China Travel Guide
The third largest country on the planet, an ancient civilization, the Communist paradise, the economic miracle. These words can describe China as a highly diverse country, with so many things to see and places to visit. China is the most densely populated country in the world. And sometimes it might seem that the entire territory consists of many totally independent countries. Modern major cities with their rush hours and constant fussiness share this land with rural and underdeveloped areas filled with tiny villages, dilapidated houses, and old junks.
When you travel across Zhongguo or the Middle Kingdom you couldn’t help but notice how dramatically the landscapes change. From the beach resorts of Hainan and the cities of the future of Shanghai and Beijing to the dead sands of the Gobi desert and the glaciers of Tibet, everywhere you will discover something special, no matter what your interests are. China offers a bit of everything from the Terracotta Warriors to the Thousand Buddha Grottoes. Use this travel guide to make your way through the numerous historic sites and attractions.
Getting Around China
Despite the fact that China is a huge country, it has convenient and relatively cheap means of transportation. Along with the growth of Beijing, it became an important transportation hub. The city has six ring roads, several highways, and multiple rail lines. As in many other world capitals, congestion and traffic delay have become a common daily occurrence in Beijing during rush hour. The Ring Roads and the Chang’an Avenue are among the busiest streets in Beijing.
Major cities have extensive subway systems that are less than 6 CNY per ride depending on the distance. A ride from the Beijing Capital International Airport will set you back 25 CNY. Beijing subway includes eighteen lines (2017).
Usually bus ride costs from 3 CNY in a major city to 2 CNY in smaller towns. Some routes may have bus conductors, while others require you to insert the ticket into the validating machine at the entrance.
You can also consider buying a transport card (gongjiaoka) to save money on transportation.
The train is the most popular means of transport when traveling to another city. Train ticket can be purchased at ticket offices located in major cities.
Ticket prices depend on the destination, but usually much cheaper than in Europe. On a high-speed train, the ticket from Beijing to Changchun is around 265 CNY. There are several ticket types: Seat Fares, Hard Sleeper, Soft Sleeper, Standing Ticket. At the railway terminal, all checked luggage passes through an x-ray scanner. Once they are in, passengers stand in line getting ready to board the train. Sometimes the line is long, so be sure to come early. Once the tickets are checked everyone will do their best to take the best spots for their luggage. The same way they do to locate a spot when riding with standing ticket.
The train type is specified on the ticket. D train (dongche) usually looks neat and tidy with two or three seats to the left and right of the aisle in economy class. Train seat can be reclined to lie down and get proper sleep.
Most trains rarely make stops, but when they do you usually have just a few minutes to hop on or off the train. The most annoying thing is the total lack of space for oversized baggage. The upper shelves above the seats are quite similar to the ones within the aircraft, so if you travel with suitcases, try to get seats at the beginning or at the end of the railcar.
Overnight trains, like K train (kuaisu lieche) or T express (tekuai) with the top and lower bunks will offer a chance to have some sleep while you go. Your ticket will be exchanged for a plastic credit card-sized card for the night. The K trains may consist of both comfortable and shabby cars. When riding a train mind to get your own soap and toilet paper as these amenities usually aren’t included in ticket price.
China has a lot of regional carriers, including China Eastern, Air China, and Southwest Airlines. The flight schedule might cause tight connections, so it is advisable to book tickets in advance, especially during the Golden week, when the Chinese people making long-distance family visits.
Beijing Airport Transfer Tips
The distance between the airport and the downtown can be covered by Shuttle Bus, Express Train or taxi. A train is a great option as it takes around 30 minutes for passengers to travel between the airport terminals and Dongzhimen or Sanyuanqiao. Regular airport shuttle buses may take a bit longer to get you to downtown, so you can use intercity lines to reach Tianjin or Qinhuangdao. The trains run from 6 am to 11 pm. A taxi ride is around 100 CNY.
The cheapest way to leave the airport is by bus. Prices start from 15 CNY depending on the destination. Some of the 18 bus lines from the airport have additional routes for late-night transit service.
