China has been a rather closed country due to the conservatory emperors that ruled over the years, until 70s when it started to open its doors to the world. Since then, China has experienced a period of rapid growth and change. These days, more and more tourists from around the world, who visit China, crowd to the ancient country to experience its rich history, its exotics customs and perhaps catch a glimpse of its bright future. While modernization has meant that many western amenities are now available, there are still things that might catch you unprepared. So, after 15 days in China, I’ve wrote 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.
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.Visas for China
You probably already know you need to have a valid passport for visiting China. One of the most important things to know when traveling to China is that they do not offer visas on arrival. So, before you travel to China, you’ll need to arrange your visa well in advance! When applying for a tourist visa, you’ll need to provide either a letter of invitation from a Chinese friend or relative, or provide a detailed itinerary of your intended trip. This includes return flights and confirmed reservations for your hotel bookings with full addresses and everything. Visas can be applied for in person at the Chinese consulate or embassy.
3.Don’t forget to tell your bank you’re visiting China
Before you go to China, make sure your bank knows you’re going to be using your credit or debit card over there. You don’t want your card being canceled mid-trip for unusual transactions. Two of our friends had this problem after 2 days of using their credit cards for withdraws.
While China is a very safe country with relatively low crime, it pays to be prepared. Book travel insurance with an insurance company that covers also China.
Keep in mind that your western stomach or body is not prepared for the new Asian spices, temperature or way of living. Although we were prepared and knew what to expect, it was very difficult cu handle the real Chinese food.
5.Get a VPN for China
In China you won’t have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and most of the Google selection. ‘Great Firewall’ blocks such sites. Chinese have their own versions. If you want to access these, while you’re visiting China, you’ll need to purchase a VPN. When shopping for VPNs, check that they cover China – as many free options do not.
6.Get a local SIM card in China
China’s major carriers include China Telecom and China Unicom. SIM cards can be purchased at the airport or at most corner stores, and credit is quite affordable. We bought it in the airport and all data just finished in 2 days with no reason, but our friends bought a sim card from China Telecom office with only internet available and they didn’t have any problem. So better to check it out.
7.Download Weixin (or WeChat)
China’s premier messaging app is Weixin (WeChat in English) and everybody you meet – expats and locals alike – will have it. Download the free app and set it up, as it’s a great way to keep in touch with locals who may not have social media.
8. Cash is preferred. Don’t expect to used your credit card too much
Although more and more businesses (particularly large hotel chains and upscale restaurants) now accept Visa and Mastercard, but don’t count on it. Most of the hotel we stayed, didn’t accept credit cards. However, for the most part, when you are traveling in China you’ll need to pay with cash!
9.Exchange currency at ATMs
While many Chinese banks do not accept foreign cards, larger chains such as HSBC can be used to withdraw local currency from foreign bank accounts. We withdraw money from many Chinese banks and we didn’t always succeed to take the money from ATM. So, you have to be persistent. International ATMs are available in all major cities but may be harder to find in less tourist friendly areas.
The Chinese do not tip, and you aren’t expected to either. Offer the money with both hands. This gesture is more appreciated here.
11.The Chinese food you’re used to eat in Europe, is not real Chinese food.
Authentic Chinese food is rarely like the western versions found in Chinese restaurants throughout the Europe. Chinese food include 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 with the flavor of the foods, actually we all did. So, we did visit MC Donald’s and KFC restaurants few times.
12.Use your bargaining skills
Except the big chain stores, it’s possible to practice your bargaining skills. Never accept the marked price or first price offered. With easy negotiation, it’s possible to get souvenirs and such for a fraction of the quoted price.
One of the things NOT to do in China is drink the water. For the most part, tap water in China is not drinkable. Bottled water can be purchased at most restaurants and stores.
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. But to be save and not to have headaches, just take all the medicine that you need from home.
15.Coping with air pollution
Larger cities in China have serious problems with air pollution, particularly in Beijing. Many locals masks on days with hazardous air pollution. 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 a good weather in our trip.
16.Your average toilets are going to look like this picture
17.Bring toilet paper
One of the unusual things to know before going to China is that most Chinese toilets do not provide toilet paper. Hotels and nicer restaurants will have it available, but it’s always a good idea to carry a roll of toilet paper or a box of tissues!
18.Bring hand soap or hand sanitizer
Like toilet paper, hand soap is not standard in many Chinese bathrooms. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you just to be sure.
19.Lines are not a thing for Chinese
People do not wait nicely in lines. They will pass you in any occasion no matter what.
20.Sometimes, flight between big cities will be cheaper than taking 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.
21.Catching buses, metro and trains
China is serviced by a fantastic network of buses and trains, including the high-speed Trains that can take you across the country in a matter of hours. The entire infrastructure works perfect. Much better that in most of European countries. We were surprised not to find chaos in Beijing’s metro. It worked smoothly.
22.Always carry your passport with you while in China
You’ll need your passport when making a booking and you can only book one ticket per passport.
23.Driving in China
Traffic in China is often chaotic. So self-driving is really only recommended for the particularly brave!
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 and to always carry an off line map.
The Chinese do not use handkerchiefs and tissues to clear their noses, and instead spit. While this can be a bit confronting when you first visit China, they’re similarly affronted when they see us blowing our noses and keeping it.
26.Farting or burping in public is common in China
All these things may seem strange and impolite to you, but 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 assist to these things especially during our lunch or dinner. But it is… like it is.
27.Keep in mind that Chinese people don’t speak English
It will be a big step back for you. We handled the communication with sign language and google translate which is such a handy tool when you are in deep sheet.
28.Pay attention when crossing the street.
You will find hundreds of bike, cars all passing in the same time. So don’t expect them to stop for you to give you way. They will bypass you every time.
29.Eating street food
Chinese street food is delicious and it is everywhere! When choosing which vendor to purchase from, check to see where the locals are dining. If you see a queue, it’s likely to be a safer bet even if it doesn’t look so.
China is a crowded place, and the locals have become accustomed to a much smaller personal space than we are accustomed to in the west. They can even hug you and tell you that they love you, just because your different.
The Chinese love to take photographs, and 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. I personally felt like a superstar in China.
32.They aren’t into sun
They are protecting themselves from the sun, so you will see lots of umbrellas around. Which is probably much healthier and safety.
33.Get off the beaten track
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.
I hope our tips will help you had a perfect time in China.