China is a great destination for backpackers; delicious street food, cheap hostels and a great train network that makes travelling around the country simple. It's easy to explore China without spending too much money by using overnight trains and exploring the natural beauty of this huge country. When I visited China it blew me away so I've created a 6 week itinerary that would fit perfectly into a round the world stop off in China or just a single trip to explore this unique country.
Arrive in Beijing, the bustling capital city of China. Part ancient city, part modern metropolis, this fascinating place pulses with energy and life. China is a common first stop on a round the world itinerary and if it's your first time in Asia, take the chance to drink in the traditional culture that Beijing has retained throughout the modernisation of China. Gaze in awe at the Forbidden City and explore the multitude of museums to discover the history of China.There are lots of hostels in Beijing and it is easy to keep your stay here cheap, especially with the choice of delicious street food available. Delicacies from all over the country can be found here but Beijing's own speciality is Peking Duck, thin slices of meat served with cucumber, sweet bean sauce and pancakes. Try this iconic dish at Bianyifang, the oldest Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing, established in 1416. From Beijing a visit to the Great Wall of China is easy to do, either on an organised tour that will drive you straight to the wall or by train to Badaling, an easy 1.5 hour journey that gives you all day to explore this section of the wall and costs only 60 pence each way. It's a great way to keep costs down without missing out on seeing the most iconic scenery of China
From Beijing, catch the overnight train to Xian which should cost around £40. Overnight trains are a fantastic resource to backpackers as they provide you with transport and a bed for the night for a combined price. Xian was thrust into the limelight in 1974 when a group of local farmers discovered the pieces of terracotta that would lead to the discovery. Over 8,000 soldiers are lined up in the stunning site and it's a fantastic area to learn about the imperial history of China and the archeological discoveries that have been made here. Explore the small city where the restored city wall is the largest in the world. After a couple of days discovering historic Xian, head south to the province of Sichuan Province.
Spend a couple of days in Chengdu which has become known as the home of the panda, where the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has transformed it's original 6 pandas into a strong population of 83. These adorable creatures are a huge pull to Chengdu and a cheap entry price of RMB 53 (£5) means it's ideal for a cheap day out. The city itself is awash with tea houses and temples, nestled alongside the modern skyscrapers of the new areas of town. Sichuan is a food obsessed province, with spicy hotpots and bowls of noodles like those at Granny Wang's, opposite Quinshiqiao market, making this province famous for it's flavoursome cuisine throughout China and the world. Outside of the city, climb (or take the cable car!) to the top of Mount Emei, one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains, to experience the cloud sea, a phenomenon where clouds form both above and below the summit.
Next hop on the bus or fly up to Jiuzhaigou National Park, where bright azure lakes contrast with the autumnal leaves of the overhanging trees. The Jiuzhaigou Valley lies at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and waterfalls and snow-capped mountains accentuate the beauty of this stunning area of China. Five Flower Lake is the highlight of the park, with ancient fallen tree trunks criss crossing the bottom of the lake, clearly visible, even from a distance, through the clear blue water. Hike through the park and drink in the natural splendour of central China.
From stunning lakes to a bustling city - Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province and an excellent place to spend a couple of days relaxing. A laid back city, it has loads of hostels and backpacker bars to rest up after a busy first two weeks in China. Try over-the-bridge noodles, a noodle dish made of a bowl of broth with a thick layer of oil that keeps the liquid hot, allowing you to add the raw ingredients of the dish, like egg, pork, noodles and herbs to cook in front of you before gobbling it all up. It is said to have been invented by a wife who, when her husband was studying on an island for his imperial exams, would find the dish of noodles she brought him to have gone cold by the time she crossed the bridge. By adding the oil and taking the raw ingredients over the bridge with her, she served him a hot meal. It's great fun so try a bowl before heading to the famous Stone Forest, a network of caves and large rock formations just 60 miles outside of Kunming.
Head west from Kunming and you'll come across Dali. Again an easy night train from Kunming will allow you to wake up as you arrive Dali, a pleasant town in east Yunnan famous for it's ancient architecture and buzzing cafe culture. The old town is full of traditional buildings and just outside lie the famous Three Pagodas which at over 1200 years old have stood since Dali was its own Buddhist Kingdom. The town is a backpackers mecca and it is full of hostels, with great places to meet other travellers and make new friends. Get a group together and head to Erhai Lake to relax, visit the islands and hike.
