After several long Dynasties of conservative emperors, China started to develop and change.
Nowadays, being tourist-oriented, it attracts more and more people that come to visit every year.
It has so many things to offer: impressive architecture, spectacular natural wonders, exotic culture and rich history.
After 15 days in China, you can see below some of our top tips for going to China and hopefully, these will help you prepare to discover what a wonderfully challenging and beautiful country China is, without finding this the hard way.
1. Plan your trip
Planning a trip to China is an exciting adventure itself. You will have to plan every aspect of your trip from A to Z, before arriving in China because once there, it will be nearly impossible to access all the information that you will need or find people that speak English. So, plan your trip in detail before departure.
Also, there are a lot of different things to think about before you go, and some things that you have to do before you even set foot in the airport. Visas are just one of the many things for which you’ll want to prepare.
2. Don’t forget your passport
You will need a valid passport for entering China and you also need to carry it around during your stay because most of the hotel bookings or entrances to museums or other tourist sights can be made only after presenting it to the cashier’s desk. Also, keep in mind that it must be valid for at least 6 months from your entrance in China.
3. You need a Visa to enter China
China does not offer visas on arrival as many Asian countries do, so you will have to arrange your visa long before departure.
Of course, the procedure is different for each county. In our, case it took around 2 hours to obtain it (there was a huge queue) and we had to present our plane tickets (especially return flight), our well-detailed itinerary containing all cities we wanted to visit and all hotel bookings under our name.
Visa applications can be submitted to the Chinese Embassy or Consulate in your country.
4. Get travel insurance
China is a very safe country but it is better to be prepared. Insurance is not mandatory for your visa application or for entering China, but just to be on the safe side, it is better to be covered.
Keep in mind that you will be walking a lot in order to see everything China can offer and your body may not be prepared for Asian spices, temperature or way of living. Although we were prepared and knew what to expect, it was very difficult to handle the real Chinese food.
We use to have yearly insurance subscriptions so we do not have to worry each time we are traveling somewhere.
5. Take cash with you and use ATMs for withdrawal
The official currency in China is the Renminbi or Yuan (RMB or CNY). It will be very difficult to obtain this currency in your country (we couldn’t find it in any of the international banks), so the best option is to carry euros, dollars and credit/debit cards.
We, as westerns are used to pay by card almost everywhere, but in China, this isn’t such a common thing, especially you travel in remote place of the country.
There are 2 ways to get local currency. The first option is to exchange international currency in local banks or to withdraw it from ATMs. Pay attention that not all the Chinese local banks accept international credit cards, so try to use the ATMs of the international banks like HSBC.
Before going to China, don’t forget to call your bank to let them know about your visit, or you risk ending up in the situation to have your cards blocked from use under the suspicion of fraudulent use.
6. Don’t tip
In Chinese culture, tips are not that common. What you need to know is that offering money with both hands is considered a very polite gesture and will be highly appreciated.
7. Use your bargaining skills
Of course, it won’t be like in an Arabic country, but still, the price can be lowered, especially for souvenirs. In most of the touristic places, prices are very high and with a little bit of bargaining, you can get great offers.
When shopping, watch out for counterfeit goods. If the price is too good to be true, you are usually dealing with fake products.
8. Getting online using a VPN
China is guarded by the Great Firewall which will block your access to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or most of the website that you are used to. Chinese have their own versions of each of these applications but they will not be much use to you (except for WeChat which can come in handy, but we did not need to use it).
If you want to get access to all of the above sites you need to get a VPN before you arrive in China. We got a subscription to ExpressVPN and one to NordVPN (just to have a backup, but the first option worked perfectly).
Since we did not want to depend on WiFI, we bought a China Unicom local sim card from the airport but all 2GB of data finished in just 2 days without using the internet too much. After that, we bought a 6GB SIM Card from a China Telecom office that lasted until the end of our trip. If you want to get a local SIM card, make sure that your phone (or wifi modem) is not locked to your home network.
9. Most Chinese people don’t speak English (or any international language)
This will set you back since sometimes it is very difficult to understand them. Especially in rural areas. Most of the time we handled communication using sign language and Google Translate which is such a handy tool, so, don’t forget to install it before going to China.
10. Chinese food in China is different from Chinese food in Europe or the US
Authentic Chinese food is rarely like the western versions found in Chinese restaurants throughout Europe. Chinese food includes many unusual things such as different types of fungi, different kinds of sea vegetables, turtles, frogs, insects, exotic sea animals, snakes, bok choi, bamboo shoots, bitter melon, giant white radishes, lotus pods, tofu, and mung beans. Things that you are not used to. The flavor of the spices is more intense. I had problems adjusting to the flavor of the foods, actually, we all did. So, we did visit MC Donald’s and KFC restaurants few times.
