China is one of the world’s biggest countries geographically and is also the largest regarding population. Visiting the country with a population of 1.4 billion people can be a daunting endeavor. Still, every year millions of people flock to this ancient country to explore its rich history. This only means that there are many opportunities for adventure! If you are suitably prepared, a trip to China can be an absolutely incredible and rewarding visit.
There are hundreds of historically incredible places to visit and mouthwatering delicacies to dazzle the taste buds. It is definitely worth visiting China at least once in your lifetime. Fair warning, though: one trip will NOT be enough to experience all that China has to offer. So, in this post you’ll find useful tips that will help anyone who is planning a trip to China.
While China is a very safe country with relatively low crime, it pays to be prepared. So one of my top China travel tips is don’t leave home without travel insurance. There is so much going on constantly all around you that chances of an accident are higher. Let’s just say that driving in China isn’t as orderly as other places. If something unexpected does happen and you are not insured, you can be up for a lot of money AND inconvenience. For a small price to pay you get peace of mind – if you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Buying travel insurance is easy, and several sites offer it. If you book your trip through an agency, you can add the protection through that. Also, pack some medicines that you might need.
Get a Guide!
If you’re traveling around in one of the bigger cities where tourism is popular you probably won’t have too many issues. However, if you are interested in the smaller towns and for a more authentic experience, we would suggest hiring a guide. You can join a more extensive tour group if you are interested. Or you can hire a local for a more private experience. He’ll come in handy because it will be easier to navigate the language barriers and he’ll also be able to help with navigation and planning.
When you first touchdown in China, you are going to be overwhelmed with the cacophony of human voices, traffic, and the everyday hustle and bustle. You probably won’t understand what’s going on around you. Let us go ahead and warn you, Chinese people are loud. The combination of raised voices and a foreign language might seem like people are arguing and about to get int a fight, but don’t worry! They’re probably talking about the lovely weather or how expensive fish prices have gone up.
Use your haggling skills!
In China, one of the most significant cultural differences is that if you don’t like the price of something, you can haggle it down! This doesn’t mean you can go into a department store and say that you will only pay 10€ for a 20€ item. However, if you go to a street vendor or a marketplace, you can bargain a bit to get a better deal. In fact, it’s expected. The first price that a vendor offers you is usually grossly exaggerated. So brush up on your bargaining skills before you go out and shop.
With over 1.4 billion people living in this country, it isn’t a surprise that pollution is an issue they are dealing with. In large cities, smog is a huge issue. You will often see people wearing face masks to filter out the worst of the pollution. Keep an eye on the weather channel while you’re in China. They monitor the smog index of the day. On bad days, trains can be delayed because it is so difficult to see. So, on bad days put on a smog mask that contains a carbon filter for maximum efficiency.
Chinese pharmacies offer both western and eastern medicine at very reasonable prices. Prescription medication can usually be purchased without a prescription (within reason) by simply providing the pharmacist with your identification.
I do NOT recommend renting a car in China for use. Not only will be you driving in a foreign country with different driving rules. You’ll also be fighting for road space alongside a few billion people. The traffic is pretty horrific in China, and no one seems to follow the rules. Also, a widespread scam is for people to jump in front of moving cars so that they can claim insurance money. Most vehicles in China install a camera now so that they can disprove such cases. So we don’t suggest taking the risk of driving yourself. There are plenty of taxis to use.
Catching Taxis, Buses and Trains
Taxis in China are cheap and plentiful. Most drivers will not speak English, so it’s a good idea to get your destination address written in Chinese by somebody at your hotel.
China is serviced by a fantastic network of buses and trains, including the high-speed G-Trains that can whisk you across the country in a matter of hours. Rates are extremely affordable by western standards.
When you go to a restaurant in China, it isn’t uncommon to see people rinse their chopsticks and bowls with hot tea at the table. Also, when you’re eating, it is typical behavior to pick up your bowl as you eat. And, unless you’re in a fine dining restaurant, the serving staff don’t hover. If you need someone, you’ll have to call or flag them down. Don’t stick your chopsticks in a bowl because this is a symbol of death. Also, a lot of Chinese dishes that have meat contain the bones (more flavor). To get rid of them, use your chopsticks or spit discreetly into your hand and set them next to your plate.
