China – Our Itinerary

We got a 1 month visa from the Chinese embassy in Nepal, that in itself was a bit of an adventure (a frustrating adventure!).

I had done quite a bit of research before going to China, depending what time of year you visit, trains and flights can fill up pretty fast, it’s a good idea to have major journeys like overnight trains pre-booked a while in advance.

For more information on visa requirements, booking trains and anything else you need to know, click HERE.

There were certainly a few mishaps along the way but since when does traveling go completely to plan? It’s all part of the experience and nothing could ruin our time in this amazing country.

Our fist stop was Chengdu to see the pandas, I’d planned on 3 nights there and 2 nights at the Juizhagou Valley National Park, though our hotel receptionist in Chengdu advised us that due to an earthquake a few months ago, the park was partly closed and only allowed a certain amount of visitors each day, it was fully booked for a month in advance, we were grateful that we didn’t waste a 7 hour bus journey each way to be disappointed. We ended up staying in Chengdu for 5 nights.

From there we flew to Guilin, I had planned on staying there for 3 nights then flying to Shanghai for 3 nights, though our Shanghai flight was cancelled so we took one the next day, we stayed in Guilin 4 nights and only 2 nights in Shanghai.

We flew to Zhangjiajie next and spent 3 of my favourite nights in China, your ticket into the park lasts 4 days but we felt we had seen enough after 3 days.

A short flight to Xi’an for 3 nights, 1 awful night and 2 fantastic nights thanks to a hotel disaster, the only night this year that we spent without anywhere to sleep. Luckily hotels.com sorted out the issue and put us into a beautiful hotel for the next 2 nights completely free of charge.

From Xi’an we started our journey west with our first overnight sleeper train to Jiayuguan, the train was good fun and totally worth it to see the Great Wall at Jiayuguan. We stayed 2 nights in the city.

We took a bullet train to Zhangye to see the Rainbow Mountains and stayed 2 nights, it was the least touristy place we visited in China which was fun, we spotted a few locals taking photos of us while they thought we weren’t looking.

Another sleeper train then 1 more night in Xi’an before we flew to Beijing for 5 nights to explore the capital.

So there you have it, our 29 night China itinerary, China is so big that there’s no way to see it ALL on 1 month but we think our itinerary gave us a good overview and included all the major sights.

Cost & Essential Info – China

I was slightly apprehensive about going to China, I’d heard so many bad reports from fellow backpacks that I really didn’t know what to expect. But in reality, China is just like any other developed country, it’s clean, easy to get around, great food etc. There’s absolutely no reason for people to avoid a visit to China, in fact you definitely SHOULD go, it’s incredible.

Costs:

China ended up being our most expensive country to date with a daily average of £90! Hotels, food and daily life is actually fairly cheap, so how come we spent so much? There are two main reasons for this:

1. China is MASSIVE, which makes getting around by bus a lot more difficult and sometimes impossible. You have no option but to fly, and there aren’t many budget airlines operating in China so your travel costs add up quickly.

2. ‘Luxury items’ are expensive, this includes entrance fees to national parks and landmarks etc, they will take up a large percentage of your budget, for example Zhangjiajie national park costs 248¥! But these attractions and parks are the reason your planning a trip to China anyway, you’ll soon forget about the price when you’re enjoying yourself too much to worry about budgeting.

You Need A VPN:

A lot of websites are banned in China, including all of our communication apps, (WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail etc.) to be able to communicate with the outside world or even use Google you will need a VPN. I don’t really understand how it works bus basically it confuses your phone and makes it think your still in the UK, USA, or wherever you choose.

You can download a few different apps (we used Betternet and it worked ok) for free. You also need to disable you location tracking and your good to go.

Language:

Don’t expect many people to be fluent in English, most people in China only speak Chinese. You can download lots of different translation apps for free, they won’t be perfect but should be enough to get you by. It’s also worth learning a few basic phrases before you go.

Getting Around (City to City):

China is massive, if you want to see as much as possible then you will need to take domestic flights, skyscanner constantly showed trip.com as being the cheapest so we downloaded the app and took 5 flights with them.