11. Enjoy Chinese street food
Chinese are used to eat out. so you will find many places to eat. Most of the restaurant won’t look very safe but try to choose the restaurants where the local people eat and everything will be ok.
We were expecting to find cheaper food, but the prices are similar to one of the European countries.
Note that there are a lot of street food places designed especially for tourists. If you want to taste the real chinese food, find places where locals eat (especially the ones far away from tourist attractions)
12. Always buy bottled water
Tap water in China is undrinkable so instead, you should buy bottled water which is really cheap, and you can always find a cold bottle during a hot summer day.
13. Medication in China
There are no mandatory vaccines needed when you visit China. If you are under treatment or if for example, you know you have a weak stomach, it is better to bring with you the pills you need. There are huge differences between medications that can be found here vs the rest of the world and it is possible not to find the right ones.
There are 2 types of Pharmacies: Chinese traditional medicine (based on plants) and modern pharmacy.
14. Use the public transportation system instead of renting a car
China has an amazing transportation system. The entire infrastructure is perfectly adapted to a large number of people and very well developed.
High-speed trains can take you huge distances in just a few hours. In 2017, China has the world’s largest high-speed rail network in the world. We were surprised how good the Chinese metro system is, and how easy it is to use it.
Initially, we wanted to rent a car to travel across China, but after some research, we gave up this idea. First of all, you need to have a Chinese driving license to be allowed to drive, and second, you need to take into consideration the chaotic traffic.
15. Taxis are cheap
We recommend taking taxis in China because they are very cheap. We used to take trains or planes to cover long distances and then got taxis to get around cities.
Keep in mind that the drivers don’t usually speak English so the best option is to have with you the name and address of the hotel written in Chinese. We also used Google Translate to communicate with them.
16. Sometimes, flying is cheaper than riding the train
China is a huge country with 22 provinces, five autonomous regions and two Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong and Macau). To cover the long distances by train or bus can get expensive, especially that the high-speed trains are not cheap at all. It had the same price as the internal planes.
17. Pollution level is really high
China has huge pollution problems, especially in large cities.They even have a newspaper and a site about it, which tell the people when is the best time to go out is. We were lucky to have sunny weather during our trip, but in Beijing we could feel the traditional smog.
18. Chinese don’t mind personal space
Personal space and organized lines in China are very different from the European standards. Chinese people have close personal space with each other. So it is normal to come and stay very close to you.China is a crowded place, and the locals have become accustomed to a much smaller personal space.
19. Chinese do not wait in line
In Chinese culture, people do not nicely wait in lines. They will pass in front of you on any occasion no matter what.
20. Spitting and farting in public is considered normal behavior
All these things may seem strange and impolite to you, but they are a common practice in China. Things like burping after a good meal is like a sign that you enjoyed the meal. It was very strange and uncomfortable for us to be part of these things, especially during our lunch or dinner. But it is what it is, and the cultural differences make each country unique.
21. Chinese love to take photos
Chinese people love to take photos, especial if they see something different. And you will be different in China, so expect people to come and ask to have a picture together with them. I personally felt like a superstar in China (this isn’t the case in Hong Kong or Macau). Don’t forget to take your camera with you and a lot of batteries because there will be a lot of great things to photograph.
22. Sometimes toilets are going to look like this
China uses Squat toilets that are not seen in most of the Western world. You will be surprised to enter the restroom and find a toilet that is leveled with the floor. These toilets are weird and require a bit of getting used to, but don’t worry since most hotels have normal Western toilet bowls.
There are also a lot of public toilets that you can use, but, don’t forget to carry toilet paper with you, because you will not find any in these places.
23. Pay attention when crossing the street.
You will find hundreds of bike, motorbikes or cars all passing at the same time. So don’t expect them to stop to give you the way. They will bypass you every time so you need to be careful not to be run over.
24. Chinese aren’t into tanning
They are protecting themselves from the sun, so you will see lots of umbrellas around. Which is probably much healthier and safer.
25. You should get off the beaten track for an authentic experience
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to get off the beaten track. While Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an are worthy of their international fame as the Golden Triangle, there is so much more to China than these cities and their cultural sites. Don’t limit yourself to the same few sites everybody else visits. This is a massive country with a rich history, over thirty distinct cultural groups, and a huge variety of landscapes to explore. This way we discovered the best things.
These are our tips after 15 days in China. I am sure that some of them are common sense, but never the less, checking them out before planning a trip to this beautiful country will not hurt.