I just wrapped up an amazing four weeks in China and you know what…I easily could have stayed longer. (Um but it’s probably a good idea that I left because keep reading.) I *really” loved China, although to be 100% honest, I really *hated* the Internet situation. (The Great Firewall blocks access to all Google products, Facebook, Instagram, and if you can believe it — SLACK.)
The post I wrote about the cost of my four weeks in Thailand was surprisingly popular so I thought I would summarize the cost of my time in China too. If you missed that Thailand post, here’s the gist: I don’t think people on the Internet in the “lifestyle” space are as transparent about money as they could (should?) be. Everyone’s all “Look at my amazing vacation in the Maldives. You need to visit here! Oh but you’ll need $10,500 for one week.” (Or worse, “Look at my amazing vacation in the Maldives. That I got for free because I’m an “influencer.”)
So partly out of my own curiosity — we are all bad at mental arithmetic — and partly in a way to show what travel costs, I’ve decided to tally up my expenses at the end of each trip. Remember: I have no fixed abode right now so I what I spend on hotels and meals while traveling is essentially my cost of living. (Plus health insurance and my mobile phone plan.) Remember I am not a backpacker but nor am I an uber-luxury traveler. I spend enough to be comfortable and feel safe with a few splurges here and there.
In my Thailand post, I explained that I stayed in 90% three star properties and 10% four- and five-star properties. For China, I stayed in 15% five-star (my Yangtze River Cruise), 75% four-star, and 10% three-star properties. I leaned more towards four-star in China mainly because I knew that English would not be as widely spoken in China as it is in Thailand — Thailand’s tourism industry is much more well-developed — and I was more likely to find English at 4-star hotels. (Presumption: They pay better and part of paying better is that a certain level of English is required.) Could I have survived in 3-star hotels? Most certainly. But in traveling solo, I am my only translator so mostly 4 star it was. Ah and one thing I keep forgetting to mention…I need to work from the road, a lot of times at odd hours. So I’ve learned I’m miserable without silence, a proper desk, and good internet infrastructure. And I’m not young! So hostels and basic-basicness are out. (I’m starting to figure out that a lot of 3-stars don’t come with desks.)
Cost of My Four Weeks in China
OK, here we go…
Shanghai: I spent 14 nights at the Fraser Modena Putuo, an apartment hotel right across the street from the Langao Road subway station. I had to get to and from Chinese class every day, so I specifically looked for hotels that were just a few stops away from The Hutong School in Shanghai off of Changshu Road. The Modena Putuo worked out great. I had a little loft apartment, a cheap laundry room (SCORE), and a great gym. I probably didn’t get as much out of the living room or kitchen in the apartment as I expected but I loved my big desk with a view out over Shanghai. The total cost of my stay, including 14 nights, a few breakfasts, and access to the laundry room came to $1048.33 or $74.88 per night. I thought this was an absolutely fantastic value for two weeks in Shanghai, a very expensive city, and the amenities involved. This would be a particularly good choice for two people sharing.
Suzhou: I then spent three nights in Suzhou, a “small” city outside of Shanghai (population 10 million) known for its beautiful gardens. My original plan was to visit as many water villages as possible — small towns on canals in the surrounding area — but in the end, I only got to one, Tongli. It was lovely! I’ll have to go back to Shanghai and Suzhou to visit more of these little towns. While in Suzhou, I stayed at the three-star Hotel Soul. I did not like it. At all. The hotel was very dark and my hotel room felt dirty. The service was hit and mess as well; I decided not to deal with one specific staff member after a few negative interactions. Reflecting on my stay here, I quickly changed my hotel booking in Chengdu, which was originally for a three-star hotel, and upgraded to four-star. The cost of my three nights at Hotel Soul plus a few meals was $209.34 or $69.78 per night. In comparison to the value I got in Shanghai at the Modena Putuo, this just wasn’t a great pick. (Although breakfast was included which was nice. And they did pack me breakfast for my early and long train ride and pick me up at the train station for free.)
Yangtze River Cruise on Century Legend: From Suzhou, I took an eight-hour train ride to Yichang (and stopped a robbery…more about that in a later post) and boarded a cruise ship for four nights for a cruise along the Yangtze River. The cruise was FANTASTIC and I cannot recommend The Century Legend enough. (I hope to write a separate post about the experience shortly.) You don’t want to be miserable when you are on a boat by yourself so I definitely spent a bit of money here. The cost of my cruise was $1036 which included all my meals. I then spent an additional $177.16 on tours, laundry, a manicure and pedicure, and a few glasses of wine. So that’s a budget-busting $303.29 per night. I have no regrets. This was awesome. (Watch this video about the Three Gorges Ship Lift! Experiencing this was my favorite part of the cruise.)
