China Travel, Backpacking & Gap Year Guide
China is booming – rapid modernization, improved infrastructure, tourism campaigns and the Olympics in 2008 have all helped to open this vast country up to the world. Get information, advice and inspiration for the best things to do if you would like to travel, go backpacking or take a gap year in China.
China Travel Ideas, Backpacking Trips & Gap Year Programs
Travel to China
China is a fascinating destination with bustling cities like Beijing and Shanghai, spectacular sights and also amazing food.
Our destination guide aims to give you all the information you need to have an amazing experience in this amazing country. Find affordable travel and backpacking ideas with advice for amazing things to do and how you can be more than just your average traveller. You can also get recommendations for budget travel tips, tips for places to stay and advice how to stay safe.
Get inspired to visit China today!
- Capital: Beijing (population 20,200,000 approx)
- Largest City in China: Guangzhou 41,000,000
- Population: 1,400,000,000 (approx)
- Currency: Renminbi (RMB)
- Area: 950,000 km2
- International Calling Code +86
- Language: Mandarin, Cantonese + local languages
How to Get to China
There are daily international flights into places like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Book in advance to secure the best deals.
Top Reasons to Travel to China
Here are just some of the reasons why you should book a flight here:
- Experience a totally different culture
- See incredible world famous sights like the Great Wall, Summer Palace and Terracotta Warriors
- Diverse opportunities from exploring modern cities to seeing incredible countryside
- See exotic wildlife like pandas
- Tourism is on the rise
- Local people are very friendly despite the language barrier
Travelling & Backpacking in China
There are so many locations you might want to add to your itinerary including the ancient capital - Xian which is located in Central China. Here you will get to visit a museum of the Terracotta warriors and horses. Some say this is the eighth marvel in the world. There is a 2,000 year history here. The three terracotta pits face east. Eight thousand terracotta warriors, horses and 40,000 bronze weapons give the feel that soldiers are guarding Xian. While visiting make sure you see the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Famen Temple. The architecture will amaze you. There is also a nice dinner show with talented dancers performing.
In Beijing you definitely need to take time to see the Summer Palace. It has amazing parks and phenomenal views. The Summer Palace is an inviting recreational park for everyone. While there you should paddle boat across the lake and take pictures of the amazing views of Summer Palace and Longevity Hill. You also have the option to visit the Tower of Buddhist Incense and to climb Longevity Hill to the Summer Palace. The Forbidden City is is the largest and best-preserved ancient building in China. There are 800 buildings and 9,000 rooms in the Forbidden City museum. The architecture is formed in such a way that shows harmony in life.
Always dreamed of seeing or walking the Great Wall of China? Our adventure tours of the Wall, are absolutely majestic and picturesque. If you are in good shape and walk well hiking trips, at the great wall, let you take in everything there is to see. You get to walk and hike through small villages and see spectacular scenery. You will also see a fortress and the Great Wall Museum. The museum will fill you in on many things you did not know about the wall. Depending on how adventurous you are, there are tours that last anywhere from a few hours to over a month!
Other places you might want to add to your itinerary include Shanghai and Hong Kong. If you are looking to get off the beaten track you might want to head to the Yangzte River Valley. When you visit this area, you will be afforded the opportunity to see pagodas, and the gateway to the Three Gorges. While taking a cruise trip, you can partake in shore excursions and get a better view of the dams.
China Travel Tips
Start planning your trip to China with our advice and budget travel tips.
Visa / Getting There / What to Expect
You will need to apply for a Chinese tourist visa prior to departing, most passport holders are eligible to visit China, this country is quite a long way from Europe and North America and so flights here can be expensive, book in advance for the best deals. Most flights arrive into Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong, it's best to get some Chinese currency in advance.
Chinese people are very friendly and open to foreigners, in some places you might get some looks of curiosity but this destination is very safe and you shouldn't encounter any issues. We recommend buying a Mandarin phrase book or booking a Chinese course in China as not many local people speak foreign languages. If the program you apply to offers any additional extras like a language course consider joining especially if you are going to be working with people.
China has a rapid and expanding internet network so you should be able to access the web / e-mail from most locations. Some foreign websites can be occassionally blocked though.
Food & Drink
Try to eat the local food, some might look very strange but usually it tasty if no a little different to the Chinese food you are used to eating in your native country. Try the peking duck, dim sum or baked banana. China has a diverse range of food available, you can find luxury expensive restaurants but on the main food is very cheap, prices in cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong is usually more than other places. We recommend trying street food which is very cheap and quite tasty, its very unlucky to get sick eating this food. Street food and stalls can cost less than £1 ($2) whilst eating in your average resturant costs around £3 - £5+ ($5-$8). Try to be open to new things, some food doesn't look very appealing and also don't be shocked if you order something and it isn't what you are used to.
