Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Applying For Our China Visa

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For what feels like the entire summer we have been trying to get everything prepared so we can send off our visa applications for China. Having never filled out a visa application before this was extremely daunting. If you didn't know already, China are extremely strict on who they allow into the country. Therefore, we had to have every little detail of our trip confirmed before they would even look at our application. When we say every detail, we mean everyyy detail - each application is around 50 pages long, filled with all our hostel bookings, train journeys and internal flight details.

We are extremely proud to say that we have done this completely independently with little to no help from our travel agent (STA form in background is for RTW flights, not China details). We did receive one quote from a travel agent for some trains that we were thinking of taking during our trip which turned out to be 3x the price compared to the company we booked with. Shopping around really does make a difference, as with a trip like this every penny counts! If you were wondering what websites/contacts we used to plan everything then continue reading. 

Hostel Bookings
With budget as one of our main priorities, we will be staying in youth hostels for around 99% of our trip (other 1% will probably be overnight trains/ park benches - Joke!). For booking hostels in China we used either HostelWorld or HostelBookers. Surprisingly we found that if there is no space in a hostel on one website there is often space on the other website.

Train Journeys
Organising our train journeys has been the most difficult part of the process for us. It's not like in the UK where you can go on to one website and type in 'I want to go from here to here, on this day, at this time...' internet bookings for trains in China, believe or not don't exist! You have to be a person within China at the train station to make a booking - absolutely mental. So obviously we needed a little help with this. 
A friend recommended a company called China DIY Travel which she has used before. They are an Australian couple who live and work in China therefore have access to all information which can be very difficult to access over the internet. All we had to do was fill in an enquiry form of all the train booking we required, they sent us a price quote which we agreed and now they are going to purchase train tickets on our behalf. The tickets will be waiting for us at each train station, along with photographs of the inside of the train station (apprently they can be a nightmare to navigate) and even written Chinese instructions we can give to our taxi driver. I'm sure we will be most grateful for these extra efforts when we arrive. 

Internal Flights
We originally planned to use only trains to get around China as we assumed this would be the cheapest option. However, when one quote came back for over £200pp for one train we decided to investigate if there were cheaper alternatives. As big users of SkyScanner this was our first port of call. If you have never heard of SkyScanner, its like a Compare the Market for aeroplane travel. So now instead of catching a very overpriced 22 hour train journey, we're getting a more reasonable 1 hour flight for £78pp. 
We ran into further problems when trying to come up with a plan of how we were going to leave China and enter Hong Kong for a few days visit. As there was no direct train from our final destination in China (Guilin), and sick and tired of reading Lonely Planet forums, we decided another flight was in order. This was a similar price to the train, however saved us around 15 hours travelling time. 

For anyone planning a trip to China, there is light at the end of the tunnel, we promise

The Happy Wanderers 

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