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The Challenges of Travel
Traveling in China can be an amazing, if not challenging experience. The language barrier, particularly in rural areas where tourists are rare, can be difficult to overcome. In larger cities or popular tourist destinations you are far more likely to find an English speaker. Because of these difficulties, it is generally easiest to make reservations in advance so that you have a specific destination before you arrive. In particular, cities like Beijing or Shanghai can be difficult to navigate because they are a little chaotic. If you can arrange an airport pickup, this will very much put your mind at ease. Many international flights arrive late at night or early in the morning when the subway system is not open. This can only add to the challenge of finding a hotel or navigating your way to your already arranged hotel. Communicating with taxi drivers can be challenging and asking directions is almost impossible. If you find yourself in the situation have the phone number for your hotel on hand. Have the taxi driver call the hotel and ask for directions directly from them. This can save you a lot of frustration.
The days of cheap prices in China are behind us. In larger cities the cost of accommodation rivals that of Europe or the United States. In rural areas it is still very possible to get a good deal, but you do have to negotiate and do some research ahead of time. There are hostels throughout China now and there are several popular chains such as Mingtown Hostels which can be found in the larger cities. These chains are reliable and comfortable, with set prices. They're often full during peak times so it is highly recommended that you make reservations. You'll also save a lot of money if you travel to more off the beaten path areas. Rural destinations that are less known are also some of the most unique and interesting places to visit. You'll catch a glimpse into everyday life in a rural community in China.
Choosing Your Style
There are many types of accommodation in China. Traditional style hostels are growing in popularity and can now be found in most large cities. The most popular chains often fill up and should be booked in advance. These hostels offer dorms with lockers as well as private rooms with a shared bathroom. You can also find mid-range hotels. The American chain hotel Super 8 is found in many cities around the country and is quite reliable, although slightly overpriced. Other Chinese mid-range chain hotels include JJ Inn, Rujia Home Inn, and Motel 168. These are reputable and quite reliable hotel chains. In larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai you can find some five star luxury accommodations that meet the expectations of the most wealthy and pampered travelers.
Beijing is most notable for its history. You will still find hutongs in parts of the city. These old fashion neighborhoods are quickly being town down and replaced with newer and modern high rises. Many hostels are found on the outskirts of the remaining hutongs. They offer a wonderful environment with many authentic budget restaurants nearby. There are often markets nearby as well where you can by some produce for a good price. Do negotiate.
If you're looking for a more mid-range level hotel you will find plenty in Beijing as well. Many of the local hotels are three or four star in quality. The rooms are comfortable and reliable and they are generally clean and very safe. Some have restaurants attached as well.
You'll find many of the high end hotels in the Dongcheng District or in Chaoyang District. The Hyatt chain has a very nice facility that is worth a visit even if you're not staying there. You can enjoy the air conditioned lobby and the clean, western style bathrooms which might come as a welcome change.
The diversity of accommodation options found in Shanghai is like no other. You can find backpacker hostels that are filled with students and youth looking for a good deal. You can also find the finest five star facilities where businessmen walk around in suits. Whatever your preference there is sure to be a place that meets your needs and if there isn't today, there might be tomorrow as the cityscape is constantly changing.
Hostels in Shanghai are usually quite clean and modern. Many of the chain options including Mingtown are available. They often have a bar area attached where you can enjoy free wireless internet. Do confirm that there is air conditioning and that it is working if this is something that is important to you.
Other reliable chains that are available in Shanghai include the Jin Jiang Star, Motel 168 and Motel 268. These are usually mid-range in both price and quality. Wherever you stay it is recommended that you have reservations in advance as places usually fill up or can be hard to find.
You'll find most of the budget accommodation options in the Huangpu area and the Old City. Near People's Park there are some good and reliable options. This is also close to the subway, many of the most popular sights, and any number of bus connections. It's a great area to get a true feel for Shanghai.