- DAILY AVERAGE
Alright, this is probably the most boring post that Jamie and I will have done up until this point, but hopefully this will provide some help to those planning a trip to China in understanding how much everything costs, and thus how much you should be saving in advance!
Below I’ve outlined our accommodation expenses, food expenses, transportation expenses including the average cost of taking the subway in each city, as well as the cost of getting from one city to the next – in case you’re planning a similar route to what we did. I’ve also laid out the costs for all of the entrance fees, tours, and activities that we did while in China. Below the costs, I’ve outlined a few notes to help add a bit of perspective to this list and a few tips to help keep your expenses down when travelling through China.
NOTE: All costs are in Canadian Dollars, and are per person. As of Oct 31, 2013: $1 CAD = $0.96 USD
TOTAL DAYS IN CHINA: 20 days
Accommodation Total = $119.63
Accommodation Average per night = $8.55
Food Total = $205.55
Food Average = $4.19 per meal
Average cost of 600mL bottle of Tsingtao = $1.69
Airport Shuttle (Beijing) = $4.24 to downtown
Subway in Beijing = $0.34 per trip
Bullet Train (Beijing to Shanghai) = $93.73
Subway in Shanghai = $0.67 per trip
Bus (Shanghai to Huangshan Mountain Village) = $26.80
Bus (Huangshan Mountain Village to Mountain Entrance + return) = $6.78
Bus (Huangshan Mountain Village to Huangshan City) = $3.39
Train (Huangshan City to Guilin, hard seat) = $33.73
Bus (Guilin to Longsheng) = $8.47
Bus (Longsheng to Guilin + Guilin to Yangshuo) = $11.86
Bus (Yangshuo to Shenzhen, sleeper bus) = $28.81
Temple of Heaven Park Entrance (Beijing) = $3.39
Great Wall Tour including breakfast, lunch, transportation there and back + entrance (through Beijing Sunrise Hostel) = $47.46
Forbidden City Entrance (Beijing) = $10.17
Shanghai “Bund-Puyong” Ferry = $0.67
Huangshan Mountain Entrance + Cable Car (one way) = $52.54
*** Entrance to Huangshan Mountain without the cable car is about $40
Longsheng Park Entrance = $13.56
Bicycle Tour of Yangshuo including Bamboo Raft down Yi Long River and Entrance to the Mud Cave = $41.53
Yangshuo Cooking Class including tour of Yangshuo Meat Market + Dinner = $10.12
China is, more or less, a relatively cheap country compared to what Jamie and I are used to while travelling. However, there are always ways to spend less and if you’re on a budget as tight as ours, every dollar counts.
- SLEEPER TRAIN/SLEEPER BUS: If you’re looking to get from point A –> B and need to take a lengthy train or bus journey, be sure to book a sleeper seat on a train, or a seat on a sleeper bus. It is best to book these tickets as far in advance as possible, as they tend to sell out quickly. Case in point was our plan to take a hard sleeper from Beijing to Shanghai. This would have also doubled as our accommodation for the night. However, the tickets were all sold out (unless we wanted to buy a 20 hour standing ticket) on the regular service train for hard sleepers and soft sleepers. (There isn’t much difference between a soft sleeper and a hard sleeper, but a soft is more expensive… it’s like first class on an airplane). Thus, we were forced to buy a ticket on the Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai. It got us to where we needed to be in about 6 hours, which was incredible considering the distance covered, but it was very expensive and we had to book an extra night at our hostel in Shanghai, which added to the cost even further.
- PRIVATE ROOMS VS. DORMS: When booking hostels, dorm rooms are without a doubt the cheapest option. However, if you’re travelling as a couple like us, you get to a point where you do need your own space every once in a while. From what we found, private rooms are far more expensive in the larger cities like Shanghai, Beijing, etc. and much cheaper in the smaller towns. For instance, we had a private room in Longsheng and only paid about $6 per night. Pick and choose where you’d like to stay in a private room, as doing so in every spot can add up to quite a lot of money.
- STREET FOOD VS. RESTAURANTS: Most people become terrified at the mere mentioning of street food, but most meals we ate from street vendors were perfectly fine. The only time Jamie’s stomach acted up was after eating at a restaurant in Longsheng. In most places around China (Beijing, Shanghai and Huangshan to name a few), you can grab a pancake-like breakfast stuffed with a variety of ingredients for as little as $0.50. If you’re picky, just order the pancake on its own. Small dumpling houses are also everywhere, offering cheap eats for as little as $3. It’s worthy to note that you should settle on a price with the street vendor before they prepare your food, so as to avoid being scammed.
