Low-cost housing

low-cost housing

There are various ways to sleep very cheaply in China: hostels, dorms, zhusu, massage shops, saunas, and spas.

low-cost housing
Hostels (青年旅社)

Are, by far, the most comfortable low-cost options. they typically cater to foreigners, have english speaking employees, and can provide cheap, convenient transport around town. some of them are even cleaner and better furnished than more expensive places. hostels also have a cozy, international atmosphere and are a good place to meet other travelers and get some half-decent western food, which can be a godsend after days or weeks surviving off rice and noodles. in most cities of any size there is at least one hostel available, and in travel hot spots such as beijing, yangshuo, dali, and chengdu there are plenty of hostel options, although they can still fill up quickly because of their popularity with backpackers. hostels can often be booked on-line in advance although you definitely should bring a print out of your confirmation as not all hostels are aware you can book their rooms and pay a portion of the cost on-line in advance. in beijing, many hostels are located in hutongs - traditional courtyard homes in the midst of a maze of traditional streets and architecture. while many of beijing's hutongs have been demolished a movement to save those which remain has led to a boom in youth hostels for backpackers and boutique hotels for the mid-range traveler.

low-cost housing
Dorm rooms (宿舍)

Are located on university campuses, near rural tourist attractions and as part of some hotels. most travelers have spotty luck with dorms. it is not unusual to have rowdy or intoxicated roommates, and shared bathrooms can take some getting used to, especially if you're not used to traditional squat toilets or taking cold showers. however in some areas, especially on top of some of china's holy mountains, dorm rooms might be the only budget option in a sea of luxury resorts.

low-cost housing
Zhùsù (住宿)

Which simply translates as "accommodation", can refer to any kind of sleeping accommodation, but those places that have the chinese characters for zhusu written on the wall outside are the cheapest. a zhusu is not an actual hotel, but simply rooms for rent located in homes, restaurants, and near train and bus stations. zhusu rooms are universally spartan and bathrooms are almost always shared. the price can be quite low, costing only a few dozen renminbi. officially a zhusu should not provide a room to a foreigner, but many times the caretaker is eager to get a client and will be willing to rent to anyone. there are never any english signs advertising a zhusu, so if you can't read chinese you may have to print out the characters for your hunt. security in zhusu's is sketchy, so this option is not recommended if you have valuables with you.

low-cost housing
Massage shops, saunas, and spas

Spa costs vary but can be as low as â¥25. entering a spa very late at night after 1am and leaving before noon may get you a 50% discount. when in the spa there are beds or reclining couches in addition to showers, saunas etc. admission to a spa is typically for 24 hours, and a small locker is provided for bags and personal possessions. this is ideal if you are traveling light. furthermore spas often provide complimentary food, and paid services such as massages and body scrubbing. there is no privacy because usually everyone sleeps in one room. however, there is more security than in a dorm, since there are attendants who watch over the area, and your belongings even your clothes! are stored away in the lockers. don't be fooled when receptionists try to make up reasons why you have to pay more than the listed rate. they may try to convince you that the listed rates are only for members, locals, women, men, or include only one part of the spa i.e. shower, but no bed/couch. to verify any claims, strike up a conversation with a local a good distance away from the spa and inquire about the prices. don't let them know that you are checking the spa's claims. just act as if you are thinking about going there if the price is good. if they know that the spa is trying to overcharge you, they will typically support the spa's claim.

Mid-range hotels

mid-range hotels

These are usually larger hotels, clean and comfortable but not too expensive, with rooms ranging from ¥150 at the low end to over ¥300. Frequently the same hotels will also have more expensive and luxurious rooms. The doubles are usually quite nice and up to Western standards, with a clean private bathroom that has towels and free toiletries. A buffet breakfast may be included, or a breakfast ticket can be purchased for around ¥10.

Sprouting up around China are a number of Western-quality budget hotels that include the following chains, all of which have rooms in the ¥150-300 range and on-line advance booking in English:

mid-range hotels
Motel 168

莫泰168 (

Availability of accommodation for tourists is generally good and ranges from shared dorm rooms to five-star luxury hotels. In the past, Chinese laws restricted foreign tourists' ability to stay in the cheapest hotels, although this is slowly changing. However, this traditional prohibition, still widely practiced, is not always a bad thing. Some cheap establishments are still locally state-run affairs and haven't changed much since the Maoist era. Other ultra-cheap options are used as temporary housing by migrant workers and would not appeal to most travelers for security and cleanliness reasons. That said, there's a dizzying number of sleeping options in most Chinese towns, and despite language and legal barriers you should be able to find something in your budget and comfort range.

Finding a hotel when first arriving in a Chinese city can be a daunting task: a mob of passengers is pushing to disembark from the train or bus, touts are tugging at your arm and screaming in your face to go with them, everything is in incomprehensible Chinese and you are just looking for a place to put down your bag. It doesn't get any better once you get in a cab because the driver doesn't speak any English and every hotel in your guide book is full or closed! This can be the experience for many travelers in China, but the pains of finding a hotel room can be avoided if you know where to look and what you're looking for. In addition, star ratings especially for two and three-star hotels generally cannot be trusted in China. Pricing is a much better guide.

