I have now heard a couple of times from different sources that in some parts of China you can't just stay wherever you feel like as a tourist.
I hitchhiked from the Lao border to the Mongolian border and never encountered such a problem. If I didn't know of a hostel or guesthouse I would just find a cheap hotel for around 50-70 yuan. It was generally pretty easy.
But I've met other travellers and also either been told or read online that in some areas you can't do this because only certain more expensive places have a licence or permission from the government to allow foreign travellers to stay.
I thought I once heard that this was a problem in the provinces with political unrest, such as Xinjiang province in Western China.
But then I thought I heard about it in areas near the big cities like Beijing or Shanghai.
One of these stories was from a Latvian guy in the same hostel as me in Xi'an about six weeks ago. I thought he was talking about the Beijing area after he finished the Trans Mongolian train trip, but I'm longer sure.
So is this something I should know about before heading west or east? In which parts of China is this the case?
If it's simple, just answer with the list of places. If it's more complicated, answer with a link to a resource with the actual situation.
Just to be clear, I'm not asking about places with general travel restrictions, such as needing a permit to visit Tibet, I'm just asking about where I can stay in any old hotel vs. where I can only stay in "approved" hotels.
- Here's an article from six months ago making it sound all good: Foreigners Allowed! – Hotel Registration Tutorial
- Here's an article from just over a year ago making it sound all bad: Foreigners Are Still Banned From Most Hotels in China
- Here's a thread on TripAdvisor from just over a year ago full of conflicting reports: Are foreigners allowed to stay in any hotel in China?