A collection of China travel and backpacking resources including China travel, entry visa requirements, employment for backpackers, and Cantonese phrasebook.

Backpacking China

Looking for important travel information while backpacking around China? Here you will find information on working in China, entry visas, China hostels, and much more.

Table of Contents

A guide for backpacking around China. Get important travelers information when it comes to China including visa requirements, employment opportunities, common Cantonese phrases and translation, as well as China hostels.

Facts About China

Arguably the most well known of the oriental countries, China is a country of splendid mountain backdrops and a rich tradition steeped culture which most western tourists find irresistible. To some China is the land of emperors, ancient temples and warrior monks, other come to see the remnants of communism. No matter what your taste you will find plenty to do in China, from the more well known sites such as the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army to lesser known sites such as the Flaming Mountains near Turpan. Of course China hasn’t been standing still and in it’s cities you will also find elements of western culture fused with Chinese traditionalism. Furthermore, China’s extreme size means that it is a fantastic destination for repeated visits; it would take literally years to explore all that this huge country has to offer.

  • Currency: Yuan (Renminbi RMB) = 10 chiao/jiao or 100 fen
  • Time Zone: GMT + 8
  • Language: Chinese (Mandarin is the major dialect)
  • Telephone Services: Country code +86, International access code 00
  • Emergency Numbers: 110 Police, 119 Fire

Climate

China’s size means that the climate does vary considerably from one region to another. The northeast generally boasts very hot, very dry summers but also some of the most bitterly cold winters. The northern and central regions have a lot of precipitation at all times of the year with hot summers and cold winters. The south-eastern area is the most temperate with nearly tropical summers and cool winters, there is still however a substantial amount of rainfall spread throughout the year.

China climate map including average rainfall and temperature by month. Find the best time to backpack China based on your climate preferences.

Things to see and do

Beijing is China’s capital and is to some extent a gigantic showpiece of the Chinese governments. The city is famous for Tiananmen Square, the site is most famously the site of a massacre of thousands of students but is also the home of the Tiananmen Tower, Mao Zedong memorial hall and several other landmarks. The square lies at the centre of Beijing and is dominated by the Tower at the north end, which was originally built during the Ming Dynasty. Also well worth a visit is the Forbidden City, again located in central Beijing this huge palace complex was used by both the Ming and Qing dynasties. It covers an impressive 74 hectares and it is advised to plan to spend at least half a day exploring all that the palaces have to offer. If all of the tourism gets on top of you however , just south-west of Tiananmen square is the Daguanyuan or “Grand View Garden”. This exquisitely picturesque garden boasts several small attractions of its own such as the Bamboo Lodge and the Cheerful Red Court but in many ways these are secondary to its beautiful gardens.

Beijing also makes an ideal base for exploring some of the surrounding sites, there are numerous areas of the Great Wall open to visitors close to Beijing. The Jinshanling stretch is 90km in length and not as busy as some of the other stretches nearby. Also close by are the famous Ming Tombs. These 13 mausoleums each house one of the emperors of the Ming dynasty each holding various relics and treasures, amongst them in the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun is the imperial crown, one of China’s rarest treasures.

Most visitors to China don’t want to leave without visiting Xi’an. This city was formerly a major hub of trade from eastern China to Asia but is most famous for its Terracotta Army. Uncovered in 1974 with new statues still being discovered and restored to date each of the thousands of warriors has been sculpted uniquely and are thought to be exact likenesses of Emporer Qin’s actual army. The statues are armed with real weapons and include contingents of swordsmen, archers and cavalry. Also of not in Xi’an is the Banpo Neolithic village which is a recreation of stone-age China, however these and other attractions such as the Muslim Quarter pale into insignificance against the splendour of the Terracotta Army.

Shanghai is another of China’s major cities but to many it represents the Western cultural invasion of the east and as such has earned itself a somewhat distasteful reputation amongst snobbier travellers. To those willing to look past facetious nicknames like “The whore of the east” there are plenty of things worth seeing in Shanghai. The most famous site is the “Temple of the Jade Buddha”, this splendid temple was built in 1882 to house two magnificent jade Buddha statues brought back from Burma by the monk Huigen. Also worth a visit is the Shanghai museum which hosts some 120,000 works of art including excellent exhibitions of Chinese Bronzes and Ming/Qing dynasty furniture. Of especial interest is the splendid Jade gallery which boasts exhibits ranging as far back as 7000 years.

