Without a doubt, China offers some of the world’s most incredible natural wonders and most fantastic historical sights. In the last 5-10 years, other southeast Asian countries like Bali and Thailand have become extremely popular destinations for Americans looking for an escape, but China is often overlooked as a potential vacation candidate. One of many great things about traveling in China is that not only is it incredibly beautiful and rich with history, it’s also very cheap once you get there. The country is filled to the brim with nice, cheap hostels, delicious food, and friendly folks.
We recommend locating and booking hostels through Hostelworld.com, they offer an amazing selection of hostels and are good about cancelations, refunds, etc.
Language Barriers & Accessibility
Although China’s biggest cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing are chock-full of English assistance, once you get off the tourist paths and into more rural China, English can’t be relied on. However, lots of new travel infrastructure, like subways, have English signs. Nevertheless, if you don’t speak Chinese I highly recommend that you keep a notebook with you at all times with a list of basic travel words in Chinese like “taxi” and “airport,” as well as the Chinese names of your hostels and places of interest for each city (most websites have Chinese names and addresses that you can simply copy, paste, and print). Chinese people are generally very friendly and willing to help you find your way around, so if you get lost or need to get somewhere, just whip out that notebook and point to the name or address of the place you are trying to get to.
Transportation: Plane, Trains, and Buses
China boasts a very extensive network of train and bus routes. You can really get anywhere in the country via train or bus. As you would expect, flights are more expensive but are by far the fastest option, trains are relatively fast and are moderately priced, and buses are very cheap, but pretty slow.
The transportation option you’ll want to go with will depends on two things: how much time you have and how far your destination is. If you only have a week or two in China, and/or if your commute is a farther one (for example from Beijing to Zhangjiajie), I definitely recommend flying. But if you have more time and don’t mind sacrificing a day or to to travel, taking the train is a good option, you’ll save some money. If the distance from point A to point B is only a few hours, take a bus. It’s smartest to combine flights and train and bus rides in order to both keep your travel times under control and keep your costs down.
Warning: buses, and sometimes trains, can be trickier if you don’t speak Chinese. The destinations are always written on the top corners of the front windows of buses, but they’re written in Chinese. Again, use that notebook and factor in translation/communication time!
Some Other Tips:
· Carry a notebook with addresses or names of places of interest in Chinese (as mentioned above). Also, download the app “Pleco” on your smartphone. This app is an amazing English-Chinese dictionary and will prove very handy. It will download the content to your phone, so its use doesn’t require internet.
· Stock up on toilet paper/tissues and carry them with you when you are out and about. Most public bathrooms do not bother stocking toilet paper--at all. So remember, “Out for a stroll? Take a roll.”
· Its not uncommon that travelers get stomach sicknesses when traveling within Asia, so be prepared! Bring some appropriate meds and make sure you’re up to date on relevant vaccines. The easiest way to prepare is to go to an international travel clinic and talk to a doctor there before you depart.
· If you’re a student, bring your ID! Most attractions (like gondolas, park entrances, etc.) offer big student discounts. US drivers licenses often work too if the kiosk allows international student discounts – some are for domestic students only.
· Getting to and from airports, train stations, and bus stations: Subways will be the cheapest way to accomplish this, so take advantage of them when they are available. Taxis are also always available and are pretty cheap if your ride is under half an hour.