- TOURS VS. DO IT YOURSELF: If you think that I’m about to go on a rant about how avoiding tours and organizing everything on your own can save a ton of money, you’re wrong. The number of horror stories that we heard from travellers who attempted to visit the Great Wall of China on their own were countless. In theory, there are sections of the wall that are accessible by public transport and making the trek on your own would seem like a penny-pincher’s dream. A measly $1-2 for the bus ride up to the wall, about $20 for the entrance fee, and then another $1-2 for the bus ride back. However, trying to find the appropriate bus can be a bit tricky when all of the destinations are listed in Chinese characters. Which bus do you get on? Should you ask a local? This would seem like a good idea, except that we have heard many stories about locals directing unsuspecting tourists to buses that lead them out of the way to a taxi stand (likely where they are employed as a salesperson), where upon arrival the taxi drivers will charge upward of $100 to take you to the Great Wall. At that point, you’re stranded outside of Beijing with no other way of getting around. What other option do you have? None. In comparison, we booked a tour from our hostel that included the bus ride there, entrance fee, lunch, and the bus ride back all for under $50. Definitely more cost effective than spending over $100 to feel ripped off and bitter. Now, this isn’t to say that a tour is always your best bet. In smaller areas such as Yangshuo where everything can be reached by bicycle, it makes sense to find a map and bike around to any attractions that you want to see on your own and it WILL be much more cost effective. We did a guided bicycle tour, and I really wish we hadn’t. We could have found everything on our own and paid entrance fees to the various attractions (bamboo raft and the mud cave) separately and at a cheaper price than what we got through the tour. All in all, China is not an easy place to get around and scams are prevalent. If you’re in a town or city that’s small enough to get around on your own, do it. If you’re in a city of 20+ million people and are trying to visit a touristy destination that’s complicated to get to… do yourself a favour and book a tour.
- METRO VS. CABS: Cabs are relatively inexpensive in China, even in the big cities. Jamie and I went out for karaoke with some people from our hostel in Shanghai and had to cab home as the subway was closed by the time we were ready to leave. The cab ride was around 20-30 minutes long and only cost about $2.90 each. Very cheap. However, if you were taking cabs all the time, this would definitely rack up a lot faster than if you take the subway. The subway is fast, efficient, clean, safe, and extremely inexpensive. A cab ride from Beijing airport to our hostel would likely have only cost about $20 total (which is pretty good considering it’s about $55 in a city like Toronto), but the airport express train/subway was only $4.50 in total. In China, the metro usually doesn’t cost more than $1 for a single trip, so save some cash and hop on the tube.
- HUANGSHAN MOUNTAIN (HIKING VS. CABLE CAR): Originally, it seemed that the only way to get to the top of Huangshan mountain was by cable car. Jamie and I had asked a few people if it was possible to hike, to which their reply was, “You must take the cable car.” Perhaps they meant, “You MUST take the cable car because the views are spectacular,” as opposed to, “There is no other way up the mountain,” as we learned afterward that is indeed possible to hike to the top. A couple of Americans that we met on the mountain had done just that, in about 1.5 hours. Meanwhile, we waited in line to get on the cable car for about 3 hours. Not only would we have saved time, but as the cable car was about $13.50 each, we would have saved a decent amount of money as well!
- STOCKING UP AT THE HOSTEL: Whether it’s a bag of chips, bottled water, or a couple of beers, most things are going to be cheaper at your hostel than anywhere else.
- KARAOKE AND FREE DRINKS: If you’ve got a big enough group, most karaoke places will throw in free booze once you’ve paid the fee to reserve a room (some negotiation beforehand may be necessary). I’m not talking about watered down cranberry vodka shots, I’m talking about a free bottle of whiskey and a litre of coca cola to go alongside it as chase. We went out with a group of about 20 people and the total worked out to around $7 each for the night. Round up some folks from your hostel, have a wild night, and try not to bust up your vocal chords too badly while singing along to some Queen, Journey… or even the Backstreet Boys, for old time’s sake. As long as you have a whiskey coke in your hand, you’ll be manly enough to compensate for belting out a few passionate ballads here and there.
- BOOKING TRANSPORTATION AT YOUR HOSTEL: Since China is such a wonderfully trusting country and doesn’t allow anyone without a Chinese ID to book train or bus tickets online, you can either book train/bus tickets at your hostel or the train/bus station. In Beijing and Shanghai, the hostels applied a service charge of about $2-5 per ticket. In Beijing, I was foolish enough to think that buying our tickets at the train station was the better option. Not a single booking agent spoke English, and even while having a local who spoke sufficient English translating our request to the teller, we unknowingly purchased train tickets with the wrong dates, rendering them useless. In my attempt to save $5 on the hostel’s service charge, we spend an extra $14 on useless train tickets. Don’t make the same mistake. China is a REALLY difficult country to travel. Put your pride away, spend a couple of extra dollars, and book your transportation through the hostel you happen to be staying at.
- NATIONAL HOLIDAYS: There are two primary sets of holidays in China when ever Chinese national goes on vacation, and it’s best to avoid these times for both logistics and cost. Not only is it nearly impossible to book transportation and accommodation during this time, but prices absolutely skyrocket for anything you could possibly need to buy. National Week (or Golden Week as it’s otherwise known) is officially October 1-3, but everything remains busy from Oct 1-7. The Spring Festival (AKA Chinese New Year) never falls on the same dates, but it’s either in late January or early to mid February. It would be best to google what dates Spring Festival fall on before booking your flight to China, if planning your trip for sometime between January and February.