China DIY: Guide and Tips for Self-Organized Travel

Who I am
Alejandra Rangel
@alejandrarangel
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

If you want to organize a DIY China trip, get ready to meet the millenary tradition, a crazy culture, an unbeatable history and great hospitality.

Biking in the Chinese countryside

China is a country that will amaze you on all fronts but unfortunately today it is still, as a country, very undervalued.

  • 1 - Essential information
  • 2 - How much does it cost to travel to China by yourself?
    • 2.1 Economic accommodation
    • 2.2 Restaurants and street food
    • 2.3 Entrance to places of interest
    • 2.4 Alcohol
    • 2.5 Mance
  • 3 - What to see in China: the places not to be missed
    • 3.1 Beijing
    • 3.2 Shanghai
    • 3.3 Hong Kong
    • 3.4 Xi'An and the Terracotta Army
    • 3.5 Guilin and the rice fields of the Dragon Ridge
    • 3.6 Yangshuo
    • 3.7 Jiuzhaigou
    • 3.8 Chengdu
    • 3.9 Suzhou
    • 3.10 Liang
    • 3.11 Shangri-La
  • 4 - Experiences not to be missed
  • 5 - 15 day itinerary
  • 6 - Pros and Cons of Traveling to China Alone
  • 7 - Travel to China
  • 8 - Tourist visa
  • 9 - Health and Safety
  • 10 - When to go
  • 11 - Recommended books and guides
  • 12 - Other articles on China

DIY China: essential information in a nutshell

  • Official language: Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, English, Portuguese
  • Capital: BEIJING
  • Government: Chinese-modeled socialist state
  • Religion: Buddhism and Taoism, Christianity and Islam (minorities)
  • Time zone: UTC + 8
  • Moneta: Renminbi
  • Climate: Temperate, Tropical, Subtropical, Glacial
  • Phone prefix: +86
  • Electric current: 220 volts, 50 Hz
  • Toilet paper is not always available and the toilets are not up to the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness. Better to bring some paper towels and a hand sanitizer with you
  • Internet in China is censored, to access many sites one is required VPN

How much does it cost to travel to China do it yourself?

Of course it depends on how you travel. We traveled with less than 50 euros per day per person and we have practically given up nothing: we ate well in nice restaurants (ok not always, we often ate street-food) we drank Tsingtao beer, we took the excursions that interested us.





But of course we went to the hostel and not the hotel and we traveled mostly by public transport: buses and trains.

In any case, traveling to China is not expensive and you can easily treat yourself to a lot of things for just over 50 euros per person per day.

Budget accommodation (10-30 euros per double room)

Unlike low-end budget hotels, you will be amazed by the quality of hostels. The staff are extremely nice and helpful and speak excellent English.

Consiglio: it will be easy to communicate with the staff so take advantage of it. For example, ask him to write you useful things in Chinese on a piece of paper such as where you want to go, useful addresses and other information you may need. You will be amazed at how easy it will be, handing the ticket to the taxi driver or bus driver to let him know where you want to go or at which stop you need to get off.

The hostel rooms are very clean and comfortable and the atmosphere especially in the common areas is always fantastic. China is one of the places where I have personally found the best hostels (apart from a few exceptions).

With hotels, on the other hand, you have to be a little more careful. In fact, the budget hotels are quite spartan, sometimes dirty, and the mattress is the most uncomfortable and hard you can imagine. If you don't like hostels then better opt for higher end hotels.


Warning! When you book (if you use sites like booking.com) pay attention to the conditions as some hotels can only accommodate Chinese citizens!

Restaurants and where to eat (1 to 7 euros for lunch)

Delicious Chinese dumplings


Eating in China it is the cheapest thing in the world and you will notice it as soon as you arrive: the Chinese eat all the time everywhere.

China is a huge country and the typical dishes are very different from area to area: wherever you go you will still eat very well.

The ravioli are truly exceptional and have nothing to do with those of the Chinese restaurants here. In the restaurants you will find a quantity so different from each other that you will be amazed.

La more traditional cuisine in addition to ravioli, it also includes steamed sandwiches, hot or cold noodles (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) and various types of soups.