China has some of the most versatile, sophisticated, and mouthwatering food that is available. If you think you’re going to be eating some run of the mill Chinese takeout General Tao Chicken and eggroll, then think again! Real Chinese food is much more complicated and a delight to the taste buds. Don’t be scared to try new things. Chinese street food offers some incredibly delicious things. When you’re strolling down a street, and you see a vendor with a crowd of locals around it, that is an excellent indicator that there is something yummy there. Take the plunge and try something new!
I do not advise you to drink the tap water in China. Even in the big cities, the tap water is not safe for consumption. China is an ancient country, so it is safe to assume that their pipes are just as old. Even when it comes to brushing your teeth, we don’t recommend using the sink water. All hotels offer bottled water in the room or even a kettle so that you can boil your water. We also go so far as to say that you should avoid drinking anything with ice cubes. It might not be an issue for locals who have grown up with these bacteria. It is okay to take a shower or brush your teeth – just don’t drink it.
Toilet Paper and Soap/Hand Sanitizer
Be prepared to have to supply your own toilet paper and soap. Yup, public toilets in China don’t stock their restrooms. Before you freak out, the people in China are used to this system. Everyone carries small packets of tissues on them at all time. They also carry small bottles of hand sanitizer or soap to use to wash their hands. All the local corner shop and convenience stores will sell everything you need. Make sure you have everything with you before you head into a toilet!
Have Cash on Hand
Most people use their credit cards in all their transactions today. In fact, a lot of people use their phones to pay for things now too as we move farther into the technological world. While in the large cities most places will say take your credit card. The more rural areas in China won’t accept cards. So, make sure you always have back up cash on hand when you are traveling the country. As we’ve mentioned before, larger banks accept foreign cards at their ATMs so you can use those to pull out some cash.
Make sure you inform your bank that you will be traveling. This is a rookie mistake if you don’t notify your bank that you’re going to be in a foreign country. Having your card frozen when you’re in a different country is not the best situation to be in. Once you have things settled with your bank, it will make the process of getting money much more accessible. Unlike some major tourist areas and large cities that occasionally accept dollars or euros, China does not. To get the best rates, use an ATM such as HSBC’s (one of the largest banks) that accept foreign cards.
The Chinese do not tip, and you aren’t expected to either. However, it is a good idea to give a little something to your tour guides or perhaps the bellboy. But at restaurants, you don’t need to worry about calculating a gratuity to add to the bill.
China has several major dialects. There are actually 299 different languages in China. Luckily, about 70% of the population can speak Mandarin. Google Translate is a great app to use. You can take images of the characters and receive instant translations! Other popular options to use are Pleco and WayGo. You’ll find them handy when you’re in a restaurant with a menu covered in scribbles or trying to ask for some directions.
China has stringent regulations of their internet access. Their firewalls block many of the social media sites that people use. These include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and even Google. If you decide that you cannot enjoy your vacation to the fullest without access to these sites, we suggest getting a VPN. Many free VPNs are available for download online. However, most of these don’t cover China. You will be better off with purchasing a more reputable one – though you should still check if they cover China. These will allow you to Instagram your adventures to your heart’s delight.
When you visit a new place, you will most likely take a few pictures to capture the moment. A selfie with a terracotta warrior, a panorama at the top of the Great Wall. However, the Chinese love to take photographs so don’t be surprised if a local tries to snap a sneaky photo of you or even comes up to ask for a picture with you. Especially if you look like a foreigner. If you’ve got fair skin and light hair, chances are people might come up to you and ask for a photo. Like in most other countries, it always pays to ask permission before photographing a person or a government building. In smaller areas, many of the people might have never seen a foreigner before except for on TV. So enjoy your brief moment of fame and just be courteous.
Need help? Find a high school student!
The array of Mandarin dialects and variations across China can make communication difficult even for native Mandarin speakers. But help is always at hand: those under 25 years old are most likely to speak both standard Mandarin and English.
Students who have studied English in books for years, but have had little contact with native English speakers, may more readily understand written questions.
Don’t worry! It’s safe!
China is nowhere near as terrifying as many guidebooks would have you believe. Yes, the traffic is chaotic and the air could be better — much better — but China is one of the safest countries in the world for female travelers, solo travelers and families.