This post was last updated on April 10th, 2020 at 02:19 pm
China will not be at the top of many people’s ‘places to backpack’ list. Yet it is a great country for backpacking! The distances are large but the transportation options are endless! In addition, the country has an incredible amount to offer with spectacular nature, booming cities, and lots of cultural highlights. The big advantage of backpacking in China is that you have all the freedom to really get to know the country.
Backpacking in China
China is a great country. It is more than crowded cities and their 24/7 life. The nature in the interior regions of China is of unparalleled beauty and the traditional villages are a world of difference with the China that everyone “knows”. China even has tropical islands off the coast! China also has beautiful cultural sights.
It even has 45 sights or nature reserves that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List! Its age-old culture combined with modern skyscrapers with a 24/7 economy and beautiful nature makes China such an endlessly fascinating destination. Backpacking in China gives you the ultimate freedom to view all this beauty at your own pace!
Frequently Asked Questions About Backpacking in China
What is it like to backpack in China? We went to China for 4 weeks and followed a backpack route from Beijing to Hong Kong. Wondering how our adventure went, which places or hostels you really should not miss, how expensive a month in China is and if we any other tips on backpacking here?
We answer some of the most frequently asked questions about backpacking in China, using our own experience. Below you will find our tips!
Why is China Such a Bizarre and Special Backpacking Destination?
China is a special country, unlike anywhere we’ve ever been to. For starters, everything is extreme: the cities are immense, the distances super long, the trains fast, the crowds bizarre and nature incredibly diverse. You are constantly amazed at everything around you. And fortunately, these are often things you should laugh about.
I thought that was special because we started to see our Western society in a completely different perspective. Our “normal” is not necessarily normal, that idea. It was truly a journey to remember. Oh yes, and despite the fact that hardly anyone understands you, it feels super safe!
Do You Have Any Tips for a Backpack Route Through China?
We flew to Beijing and then traveled to Hong Kong in almost four weeks. In the meantime, we made a stop at five other places. We found the direction from north to south perfect. We loved spending a few days in the more western Hong Kong after three weeks of hardcore China. There is also a beautiful beach there. A great way to finish the trip.
What Did Your Route Through China Look Like From Day to Day?
We spent the first four days in Beijing. We could have stayed there much longer, we could even live there. Because the city center of Beijing only consists of low-rise buildings, this super-large city has something very cozy about it. Of course, we visited the Great Wall, the Square of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen Square), met a Chinese drag queen named Hallelujah and got lost in the beautiful alleys of Beijing.
After this, we traveled to Pingyao by fast train. This is a small place surrounded by a city wall that you can walk all over. Within the walls, you will find an old, beautifully preserved city from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Definitely worth a visit.
After Pingyao, we again took the fast train to Xi’an. A large city, more towards the interior of China, known for the Terracotta Army. We thought Xi’an was a great city. Clean, beautiful, nice people. In the evening we found the Muslim Quarter district such a cool place, with lots to see and do and especially to taste. It was a street food heaven.
From Xi’an Airport we took a domestic flight to Zhangjiajie. We stayed in the city of Wulingyuan. A little way from the airport but within walking distance from the gate to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. We found it ideal. In Zhangjiajie, we have seen the most special nature ever.
We’ve been on a glass bridge twice, we’ve been in a super-fast lift built in a mountain, we’ve been on a very long cable car and we’ve been attacked by monkeys. Fantastic!
After Zhangjiajie, we wanted to travel to Guilin, which was quite a challenge and we stranded in the provincial industrial city of Changsha at the train station. Most bizarre experience on our trip. It seemed that the people here had never seen a Western person. They even came close to our eyes. And that smog there, not normal. From here we took the hard seat train to Guilin. In the end we only spent one day in Guilin.
We wanted to stay in the same place for a few days instead of just two places in one. So we chose to go to Yangshuo earlier. By bamboo raft over the Li River. Yangshuo is highly recommended. Great vibe and beautiful nature. Rent a scooter and drive around yourself for the best experience.
From Yangshuo, we took the sleeper bus to Shenzhen, where you can cross the border to Hong Kong. In the sleeper bus, adult videos were played on the big screen, upside down. Bizarre and hilarious. Crossing the border with Hong Kong is super easy. You can easily reach the center by metro.
Everything is possible in Hong Kong. This city reminded us of the cities in South East Asia but topped with a Chinese sauce. You must visit Victoria Peak. We went in the evening, the perfect time to see the skyline lit up, so beautiful! We also went to the beach in Repulse Bay.
Furthermore, we mainly walked around the city and ended up everywhere and nowhere. That is how we came to a street with a row of party tents with many soothsayers and we ended up at a salsa party on the 35th floor of an apartment building. We did some couch surfing here and met some nice people.
Which Types of Transport Did You Use During Your Trip?
During our trip, we used all kinds of transport. It is unavoidable to travel by train in China, so we did that a few times. Tickets can easily be booked online in advance on 12GoAsia.
You can choose the luxury option, but we definitely recommend going for a “hard seat”. Ok, it is terrible, but we love it for a few hours to sit between the locals. When we sat on a hard seat at night, half the compartment was looking at us. We laughed a lot! We also took buses and a sleeper bus, a domestic flight from Xi’an to Zhangjiajie and a bamboo raft.
Have You Slept in a Ho(s)tel That You Would Recommend to Other Backpackers?
