Location is the first thing you should consider. Chinese cities are usually big, and there's no point schlepping halfway across town for one particular hotel when a similar option is available more conveniently.
In major urban centers, many four- or five-star hotels belong to familiar international chains, and are usually a safe—if pricey—bet. You can expect swimming pools, Internet access, and business services. Hard-as-a-board beds are a trademark of Chinese hotels, even in luxury chains.
Locally owned hotels with four stars or fewer have erratic standards both inside and outside big cities, as bribery plays a big part in star acquisition. However, air-conditioning, color TVs, and private bathrooms are the norm for three to four stars, and even lone-star hotels have private bathrooms, albeit with a squatter toilet. All hotels, from pricey to cheap, will provide you with an electric kettle or a thermos for making tea.
When checking into a hotel, make sure your room isn’t above or below the karaoke room, usually located on the second or third floor. Otherwise you may be in for some sleepless nights.
Apartment and House Rentals
There's an abundance of furnished properties for short- and long-term rentals in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and some other cities. Prices vary wildly. At the top end are luxury apartments and villas, usually far from the city center and accessible by (chauffeur-driven) car. Usually described as "serviced apartments" or "villas," these often include gyms and pools, and rates are usually well over $2,000 a month.
There are a lot of well-located mid-range properties in new apartment blocks. They're usually clean and nicely furnished, and rents start at $500 a month. What you get for your money fluctuates, so shop around. For longer, cheaper stays, there are normal local apartments. These are firmly off the tourist circuit and often cost a third of the price of the mid-range properties. The plumbing and electricity may not be up to code, and amenities may be lacking. It helps to bring a Chinese friend along to negotiate on your behalf.
Property sites like Asian Expat, Move and Stay, and Sublet.com have hundreds of apartments in major cities. The online classified pages in local English-language magazines or on expat websites are good places to look for cheaper properties.
Asia Expat. www.asiaxpat.com.
Move and Stay. www.moveandstay.com.
Single travelers can arrange homestays (often in combination with language courses) through the Lotus Educational Foundation. Rates vary according to your length of stay, starting at about $200 a week. Make sure to ask for references before handing over your hard-earned cash.
Lotus Educational Foundation. 408/996–1929; www.lotuseducation.org.
When checking into a hotel, you need to show your passport—the desk clerk records the number before you're given a room. In smaller hotels outside of the big cities, unmarried couples may occasionally have problems staying together in the same room, but simply wearing a wedding band is one way to avoid this complication. Friends or couples of the same sex, especially women, shouldn't have a problem getting a room together. It's normal for hotels to post "visitor hours" for nonguests.
All hotels listed have private bath unless otherwise noted. Remember that water is a precious resource in China so use it accordingly.