Golden Week is actually two week-long holidays in China. While you might be used to picking when to have your holidays, in China most factory, warehouse and office workers are given their vacation at the same time so that the factory or office can close down completely. This happens twice a year in what are known as golden weeks.
These weeks make headlines because of the huge movement of people that accompanies them. It sees millions of migrant workers traveling to their home within China and more affluent Chinese heading for holidays abroad. This combination cumulates in more than 100 million people hitting the roads, rails, and airports over just a few days. It is chaos. The railway system collapses with long queues and the occasional riot, while tempers at airports are as short as the wait for tickets is long.
When Are the Golden Week Holidays
The first Golden Week in China is Spring Festival. This is celebrated in either January or February and is set around Chinese New Year. The date moves each year because it is linked to the lunar cycle. This is the busier of the two Golden Weeks as almost all migrant workers will make an effort to return to their hometown or village and millions of Chinese abroad return home. Think Christmas at the airport and then triple the number of people.
The second Golden Week, known as National Day Golden Week, begins in and around October 1st.
Should I Travel to China During Golden Week?
It's not ideal. You'll find hotel rates are higher and flight prices considerably bumped up. Some restaurants and a few smaller mom and pop shops will be closed for part of the holiday, especially during Chinese New Year Golden Week, while high-end restaurants will often be fully booked. You'll also find tourist attractions are exceptionally busy. The plus side is that there are often celebrations during these periods and a carnival atmosphere because people are on holiday.
If you do decide to travel, it's best to arrive and leave outside of the Golden Week dates. The holiday starts and ends abruptly, and it's only on the first and last days of the week that the infrastructure struggles. If you do travel on either of those days expect to find people camped outside bus stations, and sitting on the roof of trains. The government has been trying to get to grips with the problem in recent years by easing road restrictions and tolls but the impact has been limited.
Public transport in cities is generally fine.
Should I Travel to Hong Kong During Golden Week?
Once the Chinese tourists' preferred destination, Hong Kong's attraction has waned in recent years as the Chinese have become bolder about their holiday destinations. Still, the city is absolutely packed during Golden Week. Queues at Ocean Park and Disneyland are legendary, as are those that form outside the city's swanky shops.
You can also expect the high rollers to take up every available chair inside Macau's best casinos. Beyond the SARs, the beaches of Hainan tend to fill up with sun worshippers, while hotspots like Singapore and Bangkok will also be noticeably busier.
Golden Weeks in the Future
The future of China’s Golden Weeks is uncertain. The stress it places on the Chinese transport system, as well as the number of people who hit major sights, has seen the Chinese government mute the idea of breaking up the weeks and having holidays spread out across the year. This would follow the Hong Kong system where holidays are focused around more traditional holidays; such as the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The problem with this idea is that short holidays won’t give workers time to travel home, and any decision to stop Golden Weeks is likely to cause widespread unrest.