Internet Access While Traveling in China

Accessing the internet in China is remarkably easy, especially for those traveling with their own laptops. Wireless internet access is widespread throughout all the major cities and tourist destinations. For those traveling without a computer, things are a little more difficult, but it’s still relatively easy to get online.

Wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet Access in China

Internet CafeAny three-star hotel worth its salt offers in-room internet access (usually via cable rather than wireless), while all four-star and five-star hotels are guaranteed to have in-room access. Most often this is provided for free. However, a sizeable minority of hotels charge for this service at rates of anywhere from ¥30-¥120 per day (usually cheaper at the cheaper hotels). Connections are not always great – they might cut out occasionally – but in general they do the job.

Even a sizeable number of youth hostels (at least one in each major destination) offer free wireless internet access, usually only in the common area but sometimes in the rooms as well. Meanwhile a huge number of cafes, bars, and restaurants in the major cities offer free wireless internet as well.

Internet Cafes in China

If you’re not traveling with your own computer it is still relatively easy to access the internet. Almost all hotels and youth hostels have a business center or public computers where the internet can be accessed for anywhere from ¥4-25 per hour. However, there is generally only a small number of computers so you’ll have to deal with queues.

The other option is to seek out an internet cafe. Internet cafes in China rarely have signs in English (because they WangBaprimarily cater to local gamers). At first glance it might seem as though they are extremely rare in China, but they are in fact very common. To find one, just keep your eye out for the Chinese characters:

‘网吧’      (wangba).

Luckily, these characters are quite distinctive. Look at the picture on the right to see how the characters might appear on signs.

Internet cafes in China are somewhat bizarre places: dark dens filled with teenage gamers who might not have seen sunlight for weeks. Since most of them are set up principally to cater to gamers, basic services like printing and CD burning can be difficult to organise. If you require such services, you’re much better off going to a Kodak Express outlet (there’s always at least one around the center of Chinese cities). Internet cafes are therefore best used only for sending emails and browsing the internet. You usually need to present your passport at internet cafes (in case you go browsing any naughty sites), and this will often be kept until you are finished which can make some people uncomfortable. Prices are usually around ¥3-6 per hour.

Internet Censorship

Several popular websites are blocked in China. Until recently it was not possible to access the English version of Wikipedia in China and YouTube, BBC News, Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in the past. Currently there are only a handful of popular websites that cannot be accessed including Live Journal and Flickr (the website itself works but the photos aren’t displayed). If you find there is a website you can’t access while you are in China, you can still reach it through a proxy server such as Anonymouse (www.anonymouse.org), though it slows down the speed by quite a lot.