Friday, March 21, 2014

12 Days of Solo Backpacking in China – Beijing to Xian Overland - Itinerary, Travel Guide, Expenses

This solo trip to China was decided on a whim, and I blame it on CebuPac’s Piso Sale. I usually take a long leave from work and I make sure that there are non-working holidays on my date of travel so that I will I only need to deduct few from those VLs and CDOs. Due to the recent conflicts with the Philippine-China government, my friends were very hesitant to join me on this trip. So I decided to go alone and to dare myself on another solo backpacking adventure.

china travel
12 Days of Solo Backpacking in China: Beijing, Datong, Pingyao and Xian

First things first, secure your Chinese visa! You don’t want to waste your effort planning for a trip when you are not certain of this step yet. For Filipinos looking for Chinese Visa assistance, I recommend Asia Pacific Travel agency located along Escolta, Manila. You may connect with them via (02) 3533729. What I especially like about this agency is they have friendly agents and very very affordable processing fee! Super recommended. In case you want to apply by yourself, the requirements are very easy and can be found here. On other instances, my mother usually submits them to the embassy and I prepare authorization letters just in case.

There were just too many places that I wanted to see in China, but due to time restrictions of twelve days, I decided between Beijing, Xian, and Chengdu. I figured Chengdu is too large and I probably need to spend more time there (since also traveling to Jiuzhaigou, one of Chengdu’s famous tourist destinations, could take 3-4 days, I decided to put this plan aside and reserve it for a trip during autumn season), I was left with Beijing and Xian. Upon reading some blogs, I was able to discover some interesting cities that I could pass by before going to Xi’An, such as Pingyao and Datong. If you’re coming during summer or springtime and have some extra money to spend, you can also head out to Inner Mongolia, Luoyang or Chengde. Tianjin is also famous for those looking for side trips due its close proximity to Beijing.

For more tips on traveling to China, I will be making a separate post soon. :)

Hostels in China are amazingly cheap and you’ll really feel that your money was well spent with the facilities they have around. Rates around big cities run around 40 to 80 CNY, my most favorite stay was at this quaint hostel in Pingyao. At 20 CNY a night and with this lovely traditional architecture, what’s not to love?

I didn’t have a strict itinerary and only had to list the places that I want to see because I didn’t have much time to plan, but this itinerary is doable for nine-eleven days with careful planning and cramming.

I took a direct flight from Manila to Beijing, and on the same day, made my way to Datong. Pingyao was my next destination before heading to Xi’An. From there, I went back to Beijing. One loop.

You may download a copy of my itinerary in China via this link that also includes my budget details for the entire trip.

china travel map
My route for my solo trip to China, the distance look quite near to each other, but train travel would usually take 8-12 hours

My total expense around China was about 3200 CNY, daily average of 270 CNY (around 40 USD) for lodging, transportation, food and tourist fees. I decided not to limit myself with the food because eating out in China is not expensive! I am also in love with their Pizza Hut and Ajisen Ramen branches in China, the menu is so extensive and different compared to what we have in the Philippines.

You can also grab a copy of my “accounting sheet” during the trip through this page  in case you want to have an idea how much you’ll likely to be spending per day.

china travel budget
Breakdown of my travel expenses in China, 3200 CNY for a solo female backpacker for 12 days? Not bad!


Day 1-2

When I think of Datong, I am reminded of the dust and grime all over the city. It seems like they were doing some massive reconstructions when I was there. Datong didn’t give off that excitement and there’s really not much to do except for The Yungang Grottoes and Hanging Monastery, but both of these are certainly worth the visit. From then on, I realized that though the food and transportation in China could be cheap, the entrance fees to these sites are steep and can take a toll on the wallet. I still think that both of those places are top-notch and not to be missed especially if you are around Northern China.

datong travel
one of the most impressive statues in Yungang Grottoes

china hanging temple
always included in top 10 most precarious structures built all over the world, going to The Hanging Monastery is an impressive old temple with unique history

Day 3-5

I was really aiming to spend maximum of two days in Datong and wanted to get out as soon as I can. I was still a noob with how overland train travel works in China so I ended up just buying standing tickets to Pingyao. That or get stuck for another day in Datong.

Pingyao is such a low-key destination, but the possibilities on what you can see made me excited. I was supposed to reserve one day for Mianshan, a mountain famous in the region of Shanxi for its natural scenery, but had to cancel since I spend almost one whole day for travel.

I spent the next day traveling outside the suburbs of Pingyao to see the famous Wang Family Courtyard House which is a massive complex of ancestral houses that seemed like a big maze, Zhangbi Underground Castle, an ancient defense system and Shuanglin Temple, that seemed more like a museum for me, it was pretty amusing since it houses tons of old sculptures! That day was like going to Disneyland!