The rail system in China is good and sleeper trains often provide a better alternative to flying if your going off the beaten path. We booked our trains in advance using www.china-diy-travel.com, they have a really good service and provide lots of useful information, for example a letter to the taxi driver (in Chinese) telling them which train station to take you to, most city’s have 3 or 4 major stations. They also have YouTube videos explaining different ticket options and how to collect your tickets etc.

Buses are generally not an option thanks to the huge distance between cities.

Getting Around (Inner City):

Google maps in a no no in China, even with your VPN. You can look at it when your on wifi but can not pinpoint your location.

Make sure to pick up free maps wherever you can, usually at the airport when you land or when you check into your hotel.

Taxis are fairly cheap in China, pick up a business card from your hotel to give to the driver if you get lost. They usually have the address in English on one side and Chinese on the other.

When To Visit:

Everybody who’s ever been to China will advise you to avoid any public holidays, me included. We visited Xi’an during their May festival and it was CRAZY. There are so many people that you can’t see the street your walking on, and generally the big crowds like to yell, push and shove, it’s all a bit overwhelming for us westerners.

Visa:

You certainly need a visa to enter China, it was the most awkward frustrating rigmarole getting a visa into China, if your already traveling then you’ll need to go to the closest embassy in person. If your in the UK then you can post you passport to the embassy in London. You must have all hotels and internal flights booked before you apply for your visa. We booked everything with free cancellation then cancelled most of it as soon as we had our visa.

Vacations:

At the time of writing you don’t need any vacations or malaria medication for China.

Money:

ATM’s are everywhere and they are all free to use. The currency is referred to as RMB or CNY, both mean the same. Exchange rates in May 2018 are below:

£1 (GBP) = ¥8.60

$1 (USD) = ¥6.38

€1 (EUR) = ¥7.51

I hope you found this useful, be sure to click HERE to read our 1 month itinerary.

Thanks

Ashleigh

Beijing – China

Our last stop in china was a mix of old and new, a blend of cultures and a sea of people. The city is far from perfect but we loved our time in Beijing.

Also, we didn’t visit the Great Wall here, we went to Jiayuguan to avoid the huge crowds that swarm the wall daily. Click HERE to read more.

Things To Do:

NAMOC, an art gallery that’s free to the public (as long as you remember your passport) and open daily. It’s home to hundreds of works of art and there is a wide variety of pieces on display though a lot of the information is in Chinese only. It’s certainly worth a few hours of your time.

The Olympic park is open to the public and its free to wander around outside, the best building are the water cube and the birds nest. The Olympic tower still looks like something from a sci-fi movie, even years after it was originally built. The park is so big that it has 3 subway stations.

Lama Temple is a peaceful place to spend a quiet morning, its over 270 years old and has a little museum at the back. Entrance costs ¥25 and it has its own subway station. The smell of incense is more overpowering here than anywhere else we’ve ever visited, so if you don’t appreciate the smell then this may not be your kind of place.

The Forbidden City is one of the most popular things To Do in Beijing, we only saw about 1/3 of it though. We forgot our passports and managed to sweet talk our way past the first security guard, we saw a good deal before the second security checkpoint where we were told we couldn’t buy tickets. They would usually cost ¥60.

The Silk Street market is famous for fake designer clothes, it’s full of European tourists looking for a bargain. The 4th floor is good for souvenirs like fridge magnets etc. You can find the market next to the Yong’anli subway station.

Where To Eat:

I was fairly underwhelmed by the street food options in Beijing compared to the rest of the country, the best market we found was the famous Wangfujing food street, its popular with tourists and has some normal food as well as the wierd and wacky.

Even though it’s a chain in a mall, we still loved Saizeriya inside the Xin-so shopping centre (Olympic park). Italian pasta dishes are super tasty and the same price as most street food.

Getting There:

There’s a direct train to the Dongzhimen subway station, it takes around 30 minutes and costs ¥25. From there you can take the subway to the rest of the city, costing ¥3-¥5 depending how far your going. (The subway in Beijing is fantastic but it’s ALWAYS busy, doesn’t matter what time of the day you’re traveling).

