Smart tips for backpacking through China

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The Great Wall The Great Wall By nlnnet (Own work), via Flickr, Creative Commons Licence

Traveling to China is a great adventure for many reasons, described through various articles on our web site. But before you start your journey it is wise to be “packing” a few rules of thumb, just to avoid awkward situations.

The ever-asked question, “how much money do I need for a trip to China” is, as always, individual, and will be answered once you make your itinerary and agree it with your traveling habits. But in general, backpacker’s main goal is to see and experience as much as possible for a low amount of money. And still be comfortable off course. But that also is a matter of a personal choice.

Here is a handful of general advices you should follow when traveling to China. It will make your stay easier and more comfortable, and will probably save you some money.

tip jarTipping is not a custom in China so you don`t even try it because Chinese will not understand what are you trying to do and why are you giving more money that you should. So, stick with final price of product or service. But never the less, outside of stores it is common to bargaing and put the prices down. Especcialy with taxi drivers, on  the markets or on the streets when buying food or goods. 

Most travelers need a visa to enter China, but most of the western countries do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong or Macau. It is a good choice to land in Hong Kong without a visa (check if you are from one of the countries for which it is not required) and then, in HK, apply for a visa for further destinations. Hostels, hotels and guesthouses can also arrange your visa for a fee.

There are no required vaccinations, no invitation letters and no hassles entering the borders by land or by air.

The best time to visit China is generally either spring (March to May) or autumn (September to early November).

From HK airport it is cheaper to get a bus (s1) instead of airport train to get to the city. A bus will take to the location where you can easily hop on a metro to your further destination. You will save money, a quite amount actually. 

octopus cardDepending on how long are you planning to stay in this country, you can consider buying a Hong Kong Octopus card (for those who will stay more than two days it’s very effective and money saving). You can use it to pay your public transportation fees (except for Taxis and some public minibuses) as well as retailers who accept Octopus, such as convenience stores or restaurants. Usable in MTR, Light Rail, Trams, Peak Trams, Star Ferry, Buses, some minibuses, convenience stores such as 7-11, Circle K, supermarkets, fast food outlets, or public telephone booths. The Octopus Card can be purchased from any public transportation company's customer service centre, such as MTR's or KCR's. When first purchasing the Octopus Card, HK$50 is included as refundable deposit, and the remaining value will be stored in the card for normal payments.

If you plan to visit other cities, consider the night trains to save some time and money (sleeping while traveling – no accommodation costs). The alternative is to check out domestic airline companies for best fares (DragonAir, Xiamen Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Southern Airlines...).

Us dollarsA bit about the currency to bring along. If you decide to carry US Dollars, be aware of the fact that in China you might encounter problems when you try to exchange to domestic currency if you do not have new bills. So, when you get to your bank, ask for new, fresh bills and keep them in the same condition. If you have Euros, you might have a problem of acceptance in a bank, because in China there are a lot of fake bills and it would not be strange if you were told to go to the Bank of China to check your cash. Having all that in mind, the best idea would be to have a few crisp US Dollar bills, just to get you going for a day or two, and use your ATM card for the rest of the trip. And yes, do not bring any coins, no one will exchange it.

Outside of hotels/hostels, almost nobody speaks English so you might have a problem asking a person on the street for help or directions. The same goes for taxi drivers. Ask someone in your hotel to write down the address you are looking for in Chinese and show it to the taxi driver. As for info on the street, your best bet would be highschool-ers or students. Most likely, all of them speak English. Also, as with any other country, it is wise to come prepared and  know at least a few basic phrases in Chinese.

In major cities, there is a high level of pollution so you should bring a mask with you, no matter how strange it seems. You will see a lot of people wearing it on the streets. It is not life threatening not to use it, but it will help to provide a dose of additional protection.

ToiletpaperToilet paper and hand sanitizer reminder – bring your own supplies in your daypack. Public restrooms will not have it available.

Water quality in China is very poor and you may develop slight intestinal problems if you use tap water to brush your teeth or get it in your mouth while showering. So wash your teeth with bottled water and have some Immodium or similar by your side.

Bargain. The prices on the street markets are never fixed. Start with offering approx. 10% of the asked ammount. Then work your way. If they don't back down, thank them and walk away. They will most likely call you back. A good rule of thumb is to never pay more than half of their initial asking price.

Read these guidlines a few more times before setting foot on Chinese ground. You WILL find them useful.

If you have any other tips you would like to share with us, drop us an email. We will gladly add it to the existing list.


>> Means of paying on the go

>> Macau - a 'one-day-trip' diamond

>> What not to pack

Last modified on Thursday, 05 September 2013 21:44
  • About China



    Language: Chinese
    Currency: Renminbi (yuan) (CNY) Convert
    Capital: Beijing
    Time Zone: UTC+8
    Unit system: metric
    Driving side: right (Hong Kong, Macau - left)
    Electricity: 220V


    Meal, Inexpensive: 3.27$/2.47€
    Meal for 2: 19.61$/14.81€
    Meal at McDonald's: 4.90$/3.70€
    Dom. Beer (0.5L): 1.31$/0.99€
    Imp. Beer (0.33L): 4.08$/3.09€
    Cappuccino: 4.08$/3.09€
    Coke/Pepsi (0.33L): 0.49$/0.37€
    Water (0.33L): 0.33$/0.25€
    Water (1.5L): 0.65$/0.49€
    Public Transport: 0.33$/0.25€
    Taxi Start: 1.72$/1.30€
    Taxi 1km: 0.38$/0.28€


    VISAS:Foreign citizens generally need a visa to visit China's mainland with the exception of visa-free entry according to relevant agreements and regulations. Citizens from most Western countries do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau. Submit your Visa application a month before your planned trip to China.

    For detailed info about Visa requirements click HERE.

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