Going around the walled city of Pingyao could take a day or two. The experience can be compared to going to those folk villages, the area was preserved beautifully to represent how the place looks like hundreds of years ago.

china architecture
Pingyao and its lovely architecture

solo female travel china
one of the famous house complex in China! I felt like I was in a labyrinth

temple china travel
such an impressive display of ancient art skills at Shuanglin Temple

Day 6-8

I was starting to feel the summer heat when I arrived at Xi’An which resulted to cancelling of plans of going to Huashan and trying this death defying stunt. Might as well be prepared next time and go there with a companion, and better yet, with a travel insurance.

Xi’An is one of those walled cities in China, but it is really large compared to that of Datong and Pingyao. There are lots of interest areas here, but if you’ve been to a number of pagodas, temples and the likes, you can skip. If there’s one thing you must not miss around the city, it’s Muslim Quarter. I never had an idea that China was so diverse, not until I went here and experienced the culture by myself.

When thinking of Xi’an, it’s almost always connected to The Terracotta Warriors, which still gives me goose bumps every time I think about it. A similar attraction, though underrated, is The Tomb of Emperor Jingdi. Think of the warriors only smaller and much cuter.

xian travel
I'd be surprised if you'll miss the Bell Tower located at the heart of Xi'An's busiest intersection

street food china
food choices at The Muslim Quarter - not to be missed!

emperor jingdi statue
figurine like display at The Tomp of Emperor Jingdi, so impressed with the minute details!

terracotta warrior china
seeing The Terracotta Warriors, a childhood dream come true!

warrior china

Day 9-12

I have probably spent too much time researching on the logistics for Datong, Pingyao and Xi’an, I had actually no plans what to see when I arrived in Beijing, so this itinerary is probably doable two to three days tops.

Beijing is full of those shopping districts and restaurant-filled streets, it’s really confusing what there is to see, since I was not really there to buy stuff (super overpriced!) so I ended up just appreciating the architecture. Types can range from hutong or ancient at Nanluoguxiang and Qiamen Street, or modern ones at Wangfujing and 798 Art Street.

One thing that I also love about this city is the harmonious unity of preserved ancient traditions with the very urbanized lifestyle of the locals. Places that shows the unique culture of the Chinese are dime a dozen. I was able to see The Forbidden City and Summer Palace and it made me feel like I was a royalty for a day

The Great Wall is almost synonymous to China, it’s what we always think of when visiting to this country. The feeling of going there was surreal, thinking about the hundreds of years of history embedded to that place was priceless.

exotic food china
quite unique food choices at Wangfujing

palace china forbidden
imperial palaces at The Forbidden City

summer beijing
Be surrounded by nature and cool off from the summer heat at The Summer Palace

tibet temple
Tibetan architerure

china travel
The Great Wall - one of the highlights of this escapade

This trip to China just made me went to crave for more, the country was just too large, I feel like there’s still too much I need to see. Aside from seeing natural and cultural treasures, I was just amazed with how this country is developing and how their government has provided convenient ways for people to travel.

China has been said to be a difficult place to explore, and for me, it certainly proved as a big challenge to step up my game. Being a solo female traveler to China at that time, I had doubts most especially as to how I’ll be able to move around without any companion since it’s been a while since I’ve traveled alone, and to a non-English speaking country, to make things worse. Turns out, it wasn’t so hard at all, even with the surprises I encountered along the way, you just got to have an open mind for mistakes and learn from them.

China was a good prep for more exciting ventures, traveling as a solo female at that time was not just a learning experience for me about travel and cultures, but also gave me time to think and know more about myself. Just one of the many things I love about traveling.

solo female travel
eye bags after planning for this trip, so worth it!

Day 1: Datong
City Tour

Day 2: Datong
Yungang Grottoes

Hanging Monastery

Day 3: Pingyao
City Tour

Day 4: Pingyao
City Tour and Attractions

Day 5: Pingyao

Day 6: Xi'An
City Tour

Day 7: Xi'An
Yangling Mausoleum

Day 8: Xi'An
Terracotta Army

Day 9: Beijing
Qianmen Street/798 Art District

Day 10: Beijing

Forbidden City

Day 11: Beijing
Summer Palace

Day 12: Beijing
Great Wall

Railway Train Experience
Standing, Hard Seats, Sleepers

12 Day Trip
Itinerary & Budget

More of China here


  1. Loved your posts. I remember my sister and I did a DIY tour in China last 2008 (Shanghai-Xian-Qingdao-Harbin-Beijing) but our expenses are way above yours.

    Safe travels! :)

    1. Thanks! I wanted to go to Qingdao din dahil sa beer fest. Harbin will have to wait (will go ng Snow festival)

    2. Hello. I just came across your blog and I wanna try travelling solo. I have this fear of mingling with people but i wanna see the beauty of China. Is it easy going around China?

    3. Hi Cecile, if you speak Mandarin, it would be a breeze. I suggest getting a pocket wifi so that you can use Google maps or look for directions online

  2. Nice post to read at. Happy blogging!

  3. Very informative. Im planning to visit my fiance in Shanghai this May and im hoping to visit these places as i will be staying for at least a month. Just hoping i wont be having hard time applying for S2 visa. Will surely go to Asia Pacific Travel. Thanks!

