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Travel Costs in Yunnan Province
It’s impossible to give a report of traveler’s expenses for China as a whole because prices differ extensively from region to region. So for this post, I’m going to focus on Yunnan Province, a destination in which I spent over a month traveling. It is a fascinating region with spectacular landscapes and diverse peoples. It’s popular with travelers, but there are still places to get off the beaten track if desired.
Despite high prices in China’s larger cities, as well as in the provinces of north and east China, Yunnan is still an incredible travel bargain.
I started this series with: What it costs to travel in Malaysia and what it costs to travel in Laos. I wanted to give independent travelers an idea of the costs associated with traveling in individual countries because it can be quite helpful during the planning stages.
Keep in mind $1 US = 6.63 Chinese Yuan (CYN) (August 2016). Here is an example of the cost of an average day traveling in Yunnan Province:
A day’s expenses in Yunnan:
- Breakfast of noodle soup with chicken: 6 CYN ($ .95 US)
- 8 km taxi ride to Cangshan trail head: 15 CYN ($ 2.38 US)
- Entrance fee to the Park area: 30 CYN ($ 4.76 US)
- (Avoided a 80 CYN ($12.70US) Cable Car fee by hiking)
- Lunch: bread, fruit, snacks bought from supermarket: 14 CYN ($ 2.22 US)
- Dinner: twice cooked pork, bok choy, Kung Pao chicken, and rice: (52 CYN for two) 26 CYN ($4.12 US)
- Dali Beer (518ml): 5 CYN ($ .79 US)
- Accommodation in Dali: 80 CYN (40 CYN pp if shared) ($ 6.35 US)
Total: 136 CYN ($20.50 US )
Meals, accommodation, and transport
$25 US per day is a good estimate if you’re a tight budget traveler and can share a room. If you travel slower and smarter, you might make it on $20 or less per day. Consider that costs in Sichuan, Guangxi, and Guizhou are comparable to Yunnan.
Travelers can eat well in China. For breakfast, noodle soup or dumplings are usually about 6 CYN. In an informal restaurant or café, vegetable dishes usually run about 10 CYN and meat dishes nearly double. They are normally shared. With rice and tea, two can eat well for less than 20 CYN apiece. Nicer restaurants or foreigner-aimed cafés might be double that price.
Transportation costs are as follows: For a 15-hour bus ride, you’re looking at about 203 CYN ($33.22 US). That’s what it cost us from Jinghong to Xiaguan (Dali new city). City buses are cheap: usually between 1 and 2 CYN and taxis are not too expensive at about 1 to 2 CYN per kilometer. As a general rule, trains are cheaper than sleeper buses (unless you ride soft sleeper class in the train or are travelling on the super-fast trains). An 18-hour train journey from Guilin to Kunming cost us 175 CYN in hard sleeper class. Read why that trip was a forgettable experience in: Night Train to Kunming.
Accommodation is a good bargain in Yunnan. It pays to travel with a partner here—sharing the cost of a room. You can normally get a decent double room for less than 100 CYN ($15.87 US). We’ve paid as little as 40 CYN before, but those are not places I would recommend staying. Hostel beds usually run between 25 and 35 CYN ($4—$5.55 US) and are generally only available in the places popular with travelers: Jinghong, Kunming, Dali, Shaxi, Lijiang, and Shangri-la.
–Search for deals on Yunnan accommodation—
To rent bicycles, we paid 10 CYN for the whole day, but saw other shops renting better quality bikes for 35 CYN and up.
A warning about Entrance fees
Be forewarned that entrance fees to sights are outrageously high in comparison to the rest of the costs associated with traveling in Yunnan. Read why I had to see the Three Pagodas in Dali from outside the gate. I’ve seen ticket prices for a temple at 60 CYN ($9.50 US) and larger, more important sites costing 100 CYN, 150 CYN, or more! Unfortunately, we had to pass on more than one attraction because of cost.
China is a challenging place to travel as a foreign independent traveler. The extremely difficult spoken language makes it difficult to convey even the simplest ideas. Budget extra money for mistakes, e.g. booking a ticket to the wrong city or the wrong time, not knowing the correct prices. You may find yourself scribbling Chinese characters down on a note pad in order to communicate with people.
ATMs and Cash
ATMs are common and reliable throughout China but expect both banks to take a bite out of your transaction. I prefer to take cash (and keep the money secure in my money belt at all times) a pay no exchange fee. I believe Bank of China is the only place to exchange currencies.
Making the most of your travels through Yunnan
Yunnan is a fascinating and inspiring place to travel. Costs are only going to go up and Chinese tourists are going to come in higher number in the future. New roads are being built, railways expanded, and cities enlarged.
My advice would be to get here soon. Although China is modernizing rapidly, the ethnic minorities of Yunnan seem to be holding on to their distinct customs and traditional way of life.
Have you traveled through Yunnan recently? How much did you spend on Travel Costs in Yunnan per day?