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Why You Should Consider a Bus Tour When Visiting China

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I’ve taken so many local bus tours across China during my 8 years in the region that I’ve lost count.

Honestly, they’re just one of the best ways to travel and see all the beautiful sights China has to offer, from bustling cityscapes riddled with towering skyscrapers to the most incredible, jaw-dropping natural escapes you just might ever lay eyes on. 

Nevertheless, I know—you plan on visiting but you absolutely despise traveling with tour groups, right? You’d rather plan out your own itinerary and explore attractions on your own time.

On top of that, you can’t even imagine joining a local Chinese tour that isn’t equipped with any English. What’s the point in that!? I know.  

Here’s the deal: You can’t let that stop you from skipping out on one of the best ways to experience China’s travel destinations.

And maybe you just need a little convincing—a comprehensive look at why their worthy and what you can expect. So, here’s why local bus tours with travel agencies in China are worth the trip:

A typical travel and tourism bus sits idly in China. Photo by Donovan Cosby
A typical travel and tourism bus sits idly in China. Photo by Donovan Cosby

How to Book?

There are 3 ways to join a local bus tour in China.

First, you should know that travel booking agencies are widespread across China. They’re everywhere—malls, markets, shops along roads, and they usually offer packages for anything you want, from bus tours, private expeditions, and flight/train package deals, to cruises and resort vacations. 

Two, popular Chinese travel booking websites like Qunar, LY.com, and the Chinese version of Trip.com provide short and long-distance bus tours geared towards locals. 

​Three, every major city in China has usually got some grand Chinese or Western hotel that provides bus tours to nearby tourist attractions.

You can walk in, sign up, and leave as soon as the next morning on 2-4 day trips. What’s great is that there’s usually someone at the hotel that can speak enough English to help, too.

An expat in China explores Inner Mongolia with a local Chinese tour group. Photo by Donovan Cosby
An expat in China explores Inner Mongolia with a local Chinese tour group. Photo by Donovan Cosby

Why Join?

Why join a local Chinese bus tour group versus a foreign-friendly, English speaking bus tour? I’ll tell you why: 

It’s an Immersive Adventure

Joining a local bus tour group in China is the equivalent of spending Chinese New Year in China with an actual Chinese family, except that this awesome cultural immersion experience comes with travel as a perk. 

​Let’s see, only foreigner(s) in the group? Check. Wine and dine like a local for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Great!

Not speak a lick of Chinese but link up with complete strangers to explore a wide range of awe-inspiring attractions. Awesome.

And, undoubtedly finish out the trip with some crazy stories to tell everyone back home? Now that’s priceless

They’re Cheap

Local bus tours in China are dirt cheap, except during the holidays, but even then they’ll probably still be cheaper than their foreign-friendly counterparts that explore the same destinations. 

And it’s a bus tour anyways, which means that because you’re traveling with up to 30 other people you’ll save money on transportation, food, ticket fees, and hotel stay. More bang for your buck, err, Renminbi.   

Chinese tour group ready to explore a scenic spot in Sanya. Photo by Donovan Cosby
Chinese tour group ready to explore a scenic spot in Sanya. Photo by Donovan Cosby

They’re Convenient

Local bus tours can get you to those off beaten places in China that’ll cost an arm and a leg to reach by Didi (the Uber of China) or taxi, and that’s if they can get there at all. Take Guizhou’s 500-Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, for instance.

From downtown’s Sheraton Guiyang Hotel, a roundtrip, single day tour of the site cost just 280RMB, and that includes breakfast. To get there by Didi? About 500RMB one-way. Ouch!   

With a bust tour, transportation to and from the site(s) is already arranged. You won’t need to struggle trying to figure out how to get from point A, to B, and to C, which we all know could be a major headache!

They Offer Different Excursions

The local bus tours usually offer a bunch of mini-excursions and activities you can join outside of the package you’ve already signed up for, of course, for an extra fee. 