    1. Wow a month! That's exciting, that is enough to see the nicest places in China, good luck and enjoy!

  4. You are a tough cookie. Traveling as many hours as you did without an assigned seat. I once traveled with a friend on a night train from Rome to Nice with a train compartment all to ourselves and when we woke up my friends valuables, including his travel document were gone while the train was still enroute from one station to the next! Grrrr. I would not have mind if a blonde nymphomanic entered our compartment and raped me LOL. No such luck.

    1. Gosh that must have been tough, good thing you did not lose anything but how did your friend manage to recover his passport and other important items? You really must not let your guard down when commuting even though you have companions with you. That would be a good story to tell if you've met such a 'crazy' blonde, I don't think they are into train travel so try your luck in planes next time. haha

  5. Woah! I didn't know you can still get a round trip MNL-PEK ticket for 798 pesos! How and when did this happen??

    and your 12-day accommodation is even chepaer then our 4-nights in a Beijing hostel. haha amazing!

    Nice pictures by the way.

    1. I was able to book this last year 2012 via Cebu Pacific and this might not even happen again, ever. haha I think they forgot to include the fuel surcharge that's why it was this cheap.

      Thank you for the compliment! And wow your hostel in BJ was quite pricey!!!

    2. We're staying in Happy Dragon Hostel. For 700PHP per person per night; we already thought it was a great deal! Then I found your post :)

      By the way, we're planning to do a quick Xi'an trip since we have two extra days. Do you think we would have enough time? Also, do you know of a cheap way to get to Xian one night and back to Beijing the next night?

    3. Maybe it was cheaper because I only stayed at dorm type rooms :) There are even cheaper ones outside Beijing. Only around 100-200 pesos per night! Really cheap!!!

      2 days is enough for Xi'an, just take overnight sleepers going from and back to Beijing to save more time and money for accommodation. You can read more tips about my train experience here :)


  6. Hi thank you for sharing your Beijing trip. I'm planning to go there solo next year. How did you manage taking a good picture of yourself and the views? Did you use a tripod? It's my first time to travel alone and I fear that I won't be able to take pictures of myself along with the scenery compared with if I have a companion.

    1. No I didn't bring a tripod. I would usually take these desperate selfies (haha) OR I would ask tourists who also looks like they're traveling solo since there's almost a 95% chance they'd also want to have their pictures taken as well, so it's a give and take (Since you're going to China, I suggest you approach Westerners since they will most likely respond to you in English as well). I use a bulky SLR so most of the people I ask do not really know how to operate it so it's usually a "hit or miss" picture. What I do is I always set my settings to Automatic when I hand it to them. If you'll only bring a digicam then better as it's more user friendly. A monopod would also help. Enjoy!

  7. Hi Mariane, I’ve been wanting to travel solo for as long as I can remember or afford it hahaha but I’ve been putting it off because I’m not sure if it’s safe or will I get to have fun without a friend to enjoy the trip with but after reading your posts I got inspired . I’ll finally do it. I’m travelling solo. Any last advice? BTW.. Love your post.


    1. Just follow ur heart and go for it! Be street smart but dont be afraid to ask locals for directions and tips, they always know the cheapest options. Inform a family member/close friend on your daily whereabouts. Keep track of your expenses and plan ahead. But dont forget the most impt thing, enjoy the experience!! :D

  8. hello lovely girl!

    you had a cool solo journey! ang bongga! and nice jacket btw, i read your About Me page.

    san next travel? =)

    1. salamat sa pagbisita Chyng! not sure saan pa next travel tignan natin kung makakapag book ako ng piso fare to Japan! :D

  9. hello Mariane, love this post. Very helpful in planning my trip. grabe ung 700+ RT tix mo. Amazing. Haha. Salamat! Babalik balikan ko tong post mo as my guide.

    1. hey Kirk! salamat sa pagbisita. super mura nga e tingin ko di na ulit ako makakabili ng ganyan kamurang ticket for an int'l trip. comment/email lang if kelangan mo ng tulong sa planning

  10. Hey there, very nice blog! Hello from SG!

    Great photos and write ups.

    I have a quick question though, are hostels safe to stay in? I'm concern if there ain't any lockers or place to safe keep your stuff. Great budget though! Student friendly :)

    I will be going to China for 18 days at the end of the year, so excited!


    1. Thanks Danny! I never had any problems with hostels, I understand your apprehension but it's totally safe but just be mindful of your stuff, most hostels have lockers so you can keep your valuables while you are away but do check with them before you arrive.
      Sounds like an exciting trip! Be sure to bring your student ID so you can get 50% discount on entrance fees :) Enjoy!!!

  11. Why don't you visit Sri Lanka one day?

  12. Hi,I would like to know, how u travel from the train station to the hostels and to the tourist places. Would like to visit China by myself but a bit worried as i have not travel solo before.Thanks.
    p/s: awesome post, it makes me want to go there

    1. When I went there I mostly followed the directions from travelchinaguide.com. but if you have a smartphone, Google maps would be helpful! Transpo around the bigger cities in China is very efficient. Good luck on your plans!


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