Navigating China

Turning up in China, I expected, as usual, to withdraw money from an ATM when I arrived. No such luck. I got off the train without a crucial word in Chinese – “Bank”. I kept trying to ask people in English but nobody understood, so I was left wandering aimlessly around until I discovered the ATMs. Even worse, it turns out that many Chinese ATMS do not accept Visa… and it took 5 attempts before I finally found one that I could withdraw money from. I have heard a few horror stories of people turning up without cash and without any words written down in Chinese… My advice to anyone going to China is to be prepared with both.

Apart from that small hiccup, travelling around China was incredibly easy. I arrived in Beijing from Ulaanbaatar by train. I had booked this through Real Russia before I left the UK, when I applied for my visa. I paid £105, plus an additional £18 at a later date to change the train. In hindsight, I wish I had waited. It is much cheaper to book in Ulaanbaatar itself and it is also more flexible (although this may not be true in busy summer months).

The single most expensive part of my trip from the UK to here has been my Chinese visa. I thought I needed to get it from the UK before I left, so I had to pay an agency to take it to the embassy for the express service. In total I paid £190 for a 30 day visa including postage, service fees and the visa itself. If I had known it was possible to get one in Ulaanbaatar for 50 US dollars I would have definitely chosen that!

Once in Beijing, I spent £20 on three nights in a dorm room at Leo Hostel.I spent quite a lot on food, eating out for most meals, in total £30 in three days. I spent £2 on metro tickets and £9 on a rather large round of drinks.

A trip to the Great Wall cost me about £16 for the transport there, the ticket in and the transport back again. I went to the section at Mutianyu. I travelled the 45km or so to Hairou by the number 9 Express from the Dongzimen bus station in Beijing for 10 yuan (£1). Then, I spent 40 yuan (£4) on a metered taxi to Mutianyu. I paid another 40 yuan for the ticket into the wall (£4). On the way back, I spent 50 yuan (£5) on a private taxi after some haggling. They changed cars halfway through and then started to try to charge me more. I just stopped communicating with them and gave them the 50 I had agreed at the start. He seemed happy enough with this and I feel like he was just pushing it as far as he could. I then spent another 10 yuan (£1) on the bus journey home. I think this is one of the cheapest ways to visit the wall, but could have been even cheaper if the cost of the taxis had been shared in a group.

Once leaving Beijing, I spent a lot less. It is possible to book trains on www.ctrip.com for a small fee and as long as you turn up to the ticket booth complete with passport and reference number it is easy to collect prepaid tickets. I bought my train ticket from Beijing to Xiamen for 850 yuan (£85) from this website.

In Xiamen, Mel insisted on treating me to most things. I paid for one meal for the two of us at 100 yuan (£10) and a taxi ride for 16 yuan (£1.60). I also bought a train ticket with the help of Mel’s friend to Yangshuo for £36.

I spent very little in Yangshuo. I was paying 15 yuan (£1.50) per night for a bed in the Unique Bamboo Hostel which was a little out of the centre but really nice. I bought porridge for 15 yuan (£1`.50) and had this with fruit and the coffee I had left from Mongolia most mornings. Most days I hired a bicycle from the hostel for 10 yuan (£1). Generally I bought red bean bread, biscuits and fruit every day for lunch which cost around £1.50 and then I ate out in the evening.

Meals I bought ranged in price from 10 yuan (£1) for a traditional Chinese dish to 850 yuan (£8.50). I am sure it is possible to spend more if you want but on average I think £3.50 will buy you something really good. Beers in the Rusty Bolt bar (the climber hangout) were 10 yuan (£1) per pint. Elsewhere they were more expensive so generally I only drank beer in the Rusty Bolt. In three weeks, I think I spent around £200.

I tried to hitchhike to Nanning on my last days with a friend I had made in Yangshuo, Mark. We had limited success and ended up halfway. From there we took a train  (after someone kindly took us to the station) to Nanning. I think this cost 60 yuan (£6). In Nanning we paid 50 yuan (£5) each to share a room before catching a 14 hour bus to Hanoi, Vietnam for Christmas. The bus cost 186 yuan (£18.60).

In total, including all transport into, out of and around China, the visa and all my food and accommodation, I spent £759.

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