From relaxed Dali catch the train to Lijiang, where the traditional architecture is even more abundant than in Dali. Tiny bridges, ancient pagodas and narrow passages make up the small old town, with the Jade river forming canals that slice the city into three. Enjoy wandering the cobbled streets of this picturesque town before exploring north of old town to Black Dragon Pool, a famous view reflecting Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Another fantastic trip is up to Tiger Leaping Gorge, where you can hike along the valley in as little as two days, although many people take as long as a week. Wildflowers cover the sloping sides of the gorge, with stunning views both down and along the valley - it's a must see hike, one of the best in China.
Fly east and hit Guilin, the gateway city to the karst peaks of Guangxi Province. This pretty town is set amongst the emerald rocks that rise from the ground throughout the area. Large amounts of tourism means it is a very westernised city so enjoy the touristy side of China for a couple of days whilst heading out to the Longsheng rice terraces which glimmer gently in the afternoon sun. Try the city's famous nun noodles in the Crescent Moon Building in Seven Star Park before hopping on a boat/minibus and making your way to Yangshuo, one of the most picturesque areas in the country.
Yangshuo is one of the most famous areas of China and draws both national and internationl visitors here in their droves each year. This means there are lots of cheap places to stay which is ideal as there are so many activities here to spend your money on! A river cruise down the Li River is a must but try and choose between rock climbing, rafting, swimming, caving, biking and having a go at traditional martial arts to fill the rest of your week. Grab a pomelo (Chinese grapefruit) for breakfast, soak up the stunning landscape of North Guangxi and your week here will whizz by.
Get ready because your next stop is Hong Kong! With frenetic energy and a stunning cityscape it's a beautiful place to visit... and pretty pricy! Keep your costs down by eating local food and exploring the markets of Kowloon during your time here. Hop on the bus and head to the south side of the island where Stanley harbour is a beautiful place to explore. Away from the seafront you'll find some bargains here, with delicious bowls of noodles available to eat with a seaview. Despite trying to keep it cheap, there are a few things that, if you can afford them, are not to missed on a trip to Hong Kong. Munch on delicious cakes at afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel before taking the tram to Victoria Peak and enjoying the gob-smacking view from the skydeck. It costs extra to get up there but blimey, it's worth it!
From Hong Kong, you can hop on the train for two hours until you reach the city of Guangzhou, a great place to discover the colonial architecture of the area. Once owned by France and Great Britiain, the Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral is a highlight and a perfect day trip before settling down to a dim sum dinner to enjoy the succulent flavours of Cantonese food. If you find you want to escape the city, take a hike up Baiyun Mountain, or splash out and take the cable cars up to this spectacular viewpoint from which you can see the entire city. Hostels are cheap and plentiful here, often used as an alternative to high prices in Hong Kong.
It's your last week in China and there's no better way to finish off a wonderful 6 weeks exploring than with a visit to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Catch the train to Zhangjiajie city and grab a minibus heading to the park. Famous as the inspiration for the Hallelugah Mountains in James Cameron's epic film Avatar, the stunning landscape of the park is one of the most impressive in all of China. There's discounted entry if you're a student so take advantage of that if you have a student card to hand. Hike and trek through the park and stay in the Yuanjiajie Zhongtian International Youth Hostel, which is actually inside the park, at around £5 for a dorm bed.
After a few days exploring Zhangjiajie make your final train journey to the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai, full of sleek skyscrapers and a fast pace of life. As a big city it comes with many costs but as the last place on your itinerary you'll hopefully have saved a little on your journey for a nice evening out to celebrate your final nights in China! Find a rooftop bar like the one at Captain Hostel in the Lujiazui district and enjoy stunning views of this glowing city as you toast to a fanstastic 6 weeks exploring this massive country. You'll have seen the best of what China has to offer and maybe even fallen in love with the natural beauty and bustling cities of this great nation.
So there we have it, 6 weeks of travel through the varied cities and landscapes of China. If you fancy exploring this unique country, why not include China in your round the world ticket? One example of an itinerary could be:
London – Las Vegas // San Francisco – Beijing // Shanghai – Siem Reap // Bangkok – Kathmandu – Delhi - London Flights from £1,621 pp including taxes
Don't forget, we can create any route! If you'd like to travel through China call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.