If your plane lands/leaves outside the railway hours (06:30 to 23:00) then your only option is a taxi, we paid ¥120 to T2, arranged through our hostel.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the P-Loft youth hostel in a private room for 298¥ per night, booked through booking.com, I thought it was overpriced but you are in the capital after all, the location was perfect (just a few minutes walk to the subway station) and the rooms were clean.

While we were there the hostel was undergoing a complete refurbishment, it was mostly a building site (May 2018), I imagine that the place will be stunning when it’s completed.

Zhangye – China

Put on China’s tourism map due to its close proximity to the Colourful Hill or Rainbow Mountains, they really are one of natures masterpieces and like nothing we have ever seen before, the bright colours and dramatic cliffs could have easily been the set of any sci-fi movie.

The city itself is small and doesn’t have a massive amount of things to do, there is a bell tower at the end of the main shopping street and there’s a good selection of local restaurants on Oushi Street.

The Mountains (General Info):

I don’t like reading too much information about attractions before I visit because it spoils the fun of learning about it when I get there, so here’s a few things you should know before you go, I’ll keep the geeky bits as a surprise.

Tickets cost ¥75 per person and you can use two days running if you register at one of the booths dotted around the park.

Tickets include free bus rides around the park, sadly walking isn’t an option, the security guards will yell at you if you stray off the tourist trail or try to walk along the road.

There are 5 main viewpoints around the park and they all have completely different views. Try to do all 5 if you have time, I couldn’t pick a favourite if I tried.

There are no places to buy food and only a few places to buy drinks within the park, if you haven’t brought a packed lunch with you then you will need to leave the park for lunch, there are lots of places close to the main entrance.

It gets really hot, you in the desert with almost no shade, pack plenty of water and make sure you were sunscreen, we both had red noses by the time we got back to our hotel.

Getting There (Mountains):

From Zhangye western passenger station you can catch a regular shuttle bus to the parks entrance. Tickets cost ¥15 each way and take about an hour. To get back to the city the bus will leave from where it dropped you off.

Getting There (City):

It took 1 hour 20 minutes to get from Jiayuguan to Zhangye high speed train station, from there a taxi cost ¥10.

A taxi to the main train station cost us ¥20 and from there we took a 15 hour sleeper train to Xi’an.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the 7 Days Inn hotel for just ¥121 per night booked through booking.com, it was directly opposite the bus station that will take you to the colourful mountains. Rooms were clean and spacious, it’s a chain with a few hotels within Zhangye so make sure you chose the one next to the western passenger terminal.

Jiayuguan – China

When we started to plan our year traveling, the Great Wall of china was right up there at the top of my bucket list, but I didn’t want to be pushed around by crowds and people trying to sell key rings, so I spent a little bit time researching where was to best place to see the wall.

Jiayuguan is the far west end of the wall, you can’t go any further, for this reason it’s the least busy section of the wall and it’s such a magical place to visit, (if you can stomach the 18 hour train journey).

Jiayuguan Pass:

The main section of the fortress has been completely renovated to its former glory, there is lots of information posted around the walls and there is a really good free museum on your way out. Entrance costs ¥120 per person and we didn’t bother with a tour guide. I heard it gets busy so we go there for opening and we’re one of the first people in.

Overhanging Wall:

This was my favourite part of the whole day, and was much less busy than the main fortress. You can use your Jiayuguan Pass ticket for free entrance into the overhanging wall. There is no public transport to this section of the wall, for a taxi from the main area to take you, wait one hour then bring you back costs ¥60. Otherwise it’s about a 5 mile walk each way.

Where To Eat:

I honestly can’t remember the last time we sat down for a meal, we’re loving all the street food in China. There’s a small market around 5 minutes walk from the hotel, it’s half wet market half food market. (Head towards the roundabout where Jianshe road crosses Xinhia road.)

Getting There:

To Jiayuguan from Xi’an you can take a sleeper train which takes just under 18 hours, the soft sleeper cabins are really comfortable. Jiayuguan also has an airport but there aren’t many flights and they are really expensive, maybe that will change as the area becomes more popular. From the main train station we walked to the hotel (around 90 minutes) then when we left, a taxi to the south railway station cost us ¥28.