Chongqing: “Why Chongqing?” you ask? WHY NOT?? Chongqing has spicy food AND panda bears. What is not to like? I called this a vacation from my vacation and did very little while in Chongqing, where I stayed at the Glenview ITC Plaza Hotel, which I liked a lot. I walked around town a bit, went to the gym, and used the fastest Internet I came across during my entire time in China (an amazing 80 Mbps). Amazing breakfast included. (With Chongqing noodles!) Total cost of stay plus two dinners (don’t judge): $230.17 or $115.08 per night.
Chengdu: In Chengdu, I spent three nights at the Fraser Suites Chengdu and LOVED IT. I had my own washing machine! And the hotel gym was great. In hindsight, I wish I had spent at least one more night in Chengdu. I liked the laid-back vibe, and I never got to the Panda Base or the Giant Buddha. Total cost of my stay with breakfast on two mornings: $413.35 or $137.78 per night. (Remember that after my Suzhou hotel experience, I decided to upgrade my Chengdu experience.)
Xian: In Xian, I spent two nights at the Eastern House Hotel, conveniently located just south of the Drum Tower and the Muslim Quarter. In hindsight, I would have spent one or two more nights in Xian. I LOVED this hotel; it was the most modern and stylish hotel of my stay in China. Free minibar! Free afternoon tea! Amazing. (Although I was glad I knew some Chinese at this point because their English wasn’t the greatest.) This came to $161 or $80.50 per night, including a glass of wine and breakfast one morning.
Spending Money: During my time in China, I blew through an incredible $1980.77 in cash. Before you totally freak out, Judgy McJudgersons — trust me, I’m freaking out enough as it is — please note that includes getting my hair cut and colored in Shanghai (~$250); all my train and subway tickets (about $300 total); food tours in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Xian (about $400); city tours and drivers in Yichang, Chongqing, and Xian (about $300); meals that I ate out; taxis and airport transfers; and random stuff like shampoo, Vitamin C, and cold medicine and a lot of small stuff that I am probably forgetting. (Plus ATM fees. Yikes.) This comes out to $70.74 a day. Tours are expensive…if I had dropped the tours, I would have spent less. I also opted for first class trains which were slightly (but not ridiculously) more expensive than standard trains.
Flight to China: I flew Spring Airlines to Shanghai from Krabi. Although Spring Airlines is a budget airline, I flew on one of the worst days to travel to China — October 6th, the day before China’s National Day. My flight was packed! And it was not cheap. It was $509.10. I could have flown a connecting flight for much cheaper, but it also would have taken hours longer and I think I’ve mentioned my dislike of false economies before. Unfortunately, I did not realize my trip collided with China’s National Day until it was too late.
Chinese School: I took two weeks of Mandarin classes at the Hutong School — three to four hours of Chinese per day! My two weeks cost $775.
Total Cost of My Four Weeks in China
A hugely disappointingly high $6547.22 or $233.83 per day. (My mental math going into this “trip” (lifestyle?) was an assumption that I would spend about $5000 a month on average.) Subtract the Chinese classes and we’re talking $206.15 per day. That being said, I had an AMAZING time in China and except for the Hotel Soul part in Suzhou, the time I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere, and an unfortunate incident on my Yangtze River Cruise, I would do it all over in a heartbeat. I only wish I had stayed longer!!! But I don’t think I could have afforded it.
In all of this, remember I have no fixed abode and am traveling solo and need to feel safe. To repeat my caveat last time: This is all very honest. Maybe I’m being too honest, but transparency is not a bad thing. Everyone has a different travel style and budget and different people make different compromises.
Because I knew China wouldn’t be cheap, I flew to Vietnam immediately afterwards and am staying at what I think are mostly three-star properties for the next four weeks. (I booked some of them so long ago to take advantage of discounts that I am honestly not sure what I booked anymore.) As an example, my first hotel in Vietnam is $300 USD for an ENTIRE week. I’m also working a lot so there will be less touring around. More to come.
Month 1: Thailand: $4760.69
Month 2: China: $6547.22
Monthly Average-to-Date: $5653.96