You might be suprised to learn China is a very safe country to travel in, it is very rare to hear about crime like muggings and violence happening to visitors. Local people might be inquisitive but shy, sometimes seeing foreigners is rare in China and so don't get worried if people openly stare at you. There are a few scams and traps to watch out for, these include the infamous tea house trick where a local person, usually a girl will ask you to go for a drink to help her practise her speaking. You will then be taken to a restaurant and be expected to fulfil the bill which might be very expensive.
Heath & Vaccinations
If you are going to be visiting a remote region you might want to check to see if it a malaria hotspot and take pre-cautions like buying medication prior to departing. Most of the country has a low level of risk from illness / disease though and facilities in the larger locations are very high by world standards. We recommend packing some tablets like Imodium just in case some of the local goes down the wrong way.
Budget & Costs
Visiting China on a budget is very easy, this is one of the best countries in the world for value for money. Accommodation, food, transport and sightseeing activities are all very cheap and good value. This is especially true is you compare it to a nearby country like Thailand or Japan for example. To save money we recommend avoiding restaurants, travelling on buses or a basic seat train ticket and staying in hostels. Sometimes it is better to pay a bit more and enjoy a better experience.
Transport & Getting Around
There are several ways to get around, we recommend internal flights and trains which are the best options. There are buses but with the distances involved you could spend more time on the road than actually seeing things. Overnight sleeper trains are highly recommended, they are clean and quick. Spend a bit more and get a bed for comfort although there are basic seats which are the cheapest option. You might get some funny looks from local people, we recommend learning some Mandarin phrases and trying to communicate with them. Occasionally some people get invited to go stay with local people which can be a great experience and something totally different. You can book most train journeys and transport at hostels or hotels, this might save you any confusion trying to book it direct. You do hear stories of people booking trains and ending up in the wrong part of the country.
Gap Year in China
There are so many you can do on a gap year in China and we highly recommend booking a structured program to experience the highlights of the country. We list trips and programs with the worlds leading gap year companies where you can visit or work in places like Beijing, X'ian, Shanghai and Yunan.
If you would like to visit China but are worried about the language barrier we recommend taking an organised program. This will be more expensive than traveling independently but you will get to see exciting places, travel in a group with others and have a safe and fun gap year experience. Most gap year programs will require you to be aged 18+ and also open minded to living and working in a new country. There are start dates every month and most placements need to be booked in advance.
China Gap Year Trips & Programs
You can find adventure trips where you can visit places throughout the country. From small group adventures to day breaks by bike, these trips offer a great way to experience new places in China with other travelers and a local guide. China can be a difficult country to travel in, the language is tough to pick up and also the size and diversity of locations can seem daunting. Traveling on a gap year program takes all the hassle away meaning you can enjoy the best experience possible and have a lot of fun.
Most gap year jobs and programs in China are open to all nationalities and you can apply with a friend / partner. For most structured programs you will need to pay a fee, this usually includes placements, transfers, accommodation, meals and in-country support. Accommodation is usually provided in the form of a shared house or hostel dorm, there are also cultural home-stays available where you can stay with a local family. On most programs you will work with local staff and also other international participants so you will not be alone.
China Gap Year Reviews & Testimonials
"I decided to take a gap year to Asia and booked a flight to Shanghai from London. This was one of the longest flights of my life! China is amazing but a big culture shock so be aware of this. From the language, culture and food - everything is different. Be open minded and you will really enjoy the experience. Be sure to visit Beijing, Shanghai, X'ian, Chengdu - all facsinating destinations." - Paul, UK
"When I began to look into volunteer projects for my gap year in China, I decided on teaching English as I wanted to do something I am passionate about within another culture. However I wanted to experience a culture that would teach me something too and I had only read about China in textbooks. As I researched, it became apparent that the chance for a Chinese student to learn conversational English is invaluable. I wanted to share what I could and I knew it would be rewarding to potentially impact on a student’s future, even in the smallest way. Yet I was equally, if not more excited at the prospect of what the students would teach me and what I would find out about a country that still is, to an extent, shrouded in mystery." - Emily Ferris, UK
"I spent a year in China with Project Trust and it changed my life. I made friends for life and experienced a culture which is unlike anything I had seen before" - Harrison, UK