chinese boy and dad in jungle

4 Ways To Get On The Off The Beaten Track In China

Sick of the norm? Want to stray away and get on the off beaten track? The Great Wall is actually great and Shanghai is just as grand as you think it might be. However, there are far more interesting ways to explore the nooks and crannies of this vast country.

If you want to get more out of China than taking your photo in front of the same landmarks as millions of other travellers, try one of these alternatives to get off the beaten track.

Do a Homestay

Staying in the home of a local is an experiential way to throw yourself into the culture.

Tour bus travel makes it difficult to have any real interactions with locals and while home stays can often be arranged by tour companies, they give you a whole different perspective than the norm.

You will have a choice of locations so that you can decide whether you want to stay with someone living in the city or all the way out in the countryside.

Homestays allow you to spend one to several nights in the home of a local while getting to witness their way of life while participating in it at the same time.

Help cook the meals, tend to the land and try to communicate in dual languages while you get to know the lives of people who live in China every day.

Photo Credit: China HHS

Photo Credit: China HHS

Teach ESL

Securing a job teaching English in China was the ultimate way for me to get off the beaten track in the country.

The city I was placed in was actually my first taste of real China as Fuzhou is a destination that not many foreigners have ever heard of.

I was living in a real Chinese city without many tourist attractions and this allowed me to discover places that I would have never seen if I was just traveling to China to see the sites.

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Aside from living in a destination that was off the beaten track, I had plenty of time to travel the country while staying there for a whole year.

Since I became friends with many of my Chinese co-workers, they often suggested interesting day and weekend trips to small towns and villages that I didn’t even know existed in China.

It was always these types of places that ended up being the most memorable from my time there.

Exploring Fuzhou with co-workers

Exploring Fuzhou with co-workers


If you want to stay in China for a longer term but don’t want to commit to a job like teaching English, volunteer work is a great option.

You will have a lot more choice of where you will be located and what you will be doing so that you can make sure it is something that you are both interested in and feel good about.

Volunteer projects tend to take their members to more remote locations, allowing you to see a side of China that you probably couldn’t see even if you were trying to.

It’s a fantastic way to interact with the locals while making a difference, helping others and getting some hands-on experience in a field of your choosing.


Talk to The Locals

In my experience with living in China, it was extremely easy to strike up a conversation with the locals. Most people were excited to see a foreigner and many of them came up to talk to me in both English and Chinese.

Everyone was typically friendly and welcoming and I got more invitations for social events than I ever have while living in my home country.

The teller at my bank offered to take me out to a nightclub, other patrons in restaurants invited me to join them, and groups of friends in bars called me over to share a beer with them.

I’ve met people hiking up mountains who wanted to get to know me and treated me to tea in the café at the top and a photographer in the park who wanted to do an impromptu photo shoot of me by the peach blossoms.

Everywhere I went, people wanted to chat, get to know me, show me around their city and gain a new friend.

I learned a lot this way and was able to see places and do activities that were completely off the beaten track.

chinese boy and dad in jungle

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Shannon Ullman

Hey! I'm a published American travel blogger and teacher. My travel writing has been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Matador Network and Thought Catalog. I spent over a year living and traveling around China while I taught English there. I have also visited dozens of other countries around the world.