Travel

China is an enormous country so travelling by air across larger distances is well worthwhile. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) operates routes connecting over 80 locations to Beijing, their web page is however in Chinese so you may need to babelfish. Most tickets are booked through tour operators but backpackers or independent travellers can book through the Chinese International Travel Service which charge a commission. You can attempt to buy tickets from booking offices but you will find that the Chinese government has put some restrictions on foreign air travel, most notably you will be refused access to areas such as Tibet if you are not part of a “group tour” arranged through a tour operator or Chinese International Travel Service.

The rail service in China is in general good and offers a cheap and safe way to travel. The network covers some 52,000lm and reaches every province except for Tibet. There are four different kind of fares, hard and soft seated and hard and soft sleepers, it is generally quite cheap so you will be wanting to lay out the extra cash for the comfier seats/beds on most journeys. Children are offered discounts according to height rather than the more traditional age boundaries, children under 1m (3ft) will travel free and children under 1.3m (4ft) only pay a quarter fee.

It is possible to reach most of China by bus, however roads are not always of good quality and neither is the standard of driving. Buses are for the most part slow, crowded and in general a somewhat hair raising experience. Buses are run by a variety of local companies and fares are usually paid for on the bus to the bus driver. It is worth noting that although hire-cars are available most companies will want to retain your passport and thus are not generally to be recommended. Cars, with drivers can be hired easily in bigger cities.

The final way to travel in China is by boat, all major rivers have ferry services on them and these are geared up to serve tourists quite well. The Yangzi is especially well catered for and there is a good selection of boat trips available.

Accommodation

China boasts some 2350 “star-graded” hotels with about that number again of ungraded hotels so finding a place to stay near major cities shouldn’t pose much of a problem. Most hotels have good facilities and many of the pricier ones have a myriad of leisure activities on-site. The China Tourism Hotel Association can be contacted for more information on Chinese hotels.

Budget travellers have two choices open to them, there are generally dormitories found in tourist hotspots although the conditions can be very poor and in some you will want to take your own bed linen. Thankfully China is currently in the process of building a youth hostel network. The International Youth Hostel Federation has more information on these plans which are expected to be concentrated around Guandong, Beijing, Guanxi, Yunnam and Shanghai.

Health

Medical costs are surprisingly low in China although many Western medicines are unavailable. Facilities in China’s international hospitals are nearly as good as those in Western hospitals although it is still advised that you take out comprehensive travel insurance.

Typhoid and polio vaccinations are recommended before travelling to China, these can be obtained from your local GP for around ¥40. Cholera is also a slight rish in China although the medical community is somewhat divided on whether vaccinations are effective, you should consult your GP for up to date medical advice before travelling. Malaria is present in most region of the country and it is recommended that you carry chloroquine in most areas and mefloquine in Hainan and Yunnan.

Outside main cities water should be boiled before use for either washing or consumption, meat should be well cooked and served hot and vegetables should be cooked and peeled. Although in the cities there are no large problems normal precautions should be observed when buying food from smaller restaurants or street vendors.

Useful Links

The China Tourism Hotel Association can be contacted for information on Chinese hotels.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) operates routes connecting over 80 locations to Beijing. (Site in Chinese).

China National Tourist Office is a good source of information for visitors to China.

Entry Visas for China

A valid passport, a return ticket and a tourist visa are required by all non-Chinese nationals wishing to enter. Visas can be acquired from the local Chinese Embassy and cost ¥30 for a single entry visa and ¥45 for a multiple entry visa. It is worth noting that postal applications attract a ¥20 handling surcharge. All visitors are also required to fill in a health declaration certificate on arrival, entrance will be refused to HIV positive travellers.

Addresses

Immigration or visa related enquiries should be directed towards the Chinese Embassy:

Embassy of the People's Republic of China (Consular Section) 
49-51 Portland Place 
London 
W1N 4JL 
Tel: (020) 7 636 9375/5726 
Fax: (020) 7 636 9756. 

If you require UK representation while you are abroad you should contact the British Embassy:

British Embassy 
11 Guang Hua Lu 
Jian Guo Men Wai 
Beijing 100600 
Peoples Republic of China 
Tel:+ [86] (10) 65 32 19 61/5 
Fax:+ [86] (10) 65 32 19 37. 
email bc.beijing@bc-beijing.sprint.com 

There are also British Consulate Generals at Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Tourist information can be obtained from the China National Tourist Office:

China National Tourist Office 
4 Glentworth Street 
London 
NW1 5PG 
Tel: (0171) 935 9787 
Fax: (0171) 487 5842

Foreigner Work Permits in China

As is the case with a lot of Asian countries, work opportunities are difficult to come by in China due to the weakness of the economy. Most chances of work will be found in teaching English, or volunteering.

