Camping in China can be an exciting adventure in the untamed outdoors of Asia. It’s also technically illegal. Before you set off on an adventure camping in China, there are a few things you should know that could save you a lot of trouble and headache.
As the sun slowly climbed the horizon, the hanging fog that was disrupting my view finally began to break revealing the beautiful panorama that I had come here to see:
China’s Great Wall at sunrise.
I had camped on the wall overnight, one of the most incredible experiences of my time here in China. It had been a strenuous climb and a chilly night, but overall it had been completely worth the time and effort.
I hadn’t just climbed the Great Wall of China, I had pitched my tent and camped on it!
Over the years I have received a number of questions from people asking about camping in China. Most people are drawn to the adventure of it all but are scared away by the unknowns.
Can it be done? Is it safe? Since there aren’t any official camping grounds in China, how is it possible to set up your tent here?
To the best of my ability, I’d like to answer some of the most common China camping questions here in this simple guide.
The first question that always gets asked about camping in China is whether or not it is legal.
It’s a good question because the last thing you want is to be pulled into a police station at 2am in the morning.
The short and confusing answer to the question is this:
Yes, it is legal to tent camp in China. And at the same time it is illegal.
That’s what’s terrible about the Chinese system of law: contradictions are purposely placed in order to give freedom for the local authorities to decide what they want to do.
So while authorities around Beijing have realized the economic benefit of allowing people to camp on the Great Wall, authorities in Tibet may decide that it’s too risky.
Both can be “right”.
Strictly speaking, foreigners in China are supposed to register each night they stay in China. Hotels and hostels automatically do this for you but if you’re camping in China that’s not possible.
The reality, however, is that such rules aren’t – and cannot be – enforced. Let’s say you buy a train ticket in China that goes overnight. Do you register?
And nobody knows or cares.
The same goes for camping.
As long as you stay under the radar and off the beaten path, you won’t draw the ire of any local authorities. Everybody is happy.
The key is figuring out where to pitch your tent.
As you probably already know, there are no official camping grounds or KOAs with nice bathrooms and running water in China. In fact, the idea is laughable to most Chinese people.
When it comes to camping in China…
…you’re on your own.
In order to successfully camp in China, you have to know where to set up your tent. There are common places like the Great Wall, where tour groups set up tent almost every night. But this isn’t the case for the other 99.9% of China (unless you’re joining a registered China travel agency).
Finding a spot to pitch your camping tent may seem daunting at first but really the rules are the same no matter where you try to camp in the world where there aren’t official camp grounds.
Here are some thoughts on finding a good place to camp:
Of course, before you can even set up tent you need to get your gear.
Although the industry is still young, the camping market in China is growing at an unbelievable rate.
Whereas 10 years ago it might have been difficult to get a high quality tent or sleeping bag, now the outdoor stores in certain parts of each city are innumerable.
…all of these brands and more are available for purchase in specialty stores all across China.
The best option is to bring your own gear, of course, since the gear you’ll find in China is also quite expensive. You can find butane canisters, so you don’t need to bring those on the plane with you.
Finally, it is entirely possible to find stores that can rent gear at a reasonable price.
You can ask around at the different stores to find out where and as a last resort you can contact a travel agency that should be able to provide you with the appropriate gear you need for a price.
Finally, I want to share with you a few tips that might be important as you consider how you want to camp here in China.
Whether you’re camping on the Great Wall or in the sands of the Gobi Desert, the first thing you should consider is whether or not you should hire a guide.
The dangers of trying to make it out on your own are real, especially if you’re not an experienced outdoors man. Don’t be too prideful too admit you need help!
A few other tidbits of advice:
The fact of the matter is that camping in China is not for everybody. If you don’t have your own equipment and you don’t know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t try to camp on your own without a tour group.
That said, you will experience an incredible amount of beauty when you get out beyond the big cities and into the outdoors.
Waking up in nature, away from the millions and millions of people in the city, always creates an amazing memory for me.
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