All the hostels we’ve slept in were super clean and we usually go for as cheap as possible. So that says a lot. We have two favorites. The first is the Destination Youth Hostel near Zhangjiajie (Wulingyuan). The owner speaks via a translation app on his phone, because he does not speak English, but he is super nice.
The beds in the dorms are large. There are not many backpackers in Wulingyuan and there is not much to do, but that is precisely why you meet travelers. You look for each other. Furthermore, the location in relation to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is great.
Our second favorite hostel is Show Biz Youth Hostel in Yangshuo. The roof terrace overlooks the Li River. You just can’t help taking more and more pictures. Many backpackers can also be found here.
Is it Easy to Meet Other Backpackers in China?
We especially experienced this in Yangshuo. This place really has the chill backpacker vibe, nice hostels and lots of bars. And yet you always have the feeling that you are still in China.
Which Places Should Other Backpackers Definitely Visit in China?
Zhangjiajie is one of the most special places we have ever been to. The surreal nature mixed with extreme architecture often made our mouth fall wide open.
Is Backpacking in China Safe?
Yes! We never felt unsafe. When we once asked for a safe in a hostel, we were looked at strangely and we got a bicycle lock that we could put on a cupboard. After that, we never used a safe again.
Something that is not necessarily unsafe in China, but very uncomfortable is the feeling that you are an attraction. People stare at you, take pictures of you or want to take a picture with you. It is very unabashed and every now and then we felt really watched. However, we have never experienced a threatening atmosphere.
Were There Any Things You Had Doubts or Questions About Beforehand?
We also found it quite exciting to experience that no one would speak English and you would not be able to read anything. Both of these are completely true. But it all turned out fine in the end. Although we had to race like crazy from one train station to another within 20 minutes because we had not understood where to take the train. The train finally made it through, so we panicked about nothing!
One of our favorite little games is to take a look at a Chinese menu in a local restaurant and just order randomly. It didn’t always work out well but it was a great way to experience food that we probably wouldn’t have ordered otherwise 😉 After a while you will even recognize some of the Chinese characters and know what (not) to order!
How Much Does Backpacking in China Cost?
We spent about US$50 to 60 USD a day. These were the costs for food, sleeping, activities, and transport. So everything except intercontinental flights. For our almost month in China, we lost about US$2000 including flights.
Are There Any Other Ways to Save Money in China?
China is not cheap and you have to pay for everything. For the bus, which will take you to the cable car where you have to pay to go up, where you have to pay entrance to the mountain. So if you want to see and do things, you spend a lot of money.
You save money at the hostels. The cheaper places are also fine and the dorms are great. Furthermore, we would just eat a lot of noodles and steamed buns. You can eat delicious food in China, but not every day of course.
What Was Your Highest Expense?
In terms of prices, Hong Kong is at European level or above. You have to take this into account if you want to visit this city during your backpacking trip.
8 Golden Tips for Backpacking in China
- Tip 1: Take screenshots of the Chinese name and address of your hotel/hostel. You can show this to the taxi driver, for example.
- Tip 2: China has a firewall that prevents sites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube from being accessible via normal Wi-Fi. You can get around this by installing a VPN app. Officially it’s not allowed, but everyone has it.
- Tip 3: Maps.me is very useful, especially in China. Almost no one speaks English so you won’t understand the locals if you want to ask something. There are also translation apps that you can use to communicate with the Chinese, but we didn’t delve much into this. We got by pretty well without using them.
- Tip 4: Applying for a visa for China can be tricky. Find out exactly what you need, well in advance. We went to the visa office twice, it was super busy there and they have strict opening hours.
- Tip 5: China is full of people! Prepare to queue everywhere. We eventually got used to it, but we did not always calculate for it and, therefore, lost time. After a week we brought a roll of biscuits, a bottle of drink and a fan. And then we just accepted the long lines.
- Tip 6: China is hot in the summer! We’ve never experienced such heat, especially in the interior regions it was bizarre.
- Tip 7: In China, you will have to squat often because of the average height of the population. C’est la vie, it is not so bad in the end.
- Tip 8: The Chinese do belch, fart and sneeze loudly. They also spit a lot on the ground. It sounds strange, but we didn’t think China was a dirty country at all. People’s habits are simply different. Get used to it, but above all, just have a laugh.
Best Time to Visit China
China has many different climate zones, which makes it difficult to determine the best time to visit China. You can assume that the summers in most parts of China can be very hot. Certainly in the large, busy cities, it is very stuffy. Winters, on the other hand, can be quite chilly, especially in the interior regions.
The north and northwest of China have a continental climate. This means extremely cold winters but also wonderful summers where the temperature can sometimes rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104°F). There are many beautiful highlights in the north that are worth visiting. The south of China is more what you expect from Asia; there is a subtropical climate here. The temperatures are pleasant here and in the winter months, it rarely gets colder than 10 degrees Celsius (50°F).
Spending the Night in China
If you go backpacking through China you will also have to think about staying the night. Most backpackers choose hostels or guesthouses. However, a hotel is also an option if you are just looking for a little more luxury. You can choose to arrange all of this at home. You will then have to make a schedule where you will sleep and when. This way you can already arrange your accommodations from home. The best thing about backpacking, however, is freedom and adventure.
The fact that you do not know where you will sleep the next day is wonderful! Looking for a place to sleep on the spot is much more fun! There are plenty of options for overnight stays in China. Whether you are looking for a budget hostel or a good hotel, you will always find it. And despite the sometimes anti-social population, there are always people who want to help you!