Accommodation in China
Today there are a lot of accommodation options in China. Ranging from high-end hotels to cheap dormitory rooms, there is no chance to stay in the street. When you choose your accommodation mind that recently renovated apartments may usually have their rates at the same level as more shabby options. Just make up your list. Ask for discount wherever it is possible to get a better price. Most budget hotels in China won’t require leaving a credit card to book in advance so you can easily cancel it with no penalty. A great idea is to check your room for broken amenities before you check in. In most budget and mid-range hotels, you will be asked to leave a room deposit. Make sure not to lose the deposit receipt since you’ll need it to get back your deposit when checking out.
Prices for dormitory rooms in smaller towns start from 30 CNY, sometimes you can a little more to get a private room. In major cities like Guangzhou or Shanghai, it will be closer to 75 CNY per night. A night in a budget hotel will set you back 110 CNY. Prices for mid-range hotels range from 150-440 CNY depending on the hotel’s special features. Airbnb is a great option, but it is much less common in rural areas.
Such food as soup, noodles, vegetables, pork, fish, algae and steamed buns is traditional for Chinese cuisine. A bowl of rice is an iconic and typical dish. In most areas rice porridge replaces the bread and it is literally everywhere.
Western food in China is more expensive than local food. A nice and convenient thing about almost any eatery in China that you can take away your food. When buying food at food stalls you can expect your lunch being cooked within several minutes and get it packed. Since food is really cheap in China, usually there is no need to cook your own meals. It is more convenient to eat out in the streets or at the restaurants. Another thing that many hostels don’t provide kitchen facilities even if you did go grocery shopping. Below I have listed average food prices in cafes and restaurants.
Chinese dumplings are an iconic food in China. These can be found almost everywhere while the prices start from 9 CNY. This price usually includes free seasonings such as garlic, pepper, and salt. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant usually goes for around 25-45 CNY. Meal prices for two people in mid-range restaurant start from 160 CNY. When traveling through western China and outside of major cities, you can expect to pay less for food, about half the price, around 30 CNY. A set of good old hamburger or chicken bites with fries is around 30 CNY in well-known chains. Local sandwiches can run about 6 CNY, while kebab is around 5 CNY. Prices for grilled chicken breasts start from 4 CNY.
Best Time to Visit China
Traditionally, periods from April to June and from September to early November are considered the best time to visit China. These months are characterized as the time of dry and warm weather, in contrast to the cold winter and humid summer. However, depending on your preferences it is possible to visit China literally any time of year as due to its huge size, even the northernmost regions could be quite comfortable visiting during the hot Chinese summer. Remote areas of western China and Tibet can be visited from April to September to enjoy the carpets of blooming flowers and bustling markets. Having said that, summer is the period when every attraction in China is packed with local travelers, while flight and train tickets, as well as the accommodation, should be booked in advance.
Top places to visit in Beijing
Despite the wars and the turmoil of the 19th and 20th centuries that caused the dramatic change of the Beijing architecture, there are still many ancient historical sites to see.
Visit the Forbidden City
The Zijin Cheng is a great place to discover the history of ancient China. Once an imperial palace for 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is listed as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. To feel the spirit of the Forbidden city and avoid crowds it is better to visit the Palace in the morning. It may take up to three hours to see all the sites.
Located just 500 meters away from the northwest entrance of the Forbidden City, Beihai Park dates back to the 10th century. The Beihai Park covers a huge area, more than half of which is covered by the lake. It is composed of Beihai Lake and the Jade Flower Island with the White Pagoda was built on the top of the Island, the main landmark of the Park. Beihai Park is considered an ancient Chinese art form, with different features, such as artificial hills, bridges, pavilions, halls, temples, and lakes. The Park is best visited on weekdays to avoid crowds.
The Temple of Heaven
A triple-gabled circular Qinian Hall in the Temple of Heaven is another must see site in Beijing. The complex is once known as a place where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties annually prayed and performed rituals to insure a good harvest for the nation, now is a masterpiece of Chinese architecture. With several temples located there, The Temple of Heaven is one of the largest. Be sure to visit the Temple in the morning to avoid crowds to see the locals practicing tai chi or martial arts.