If you're willing to pay ¥200 or more for a room, then you'll probably have little problem finding a room. But if you want something cheaper yet still comfortable, you'll need more information than many guide books provide. The cheapest options include hostels, dorms, and extra rooms called zhusu. Every city has plenty of hotels charging ¥150 and up. Sleeper trains and sleeper buses can also be a decent option if you schedule your long-distance travel overnight see the Get around section of this page for more information. If you're in a town and you can't find a hotel, try looking near the bus or train station, an area that typically has a larger selection of cheap hotels. Hotels that are not licensed to accept foreigners can be heavily fined if they are caught housing foreign occupants, but enforcement of this law appears spotty and many unlicensed hotels will find you a room anyway.

In the cheapest range of hotels it is important to ask if hot water is available 24 hours-a-day 有没有二十四个小时的热水 yǒuméiyǒu èrshisì ge xiǎoshí de rèshuǐ, and check if the shower, sink and toilet actually work. It is also advisable to avoid checking into a room next to a busy street as traffic may keep you up late and wake you up early. If you do plan on just showing up in town and looking for a place to sleep, it's best to arrive before 6PM-7PM. or the most popular places will be booked for the night.

Note that if you are absolutely at a loss for finding housing, you should seek out the local police 警察 or Public Security Bureau 公安局. They can help you find a place to crash - at least for one night.

Prices are often negotiable, and a sharp reduction from the price listed on the wall can often be had, even in nicer hotels, by simpy asking "what's the lowest price?" 最低多少 zuìdī duōshǎo. When staying for more than a few days it is also usually possible to negotiate a lower daily rate. However, these negotiating tactics won't work during the busy Chinese holiday seasons when prices sky-rocket and rooms are hard to get. Many hotels, both chains and individual establishments, have membership cards offering discounts to frequent guests.

In mid-range and above hotels, it is common for guests to receive phone calls offering "massage" services; this is actually a thinly-veiled front for prostitution.

Booking a room over the Internet with a credit card can be a convenient and speedy method of making sure you have a room when you arrive at your destination, and there are numerous websites that cater for this. Credit cards are not widely used in China, particularly in smaller and cheaper hotels. Such hotels usually ask to be paid in cash, with a security deposit, up front. Some new online services ( allow you to book without a credit card and pay cash at the hotel. During Chinese holidays, when it is difficult to get a room anywhere, this may be an acceptable option, but in the off-season rooms are plentiful almost everywhere and it may be just as easy to find a room upon arrival as it is to book one over the Internet.

budget hotels

The next level of hotels, which cater to Chinese clients, are usually officially off-limits to foreigners but you may be able to convince them to accept you, especially if you can speak a smattering of Chinese. The cheapest range of Chinese budget hotels one step above the zhusu are called zhāodàisuǒ 招待所. Unlike zhusu these are licensed accommodations but are similarly spartan and utilitarian, often with shared bathrooms. Slightly more luxurious budget hotels and Chinese business hotels may or may not have English signs and usually have the words lǚguǎn 旅馆, meaning "travel hotel", bīnguǎn or jiǔdiàn 宾馆 and 酒店, respectively, meaning "hotel" in their name. Room options typically include singles and doubles with attached bathrooms, and dorms with shared baths. Some budget hotels include complementary toiletries and Internet. In small, rural towns a night's stay might be as cheap as ¥25; in bigger cities you can usually get a room for ¥80-120. One problem with such hotels is that they can be quite noisy as patrons and staff may be yelling to each other across the halls into the wee hours of the morning. Another potential inconvenience is booking a room with a shared bath as many of these hotels have one bathroom for twenty or thirty rooms. You may have to wait a while to use the toilet and half an hour or more to take a shower. In smaller budget hotels the family running the place may simply lock up late at night when it appears no more customers are coming. If you plan on being late, try to explain this in advance or else you may have to call the front desk, bang on the door, or climb over the gate to get in.

Top end

At the high end of the hotel food chain are international hotel chains and resorts, such as the Marriott, Hyatt and Shangri-La and their Chinese competitors. These charge hundreds or thousands of yuan per night for luxurious accommodations with 24-hour room service, satellite TV, spas, and western breakfast buffets. There are suites in Shanghai, for example, for over ¥10,000 a night. Many of these establishments cater to traveling business-types with expense accounts and charge accordingly for food and amenities i.e. ¥20 for a bottle of water which costs ¥2 at a convenience store. Internet wired or wireless which is usually free in mid-range accommodations is often a pay service in high-end hotels. Some hotels in the ¥400-700 range such as Ramada or Days Inn are willing to lower their prices when business is slow. Chinese three and four-star hotels will often give block pricing or better deals if you negotiate or book a room for more than 5 days. If you are coming to China on a tour, the tour company may be able to get you a room in a true luxury hotel for a fraction of the listed price.