To the wall from the city centre you can take the No.4 or the No.6 bus, they both cost ¥1 and you get off at the last stop. The No.6 left from directly opposite our hotel and took about 20 minutes.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Jingjiang Inn, also known as the Jingjiang Express. We booked through booking.com then paid cash on arrival. Rates are ¥124 per night plus ¥22 per person for breakfast. We really liked it there and the location to get to the wall was perfect. (The hotel shares a building with the Bestay Hotel, their sign is easier to spot from the main road.)

Xi’an – China

One of the most visited cities in china has an amazing mix of old and new, the streets are perfectly manicured and people generally have a smile on their face. The beautiful wall surrounding the city is its crowning jewel, something you don’t want to miss whilst in China. Xi’an is also the perfect place to start a trip along the old Silk Road trail.

Things To Do:

The Warriors

The terracotta warriors draws thousands of visitors each month, and is one of China’s most visited attractions. There are over 6,000 (not all on display) of these individually hand crafted statues, they are all life size and each one is slightly different.

Take the 306 bus from the south eastern corner of the railway station, you’ll see a red flag and a line of people to indicate the bus stop. It costs ¥7 each way. When you get there (you’ll know when to get off), cross the road and work your way through the restaurant street and towards the car park, entrance tickets cost ¥90 during low season and ¥150 during peak season.

The Wall

The city Wall also attracts large numbers of visitors, the city has since expanded well past the wall but the original structure is well maintained and has been fully restored to its former glory for tourists and locals to enjoy.

There are two ways to enjoy the walls, the first is to climb to the top and either walk or cycle the perimeter. Tickets cost ¥54 per person (or ¥40 during a national holiday) and a full loop is around 9 miles.

Your other option is to walk through the beautiful and relaxing park that surrounds the wall, it’s free and there is a lot more shade to shield you from the intense summer sun.

Where To Eat:

China has been one of our favourite places for street food, in fact we haven’t eaten indoors for a few weeks now!

The Muslim market behind the Drum tower was one of our favourite markets so far. Make sure to try the biang biang noodles (basically just pasta) which are local to the Xi’an region. You’ll know when you find them because you will hear the bang bang from them being made, hence the name.

Getting There:

There are shuttle buses to and from the airport right up till 2am, if you arrive between 2am and 5am you will need to take a taxi, we were just past the walled city and paid ¥180. The journey took around 1 hour with zero traffic.

The railway station it at the north east corner of the walled city, its walking distance for most backpackers but if you have a big suitcase a taxi may be better.

The Xi’an council are busy building a huge subway system around the city, there is currently only 1 line running north to south but expect more routes to be opened soon.

Where To Stay:

I’ve never written a bad hotel review on my blog, rather than be negative I prefer to just leave this section blank, however I must strongly advise you NOT to stay at the You Rui Inn.

We were relocated by Hotels.com to the Skytel which was a really nice hotel, but not budget by any means (thank goodness we didn’t need to pay for it! It’s around £55 per night) and in the perfect location just steps away from the main South Gate and the bell tower.

We visited Xi’an for a second time, on our way from Jiayuguan to Beijing and we stayed at the Jinyuan Furun hotel, finally a hotel I was happy with, it cost £25 for one night and even though that’s slightly higher than our usual budget the location was perfect, (and Xi’an is generally a little bit more expensive anyway). The sign is all in Chinese so make sure you look at a photo of the outside before you arrive.

Zhangjiajie – China

Zhangjiajie (also know as the floating mountains of Pandora – geeky movie reference there) is becoming increasingly busy since it burst onto the world tourism stage as the set for the 2009 Avatar movie and it’s so easy to see why, the dramatic landscape is like nowhere else on the planet.

But don’t be put off by the crowds, the park is absolutely massive and the Chinese do not like to walk. By skipping the free shuttle bus routes and walking instead you will be almost guaranteed to have at least a few hours in near peace. The park is well maintained and has plenty of information so it’s difficult to get lost.

Tickets:

Entrance to the park costs ¥248 per person, which is expensive but your ticket is valid for 4 consecutive days. (There is no ‘one day ticket’ option.) they take your finger print when you first enter so there’s no chance to pass on your card to someone else.

