China is one of the world’s great countries. Despite what you hear on the news about it’s growing economic heft, it has a lot to offer to travelers in the form of culture, diversity and beauty. It is one of very few countries that has tropics, year-round snow capped mountains, deserts, forests and everything in-between. That is not to mention the 5000 year old culture, history and epicurean delights. After traveling for over three months and 20,000 km through the country we felt we only scratched the surface, but many of the highlights can be seen on separate trips. While communication is difficult, the people of China proved to be among the most helpful and trustworthy of any we have encountered. Travel in China is becoming easier by the day so dream up the things you would like to see and China won’t disappoint.
DON’T MISS: Yunnan, better known for it’s most famous city: Shangri-La.
MUST SEE: Where to start? How do you list the “must sees” of Europe or the USA? If you are looking for Wild West and mountains, head to the South and make your way from Yunnan to Tibet. If you want history fly to Xi’an and take the train to Beijing via Pingyao and Datong. If you want modern cosmopolitan China visit Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
MUST TASTE: Shanghai soup dumplings, Xiaolongbao and Beijing’s famed Peking Duck
TRIP PLANNING: China is a huge country; you really have to decide the activities you want to do and plan around that. The gorgeous natural scenery of the south (Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet) can be seen in a rushed two weeks. The tourist hoards of Xi’an and Beijing can be suffered through in a one-week tactical strike. The whole shebang, as we did, takes at least three months, more comfortably six months.
GETTING AROUND: Trains. China has the world’s best long-distance train system and is very affordable. For any trip longer than four hours buy a hard or soft sleeper ticket, which requires a 5-10 day advance purchase. Click here to learn more about buying train tickets in China.
OUR COST PER DAY (2 ppl): $47.62 (excluding Tibet, which was $395.40/day, and Hong Kong, which was $116.72/day excluding accommodations as we stayed with a friend)
COST OF A BEER: $0.80-1.20 for a big beer from local restaurants and convenience stores.
KEY MONEY-SAVING TIP: Stay at hostels rather than hotels, they are a fraction of the cost in comparison with a hotel. Every hostel we stayed at in China was new, clean and offered modern amenities along with a friendly atmosphere to meet other travelers. The private rooms were typically $30 USD or less and dorms were half that ($5-8 per person).
YOU NEED TO KNOW: Get used to using charades to communicate. Outside of major cities little English or European languages are spoken. The nice thing is that people genuinely want to help you and won’t try to cheat you (outside of tourist markets), don’t get frustrated and you’ll get what/where you need.
IF WE KNEW WHAT WE KNOW NOW: We do not recommend under any circumstances trying to travel during Golden Week, Chinese New Year or any other major Chinese holiday. It might be interesting to be in the country, but plan ahead because with that many people on the move it is not fun to be part of one of the world’s largest human migrations. Read Crowded China to understand the experience of Chinese crowds.
HELPFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE: Best of Shanghai in 3 days, China city and travel guides (Travel China Guide), Discount China hotel and flight booking (CTrip), Seat 61 for train information and buying guide, China train schedule and price finder. Please send us any sites you found useful and we’ll add them!
WE WERE THERE FOR: 14 weeks
OUR HIGHLIGHT: Tibet
WHERE WE WENT: Qingdao, Tai’an, Luoyang, Xi’an, Pingyao, Datong, Beijing, Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, Shegar-Everest, Chengdu, Lijiang, Shangri-La, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Dali, Kunming, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xiejie, Diashou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou
WE REGRET MISSING: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
- How to buy a Chinese train ticket. What you need to know to get around on the world-class train system
- Shanghai in 3 days: see and taste Shanghai’s best in only three days!
- Southern Charm: See why Southern China is China’s must-see region
- India or China, which to travel first?
- Visiting Tibet: the how-to guide to visiting
- More than rice and noodles: must-taste Chinese cuisine
- Panda Attacks! Get up-close and personal with Pandas in Chengdu
- Should you skip the Terracotta Warriors? Decide for yourself…
TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES
- North China Index: Beijing, Xi’an, Tai’an, Datong, Pingyao, Luoyang, Qingdao, Xi’an
- Buddha’s Den: how to see the world’s most beautiful Buddhist art
- Hidden Hutongs: Touring Beijing’s ancient parts
- Visiting the Great Wall: how-to guide to see the best part of the iconic wall
- Follow the Leader: climbing the greatest mountain in China
- Pingyao: A city living as it has for thousands of years
- South China Index: Lijiang, Chengdu (Panda Bears!), Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La, Chengdu, Dali, Kunming, Shanghai
- Tibet Index
- Hong Kong Index
- See our China Article Index
We visited over 25 cities during our four months in China. To make it easier to find what you need, our photos and travel information is divided by region and city. To find out more about a specific city or region click on an album.
Beijing, Xi’an, Tai’an, Datong, Pingyao, Luoyang, Qingdao, Xi’an
Lijiang, Chengdu (Panda Bears!), Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La, Chengdu, Dali, Kunming, Shanghai