We usually look for hotels in the 300 to 700 yuan range, depending on the city. (We splurged that first time in Beijing and paid more to stay in a beautiful courtyard hotel.) It's important to know that some hotels do not and cannot take foreigners as guests. I gather you must have some kind of special license. So if you're traipsing around China and decide to pick a hotel at random and the hotel won't admit you, don't get huffy. It's just the rules.
You'll always need your passport to check in to a hotel and you'll need to pay a refundable deposit on your room.
As for rooms, we've never been really dissatisfied, but then we are not picky people and we don't have vast experience of five star hotels. We stayed at Motel 6's for our honeymoon, after all. When I first arrived in Zibo, I was put up at a hotel near the campus. Wallpaper was peeling off the walls, I couldn't adjust the shower head to get a hot shower, and I had to provide my own morning coffee, but so what. No-one on the staff spoke English, but why should I expect them to? And they were all very friendly and charming people.
I've stayed at some glamorous hotels -- and away from the higher prices of Beijing, hotels are very reasonable. Below left is the hotel gate in Boshan, a part of Zibo, and below right is the entrance to the very atmospheric Beijing hotel we stayed in...
It's also a waste of money to pay for Western breakfast. In one hotel we were provided with unbuttered, untoasted white bread, and fresh fruit swimming in milky yogurt. And a glass of warm milk. We should have just eaten whatever the locals were eating. In Beijing recently, we could have eaten Western breakfast at the hotel for 100 yuan apiece, and probably have gotten some rubber eggs and cold toast, but we walked out to a little restaurant nearby and had delicious fresh dumplings for just 16 yuan instead.
Another point to be aware of is that Chinese mattresses are much firmer than Western ones. So far we've been lucky -- perhaps hotels keep some rooms with softer mattresses for foreigners, or perhaps the softer mattresses are catching on with the middle class. But if you get a Chinese mattress, you'll feel like you're sleeping on an ironing board -- at least in terms of the firmness. As for the size, we've usually had generous king- or queen-sized beds.
The hotels provide slippers and toiletries, including a toothbrush with a mini tube of toothpaste, and a comb. There is often a condom provided by the bed. The condom and the toothbrush make me wonder if booking a hotel room is something of a spontaneous event in China, but that could be cultural ignorance on my part.
Below is our hotel room in Harbin, China. On the other side of the glass wall is another TV facing the seating area.
You can let down the blind if you'd prefer. I should also mention that every hotel room we've stayed at had a private bathroom with western toilet.
Skip this last paragraph if you are a guy. This is girl talk. It was only months after staying at that first hotel at the campus that I realized the female staff were trying to tell me that I should put used toilet paper, (used for Number One, that is) into the wastebasket and not into the toilet. That's why the toilet kept clogging. I have debated whether to mention this tip in the blog, but in my part of China, in every public toilet and at the school toilets, you do not throw the paper down the toilet. You leave it in the wastepaper basket. Much more useful detail at the link.