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Solo Travel Guide to China

As a frequent solo traveler, China has long been at the top of my wanderlist. Alluring images of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, giant pandas, spicy Sichuan cuisine, and bustling megacities have called to my independent spirit for years. And while traveling alone can seem intimidating in such a vast, complex country, I’m here to convince you to take the leap – China offers unmatched history, cuisine, landscapes and culture ripe for solo exploration.

My Journey to China

After saving up for a year working as a freelance writer, I finally booked a 3 week trip to China. Choosing destinations was agonizing – where don’t you want to go in a country that spans tropical Hainan Island to the Gobi desert? I settled on a route through Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hong Kong to maximize must-see sights and cities with convenient transportation links.

I also invested time before my trip studying basic Mandarin phrases and characters. While English is spoken in tourist areas, knowing key words and how to ask questions has enriched my travels immensely. Locals appreciate the effort and it’s enabled unique experiences – like barging my way through Beijing’s infamous morning rush hour to work out with eldery residents in a hutong park.

Navigating Beijing as a Solo Traveler

Many first-time visitors fly into Beijing, China’s sprawling political and cultural capital. With its tangled hutongs, imposing imperial palaces, epic history and distinctive cuisine, you could spend months exploring Beijing – but even a quick visit should include the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and iconic Great Wall.

Beijing can be intense for solo travelers, with pushy salespeople and heavy traffic. But once you find your footing, don’t be shy about striking up conversations and asking for recommendations – I’ve had some of my most memorable experiences just wandering the hutongs and stopping for tea on the advice of locals along the way.

Off the Beaten Path in Xi’an

Most travelers associate Xi’an with the Terracotta Warriors – and rightfully so, as the vast clay army guarding China’s first emperor is astonishing. Beyond the warriors, Xi’an tempts with chaotic markets, rich street food culture and lingering echoes of importance as the terminus of the Silk Road. For a truly immersive experience, avoid the hostel party scene and stay with a local family in countryside surrounding the city.

I booked a homestay through a community tourism website, and my hosts graciously showed me their village, taught me about local agriculture and took me to markets where no one spoke English – making for fun charades-style shopping! Saying goodbye was hard after being so warmly welcomed.

Chengdu’s Irresistible charms

You haven’t experienced China until you’ve tasted fiery Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu, the laidback capital with a foodie obsession. Beyond palate-numbing peppercorns, Chengdu locals love sipping tea while playing Mahjong, strolling through manicured gardens and parks, and bonding with China’s most adorable animals at the Chengdu Panda Base.

The more time you have in Chengdu, the better – I loved exploring the pedestrian Jinli Street lined with red lanterns and traditional architecture, people watching in Culture Park, sweating through a mask facial treatment and savoring zingy Dan Dan noodles under strings of chili peppers at hip restaurants. With excellent transit and a thriving expat scene, Chengdu also makes a great base for solo travelers wanting to explore western China.

Learn Chinese in Shanghai

No China solo itinerary is complete without Shanghai. Despite the city’s futuristic skyline, Old Shanghai still lurks in the shadows – look for it in art deco buildings, traditional shikumen row houses and back alley markets. I skipped the ritzy Bund and over-touristed YuYuan bazaar to focus on former French Concession Stadt, arty Tianzifang and bustling markets.

Language became a frustration navigating Shanghai’s immensity and notorious crowds. So I booked a 1 week intensive Mandarin course to push my basic skills to a conversational level. Studying at a local Chinese language school was invaluable for building vocabulary, improving pronunciation and gaining cultural knowledge from my teachers – who graciously corrected my countless errors!

Towards the end of my course, I tested my fledgling language abilities bargaining with shopowners at Fabric Market and ordering xiaolongbao soup dumplings and green onion pancakes at tiny restaurants far from the tourist track. Though still not fluent, I felt immensely proud conversing entirely in Mandarin – and grateful for patient locals willing to help me learn.

Final Reflections from Hong Kong

As my time in mainland China ended, I took the train through verdant countryside to Hong Kong for a few days. The flashy financial hub’s densely layered cityscapes make for exhilarating solo exploration – ride historic trams up to The Peak for the world’s most insane skyline views, treat yourself to high tea at Peninsula Hotel, or escape the crowds hiking through misty hills.

Hong Kong also felt comforting and familiar after weeks navigating mainland China – I could suddenly read street signs and menus, efficiently commute using English transit guides, and find comfort foods like avocado toast after subsisting on Chinese fare. Yet hints of China still season Hong Kong, from the smells of noodle shops to incense spiraling from temples to the green and white jade ornaments sold on Hollywood Road.

My time in China challenged and electrified my senses – I tasted fiery cuisines in Chengdu, got lost in Beijing’s hutongs, sweated through Mandarin lessons in Shanghai, photographed Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an and soaked in sublime views from Victoria Peak. I also stepped far outside my comfort zone as a solo traveler, forging connections through language barriers and pushing myself physically to maximize this immense country.

Have your own China solo dreams? Take that first step and book a ticket – adventure awaits! Just bring curiosity, patience and a sense of wonder – you’ll soon discover why China mesmerizes.

IEMLabs is an ISO 27001:2013 and ISO 9001:2015 certified company, we are also a proud member of EC Council, NASSCOM, Data Security Council of India (DSCI), Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The company was established in 2016 with a vision in mind to provide Cyber Security to the digital world and make them Hack Proof. The question is why are we suddenly talking about Cyber Security and all this stuff? With the development of technology, more and more companies are shifting their business to Digital World which is resulting in the increase in Cyber Crimes.


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