I spend about half of my time traveling, most of the time to industrial areas in China. These days I am a city I had never heard of, in Guangxi province. There was no airport close to my destination point, so I came with a night bus and I am staying in a local hotel (it is quite okay, for rmb100/night).
While most foreign business travelers don’t make such choices for their transportation in China, many of them wonder how to save a few hundred dollars every time they come. So I thought I might as well share a few tips.
If you go to a factory, your hosts can help you find a suitable hotel. They will probably advise you to stay in a hotel close to them. The advantages are convenience (less transportation) and price (you might benefit from a discount negotiated by your supplier). However, you should always have a quick look at the room before confirming the booking. Here are the things to watch out for:
- If there is a karaoke in the hotel, make sure you are in a different building and your windows can be shut properly. Same thing if you are very close to an airport: can you hear the planes?
- Is the mattress too hard for you? Are the rooms clean? Do they offer a connection to the internet?
- What is around the hotel? If you want to walk around a little after the day is off, you’d better be close to restaurants, shopping malls, or public parks, rather than in the middle of factories or banana fields.
- Is the price really low (i.e. below rmb250)? If not, go and find yourself a nice hotel in the center of the closest town. Sometimes suppliers just place you in the newest and nicest hotel that is close to their factory, without negotiating prices. Sometimes they think foreign buyers don’t pay attention to such expenses.
The other alternative is to find a hotel yourself. A good article already covered this topic: Travelling around China cost-effectively.
If you are really on a budget, I highly recommend using one of the many domestic chain hotels in China. You will not be treated to plush king size beds, room service or a bell hop to take your luggage. These domestic chains are no-frills but they are clean, accessible and often have free ADSL that is a must for business travelers.
This is exactly what I do. Chains such as Jinjiang Inn are quite acceptable for someone who doesn’t need a 5-star hotel. Their prices are below rmb200 if you are out of the major cities. The main problem is the noise (there is often 1cm of empty space below the door, so you hear everything that happens in the hallway). But the only real alternative is the international standard hotel… which can be quite expensive in certain cities.
Oh, and one last thing… If you go to a hotel with a massage parlor, be sure to mention that you only want a professional massage. Prostitution and “special services” are rampant in many hotels. Don’t forget that it is forbidden by Chinese law.
This is the best option for short rides. Ask the driver to use the meter at the beginning, and don’t forget to get the receipt (‘fapiao’) at the end.
Drivers don’t speak English, so make sure you have written notes of the destination point if you are not accompanied by a local. When they are driving, don’t look ahead if you are easily afraid–these guys sometimes behave like they want an accident.
If you take a taxi for intercity trips, make sure you have the phone number of someone from your destination, be it a hotel of a factory. Taxi drivers don’t necessarily know the place you are going to, and new roads appear regularly.
You should try to avoid private cars. There are lots of unofficial (forbidden) taxis, and in some places the police might ask whether you know your driver.
Short bus trips:
Railroads are clearly the best option for some very specific trips (like Shanghai-Suzhou or Guangzhou-Hong Kong) but the network is not as developed as they should–a strong preference was obviously given to highways. However, you will find bus stations in every city and often in every district of a city.
Now, I have to mention that it is a bit of an adventure for foreigners who don’t speak Chinese and don’t have a translator. A solution is to have someone write your destination station (in as many details as possible) on a piece of paper, and to show it at the counter. Usually it works just fine. Beware of pickpockets at the station, and don’t fall asleep.
A bus trip of 2 or 3 hours usually costs below rmb100 per person, and it can save you many times this amount in taxi fees. Just make sure you know what to do once you arrive at your destination point.
Long bus trips:
Domestic flights are not very expensive, but they are not always the most convenient option for distances of about 500km. A dense network of buses offers thousands of point-to-point routes. Prices are usually below rmb250, so this is really the dirt-cheap option. Few foreigners do it, except some backpackers going from Shenzhen to Guilin, for example.
I do it sometimes myself. For convenience and savings. Certainly not for comfort or hygiene. Some of these buses stop in places where you really don’t want to eat, let alone go to washroom… So you’d better get good advice as to which bus is the best.
If you are not afraid, go ahead. But try to find a bus with upright seats, not beds, especially if you are over 180cm tall.
Another good piece of advice from the above-mentioned article:
DO NOT purchase your inland China flights from your local travel agent or from online standard website like Travelocity/Orbitz/Expedia. They are linked to very few of the Domestic Chinese airlines and will charge much more than Chinese prices.
This is so true… I see many business people (including myself when I was living in Hong Kong) using a local travel agent and paying too much. But the worst is to just go the airport without reservation–I did it once and I had to wait for 4 hours for the first flight… And it was one of the most-traveled routes in China, with several flights every hour!