Teaching English

Schools, colleges, and universities are often looking for teachers to help with educating their students in English. Start looking for work in the main cities, Shanghai for example. Training to receive the TEFL qualification before leaving the UK can sometimes be advantageous, but in China it is not usually essential or even necessarily looked at, but teaching experience is always helpful to have. The British Council organise one year placements for students wanting to teach English in China, the requirements are that you speak English, hold a valid EU passport, and have completed secondary education. Language assistants usually earn between 2500 and 3500 yuan per month (approx. ¥183 to ¥256), for up to 18 hours of weekly work and are often provided with accommodation.

Project Trust

In China, volunteers with the Project Trust work in developing areas as teachers of English in schools. In 2003 volunteers were sent to Guangdong, Shandong, and Gansu, three somewhat different areas in terms of their stage of development. This type of work gives volunteers the opportunity to help in the community and to experience a completely different lifestyle to what they are used to, seeing communities develop and being part of this.

GAP Activity Projects Ltd

GAP arranges volunteer programmes specifically aimed at gap year students. In China, volunteers work in schools with children aged 11 to 18 and in teachers’ colleges with students aged 18 to 22, as well as some placements in a medical college. Work consists of teaching spoken English to the students in different areas south of Beijing. GAP provides accommodation and food, and pocket money is provided.

Baptist Missionary Society

This organisation sends youth teams to help with teaching and community work, as well as practical projects including building and development of particular sites. Volunteers are required to fund their own travel, insurance, accommodation, and food, which can amount to up to ¥3000. Applicants for the BMS should be aged between 18 and 25 and be Christian.

Projects Abroad

The agency runs one month or more long programmes where volunteers teach English to schoolchildren, take part in animal care, or even work in the local media and medical centres. In China volunteers go to Shanghai on whichever type of work they choose. Accommodation is provided either with host families, or living with other teachers in local hostels.

VentureCo

VentureCo’s 16-week programme combines aid projects with expeditions from Cambodia, through Vietnam, to Laos, and finally China. The first three weeks are spent in what is known as ‘cultural orientation’ consisting of visiting various places guided by a team who introduce you to the culture and traditions of the country, and learning the Khmer language. The following four weeks consist of community aid work in Koh Kong, involving teaching and food distribution to underprivileged children. A 9-week expedition then follows taking you through Vietnam: Saigon, HoiAn, China Beach, and Hue City; Laos: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and the Mekong River, and finally China: Kunming, Lijiang, the Yangtze, Xi’an, Beijing, and finishing with a trek on the Great Wall of China. Programmes with VentureCo are self-funded and can cost you up to ¥5000, which includes travel, food, accommodation, transport, and fees for the activities themselves.

Useful Links

TEFL

British Council

Project Trust

GAP

BMS

Projects Abroad

Ventureco Worldwide

How to Say Common Cantonese Phrases

Cantonese Phrasebook

Meeting People

English
Cantonese
yes
hai
no
m hai
thank you
doh jeh, m goi
you are welcome
m sai haak hei
please
m goi, ching
excuse me
ching yeung, dui m chu
hello
nei ho
goodbye
joi gin
Good morning
jo san
Good night
maan on, jo taau
I do not understand
ngoh m ming baak
Do you speak…?
lei sik gong…ma?
English
ying man
What is your name?
lei giu me ye meng?
Nice to meet you
rho go hing ying sik lei
How are you?
nei ho ma?
good
ho
bad
m ho

Directions

English
Cantonese
map
dei to
left
joh
right
yau
straight on
jik hui
far
yuen
near
gan

Methods of Transport

English
Cantonese
Where is…?
bin do hai…?
How much is the fare?
che fai gei doh chin?
ticket
piu
A ticket to…, please
yat jeung piu hui…, m goi
Where are you going?
nei yui hui bin?
Where do you live?
nei ju hai bin?
train
foh che, tit lo
bus
gung gung hei che, ba si
underground
dei ha tit
airport
fei gei cheung
train station
foh che jaam
bus station
gung gung hei che jaam, ba si jaam
underground station
dei tit jaam
departure
chut ching
arrival
yap ching
parking
ting che cheung

Time

English
Cantonese
What time is it?
gei dim jung a?
today
gam yat
yesterday
kam yat
tomorrow
ting yat

Accommodation

English
Cantonese
hotel
lui goon
room
fong
reservation
ding, yue ding
Are there any vacancies?
ching man gam maan yau mo hung fong?
No vacancies
mo saai hung fong
passport
woo jiu

