This is a guest post by our friends at E-tramping. Looking nothing like their blog name suggests the cutesome twosome Agness and Cez travel the world setting themselves a budget of only $25 a day. Their blog is filled with warmth, budget tips and plenty of travel envy despite their limited budget. Here’s what they got up to in China and their budget travel tips when exploring off the beaten path…
There’s now plenty of great and affordable China tours available so the country is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination. Although many tourists, backpackers and holidaymakers have strictly planned itineraries which most likely include travels to such big cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi’an. This is reasonable since the size and variety of this country makes it hard to comprehend in less than a month.
Moreover, the distances between each stop are so huge, it takes away a lot of the precious time one spends in China. Especially a budget traveller, who by definition, will choose trains overflights. However, for those who chose to go along this beaten path, there are uncovered little gems scattered across China. They hide something more than stunning scenery – a real Chinese culture, hospitality and ability to participate in locals’ real-life while practising the language and saving some money. It is often so different than what we grew to understand and anticipate that it can get us off our feet.
Why is it so different?
First of all, the population of China is massive and the percentage of foreign visitors is small. Therefore, apart from the big cities, it is hard to find a foreigner at all. Needless to say, many Chinese people have never met someone from another country in person. It makes you quite an attraction for them. They will often ask to take a photo with you and even more often invite you for a meal with them. Take them on with their offers with a smile and you’ll be blown away with the experiences.
When walking in Beijing or Shanghai, you will notice that a lot of things are westernized, but from time to time you will see something that is traditionally Chinese (as far as you know). You will find yourself wondering whether that is a “real” thing or they are just feeding us with what we expect to see. By going to a place less travelled, or not travelled to at all, you will know for certain what is part of contemporary culture, architecture and customs, and what is not.
Moreover, getting to see off the tourist paths in China will allow you to spend much less money than you would spend when visiting big cities. Chinese people are extremely hospitable and they will often invite you for a free meal (there is a huge variety of Chinese food!), drink or even let you stay in their houses for free. After travelling for a week, you will see your wallet is much bigger than you though it would be.
Where to go?
I have travelled to many small and big places in China such as Chongqing, Guangzhou or even Hong Kong and spent a year exploring 12 out of 22 provinces. I was shopping in massive shopping malls in Shanghai, visited Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an and of course climbed the Great Wall of China in Beijing (twice), but nothing will ever get better than trekking n Zhangjiajie or exploring Fenghuang.
#1 – Zhangjiajie, Hunan province, central China.
If you have been to China, watched the “Avatar” movie, but never heard of the Hallelujah Floating Mountains, you should shame on you as these mountains are one of the most beautiful in the world. Here was filmed the American blockbuster called “Avatar” and yes, the Pandora world is real and can be found in Zhangjiajie.
The area is surrounded by rocks rocketing to the sky and sandstone pillars scattered across the area. You can walk through the glass bridge, do some proper trekking or take cable cars that connect the town with the mountain range, which is considered to be the longest in the world. On your way up you can enjoy some traditional Chinese snacks and visit some local restaurants serving the best Chinese dumplings called baozi and jiaozi. Don’t forget to take some awesome photos as well!
More budget info: Take a local train from any part of China to Zhangjiajie central station, which should not cost more than RMB200 ($32) per ticket (hard seat).The entrance tickets to Zhangjiajie National Park costs RMB245 ($39) and you can stay inside up to 3 days. The standard accommodation prices are between RMB150-250 ($24-$35) but of course, you can do it cheaper. The food is also cheap as long as you buy it downtown Zhangjiajie city (RMB10-30 per day $0.6- $3). The recommended food are hot-pot dishes and pickled spicy cucumbers.
#2 – Fenghuang, Hunan province, central China.
Fenghuang is a town frozen in time where you can experience the real ancient Chinese life. You will be surrounded by typical ancient buildings, wooden bridges, lakes and rivers.
Everywhere you go, you can see Chinese women wearing traditional Chinese clothes, locals working at the river and Chinese lanterns hanging from the trees and houses. Fenghuang will leave you speechless for a long time.
Travel budget info: The best way to get to Fenghuang is to firstly go to Zhangjiajie, which is located in the same province, then take a local bus which costs RMB100 ($16). If you travel with more than 3 people, the cheapest option would be to rent a car for RMB100 and share the bill. Fenghuang is surrounded by budget hostels, so don’t pay more than RMB100 ($16) per night for a room with a river view. In order to save some money on food, grab some local snacks during your walk though the town. Each snack costs about RMB1-3.
#3 – Bian Cheng, Hunan province, central China.
The other hidden germ in China is a little ancient town called Bian Cheng which will admire you with it well-preserved ancient look, hospitable locals, colourful boats and picturesque scenery of Bing Cheng river. The fact that the town is surrounded by high mountains make it even more special where the natural flow of water incorporates with the mountain scenery.
Travel budget info: The best way to get to Bian Cheng is to firstly get either to any local town/village in Hunan or Chongqing province from where there are local buses going to Bian Cheng (RMB25-80 per one way ticket).
I recommend these three spots to go to the top of your China’s bucket list of destinations. Then, there are other much smaller places where there’s no other foreigner around. I could list a few, but then it wouldn’t have the same charm if you didn’t find it yourself. So, how to look for one? Simply said, by being open. When you travel by train, often for 20 hours at the time, go for seating tickets rather than sleeping ones. In this way you will be surrounded by a lot of people who most likely never seen a foreigner seating on a train, or even a foreigner at all. Very often they will invite you to come and see their hometown. Take them up on their invitations and you will never regret such a detour.
Written by Agness. Agness is a Polish vagabond who, after graduating in 2011, left her comfort zone setting off for a journey of a lifetime to China. She has been constantly travelling the world since then (slowly, but surely as she says), living like a local for less than $25 a day. She has become passionate about photography and adventure blogger, sharing her enthusiasm for life as well as her travel experiences.