Are you planning a trip to China? You want to come and you certainly aren’t the kind of person to join a tour group and be marched around from temples to markets. Yes, the rumors are true,
China is one of the most fascinating and difficult places to travel around by yourself as a Westerner, but we are here to help.
We all know planning a backpacking trip to a foreign country can be stressful, but China can frazzle even the most experienced backpacker into humble submission. The main difference between backpacking in China and other places in the world is backed up by a sad reality that most people in China don’t speak English, while you most likely don’t speak a word of Chinese.
If you were to have lost your way in Berlin, you would simply find the nearest person and ask where the train station is. In China, things aren’t as simple, even if you succeed in getting your question across, you will have hell of a time understanding the response in return. Sure, there are more English speakers in bigger cities, tourist sites with English speaking guides and a few English speaking staffs working in the hostel you are staying in, but for the most part English speakers are far and between.
No English you say? Do not let this deter you, this is all part of the adventure and you, as a backpacker, you will truly feel you have accomplished a lot once you have gotten around China.
First of all, the most important thing is deciding when and where you want to go. China is way bigger than you think. Contrary to popular belief the terracotta warriors are nowhere near Beijing and an actual 13 hour train ride is needed getting there . The other important thing is that China’s climate and seasons are as diverse as its heritage. You need to plan carefully before going. Here are a few pointers to help you plan your trip.
Plan your trip at the right time of the year
If you are into outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, horse back riding, rafting, etc, then you need to plan on coming to China in the spring or summer time. However, be warned that China’s summer is extremely hot, and in some places squelching humid, although China’s summer scenery and myriad of greenery, flowers and rice paddies is truly breathtaking especially when traveling through provinces and watch the landscape change .
If you plan to come in the winter time, Chinese New Years is truly an experience that shouldn’t be missed which will be carved into your memory forever. There is nothing more breathtaking than standing at the top of a building and witness the city explode around you in bursts of vivid colors and bangs. In addition, for those who don’t mind the cold, Harbin hosts an amazing one month long Ice Festival, or for the more active there are numerous places to go skiing around northern China.
When planning to come to China, be mindful of these major holidays. While being around for Chinese New Year’s might be a once in a lifetime experience, know that the other 1.3 billion people you are sharing this global space with also are on holiday. This makes train and bus rides a huge headache and make most people not want to bother leaving the house around this time. You can, however, spend a bit more money to travel by planes,especially if you are able to make a bit of extra time for yourself.
There are several main holidays in China, in order of importance they are.
Chinese New Years: The holiday varies based on the Chinese lunar calendar ,The standard vacation period for most workers in China is one week although students and teachers get as much as a 2 months long holiday.
In addition to Chinese New Years, there are two other week long holidays that are celebrated in China-one in May and the other in October. The dates change slightly each year but for the most part they take place in the first week of the month.
What is a good duration for a decent trip?
For those coming to China for the first time, here is a tip: China is huge, massive, enormous, and gigantic. You can’t plan on traversing the entire country from Beijing to Kunming to Guangzhou and Shanghai all in one week. It’s just not possible. Many try, but you will only leave feeling frustrated tired. The key here is to pace yourself and not try to see everything all at once. It’s better to see a little less and get a good understanding with what you saw than spending numerous hours on busses and trains. A month would be enough time to see a decent amount of the country excluding Xinjiang and Tibet (which is periodically off limits to foreigners anyway). Keep in mind that even a month isn’t really sufficient to see it all, you would still need to pick and choose the places you want to visit, especially when traveling by train, which is the best and most affordable way to see China. The less time you have, the more planes and airports you should be inserting into your plans.