Cheap Trips To China
When we were living in China, though, nothing made us chuckle more than hearing what foreign visitors had spent for guided excursions and Western hotels. Okay, not everyone is ready to live the way even middle class Chinese do, and it can be scary to venture out alone into a country where a very small percentage of the people speak English, but if you’re adventurous enough to travel independently and live like the locals, you can have a lot of fun in China for very few renminbi.
To avoid Western-style eateries, Like eating French cuisine in the United States, eating foreign food in China is a status symbol. As a result, it tends to be expensive and subpar. Many high-quality Chinese eateries are cheaper than an average Western one.
Skipping the tour guide in major cities is a great idea - Even if you know no Chinese, you’ll have no issue traveling to and around the Forbidden City and Great Wall in Beijing, the Shanghai Museum, and other key sights in China’s greatest cities. Accessible by taxi or subway, most of the city's top sights offer audio tours in English. You can either use a translation app on your phone or have the hotel write out the Chinese characters so you can show them to taxi drivers.
Start thinking in RMB - The sooner you comprehend that 50 RMB goes a whole lot farther than the 6 USD it trades for, the better. Six dollars is little, but 50 RMB may be many things — a very decent lunch in a restaurant, a night in a hotel, a rather lengthy cab journey.
Try to avoid the “foreigner charge” - But recognize it's sometimes necessary. The ordinary Chinese citizen makes a few thousand dollars a year; migrant laborers selling street food make a fraction of that. It's unsurprising, then, that many people in China perceive foreign visitors as walking ATM machines. For government attractions like Beijing's Forbidden City, the foreigner fee is set and cannot be negotiated. In other cases, though, you should feel free to negotiate a lower price or just refuse to pay more than the going cost. Claiming to be a student may assist, but it will be difficult to pull off if you don't know any Chinese.
Take the train; China's extensive rail network is an excellent resource for budget-conscious tourists. The only time of year when it's not a pleasant and cheap method to travel is around national holidays. I like looking out the window at the passing countryside, where I've seen water buffalo in rice fields and other lovely sights. Taking Chinese trains also has the added benefit of putting you in contact with regular citizens, who will have plenty of time to open up to you. Very stimulating conversations are almost guaranteed whenever an English speaker joins. Learn more about taking the train in China by reading this.
In the more time you spend in China, the more it makes sense to eat at local restaurants and markets. In order to avoid spending your whole vacation in the restroom, it is important to be selective about what you eat when you just have a few days to complete your journey. When dining on the street in China, I use this simple rule of thumb: if it comes directly from the open flame, the pot of boiling water, or the cloud of steam, it is safe to consume. You can eat safely while enjoying a few cents' worth of barbecued lamb skewers, dumplings, and bowls of noodles. For further advice on eating safely from the street, read here.