Your ticket includes unlimited free bus rides around the park. If you want to use any of the cable cars or the elevator then that will cost you extra. There’s no need to pre-book tickets, just show up on the day and you will be fine.

Where To Eat:

Food in the park is just as good as anywhere else in China and only slightly inflated, of you would pay ¥15 anywhere else then expect to pay ¥20 inside the park. We didn’t mind because it was so tasty and there are plenty of options.

In Wulingyuan there’s an amazing food truck parked outside the Xing Hong hotel every night from 6pm, we ate there 4 nights running (creatures of habit when we find something we love), he charges ¥15 per meal and portions are massive.

Free Maps:

Zhangjiajie is HUGE, and as google maps is out of the question in China it’s really worth picking up a good map, you can pick one up almost anywhere in town, but they are all slightly different which can be confusing.

The airport have an English version as well as a Chinese version which is handy when you first arrive. It gives you a good overview of the whole area not just the park though it does lack a lot of detail.

Our hotel then gave us a much more detailed map of the Wulingyuan area including inside the national park with bus routes etc included. It also had the place names both in English and Chinese all on one map. Make sure you stop by to pick one up.

How Many Days Do I Need?

I’ve already mentioned the shear size of this park, there’s a reason all tickets are valid for 4 days. We spent 3 days walking around the park and only seen around half.

If you choose to use the free shuttle buses you will see more of the park in less time but won’t get the same experience. A well planned route could be done in 1 day but if you have the choice, try not to rush this unique paradise.

Getting There:

The 402 bus will take you from the airport to the railway station for ¥1, the bus doesn’t come right up to the terminal so you’ll need to walk a minute or two to get to the bus stop but it’s easily visible, you can’t walk past it. We got off the bus to early but the station is well sign posted so we managed to travel the rest of the way on foot.

The bus station is adjacent to the railway station on the western side, shuttle buses to the Wulingyuan district (east entrance) leave about every 15 minutes and take just over an hour, they cost ¥20 each way and don’t have bus numbers or signage, staff at the bus station will show you where to go.

From Wulingyuan the last bus back to town is 8pm, though the bus station closes at 6pm, after that buses just wait by the roadside instead of inside the station.

Where To Stay:

The tea house Inn was pretty newly renovated, rooms were clean and even had balconies. It was only 5 minutes walk from the bus station and 10 minutes to the park entrance. We were really happy with this hotel and can’t recommend it enough. We paid £18 per night through hotels.com.

I hope this covers everything you need to plan the perfect trip to Zhangjiajie, let me know if you have any questions.

Ashleigh

xxx

Shanghai – China

The perfect mix of old and new, this mega city is home to more than 24 million people! There’s never a dull moment in Shanghai.

You could come to Shanghai and spend a fortune, swanky restaurants and expensive tourist attractions are on every street corner, but it is possible to do Shanghai on a budget, I’ve listed our favourite free (or as close to free as possible) things to do in Shanghai below.

Free Things To Do:

The Bund is number 1 on every travel guide to Shanghai, it’s easy to see why. The views are amazing, you have old shanghai on one side and the beautiful glittering skyline of Pudong on the other side of the river. We visited Day and night, both times were really busy and we had to take these photos over the top of other people’s heads.

A walk along the East side (Pudong side) of the Huangpu river also offers great views but it’s less crowded. To get across the river you will need to use some form of public transport. The cheapest and most fun way to get across is to use the public ferry (not one of the expensive sight seeing ferries) it only costs 2¥ and you get a great 360 view of the Shanghai skyline. The subway is less interesting but also affordable, a one way ticket costs 3¥. There is a tourist tunnel that you can walk through but at 90¥ each I thought it was an absolute ripoff. (We took the ferry and even though it wasn’t technically free it was only 23 pence which is why I’ve included it in this list.)

The Shanghai 1930’s street is a representation of what a typical street in Shanghai would have looked like at that time. They also have some interesting facts about daily life during the 1930’s on the wall in English for visitors to read. You’ll find the street in the People’s Square subway station.