In high-end restaurants you could spend as much as 8 euros each, but if you eat on the street it's easy to order a dish for just under a euro.

Entry to Places of Interest (around 15 euros)

Most places of interest in China has an entrance cost between 10 and 20 euros.

For example the Great Wall of China costs around 10 euros, while the Forbidden City around 12 andTerracotta Army about 20 (costs are indicative as they may vary).


Discounts of up to 50% can be obtained with the student card.

Consiglio: although it is possible to go there on your own (as I did, regretting bitterly since I got lost and rode on buses for half a day) most hostels organize affordable tours from Beijing for around 40 euros including transport to and from the hostel and lunch. Contrary to what you might think, these tours are generally neither tacky nor touristy.


Alone on the Great Wall of China

In fact, you can get to the Wall without too many bumps and you are then free to walk as you want for about 3 hours.

Alcohol

Although there are several, the most famous (and for me the best) beer is there Tsingtao, which of course is also the most expensive (if you can define it that way).

A large Tsingtao at a restaurant costs around 1 euro and 12 bottles can be bought in supermarkets for less than 5 euro.

In short, one thing is certain: in China you can always afford a nice ice cold beer after a day spent out and about.

Mance

The Chinese they are not used to tip. If you try to leave your change to the taxi drivers for example they will look at you a little confused and will simply tell you to take your change.

What to see in China: the places not to be missed

Discover Yangshuo by bike

La China is a huge country full of things to see and history. You could travel to China yourself all your life and yet not be able to visit all it has to offer.

However, this is a short list (which by no means pretends to be exhaustive) of the places that in my opinion are truly unmissable.

Beijing (北京) and the Great Wall

Big and terribly polluted (be prepared to see the sun as a big orange ball in the midst of smog at least in the summer) whoever comes to Beijing must stop there at least 3 days because it is a must visit.

Discover the Forbidden City, walk the streets among the ancient hutongs, visit the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace, of course go on Great Wall of China, which is a wonder of the world and getting lost in the bustling markets, the things to see in Beijing there are so many that it is impossible to list them all.

Maybe you might be interested in how visit the Great Wall from Beijing avoiding the queues

There are many different areas of the Great Wall to visit but I highly recommend Mutianyu because it is less crowded and you can get there from Beijing quite easily (if you don't get lost as it happened to me).

The Forbidden City of Beijing

Where to sleep in Beijing
being the capital of China, it is not surprising that there are many places to stay in Beijing.

We have been to the Red Lantern House and I can recommend it, especially since its location in an old Beijing hutong is fantastic. Click here to see the latest price on Booking.com.

CCompare prices on other hotels, pensions, apartments and more a Beijing on Booking.com

Shanghai (Shanghai)

The city's infamous skyline, old architecture and funky walking street are definitely three of the top reasons why it's worth visiting Shanghai.

Although like Beijing, Shanghai can be so polluted in some days that it is hard to breathe, Shanghai is undoubtedly the coolest and most fashionable city in the whole country.

Plus there are some fantastic restaurants.

Where to sleep in Shanghai
As you can imagine, there are endless options for accommodation in Shanghai. We have been to Mingtown Etour International Hostel a few days and I can recommend it especially for the great location. Click here to see the latest price.

CCompare prices on over 2.400 (!) hotels, pensions, apartments and more a Shanghai su Booking.com

Hong Kong

Hong Kong it is expensive, but it is a lively city with a modern feel. There are great restaurants, bars and busy markets and the city is at its best at night.

Absolutely not to be missed:

  1. il tram leading to Victoria Peak from which you have a breathtaking view over the city.
  2. the amazing show of sounds and lights held every night at Victoria Harbor.
  3. Temple Street Night Market: if you want to experience the local nightlife you cannot miss it, it is one of the most beautiful, messed up markets with a local atmosphere that you can find.
  4. Take a day tour a Macau
  5. To explore Lantau Island

Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak

Where to sleep in Hong Kong
We were in the infamous chungking mansion where the budget accommodations are located. On each floor there are small hostels, the rooms are really tiny, but we spent 40 euros for two.

