China’s accommodation choices are impressive but enormously varied. Top-tier cities have a rich variety of sleeping options; other towns can have a poor supply, despite being inundated with visitors. Rural destinations are largely a patchwork of homesteads and hostels, with the occasional boutique-style choice in big-ticket villages.

  • Hotels From two-star affairs with very limited English and simple rooms to international-level, five-star towers and heritage hotels.
  • Hostels Exist across China in growing numbers, usually offering dorm beds and double rooms and dispensing useful travel advice.
  • Homestays In rural locations, you can often find double rooms in converted houses, with meals provided.

Rooms & Prices

Accommodation is divided by price category, identified by the symbols $ (budget), $$ (midrange) or $$$ (top end); accommodation prices vary across China, so one region’s budget breakdown may differ from another. We list the rack rate, which generally reflects the most you are ever expected to pay. However, at most times of the year discounts are in effect, which can range from 10% to 60% off.

Rooms come with private bathroom or shower room, unless otherwise stated. Rooms are generally easy to procure, but phone ahead to reserve a room in popular tourist towns (such as Hángzhōu), especially for weekend visits.

Most rooms in China fall into the following categories:

Double rooms (双人房、标准间; shuāng rén fáng or biāozhǔn jiān) In most cases, these are twins, ie with two beds.

One-bed rooms/singles (单间; dānjiān) This is usually a room with one double-sized bed (only rarely a single bed).

Large-bed rooms (大床房; dàchuáng fáng) Larger than a one-bed room, with a big double bed.

Suites (套房; tàofáng) Available at most midrange and top-end hotels.

Dorms (多人房; duōrénfáng) Usually, but not always, available at youth hostels (and at a few hotels).

Business rooms (商务房; shāngwù fáng) Usually equipped with computers.

Hotel Discounts

Always ignore the rack rate and ask for the discounted price or bargain for a room, as discounts usually apply everywhere but youth hostels (except for hostel members) and the cheapest accommodation. Discounts of 10% to 60% off the tariff rate (30% is typical) are the norm, available by simply asking at reception on arrival, by phoning in advance to reserve a room or by booking online at Ctrip.

Apart from during the busy holiday periods (the end of April and first few days of May; the first week of October; Chinese New Year), rooms should be priced well below the rack rate and are rarely booked out. In some towns (such as Hángzhōu or Guǎngzhōu), there may be a pricier weekend rate (Friday and Saturday).

Hotel Tips

  • The standard of English spoken is often better at youth hostels than at midrange or some high-end hotels.
  • Your hotel can help with bus and train ticketing, for a commission.
  • Almost every hotel has a left-luggage room, which should be free if you are a guest in the hotel.
  • Always bargain for a room.
  • Ask your hotel concierge for a local map.

Traveller Restrictions

The majority of hotels in China still do not have the authorisation to accept foreigners as guests. This can be a source of frustration when you find yourself steered towards pricier midrange and top-end lodgings.

To see if a hotel accepts foreign guests, ask: zhègè bīnguǎn shōu wàiguórén ma? (这个宾馆收外国人吗?).

Booking Ahead

Reserving a room, even if only for the first night of your stay, is the best way to ensure a smooth start to your trip. These phrases should see you through a call if English isn’t spoken.

Hello你好Nǐhǎo
I would like to book a room我想订房间Wǒ xiǎng dìng fángjiān
a single room单人间dānrén jiān
a double room双人间shuāngrén jiān
My name is…我叫…Wǒ jiào…
from… to… (date)从…到…cóng… dào…
How much is it per night/person?每天/个人多少钱?Měi tiān/gè rén duōshǎo qián?
Thank you谢谢你Xièxie nǐ

Checking In & Out

At check-in you will need your passport; a registration form will ask what type of visa you have. For most travellers, the visa will be L (travel visa). A deposit (押金; yājīn) is required at most hotels; this will be paid either with cash or by providing your credit card details. International credit cards are generally only accepted at midrange hotels or chain express hotels and top-end accommodation; always have cash just in case. If you pay your deposit in cash, you will be given a receipt and the deposit will be returned to you when you check out. Ask for a discount on a deposit, especially if it is higher than one night's stay.

You usually have to check out by noon. If you check out between noon and 6pm you will be charged 50% of the room price; after 6pm you have to pay for another full night.

Camping

There are few places where you can legally camp and as most of China’s flat land is put to agricultural use, you will largely be limited to remote, hilly regions. Camping is more feasible in wilder and less populated parts of west China.

In certain destinations with camping possibilities, travel agencies and hotels will arrange overnight camping trips or multiday treks, in which case camping equipment will be supplied. Camping on the Great Wall is technically illegal, but the watchtowers are often used for pitching tents or rolling out a sleeping bag (if you do, make sure to clean up after yourself and take care of the Wall).

Courtyard Hotels

Largely confined to Běijīng, courtyard hotels have rapidly mushroomed. Arranged around traditional sìhéyuàn (courtyards), rooms are on ground level. Courtyard hotels are charming and romantic, but are often expensive and rooms are small, in keeping with the dimensions of courtyard residences. Facilities will be limited, so don’t expect a swimming pool, gym or subterranean garage.