Let’s say you’re touring the Xilarumen Grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Sure, the basics of your package include roundtrip transportation and overnight stay in a Yurt, but wouldn’t you want to go horseback riding? Or how about smashing around the grasslands on a dune-buggy?

What about watching an authentic Mongolian wrestling match? With bus tours you’ve just got more options available and usually at group discounts.   

Chinese tourists travel by bus to their next attraction. Photo by Donovan Cosby
Chinese tourists travel by bus to their next attraction. Photo by Donovan Cosby

They Go Everywhere

​That’s right—local bus tours go everywhere in China, from far and near to the well-known and the obscure. It may be easy to get to some popular tourist attractions in China on your own, but if you really want to visit those top places in China you’ve probably never even heard of, look into local bus tour destinations. 

What to Expect?

​Now that we’ve covered why local bus tours in China are worth the trip, let’s take a look at what you can expect. 

You Can Use A Translator

Why go on a local bus tour when I can’t speak Chinese!? Here’s the truth: You really only need to know what times to meet and what’s on the itinerary. That’s it.

You don’t really need to know all the miscellaneous info your tour guide will provide about the attraction—just get to the destination and have fun.  

​Here’s what you can do: If you’ve downloaded Wechat (the most popular messaging app in China), exchange your contact information with your guide and use Wechat’s translation feature to ask questions and get details on specifics and need-to-knows.

If you have no clue about Wechat you can also download a translation app like Google Translate to communicate with your guide and other members in your group. And if you find anyone that can speak English, stick with them like white on rice!

Dozens of bus tours are getting ready to take local Chinese tourists to destinations across the country. Photo by Donovan Cosby
Dozens of bus tours are getting ready to take local Chinese tourists to destinations across the country. Photo by Donovan Cosby

Persuasive Tour Guides

In China, tour guides are salesman just as much as they are chaperons. They’ll do their best to persuade you into shelling out money for extra activities and spending wads of cash in the markets. Speaking of which …   

Your Tour Guide Might Not Take A Break 

​Those local tour guides—boy can they talk. Seriously, they can speak non-stop for 2 hours straight, and I know that from experience.

If you’ve ever seen them carrying flags and on loud speakers while leading groups at popular tourist attractions in your home region, just imagine that type of energy confined to a bus!   

Security check on a local bus tour in China. Photo by Donovan Cosby
Security check on a local bus tour in China. Photo by Donovan Cosby

You Might Go Through A Security Check at Tolls

​It’s not uncommon to undergo a brief security check at toll booths, especially during the holidays. And don’t worry, all of you won’t need to get off the bus in an orderly fashion with your hands up. Police won’t storm the aisle with guns drawn.

Instead, 1-2 officers will board the bus, check everyone’s IDs, and the whole process will take less than 10 minutes.     

They Stop at Markets

Expect local bus tours in China to make stops at markets and goods shops, mostly during the last leg of the trip.

The tours have arrangements with these places—souvenir shops, electronic stores, jewelry markets, cosmetic boutiques—and the guide can get a cut of the loot their group spends. 

Just wait until you see your tour-mates spending hundreds to thousands of Yuan on everything from local snacks, ornaments, fabric, and silverware, to sculptures, paintings, and handmade artifacts. 

Tour buses ready to take off on expeditions across China. Photo by Donovan Cosby
Tour buses ready to take off on expeditions across China. Photo by Donovan Cosby

In the End …

So, are local bus tours on the Chinese Mainland worthy of the trip? I’d like to think so. I’ve taken numerous local bus tours across China, and whether solo or with friends, I’ve always considered them one of the best cultural immersion adventures you can experience as an expat in the country.

As long as you’re equipped with a translation app, are familiar with the itinerary, and always know when and where to meet, then I think you’ll survive. 

So go ahead, give it a try. You might just like it after all. Safe & happy travels!

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Author Bio: Donovan Cosby


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