CCompare the prices of hotels, guesthouses, B & Bs and holiday homes a Hong Kong su Booking.com

Xi'an and the Terracotta Army

Xi'an it is a very beautiful city with an interesting Muslim district which alone is worth a visit, but most of the people are here (like us) to see theTerracotta Army.

I had heard mixed reviews about terracotta warriors and even today I wonder how some may not have liked it because it literally took my breath away.

The army was created by (and buried with) the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in the year 210 BC

The finely sculpted army is made up of over 8.000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses that are incredible to see.

Read more here on the Xian Terracotta Army

Terracotta Warriors

Where to sleep in Xi'An

As everywhere in China, there are also many in Xi'an great hostels, hotels and guesthouses. We have been to the Xi’an Xiangzimen International Hostel and I can recommend it as for 20 euros we had a beautiful double room with bathroom included. Click here to see the latest prices.

Click here to see prices and availability of other hostels and hotels in Xi'An on Booking.com

Guilin & The terraces of the Dragon's Ridge (龙胜 梯田)

La valle tra Guilin e Yangshuo it is one of the most beautiful places on our planet. In Guilin there are things to visit, but surely the best thing is a day trip to visit the rice fields of the Dragon's Ridge, easily reachable within the day.

There are also public buses that you can take like we did, but I would go back on a tour because the bus driver drove like crazy and I thought I was going to die in a car accident.

The terraces of Dorsale del Drago offer an incredible panoramic view of glittering rice fields engraved on the mountain sides more than 500 years ago.

Rice fields of the Dragon's Ridge

Unfortunately when I went there in the summer they did not give the spectacle of the rice fields with water because the rice plants had already grown, but even in this period it is absolutely worth a visit.

Where to sleep in Guilin
There are many accommodation options in Guilin. We stayed at the Guilin Central Hostel
and I highly recommend it. Click here to see the latest price of that hostel on HostelWorld.

CCompare prices on hotels, guesthouses, hostels and boutiques in Guilin on Booking.com

Yangshuo

Located in Guanxi province, the Li River (Lijiang) is called the "river of poems and paintings" and it is not difficult to see why: with its gray sandstone peaks rising to the sky, green hills and terraced rice fields, Yangshuo's landscape literally takes your breath away.

Rent a bike and cycle on the narrow streets that wind through the beautiful countryside or take a trip on a bamboo raft.

This is one of the most beautiful places to see when traveling in China.

Where to sleep in Yangshuo
We literally enjoyed our stay at the Yangshuo Culure House, which also offers home-cooked meals, but being Yangshuo very touristy, you will be spoiled for choice.

CCompare prices on hotels, guesthouses and more in Yangshuo on Booking.com

Jiuzhaigou

China not only offers incredible cities, history and culture, but also exceptional natural spectacles.

This is the case of Jiuzhaigou, a valley located on the edge of the Tibetan-Himalayan Plateau in the north of Sichuan province.

La  Valley of the Nine Villages, also called because it hosts nine Tibetan villages, presents itself as a fantastic natural scenery, with its lakes, waterfalls and very green woods, decorated by the high peaks of dolomite and tuff of the Minshan mountain range that rising to more than 4.500 meters height, make it an elegant and wild frame.

The river flows in this valley formed by thousands of years of tectonic, glacial and hydrological activity, forming lakes with an almost magical color, thanks to the minerals present in the water that give it iridescent shades of green, blue and cobalt.

you can see in my post on the Jiuzhaigou Valley lots of photos!

Where sleeping in Jiuzhaigou

The choice this time is not wide and indeed book in advance so as not to end up in a shack like the one I was in! YouU Hostel absolutely to be avoided.

CCompare prices on hotels, guesthouses and more in Jiuzhaigou on Booking.com

Chengdu

Sprawling metropolis of around 15.000.000 people, Chengdu ha
a couple of nice gardens and a beautiful old town (but overly restored).

The main attraction is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding for giant panda breeding and conservation where you can see these amazing creatures sleeping, eating, sitting in trees and living their lazy panda lives!

The enclosures are large and the pandas are well cared for.

This non-profit research and breeding facility is one of the best centers for pandas in the world, but there is still the feeling of being in a large zoo especially for the sale of photos of the panda cubs in the arms of tourists and being tossed around. a little here and there.

