I am certainly an eager traveler: I want to see, to do, to go and go and go. But even this traveler needs a place to lay her head down and store her pack while wandering whichever city I happen to be in. Being as I've recently disclosed I've been to more than 20 cities in the 4 years I've lived here – some of them more than once, has the thought crossed your mind: where does she sleep when vagabonding around?
Inasmuch as possible, I like to bunk down at hostels. They are usually situated in cultural centers and offer a generous slice of local flavor along with the advantage of connecting with like-minded travelers. Initially I thought I might engage with foreign travelers who are visiting China, but most of them travel in pairs/packs and seem resistant to allowing a stranger to join them, especially one a bit older: the hostel crowd tends to be younger. I appreciate their curiosity and their verve but the mentality is just not my scene. Nevertheless, every time I decide on a destination I check www.hostelworld.com for potential accomodations.
Another great reason to choose a hostel is because foreigners are guaranteed to be welcome. There have been times that I have been denied accommodations because some hotels are not allowed to house foreigners. It is always a good idea to check for that possibility before setting out, especially in smaller cities. Unfortunately, you won't find hostels in many of the smaller cities. For those destinations I usually fequent...
Business hotels. The quality ranges from fair to poor, although some business hotels I've stayed at have been quite nice. The price tends to be lower than chain hotels and sometimes even hostels. A good rule of thumb is: the poorer the city, most likely the poorer the rooms. One amenity to watch out for is 24 hour hot water. Some houses turn their boilers off at 10PM. Some include breakfast in the price of the room. These hotels are ubiquitous, and great for those who travel on the spur of the moment. If you are not too attuned to luxury, rooms with windows/a view or even comfortable beds, you might consider these hotels. They are locally owned and not franchised.
7 Days Inn is a franchise with houses all over China. They embrace a minimalist theme that nevertheless offers plenty of amenities, such as: 24 hour hot water, free in-room WIFI and cable television. The beds are reasonably comfortable and the bathrooms are pleasantly efficient. I've yet to enter such a hotel and get refused a room because of my foreignness. My 2 gripes with them are: their price - about 50Yuan higher than a hostel and most business hotels, and: the franchise flavor. No matter which city, you will know you are in a 7 Days. Their website makes checking locales easy: http://www.7daysinn.com
I don't have much good to say about Green Tree hotels because my 2 experiences with them were less than satisfying. The beds are traditionally Chinese, meaning rock hard. The rooms I occupied were not necessarily clean, comfortable or inviting and the service was less than stellar. The rates are reasonable, only a little higher than hostels and business hotels. There are plenty of travel websites that list this chain, making it easy to see if such accommodations would be available at your destination, but I could not find a website for the hotel itself.
Motel 168/268: the numbers reflect the room rate. Accommodations are comfortable but maintenance tends to be poor: leaking water and burned out lights. Each room has free internet access, either via WIFI or by wired connection. Breakfast is offered at some locations but I can't be sure whether it is included in the price of the room: the clerk and dining room maven were rather abrupt. I didn't quite understand what they were saying, which left me with the impression that the staff was not necessarily friendly or helpful. Although 168Yuan is a little lower than average for a room, the 268Yuan room price is rather steep and the luxury level does not justify the price.
Motel 168/268 share a website with HomeInns: http://www.homeinns.com/motel WARNING: the sites are all in Chinese. It is possible to advance scout these hotels through English travel websites such as: http://english.ctrip.com and www.tripadvisor.com.
Home Inns are comfortable, affordable and well placed in areas of interest, as well as close to transportation hubs. The beds lend a good night's sleep and the rooms are well appointed. They have the added distinction of offering in-room concessions, but the price is rather steep for those few snacks. Internet access in every room, either by WIFI or cable. They are currently undergoing a facelift/modernization, making their houses even more appealing. Prices are about the same as Motel168. Unlike other chains, these hotels offer local flavor whenever possible.
My one experience with Super 8 Motel was not at all good. In fact, I can't rate the rooms because my one attempt to lodge there did not pan out.
I had made a reservation through C-trip but the hotel's desk clerk said that it was for a house further away from the train station and refused to honor my booking, even though she averred there were rooms available for full price: 240Yuan, no breakfast included. I was disappointed but vow to try again to seek shelter at that chain.
YoJo Inn is where I laid my head down after that disastrous encounter at Super 8. This is a chain local to Hefei, Anhui province. Charming and old-time feeling, this well appointed hotel was comfortable and clean, with rooms priced at 140Yuan, breakfast included. Rooms offer free WIFI but apparently no wired internet connection. The staff was friendly and helpful. Added bonus: very close to the train station. Should you need accommodations in Hefei, try: http://www.yojohotel.com/index.shtml (website is in Chinese).
Jin Jiang Inns are my hands-down favorite hotel chain. The beds are heavenly! The houses and rooms are mostly well maintained and the staff is the friendliest and most helpful of any chain hotel I've experienced. They offer a variety of prices to suit room amenities, and they are well worth the money. Base price is around 170Yuan for a 2 bed room. Buffet style breakfast can be had for an extra 18Yuan.
Internet connection via WIFI or wire is available in all rooms. If you've never stayed at Jin Jiang, I highly recommend it: http://www.jinjianginns.com/Default.html (website in Chinese).
Even the poorest hotels offer: slippers/house shoes/shower shoes, shoe cleaning rags, laundry service (or a means to hang your laundry if you choose to wash it yourself), and tea service - a kettle, tea and cups. You will also find basic personal hygiene items: toothbrushes with paste, combs and shower caps. For showering, many houses provide all-in-one soap, or separate body wash creme and shampoo, in a wall mounted dispenser. The pricier places put small bottles of bath gel and shampoo at your disposal. Strangely enough, no hotel I've been to so far has supplied wash rags. I usually bring my own (and the maid took it at the hotel in Shanghai!)
Most rooms have heat/air conditioning but I have stayed in rooms where the units did not work. More and more hotels are offering in-room concessions such as snacks, sodas, playing cards and condoms, all for a price. Fancier hotels offer bath packs for a fee: wash rags, name brand shampoos and razors.
One feature of hotel rooms in China that I really appreciate is the card key activation system. Nothing electrical will work until you put your room's key card in the slot designed for it. The card closes the electrical circuit, allowing the occupant to enjoy all the electrical amenities/functions of the room. This is to prevent energy waste and, presumably key loss/misplacement. Several countries around the world also utilize this system but I've yet to stay at a hotel/motel in America that makes use of this feature.
One aspect of reserving a room in China (via the C-trip site or others) is that you can opt to pay at the hotel without compromising your ability to secure a room. I've not had a credit card for several years and don't aim to any time soon, so being able to make a reservation without a down payment is a major bonus.
I was going to write about the luxury hotels I've had the privilege of staying at, but a room is a room is a room. Whether it has a mini-fridge or not, whether there are thick bathrobes or even a bathtub... for a traveler on a budget, considering the higher end hotels is pretty much out of the question. Fundamentally, this is a vagabond blog. How many vagabonds do you know that routinely bunk down in luxury?
Perhaps the handful of houses I've stayed at in my travels deserve mention, but I'm out of room. Perhaps next time.