Planning our trip to China was really fun because it was something completely new, a place neither of us had visited before. If you’re planning a trip to China and have absolutely no idea where to start, here are some tips to help get you started.
1. Getting your Visa to China
We found it a little tricky trying to work out what was required for our Visa, but between the two of us, we managed to get it done. Now, before I go any further I want to remind you that I’m writing this article at a point in time, so no matter what I say you always need to check with the Chinese Embassy for the latest requirements.
You need to book everything before you lodge your Visa as they want to see when and how you’re entering and leaving the country as well as every place you’ll be staying while there. Matt and I tend to leave our hotel booking to the last minute so we really struggled with this. But if you want that Visa, you gotta do it. If you’re catching the train to Guangzhou from Hong Kong, you’ll need to book that in advance and show proof of that as well.
You must have everything printed out and organised, so your entire trip is mapped out clearly and all your dates line up. All in all, the process was pretty painless. I got it wrong the first time and showed up without my flight confirmation and hotel confirmation printed out massive fail. Once I had everything printed out and put together, it was really easy and quick to get it processed.
2. Choosing the best places to visit in China
I did a lot of research on the best cities to visit in China (this site is a good one). The limiting factor for us was time and money, we have four weeks but we want to spend our time in each place without being too rushed and we don’t want to spend too much money on flights across the country. This meant we would be keeping our travel to the east side of China.
We really wanted to experience some diversity, from the busy cities to the ancient history and mountains as well. This led us to come up with the following itinerary: Catch the train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, fly from Guangzhou to Beijing then fly from Beijing to Hangzhou, bus from Hangzhou to Huangshan and back again, then fly from Hangzhou back to Hong Kong.
The main cities we’re visiting are Guangzhou, Beijing, Hangzhou and Huangshan. These places will give us a really good mix of experiences, we’ll get to explore the big cities of Guangzhou and Beijing while still getting to see the rich history, culture and architecture too. Hangzhou and Huangshan will give us a chance to experience even more history and step back in time a little bit, while Huangshan’s Yellow Mountains are going to be absolutely incredible and a photographers dream.
3. When is the best time to visit China?
If you’re on a budget and looking to save money, the best time to visit is during the low season which runs from around November to early March. It’s colder, but you will save money and there will fewer tourists around to bother you.
If you want to visit the northern areas of China then the best time plan your trip is during March as the weather is warmer and you won’t experience too much rainfall. There is a monsoon season which varies across the country due to the size of the thing! But, it’s safe to say a lot of rainfall happens around June, July and August, which are also the hottest months to visit. This site has some useful information on when to visit.
The ideal time to visit is recommended as late spring, April to May, as the temperatures aren’t too hot or too cold and there aren’t too many tourists around either. Just be sure to avoid the Labour Day public holiday on 1 May, things get busy from 1 May through to 7 May and travel on public transport can be a nightmare.
4. Booking internal flights
We weren’t really sure how to go about booking internal flights in China, but Matt did some research and found a number of expats recommended using a site called CTrip. It’s pretty much a comparison website and brings together all the domestic airlines in one place, showing you the cost of airfares. We used CTrip to book ALL of our domestic flights through China, the booking system was pretty easy to use and we got our confirmations without any hassles.
5. Booking accommodation
We’ve kept things simple by using Agoda to book all of our China accommodation. We usually use Agoda when we’re travelling through Asia and the booking system was really easy as they keep some of your details on your record, meaning you don’t have to type out all your personal info time and time again. It also has a cool way of putting all your bookings together, creating an itinerary of sorts for you. I also like Agoda because you can book now and pay later, giving you a chance to change your mind and cancel the booking if you find somewhere better. If I didn’t use Agoda, I probably would’ve checked Airbnb.
It was pretty easy to find accommodation and I found it was cheap to stay in Beijing, Huangshan and Hangzhou, while Guangzhou was the most expensive city to find accommodation in. I’ll put together reviews of the places we stay, so hopefully, that helps you when it comes time to book your own accommodation.
6. Planning an itinerary
As I shared in my recent post, ‘My Travel Planning Tips and Tricks’, I create an itinerary for the trip. This helps me understand where I want to go and stay on top of things, rather than letting the lazy, procrastinating version of myself take over. I base our days around two things: Fun and Food. Oh yeah. So I research the best places to eat and the best things to see and do, then list them all out, sort them by area then put them into an itinerary.
China has been really hard to plan because there isn’t a lot of information on the web, it has really thrown me. Different restrictions on internet access may mean they don’t have a legion of bloggers sharing in the same way we do here in Australia. Is it a bad thing? Not at all, it’s actually kind of exciting because there’s going to be a lot of learning as we go. We’ll be pushed to engage with locals more and sniff out the good restaurants all by ourselves.
- Lonely Planet has this great guide on 5 Top Tips for China First Timers
- Need to understand how the money side of thing works? Check out this guide.
- China Highlights have some great tips on planning your first trip to China, here.