Dearest Pandas at the Chengdu Research Base

When traveling to some countries it is good to keep in mind the cruelty and mistreatment that is often reserved for animals: therefore try not to spend money on tours that use them as tourist attractions.

Where to sleep in Chengdu
There are tons of accommodation options in Chengdu - on Booking.com alone, there are over 1.800 listings!

Click here to view hotels, rates and availability in Chengdu on Booking.com

Suzhou

Considered the "Venice of the East", Suzhou is a beautiful city on a canal with a charming old town.

Liang

Lijiang is a tourist destination in Yunnan province, and is considered a fairy land with fresh air, clear streams, snow-capped mountains and a pristine landscape inhabited by friendly people.
Lijang is the main inhabited region since Naxi people, one of China's 55 minority ethnic groups.

The Old Town district has a well-preserved historic center,
included in the list of cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 1997. The historic center was once the center of the city and continues today to maintain the original flavor of the local lifestyle, the typical local architecture and the profound cultural heritage of the region.

Shangri-La

Shangri-La it is "Eden in a dream". Since it was first mentioned in the British writer James Hilton's novel "Lost Horizon" in 1939,
shangri-La has taken on a mystical meaning: a place that cannot exist here on Earth.

Shangri-La skyline

In Tibetan, Shangri-La means "sun and moon in the heart": here the high snow-capped mountains, the endless grasslands, the grandiose gorges, the blue lakes and the bucolic villages always leave a deep memory in the travelers.

Furthermore, the warm welcome of the residents of this land will make you feel at home
even if you are on the other side of the world.

Experiences to be lived absolutely

Go to dinner with a Chinese

Chinese food is absolutely delicious, but many of the best menus are in Chinese or translated into terrible English (Cinglish).

To dinner with Zhang

If you travel to China do it yourself, consider the couchsurfing option to be able to get in touch with a local family and invite them to dinner: the cuisine is so varied that having someone explain how a particular dish is cooked is really interesting and moreover it could come to you. want to try something alternative and find that you like it as the jellyfish happened to me!

Try to speak Mandarin

Even if Mandarin is a really difficult language to learn, try to study a few sentences or say hello and talk to the people you meet: you will see that they will be delighted and will love you forever.

 

Il KTV it is the Chinese version of karaoke and is a huge part of Chinese culture. It is quite normal for the locals to go out in the evening and go singing, of course with some spare alcohol.

Eat something strange

There will certainly be opportunities to eat something strange in China. If you have the opportunity, however, do not miss the Donghuamen Night Market of Beijing.

Easily accessible from Wangfujing Street, the night market (closes at 22pm) is actually more of an attraction for tourists than anything else (our Chinese friend Zhang literally told us: I don't eat that stuff).

But if you want to try some strange food here you can find skewers of insects, stars and seahorses, snakes, scorpions, grasshoppers.

Go to a tea house

There are plenty of old style tea houses all over China where you can mingle with old people and observe the busy life around.

These tea houses also have a plethora of delicious herbal drinks on
menus and often offer other odd services such as ear cleaning and shoe polishing.

Tea house in Chengdu

Some of the most famous tea houses, such as the Opera Teahouse are located in Chengdu.

Play Mahjong

Massi and I were already playing Mahjong on the pc before I went to China, I knew it was a popular game but I never expected to find it practically everywhere.

It is also called Chinese rummy and it involves pairing tiny porcelain tiles: learn it and like me you will fall in love with it.

Try the Baijiu

An oil more than a brandy, the Baijiu it is often called wine but in reality it is a distillate and to see it it looks like grappa.

it is a very strong distillate (40-60 °) and is produced from different cereals or rice depending on the area: I didn't like it, but try it at least once ...

Gan bei! (Salute)

15 days itinerary

15 days for China are really too short, but if you can't do anything else, here is a itinerario which touches some of the interesting places in the country.

This itinerary of the China It is an ideal first-time tour, covering the four different key elements of this country: the history and the breathtaking views, the culture and of course Chengdu's sweet giant pandas.

