6 Extremely helpful tips for planning a trip to China

Planning our trip to China was great 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.

China 1

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 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.

Tangkou Street Huangshan Blog Travel2

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 to 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 ex-pats 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 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.

China 4

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.

Useful travel resources for your trip to China

As always, our guides are completely free. If you found this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you considered using the affiliate links below. We’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the services we love and use ourselves. Thanks for your support! XO Phoebe and Matt.

Agoda – for booking hotels
Airbnb – for booking apartments
Booking.com – for booking hotels
Motorhome Republic – for booking RVs
RentalCars.com – for car rentals
SCTI – for travel insurance
Skyscanner – for booking flights
Surfshark – for online security and VPN
TourRadar – for booking tours
Uber – for ground transport


Little Grey Box

I'm a writer and presenter and my husband Matt is a videographer. Together, we run Little Grey Box; an award-winning travel blog and YouTube channel.

14 thoughts on “6 Extremely helpful tips for planning a trip to China

  1. Great article Phoebe! Here are some of my tidbits for your readers. About travel times – avoid travelling to China during Chinese New Year and Chinese National Holiday Week (the first week of October) as it is an absolute clustercuss and almost impossible to get plane and train tickets during this time. For internal flights, CTrip is very good, and also it is useful to know that Flight Centre has a presence in China. I have used them several times to book my internal trips in China. To access Facebook and Instagram while you’re in China, I recommend downloading Astrill VPN! I have been using this for 3 years now without hassle. Also, here are some China foodie blogs which may pique your interest!


    Have an amaaaazing time!!

    1. You are amazing… thank you so much for all this wonderful information, Melissa. I am copy and pasting your whole comment and scoping out those blog links. If there’s any other tips and info you want to share with me, send them through girl 🙂

  2. I was in Beijing in February, for the second time. My tip would be to use the Metro for getting around – it is fast, efficient, easy to use (all signs are in English too) and much cheaper and often faster than taxis. The city is huge, and even though the locals would say that something is only a 20 minutes walk, it usually turned into almost a full hour for me.

  3. I’m gonna save this one:) Just one thing, I understand I have to request the visa also with all the flights already booked, both the international one and the internal ones. Did I get it right? Can I do that without the certainty to obtain the visa?

    1. Hey Gian, I think it’s best if I don’t give definite answers for your situation as I don’t want to give you the wrong info. For ours, we showed our flight to Hong Kong, train to Guangzhou and all internal flights, then our flight out of Hong Kong.

      1. That’s ok don’t worry:) I just wanted to know how exactly you managed to do that. I’ll check for other info, thanks!

    2. When I’ve applied for Chinese visas whilst in Hong Kong (only takes a couple of days so if you are flying in from there it’s worth considering getting them in Hong Kong) they have required copies of my flight AND hotel bookings. It doesn’t matter if plans change later and you stay somewhere else on a different day: once you have the visa none of that info matters, it doesn’t appear on the visa and no one checks.

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