Places

English
Cantonese
post office
yau ching guk
bank
ngan hong
police station
ging chaat guk
hospital
yi yuen
chemist
yeuk fong
shop
dim po
restaurant
chaan teng, jau lau
museum
bok mat goon
church
gau tong
square
gong yuen
street
gaai do, ma lo

Shopping

English
Cantonese
How much does this cost?
ni goh gei doh chin?
I will buy it
ngoh yiu maai ni goh
I would like to buy…
ngoh seung maai…
Do you have…?
lei yau mo…?
open
hoi
closed
yau sik
postcard
ming shun pin
stamps
yau piu
little
siu-siu
lot
taai doh
all
chuen bo

Meals

English
Cantonese
breakfast
cho chaan
lunch
ng chaan
dinner
maan chaan
vegetarian
so sik jeh
cheers!
ging jau, yam booi
The bill please
maai daan, m goi

Drinks

Drinks

English
Cantonese
drink
yam ban
coffee
ga feh
tea
cha
juice
jap
water
shui
beer
beh jau
wine
jau

Food

English
Cantonese
meat
yuk
fish
yue
vegetable
sho choi
fruit
shui gwoh
potato
ma ling sue
salad
sa laai
dessert
tim ban

Buy phrasebooks online at Amazon.co.uk

Mandarin Phrasebook

Meeting People

English
Mandarin
yes
shi
no
Méiyǒu
thank you
Xièxiè
you are welcome
bu yong xie
please
Qǐng
excuse me
Láojià
hello
ni hao
goodbye
Zàijiàn
Good morning
zao-an
Good night
wan-an
I do not understand
Wǒ bù míngbái
Do you speak…?
Nǐ huì shuō?
English
yi-ng yu
Chinese
Zhōngwén
What is your name?
Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?
Nice to meet you
Hěn gāoxìng jiàn dào nǐ
How are you?
ni-hao-ma?
good
hao
bad
Huài

Directions

English
Mandarin
map
Dìtú
left
zuo
right
Duì
straight on
Zhíjiē
far
yuan
near
Jìn

Methods of Transport

English
Mandarin
Where is…?
zai-na li-?
How much is the fare?
che-fei duo shao?
ticket
piao
A ticket to…, please
Qǐng gěi wǒ yī zhāng dào…… De piào
Where are you going?
Nǐ yào qù nǎlǐ?
Where do you live?
Nǐ yào qù nǎlǐ?
train
huo-che
bus
Zǒngxiàn
underground
Dìxià
airport
fei-ji-chang
train station
Huǒchē zhàn
bus station
Gōngchē zhàn
underground station
Dìtiě zhàn
departure
Chūfā
arrival
Dàodá
parking
Tíngchē chù

Time

English
Mandarin
What time is it?
Xiànzài shì jǐ diǎn?
today
jin-tian
yesterday
Zuótiān
tomorrow
Míngtiān

Accommodation

English
Mandarin
hotel
Lǚguǎn
room
Fángjiān
reservation
Bǎoliú
Are there any vacancies?
Yǒu kòngquē ma
No vacancies
Méiyǒu kòngwèi
passport
Hùzhào

Places

English
Mandarin
post office
Yóujú
bank
Yínháng
police station
Jǐngchá jú
hospital
Yīyuàn
chemist
Huàxué jiā
shop
Diàn
restaurant
Cāntīng
museum
Bówùguǎn
square
fang, guang chang
street
jie

Shopping

English
Mandarin
How much does this cost?
Zhège duōshǎo qián?
I will buy it
wo-mai
I would like to buy…
Wǒ xiǎng mǎi…
Do you have…?
Nǐ yǒu méiyǒu…?
open
kai
closed
guan
postcard
Míngxìnpiàn
stamps
Yóupiào
little
yi dian er
lot
hen-duo
all
Suǒyǒu

Meals

English
Mandarin
breakfast
zao-can
lunch
wu-can
dinner
wan-can
vegetarian
cheers!
gan bei
The bill please
Qǐng zhàngdān

Drinks

Drinks

English
Mandarin
drink
coffee
ka-fei
tea
Chá
juice
guo-zhi
water
shui
beer
Píjiǔ
wine
jiu

Food

English
Mandarin
meat
Ròu
fish
vegetable
Shūcài
fruit
shui-guo
potato
Tǔdòu
salad
Shālā
dessert
Tiándiǎn

Buy phrasebooks online at Amazon.co.uk

China Hostels

Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in China to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in China, you’ve come to the right place.

China

There you have it, the ultimate China backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around China.

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