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China with kids: Essential Travel Info

Expand the section below for essential travel information on visiting China with children and then check out the stories and photos of from our travels in China.


When to Go to China with Children:
The first thing to remember when planning a trip to China is that China is huge, only slightly smaller than the United States by area. Secondly, keep in mind that China’s population is over 4 times that of the U.S. i.e. it’s big and crowded. Most of the population is along the Southern and Eastern coasts but there are some interior cities that you probably have never heard of that have multi-million person populations.
China is best in the Spring and the Fall. Visiting during those times will help you avoid the blistering, smoggy heat of summer and the icy cold of winter. Although, if you’re interested, the ice sculptures in Harbin are supposed to be worth seeing.

How to Get There:
There are direct flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai from major western US hub cities, major European cities and Australia.
We entered China by bus overland traveling from Macau to Guangzhou.

Costs:
Overall Rating: In the major cities, China can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. There are plenty of decent affordable accommodation options at the budget level and more than a few Western five-start hotel chains to choose from. Similarly, in large cities, you can eat at simple local restaurants – where you will likely have to point at a picture menu – or at fancy gourmet restaurants. Set a budget ahead of time and with a little effort you shouldn’t have too much trouble sticking to it.
Accommodation: For most of our time in China we stayed in YHA China hostels which were usually excellent, affordable (about US$15 per person per night) and were often housed in re-purposed traditional buildings. It was a great way to meet Chinese people and fellow travelers. We also took advantage of the low-cost HomeInns chain of hotels. One thing to keep in mind when in China with children: a typical family room in China is intended for two parents and one child.
Food: While in China we mostly ate at local restaurants, street markets or at our hostel since most hostels had small restaurants serving a mix of local and western food on site. Outside the large cities English menus were very uncommon. We quickly learned the words for simple foods such as chicken, rice and beer in Chinese. Western supermarket chains such as Carrefour are common in cities. Once you head to Western China, street-side kebabs become ubiquitous.
Transport: China has a vast train network. Many trains on the Eastern seaboard are high-speed but once out in the country trains are older and slower. The tricky part about traveling by train in China with children was booking tickets in advance. Many trains are booked out quickly and finding four sleeper seats together on an overnight train was a challenge.
If you have a little more money to spend internal flights are generally easier and not tremendously expensive (comparable to a first-class seat on a train). We booked using ctrip.com and elong.com.
Entertainment: Apart from the obvious sights in Bejing and tracing the Great Wall across the country, we really didn’t focus a lot on entertainment per se – we were in China for heaven’s sakes! Even just walking through towns away from the regular tourist path and something as simple as taking a train became an adventure. That said, there is some great hiking and the markets and historic sites in Xinjiang province were a high point of our visit for me.
Keep in mind that China has a very healthy internal tourism market and tickets for attractions sell out quickly and lines may be long.

China with Children: What’s Special:
The funny thing about visiting China with children is that you become the “something special”. We were photographed by locals more times than I could count. We and our children were welcomed everywhere we went. My children both came away from China with a much better understanding of the country and an appreciation of the 5,000 years of Chinese history.

China with Children: Our Experiences


The markers on the map above show the places that my family during the seven weeks we spent backpacking in China with children in 2011.

Click on the post title link for any of the posts below to read the full story.

  • What ELSE to See in China What to see in China? Beijing, Shanghai, the Great Wall…But when you're done with those, what else should you see in China? Here are five ideas. We spent seven weeks in China in 2011. We traveled up the South-Eastern seaboard and right across the country from Beijing to Far West China. It was an incredible…
  • Hostel Review: 7 Sages Xian We stayed for four days at the 7 Sages Xian youth hostel, one of the prettiest and most welcoming hostels we stayed at during our year of travel. Xian Youth Hostel: Review I picked up a flyer for 7 Sages Hostel in Xian at the Rock and Wood Hostel in Shanghai - also a YHA…
  • Crossing Irkeshtam Pass from China to Kyrgyzstan As we left Kashgar for Osh in Kyrgyzstan I expected a long but fairly uneventful travel day. The reality didn't deviate too much from my expectations but even with that the experience couldn't have been further from mundane. It started when the Chinese taxi driver dropped us at the China-side border post. The broad two-story…
  • Women of Kashgar One of the things which I found endlessly fascinating in Kashgar, China was the variety of womens' dress. In the photo above, you can see plenty of Uzbek ikat-patterned sik in blue and purple. Every woman is either wearing a long skirt or has leggings on to cover her legs. Yet even as you notice…
  • The Road to Pakistan: Upal to Tashkorgan In the Upal market a man driving sheep passed by. We followed him out of the market proper towards the livestock area. There were three or four guys in white coats sitting by the entrance. Odd, I thought. The lady taking entrance fees waved us through since it was pretty obvious that we weren't buying…
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