A tour that ranges from the ancient hutongs of Beijing to the modern skyscrapers of Hong Kong, from the immense cultural heritage ofTerracotta Army to the overwhelming and intense nature of Li River and Jiuzhaigou.

The journey begins in one of the most mysterious cities in the world, Beijing and then leave by night train for Xian and live an intense local experience.

You will see the Terracotta Army and the pandas of Chengdu and you will relax by gliding gently on the calm waters of the Li River, among the limestone peaks of Guilin, one of the most famous and wonderful places in China.

1 day: Arrival in Beijing

Day 1 - 3: Beijing

Day 3: overnight train transfer from Beijing to Xi'An

Day 4 and 5: Xi'an and the Terracotta Army

6 day: transfer by plane to Jiuzhaigou

7 dayJiuzhaigou

8 day: Transfer of nearly 10 hours by bus to Chengdu

9 day: Chengdu. In the evening transfer by plane to Guilin

10 day: Guilin - visit at Longji terraced rice fields (Dragon's spine), in the evening bus to Yangshuo

Day 11 and 12: Yangshuo and overnight bus transfer to Hong Kong

Day 13 and 14: Hong Kong

15 day: Return flight

Pros and Cons of Traveling Solo in China

There are many reasons for travel to China alone and compared to a few years ago, western and independent tourism has increased a lot in recent years.

Here are just a few of the reasons to plan your next trip here.

For

People
The Chinese are full of smiles and are extremely honest and apart from one who tried to rip me off, you can really trust the taxi drivers because they use the meter.

People in markets and hotels never come close to rob you but mostly they do it out of pure curiosity and amazement. In our experience, people in China are very friendly.

The hostels
Chinese hostels are incredibly clean, affordable and efficient. You will be dealing with the most knowledgeable staff you can find anywhere else in the world.

The food
It's hard to beat China for the sheer variety and flavor of the cuisine.

You might be surprised at how different it is from the Chinese food we have here and I feel strongly about recommending street-food which is really special.

Panda in Chengdu

Cons

Traveling to China has a lot of positive things, but honestly there are cons here too, as indeed everywhere in the world.

That said, for me, the wonderful places I have seen, the experiences I have lived and the people I have met have far overshadowed some discomfort.

Hygiene and cleanliness

Although the cities I visited were quite clean, there are certain Chinese customs that make them quite questionable hygiene standards. Spitting on the ground all the time is one of them, as are children in pants with holes that are allowed to use any public place as a toilet, be it a street, a park or a place of interest.

Children in China have trousers that allow them to do everything anywhere

But not only: i public bathrooms they are often a disaster (those in the Beijing subway then we do not talk about it) and some restaurants also often accompanied by the lack of soaps and toilet paper.

In short, equip yourself with a soap or hand sanitizer because I assure you that you will use it in large quantities.

Pollution

This is the biggest problem when traveling to China because smog and pollution, especially in cities, reach incredible levels.

Pollution and suspended particles are really harmful to health and can cause some respiratory problems.

Precautions are being taken lately in cities like Beijing, but there is still a lot to do.

The language barrier
For a rapidly developing nation, China has a surprisingly low level of English.

Apart from hostels, hotels and a few restaurants, it will be difficult to find someone who can speak English, so don't be too confident that you will be able to communicate with taxi drivers or ask passersby for information. As already mentioned, ask the hostel staff to write you the essential information in Chinese on a piece of paper.

Keep in mind that this language barrier is part of what makes China so delightfully fascinating, and you can work around the problem by installing a few translation apps on your phone as well.

Restricted and censored internet
This can be a bit of a hassle for those of us who use Facebook, Twitter, or like me a travel blog.

The Chinese government continues to block some sites (as it also happens in Iran) but an easy way around this is to install a VPN on your smartphone before you leave.

Travel and Transportation

China has an excellent network of trains, buses and taxis for hire and the movements, even over long distances they are quite simple. Many of the trains are extremely modern and can reach speeds of almost 400 km / hour!

Traveling in China is comfortable and convenient, despite the great distances.

Taxis, Buses and Trains

Taxi drivers are (almost always) honest and will (almost) always use the meter: if they don't, let them know!