People’s Park was closed for renovations during our visit but we have on good authority that it’s a must see destination in Shanghai. Our friend who lived in Shanghai for 7 years recommended it to us.

The Shanghai urban planning exhibition is only free if you buy a ticket to any of the other major attractions like the various observation decks around the city etc. Otherwise you will need to pay 30¥ to enter, so I’m cheating putting this one on the list but it’s really worth the £3.37. It’s crown jewel is on the 3rd floor where there is a massive scale model of Shanghai as it is today, test your geography skills and see if you can spot your hotel. (The Green Tree Inn is on there!) They also have a great 360 degree movie which made me a little sea sick but was interesting to watch.

Tianzifang heritage area is a maze of old streets recently renovated into a tourist paradise, the narrow alleyways hold all sorts of treasures including souvenir shops and restaurants, all contained in traditional old houses.

Nanjing Road is the opposite to Tianzifang, step into the neon light future and find a good place for a coffee overlooking the street. It’s a great place to people watch and see where China’s future is headed.

Where To Eat:

There’s a small row of around 6 restaurants opposite the Frazier Residence, they are local authentic restaurants at very reasonable prices and most menus contain pictures. We had an absolutely delicious meal there (the name was in Chinese) for much less than in other areas of town.

Getting Around:

The subway system in Shanghai is one of the best in the world, its extensive and has A/C. Trains run every few minutes and a single ticket costs between 2¥ to 5¥ depending how far your going. The subway is crazy busy during rush hours but any other time it’s fairly relaxed.

Getting There:

Getting to the city from Pudong airport is really easy, the cheapest option is to take the metro, but it’s really slow. You also have an option of a high speed Maglev (magnetic levitation train – wow!) which can get you into the city in just 8 minutes. One way tickets cost 50¥ or a 80¥ for a return. It will drop you off at Longyang Road subway station and it’s easy to get anywhere in the city from there.

If you arrive after 23:00 the trains will have all stopped for the day, there is a night bus that operates from 23:00 to 05:00. If you take a taxi it will cost between 120¥ and 160¥ depending on what part of the city you’re staying.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Green Tree Inn next to Tangqiao subway station, the rooms were clean and modern and it’s handy for getting around but there is a night club on the ground floor which plays loud music all night so I’d give it a miss if your a light sleeper. Luckily for me I sleep like the dead.

We paid £13 per night by using our hotels.com reward points but rooms usually cost around £35 per night, which is pretty good value for Shanghai.

Guilin – China

Believe it or not but we hadn’t actually planned a trip to Guilin on the first draft of our China itinerary, we ended up there by mistake, but some things are meant to be and we had such a good time in Guilin.

Things To Do:

A cruise along the Lijiang river is a must for anyone visiting Guilin. It costs ¥65 per person and lasts around 90 minutes. Boats leave all day from the jetty behind the elephant hill.

Elephant hill park is the main attraction in Guilin, and we actually didn’t go. The price put us off, ¥70 per person and we had already seen most of it from our boat ride. The park did look very nice from the boat and there is a walkway to the top of the hill.

We visited the seven star scenic area for ¥70 per person, (seriously the parks in China aren’t cheap!). It was a really beautiful park, the highlight is camel mountain which really does look like a camel, and the beautiful man made waterfall in the centre of the park.

Shanhu lake (finally, a free park!) was stunning especially at night, the area is fairly big and it will take you over an hour to walk all the way around all four lakes.

Zhengyang pedestrian street is the main shopping are in town, there is also an amazing indoor food market, I have no idea what it was called but I’ve put a photo of the entrance below.

Getting There:

From the airport there are shuttle buses every 30 minutes into the city, they cost ¥20 each way but won’t drop you off in the middle of town, you’ll still need to walk 20 minutes or so to your hotel. Operation hours are 06:30 to 21:30.

Where To Stay:

The Guilin 0773 Grand Hotel is a funny name but a really good hotel, the rooms were clean and modern, the wifi was good and the shower was powerful. It’s with a few minutes walking distance to the main tourist attractions and there are lots of food choices around. We booked through trusty hotels.com for £23 per night.