Our original budget for China was based on the costs of the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Our goal was to stay at or below $70 a day for both of us. We were able to get by on about that in Hong Kong, but were able to easily stay below $50 a day for most of China.
This was a welcome change and was in large part thanks to the vast network of YHA hostels that have come online in the last couple of years. Our lodging rarely exceeded $20 for a double room with the exception of Hong Kong where you pay $30-35 for a tidy little matchbox. The lowest we paid was about $2.50 for a basic twin room in Tiger Leaping Gorge and the average was likely somewhere between $10-$15.
When we did have to opt for a Chinese hotel, the rule of thumb was bargain. Never pay the quoted rate for anything in China, especially hotel rooms. They were a little more money and a little more worn that the hostels, but still served the purpose. Trying to communicate with them at what time and for how long the hot water works was a whole different issue.
Food was always an interesting endeavor. If you go for western restaurants, where they are available, you more or less pay western prices. Food in general is not very expensive, but finding a place with an English menu or an English speaker was the challenge. The best way to go was the little stalls in the side alleys where the food is fresh and you can point to what you’d like. We took our chances with our botched Chinese and Mandarin phrasebook on more than one occasion. Typically we ended up with some rice and sauteed bok choy – for which I admit I began to develop a slight fondness.
Aside from a few fast and fancy train rides, we didn’t really have any budget breakers in China. Some of the sites have ridiculously high entrance fees, but that was usually offset by cheap lodging and food. Overall, China offered a lot of bang for the buck.