We started by checking out different appealing places by looking online (don’t forget to take a look at the Unesco website and National Geographic). Once done, we put all the locations on Google Map to get a better idea of the distances. We then ranked those by order of interest, while extra days if something goes wrong. We also checked the train map and planned around the bullet train routes.
1. Beijing in 4 days
Great wall of china, forbidden city and summer palace, good food!
2. Shijiazhuang in 2 days
Cangyan Mountain - A bridge between the cliffs
3. Xi'an in 3 days
Terracota Army and old city walls
4. Chengdu in 3 days
Panda research centre and Sichuan delicious food
5. Chongqing in 3 days
The biggest city in the world, and the three natural bridges
6. Zhangjiajie in 4 days
Avatar mountains and the highest glass bridge in the world
7. Fenghuang in 2 days
Touristic but cute little river city
8. Guilin in 4 days
Thousands of rock formations everywhere
9. Kunming in 3 days
UNESCO stone forest
10. Hong Kong in 2 days
Active metropolis with demonstrations
General Tips 👏
- Everything is touristic and packed. Don’t expect small villages and country side vibes as most of the cities have more than one million people.
- Toilet paper is not common in toilets so take some with you.
- Avoid national holidays, it’s already packed enough believe us!
- Learn the basic words for talking in the street.
- Get an expensive translator device. We couldn’t afford one since they cost around 200£ but we tried and they are outstanding.
- It’s very safe and clean anywhere.
- Few people speak/understand English, so make sure you’re ready before starting in a conversation.
- Bring your passports with you when going to visit monuments.
- Make sure to have buffer days in your schedule (flexible) to cover sickness.
- Inform your entourage that you won’t be easily reachable since Wifi + VPN is usually not super reliable.
We spent 3728£ in 28 days, which means 133£/day. We felt that was good since we did all the attractions we planned and ate out almost every day. The banks to withdraw without extra-fees are (full list):
- Internal flights are good, english friendly airports and staff.
- You can change train ticket once if already printed, or unlimited if electronic.
- Taxi are **very cheap and reliables. Before stopping one, make sure to know where you go and have your translator ready.
- The bullet train is super reliable and very comfy. You can book your tickets upfront via an agency (example: Travel China guide). You can book months in advance, and they’ll buy your ticket as soon as available. Once you start your trip, you can withdraw them all in any train station, by showing your passport and booking number.
- WeChat: The chinese everything, very useful to communicate with hosts and tours. To register you’ll need to be verify by another member. We asked one of our guide in our first days in China to do so.
- VPN: You need a reliable VPN to access most of your app (Facebook, Dropbox, Netflix…). We had ExpressVPN and it worked well for 80% of the time (Hong Kong Server).
- Baidu: The chinese google map. Even if in chinese only, very useful to share location and browse local shops.
- Maps.me: Free offline map of the world, including trail paths.
- TravelSpend: Log and budget your expenses day by day.
- AirBnB and Booking.com: The best to find cheap accommodations.
- Netflix: Perfect for rainy days.
- XCurrency: Offline and up-to-date currency rates.
- FourSquare: Perfect to find the best restaurants in a very easy way.
- Google Translate: Translate offline from your camera, useful for menus.
- Microsoft Suite: Outlook (mails), Skype, Bing (browser). Can be a life saver if your VPN is off since those are not blocked.
Make sure to download and install those before arriving on China Mainland, specially the VPN.
- Trip Advisor is pretty good with some restaurants recommendations around. Don’t trust the map position in the app, only the address.
- TheFoodRanger unveilled some of the best Sichuan Food we ever had.
- Food is usually served very fast (faster than McDonald’s).
- Try to always ask for an English menu (rare), or menu with pictures (still rare).
- If the dish you fancy is on pictures, take a picture of it with your phone and show it to the waiter.
- It’s easy to get stomach issues in China. The best to avoid is to go in places where you can see the kitchen or where there’s CCTV showing the live kitchen.
- If you like spicy food, definitely try out the Sichuan food (dan-dan noodles and wontons).
- If you’re vegetarian, things might be tricky since most of their cuisine is meat based. Ask one of your host to write you down a card stating what you can and can’t eat to show to the waiter. For example, 我食素 means I’m vegetarian.
We bought a local SIM card with China Unicom, 24GB for 360RMB. Worth every penny since the VPN works better with 4G. If you can, buy the SIM card before your trip, or at the airport if you find an open shop. Lookout for China Mobile or China Unicom.
Visas might take some time to get, so make sure to start early. We made them in London (nearby bank station) several weeks in advance. The process is in few steps:
- Fill the online form on the embassy website, make yourself comfy since it’s very extensive. They’ll ask about where exactly you go and all your stays. You can just book a free cancellation hotel on booking.com and state you stay in Beijing for the whole time. No need for exact itinerary.
- Book an appointment at the embassy online, with your application number.
- Go to the embassy on the appointment day. Make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes in advance and plan to stay there for a while. Also make sure to print all the documents required. If you are two travellers, make sure to print all the documents for all the travellers. At the end of the appointment, you’ll leave your passports there. You’ll have to come back to pick them up.
- Go back pick-up your passports usually four days later.
We spend our nights in both hotels and AirBnB and we never had bad surprises. Most of the places offered a night for 20£. Usually AirBnB are better (cheaper, bigger with more amenities like washing machines) but can also be generally a bit dirty (sticky). Make sure to book your hotels in advance and send a message to the host/reception since some hotels are not allowed to host foreigners.
When browsing on AirBnB, a good tip is to filter the places by langages spoken by the host. Select English and make sure there’s reviews in English. It will avoid you bad surprises and will be a confirmation that foreigners are allowed.
Tourism is more pricy than you expect in China, specially for foreigners or non Chinese speakers. Prices for day tour are usually around 100$ minimum, which is way above the normal price. During our time, we found way more convenient to hire private drivers.
You can do so by asking your hotel/host via WeChat. Usually a day costs around 600RMB and you have the comfort to get where you want, when you want. You can also book activities via Trip Advisor, AirBnB or Viator, but they tend to be overpriced.
Packing List 📦
- Warm clothes (temperature can go below 0°C)
- Rain jacket
- Hikking shoes and trouser
- Foldable towel
- Moskito repellent
- Re-usable water bottle
- Ear plugs since some hotels are noisy
- Portable translator
- VPN downloaded
Overall Experience 🤓
We both were excited about China, but also a bit sceptical. We all heard those story of how complicated it can be, the myth about dirtiness and general mess. In the end, we’re happy to say we had a blast in China, we loved it and we will definitely come back for other trips (probably Yunnan or Tibet).
It’s not the easiest destination for sure, and we had quite some frustration moments (specially when we were hungry and no way to understand any menus). But overall we met very nice and helpful people, world class landscape we never saw anywhere before and incredibly tasteful food. We found a country which is an advanced nation, clean, organised, where everything is built in a scalable way.
Overall, we highly recommend you to go there. It’s a must destination. Simply inform yourself upfront, plan as much as you can and collect all the patience you can!
Hope this was helpful, you can leave comments if you need extra informations or if you have any questions or suggestions! You can checkout our summary video below built with 1 second a day.
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Our four day stay in the capital city of Beijing.