Travel Tips When Visiting China
When you visit a country for the first time, you get distracted first by the excitement and anxiety. As Cesar Pavese once said,
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off-balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
There are certain different rush of emotions and suddenly you’re distracted with the unfamiliarity of the place and the different breathtaking views. So you do what most tourists do, fish your camera or your phone out and snap photos. That’s not bad, after all you paid to see the view and we all enjoy trips differently. To each their own, right?
I do suggest somehow that you take a breath, gradually let go of the anxiety, take in the view through your eyes, and observe the people living in it. Going on a trip is a cultural immersion at its very core and if you have travelled for a long time now, you might share the sentiment that what makes a trip deeply memorable is through the familiarity and connection you build with the people who build that culture.
China is a vast expanse of land covering 9,600,00 square kilometers with almost two-thirds of it covered in mountains and mountain ranges. Not to mention the basins and plains, rivers and lakes, as well as deserts and grasslands! China boasts not only a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cultural and historical landmarks, nature and adventure spots, leisure countryside views but also its over a hundred metropolitan cities and its developing advanced transportation hubs that connect major cities making it easy to jump from one city to another. And if you don’t know it yet, China is also the most populated country in the world with over 1.8 billion people!
So if it’s your first time visiting China, I’m sure that you will get overwhelmed so here are some tips that might be useful for your trip.
TRAVEL BASICS AND KNOW-HOWS
Just like in any trip preparation, you have to equip yourself with the travel basics and know-hows. If you skip on this part and let spontaneity be your guide… well in a country as big as China, you might see yourself lost in a sea of 1.8 billion people cramped up in the midst wondering what the hell are you going to do! And instead of a refreshed soul after a trip, you might just be going home with an extra baggage of stress that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
So make sure you got all of these checked before you leave.
There are countries offering “free entry” which means that you are already good with a passport and a booked flight. But for China, you have to apply for a VISA to get inside.
To apply for a Chinese visa, prepare your completely-filled out application form which is available online. You can check out the website of the Chinese embassy or consulate in your country. You also need to submit your passport, a recently taken photo, alongside other supporting documents. For US passport holders, the consular fees usually total to $140. There are service centers that can take care of your visa application like China Visa Service Center (mychinavisa.com).
In light of the pandemic, it is also very useful to keep yourself updated with the travel restrictions in China. As of August 27, China opened the country for inbound travels from 36 European countries as well as 13 Asian countries. And last September 3, Chinese media also announced the resumption of direct flights in Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, and Canada. If you want to know more about the COVID-19 updates, you can check out china-briefing.com.
If you’re not aware yet, China has blocked all social media platforms. Google services, and some news sources such as The New York Times. So if you want to keep updating your socials or keep yourself updated about everything in general even when you’re in China, purchase a VPN subscription. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network across a public network which enables its users to access, send, and receive data from blocked sites. It’s important to set this up before leaving for China in all devices that you would be using in your stay. Some VPN provider’s websites are also blocked in China so you might want to check out these VPNs that surely work there. For paid subscriptions, try out ExpressVPN, Astrill, and VyprVPN. There are also unpaid ones like Tunnel Bear and Hexatech. For safety measures, it’s best to have two of these VPNs downloaded so you have a backup if one ends up not available.
✅ PAYMENT METHOD
One thing that you should remember in your trip here is to lessen the use of your credit cards. Although these might be handy and hassle-free payments in the cities, you will be expecting difficulties when you come to the countryside. Top up your wallets with some cash to make sure easy travel on the way. Chinese currency is Yuan and as of writing, the exchange rate is now $1 is equal to 6.84 Yuan.
Recently, WeChat (the most popular messaging app in China) launched a payment feature WeChat Pay which can be used by foreign visitors to pay for goods and services by linking their credit cards. WeChat has partnered with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover Global Network, and JCB to make this possible.
You may also want to check out Revolut bank card as recommended by mywanderlust.pl which supports over 140 currencies and also offers free withdrawal from any ATM all over the world. You can get the card by mail, top up your card via phone, have different accounts for different currencies. It also offers money exchange between countries with no extra fee.
✅ TRAIN TICKET PURCHASING
China owns the largest high speed rail system in the world connecting different cities so if you are visiting different landmarks in China located in different cities, it’s good to get yourself tickets in advance. There are a lot of companies that offer this kind of service and one travel blogger recommended China DIY Travel run by an Australian Chinese couple. They do all the electronic booking processes and provide all instructions needed both in English and Mandarin. And if you’ve ever seen China or heard of it, they rarely have fluent English speakers and even signs on board travel platforms as well as in the cities, English translations are also not common so having Mandarin printed instructions you can simply hand over will make your trip hassle-free.
Having mentioned that English is not a well-spoken language here, equip yourself with a few basic Mandarin phrases that you can use during your stay.
- Thank you! (xiè xie) 谢谢
- You’re welcome. (bú yòng xiè) 不用谢。
- Hello (nǐ hǎo) 你好
- Do you speak English? (nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma?) 你会说英语吗？
- You can also be asked: Do you understand (what I’m saying)? (tīng de dǒng ma?) 听得懂吗？To which you can respond with: 听不懂 (tīng bu dǒng), 没听懂 (méi tīng dǒng) or 没有 (méi yǒu) which means you don’t understand and this can actually save your life many times.
- How much is it? (zhè ge duō shao qián?) 这个多少钱？
You can also learn through many different apps available in apple store or google play store. Also note that there is no such thing as an English menu. In restaurants, they will always offer you a Chinese menu with no English translations. It will be helpful to download Google Translate which offers features like taking a picture of the menu and offering you its rough translation. Although it’s not always accurate, it’s better than staring at Mandarin and randomly picking dishes. But if you’re in for some adventure in food, why not? You can always surprise yourself with a new meal.
