the driver some money extra to skip the shopping duty.
Prices example per person
- Zhangjiajie - 245 CNY (37.4 USD)
- Jiuzhaighou - 220 CNY (33.5 USD)
- Huanschan - 230 CNY (35 USD)
- Terracota Army - 150 CNY (22.8 USD)
- English is not common among local people. It depends, of courese, where you are. We were 100% successful in Shanghai, but could not find our hotel in Beijing for an hour. We tried to ask young people for direction, but very often did not succeed. Sometimes it was really funny when some locals tried to offer us some goods using Chinese and expected us to understand and reply.
- Although we visited China in the top season, we scarcely met other European travelers. The reason is that there are so many Chinese on all sites.
- Therefore you usually became a point of interest yourself. I cannot count how many times we had to pose with locals. Sometimes they politely asked, sometimes we just noticed cameras pointed at us.
- On the roads drive only new cars. They probably jumped from rickshaws directly to brand new models of Lexus, Volkswagen etc.
- The rate of unemployment in China must be 0%. There were people sweeping the roads near temples and at all sights. Two people are necessary to wash the floor. The best job was to stand at pedestrian crossing and indicate stop or walk although there were traffic lights.
- We were astonished by local ladies and women who visited a national park with thousand steps (e.g. Huangshan or Jiangzhou) in miniskirt and on high heel. Respect.
- Chinese finger counting is a big chapter itself. Check it out :-D
More tips for traveling cheap here .