Budget Business Chain Hotels

Dotted around much of China, budget business chain hotels can sometimes be a decent alternative to old-school two- and three-star hotels, with rooms around the ¥180 to ¥300 mark. In recent years, however, their once-pristine facilities have sometimes come to resemble the threadbare clunkers they aimed to replace. Still, their sheer ubiquity means you can usually find accommodation (but look at the rooms first). They often have membership/loyalty schemes, or online deals, which make rooms cheaper.

Although most of these branches accept foreigners, the odd branch does not. Chains include:

  • Home Inn (www.homeinns.com) Includes the Motel 168 chain.
  • Jǐnjiāng Inn (www.jinjianginns.com)

Guesthouses

The cheapest of the cheap are China’s ubiquitous guesthouses (招待所; zhāodàisuǒ), often found clustering near train or bus stations (from where touts will take you) but also dotted around cities and towns. Not all guesthouses accept foreigners and Chinese skills may be crucial in securing a room. Rooms (doubles, twins, triples, quads) are primitive and grey, with tiled floors and possibly a shower room or shabby bathroom; showers may be communal.

Other terms for guesthouses:

  • 旅店 (lǚdiàn)
  • 旅馆 (lǚguǎn)
  • 有房 (yǒufáng) means 'rooms available'
  • 今日有房 (jīnrì yǒufáng) means 'rooms available today'
  • 住宿 (zhùsù) means 'accommodation'.

Homesteads

In more rural destinations, small towns and villages, you should be able to find a homestead (农家; nóngjiā) with a small number of rooms in the region of ¥50. Bargaining is possible; you will not need to register. The owner will be more than happy to cook up meals for you as well. Showers and toilets are generally communal.

Hostels

If you’re looking for efficiently run budget accommodation, turn to China’s youth hostel sector. Hostelling International (www.yhachina.com) hostels are generally well run; other private youth hostels scattered around China are unaffiliated and standards at these may be variable. Book ahead in popular towns as rooms can go fast.

Superb for meeting like-minded travellers, youth hostels are typically staffed by youthful English-speakers who are also well informed on local sightseeing and transport. The foreigner-friendly vibe in youth hostels stands in marked contrast to many Chinese hotels. Double rooms in youth hostels are frequently better than midrange equivalents and often just as comfortable and better located; these places may be cheaper (but not always), or can arrange better-value tours. Many offer wi-fi, while most have at least one internet terminal (either free, free for 30 minutes or roughly ¥5 to ¥10 per hour). Laundry, book-lending, kitchen facilities, bike rental, lockers, and a noticeboard, bar and cafe should all be available, as well as possibly a pool, ping pong, movies, game consoles and other forms of entertainment. Soap, shower gel and toothpaste are generally not provided, although you can purchase them at reception.

Dorms usually cost between ¥40 and ¥55 (with discounts of around ¥5 for members). They typically come with bunk beds but may have standard beds. Most dorms won’t have ensuite showers, though some do; they should have air-con. Many hostels also have doubles, singles, twins and sometimes even family rooms; prices vary but are often around ¥150 to ¥250 for a double (again, with discounts for members). Hostels can arrange ticketing or help you book a room in another affiliated youth hostel.

Book ahead – online if possible – as rooms are frequently booked out, especially at weekends or the busy holiday periods. In popular destinations, hostels may charge elevated rates on Friday and Saturday.

Hotels

Hotels vary wildly in quality within the same budget bracket. The star rating system employed in China can also be misleading: hotels may be awarded four or five stars when they are patently a star lower in ranking. The best rule of thumb is to choose the newest hotel in each category, as renovations can be rare. Deficiencies may not be immediately apparent, so explore and inspect the overall quality of the hotel – viewing the room up front pays dividends.

China has few independent hotels of real distinction, so it’s generally advisable to select chain hotels that offer a proven standard of international excellence. Shangri-La, Marriott, Hilton, St Regis, Ritz-Carlton, Marco Polo and Hyatt all have a presence in China and can generally be relied upon for high standards of service and comfort.

Note the following:

  • English skills are often poor, even in some five-star hotels.
  • Most rooms are twins rather than doubles, so be clear if you specifically want a double.
  • Virtually all hotel rooms, whatever the price bracket, will have air-conditioning and a TV.
  • Very cheap rooms may have neither telephone nor internet access.
  • Wi-fi is generally ubiquitous in hostels and midrange and top-end hotels (but might be available only in the lobby).
  • Late-night telephone calls or calling cards from ‘masseurs’ and prostitutes are still common in budget and lower midrange hotels.
  • All hotel rooms are subject to a 10% or 15% service charge, though the price quoted usually is the final price and includes this.
  • Practically all hotels will change money for guests, and most midrange and top-end hotels accept credit cards.
  • A Western breakfast may be available (certainly at four-star establishments).
  • The Chinese method of designating floors is the same as that used in the USA, but different from, say, that used in Australia. What would be the ground floor in Australia is the 1st floor in China, the 1st is the 2nd, and so on.
  • The number '4' is considered unlucky in China and the number '8' lucky. So you may find that your room on the 4th floor (or any level) starts with the number '8', even though it isn't on the 8th floor.

In China, there are several words for 'hotel':

  • bīnguǎn (宾馆)
  • dàfàndiàn (大饭店)
  • dàjiǔdiàn (大酒店)
  • fàndiàn (饭店)
  • jiǔdiàn (酒店).

Temples & Monasteries

Some temples and monasteries (especially on China’s sacred mountains) provide accommodation. They are cheap but austere, may not have running water or electricity, and have very early check out times.