I think this goes in any kind of trip. It’s always safe to bring a roll of tissue whenever you’re going out as some public restrooms in China don’t offer such amenities. Aside from tissue, always bring a hand sanitizer or alcohol with you for disinfecting. Again, this is very important especially that we’re dealing with a virus. Always observe health and safety measures.
In the digital era, we can never go around without a phone and other essential electronic items – especially if you’re a blogger or vlogger. Pack some adapter plugs since China’s electrical system operates at 220 V.
Since China is a large country, it’s important to carefully research your landmark picks (opening days and time, peak hours, proximity to restaurants, convenience stores, ATMs) and all the entailed local travel logistics. China offers a wide variety of spots and activities such as the metropolitan cities, cultural and historical landmarks, zoos, and nature spots. You can opt to pick a route centered on one or two locations especially if you don’t have a lot of time to tour or those centered around landmarks that you want to visit. This requires smart preparation so you get the most out of your stay without getting so stressed out. But if you want an easier way and you have budget spare, opt for private tailor fit tours (do not go with budget travel tours because you will end up always hurrying and spending less time appreciating the stops). This way you get to discuss a route you’d like to take and they can offer you with an itinerary that fits all your wants and needs. One of the most popular travel tours that offer this kind of service is China Highlights (www.chinahighlights.com).
It’s also important to pinpoint your international airport of choice as China offers 200 highlighting Beijing and Shanghai which are the most popular entry points in China. Also, make sure to check which months you’d like to go for a trip. Most recommend Spring and Fall seasons which land on the months of April-May and September-October. Although most travel destinations in China are available whole year round. The more important concerns in choosing the month of travel is the weather and season, existence of public holidays where there is a lot of domestic travels shooting up the prices of flights.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN CHINA, THE DO’S AND THE DONT’S
- China is a generally safe country for travel for female travelers, solo travelers, friends, and even families.
- With a lot of people living here, of course, expect the chaotic traffic. Chinese are already used to this and they’re not really exactly punished by it. As a foreign visitor, pay extra attention to the traffic especially to motor bikes that can easily slip in and out.
- Speaking of traffic and transportation, refrain from availing unlicensed transportation services such as private taxis and cars. Foreign visitors are usually taken advantage of in these kinds of scenarios and are often charged ridiculously high fees. Instead, choose public buses and legal taxis (those with company names on doors and kamos on top with an accurate meter). If you opt to use public buses for your local commute, make sure to check the bus number, pickup and dropoff points, and its route. In general, if you’re not good with Mandarin, commuting in China will prove to be very difficult. But again, if you crave the adventure, you can try and do so but don’t tell yourself that you haven’t been warned.
- If you really need help, the best choice is to politely approach a student as they are more likely to speak in English and are more confident with it.
- In restaurants and other business establishments, tipping for good service is not exactly a well-appreciated gesture. Tips usually end up making situations awkward and are most likely to be given back to you. Instead, show your appreciation by complimenting their services. The sole exception to this practice are tour guides who accept tips so it’s good to put it in your budget agenda.
- When eating, remember your chopstick etiquette. Chopsticks are only used for eating and only eating. Do not use it as drumsticks or playthings or gesturing to any individuals. Additionally, don’t put your chopsticks inside the bowl after a meal. Place your chopsticks on top of the bowl. And lastly, never ever play with chopsticks and putting it standing up on your food as it looks like an incense used for dead people and is a great disrespect in their culture.
- Speaking of food, here are the classics that you should never skip: Hotpot (火锅 huǒguō), Sichuan Pork (水煮肉片 shuǐzhǔ ròupiàn), Dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi), Beijing’s Peking duck (北京烤鸭 Běijīng kǎoyā), Steamed vermicelli rolls (肠粉 chángfěn), and Yangchow fried rice (扬州炒饭 Yángzhōu chǎofàn). Although Chinese cuisine is widely spread throughout the world, still it cannot beat eating these classic and traditional foods in China itself. If you want to try more different foods, you can visit Jinli in Chengdu, China which is listed as UNESCO City of Gastronomy!
- Giving gifts is an important culture in China. Mutual gift giving is a sign of respect here especially if you’re accommodated by a Chinese family. But it’s not just easy picking of gifts. Avoid clocks, sharp objects, and shoes as a gift as these are considered bad omens. To help you out, you can quickly search for bad gift culture in China.
- If you’re a light skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed, get ready for some attention. Usually Asian visitors are not called foreigners and this is mostly used for Westerners visiting the country whose appearance is definitely different from the Asian look. Aside from the extra attention, a few might ask for a picture with you. Don’t worry though most Chinese are polite.
- Smoking is a part of the Chinese daily life. In choosing your accommodation, it’s best to emphasize a non-smoking room if you’re not good with it. Otherwise, you’d be inhaling the smell of smoke in your room.
- Spitting and burping are also common occurrences. China is battling serious air pollution which is why it is common for people to cough out loud and spit because they believe that is always better out than in. Burping, on the other hand, is a sign of thank you for a meal so don’t get surprised to hear burping sounds in a good restaurant!
- Loud is okay, it’s not mad. There is more than one way that foreign visitors are culture-shocked when visiting China for the first time. It’s not that they meant to yell at you, it’s just normal for them to speak on a louder volume especially when you’re trying to make your voice stand out in a sea of people.
- Personal space is highly respected in China and hugging and kissing in public spaces will surely raise some eyebrows so try not to draw attention to yourself by doing such.
- Lastly, never talk about sensitive topics about politics. It’s taboo. In addition, don’t talk about uncomfortable topics such as death and religion.
China is a country who believes in feng shui and all the good and bad omens so make sure you read up on them before going on a trip to avoid offending locals.