Watch out for trains for long distances, because especially in high season they tend to run out quickly. Tickets can be purchased 20 days before the travel date and you can do it as easily as we bought it, we had it sent to our hostel in Beijing and collected it upon our arrival.

You can also pick it up at the station directly at the special counters but go much earlier because the queue you are likely to find can last a few hours!

For the purchase you can do it safely through some online agencies such as China Highlights o China Travel Guide.

The buses are efficient, clean and very economical but often the drivers drive like crazy. THE city ​​buses instead they are practically perfect and cost very little (the ticket is around 12 cents!).

Local transportation in China

Internal flights

In such a large country, you will surely have to take gods internal flights, but don't worry they are quite cheap and the standards are more or less like ours.

We in August having organized them directly and day by day, we have never bought tickets very in advance, let's say a day or two and we have always found a place, but if you already know your itinerary I suggest you buy them first so as not to be forced to buy the latest available.

We purchased all domestic flights with Ctrip.

Flights are often delayed or canceled, but don't panic.

Travel visa

To travel to China you will need a travel visa to be requested before departure.

Getting a tourist visa is easy enough for most passports and there is no need for an invitation, which is required for work visas.

The usual single entry tourist visa is valid for a 30 day visit and
must be used within three months from the date of issue.

To apply (which you will then need to take to the China Visa Application Service Centers CVASC of Rome o Milan) you will have to fill in and print the module.

In addition to the form, completed, printed and signed, you will need:

  1. original passport with at least 6 months of validity and at least two blank pages;
  2. photocopy the passport page with the photograph and data;
  3. passport recent and compliant;
  4. photocopy tickets or return flight reservations (to prove you don't want to stay there)
  5. hotel booking. They seem to be serving for the duration of my stay, but I just had the hostel voucher emailed to me (which I had only booked for three nights).

The classic visa costs 60 euros, but starting from 30 March 2010 all visa applications must be delivered to the Chinese Visa Application Service Center (CVASC).

This involves an additional expense 67.10 Euros for normal service (collection on the fourth working day).

So a single entry visa with normal service will cost you 127,10 euros.

Health & Safety

The biggest health risks when traveling to China are probably thefood poisoning and traveler's diarrhea, although hygiene standards in top-notch restaurants are relatively high, so this shouldn't be a huge problem.

However, bring a medical kit which includes certain antibiotics for traveler's diarrhea, intestinal disinfectants and imodium.

Make sure all medications are in their original marked containers to avoid problems with immigration officials.

They are not required special vaccinations, but be sure to ask at the traveller's counter or your doctor if anything is recommended.

When to go

China spans a vast territory that includes some slightly extreme climates.

From the bitter cold of the far northern border near the KyrgyzstanTo the sub-tropical climate in the south, China has such a diverse weather system that it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell when to go if you do not yet know your itinerary.

In general, however, the best time to visit China is spring (from March to May) or the autumn (from September to early November).

Beijing can be very cold in winter and even Shanghai reaches sub-zero temperatures. Hong Kong is noticeably warmer but you can find heavy rains with typhoons that could hit the southeast coast between July and September.

August, although I was very lucky, is not the best time: the heat and the crazy humidity can take your breath away and combined with the smog of the cities, traveling can become torture.

Recommended books and guides

The Forbidden Gate

In February 1984 Tiziano Terzani was arrested in Beijing, searched, interrogated and, finally, expelled from the country.

For four years he had lived there with his family, trying to feel "Chinese": he had sent his children to the local school, he had reached places unknown to tourism, he had seen a different China from what appeared on the surface.

Rich in news and data, considerations and impressions, The Forbidden Gate it is at the same time a reportage, a travel diary, an essay on contemporary sinology and the exciting novel of a human adventure.

Lonely Planet Cina

What to say about this book which is still today the most loved and hated in the panorama of travel guides?

Among the pros certainly the writings in Chinese as well as in English also on the maps. These have really helped me a lot in asking for directions for the road, for example from taxi drivers, in a country without Western writings.

The cons: the edition was quite old, but some of the information was inaccurate, the prices very different from the real thing, not to mention a hostel they talked about pretty well that was terrible.

Despite all the known problems and not of the Lonely, in my opinion this is the best travel companion for China.

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