There’s no doubt that travel to China is expensive, and Guangzhou is one of the pricier mainland cities, trailing only Shanghai and Beijing. You’ll never do China on the cheap, but you can still save money if you know the tricks. If you’re planning a trip to Guangzhou, here are some tips to help cut costs.
Timing Your Trip
Visiting Guangzhou is expensive no matter when you go, but during the huge trade fairs in April and October, prices skyrocket. Despite the huge hotel build-up for the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Asian Games, rooms sell out quickly and often go for above-market prices during these periods. If you’re looking for discount rates on hotels in Guangzhou, visit in the off-season from November through March, but avoid the week around the Chinese New Year.
While it’s tempting to book at the cheapest hotels, it’s best to find savings elsewhere. That’s because all the experienced, English-speaking hospitality workers went to work at the new, luxurious mega-properties; expect terrible customer service and amenities if you book a three-star hotel or below.
Use Public Transportation
Don’t be intimidated by the teeming throngs of people who use the city’s trains and buses. Guangzhou’s metro system is inexpensive and efficient, and experienced travelers have no problem following route maps. Avoid taxis whenever possible; fares in Guangzhou are among the highest in China and you’ll get sticker shock if you take one from the airport. The city’s six water buses are another inexpensive and fun option for getting around the city. There are four ports along the Pearl River channel that connect you to the more popular sights and attractions.
Don’t Be Afraid to Bargain
Guangzhou’s major attractions are its incredible markets and bazaars. You can buy just about anything, including jade jewelry, clothing, shoes, toys, and trinkets, at wholesale prices westerners find irresistible. Just consider the marked price a starting point for negotiations; vendors expect to haggle for prices and you’ll be surprised how low they will go.
Remember, there are hundreds of markets in the city, many selling the same types of wares, so to get the best deals be sure to visit several before making a purchase.
Guangzhou is the cradle of Cantonese cuisine and you can find representative restaurants just about anywhere you look. Unfortunately, quality can vary greatly, and in some cases, concerns about ingredients (episodes of melamine in dairy products, for example) keep wary westerners away. While Cantonese cuisine is fabulous, it’s important to remember that authentic Cantonese dishes use ingredients such as entrails, cat meat, and pangolin (anteater) that most westerners would prefer not to eat. There’s a saying about Cantonese cuisine: “They eat everything with four legs, except tables, and everything that flies, except airplanes.”
Fortunately, you can get every type of food, Chinese regional and international ethnic, in Guangzhou, thanks to its status as an international business center. Choose local restaurants over chains to save money; those serving Chinese cuisine will be cheapest.
Your Guangzhou trip won’t be cheap, but if you follow these tips, you can save a lot when you travel in China.