Taking a trip to China is thrilling as it is nerve-wrecking at times. A lot of anxiety comes from the confusion of how to prepare. It’s a common experience for anybody that has never been to China before (and even for some that have already gone!). The most common problems or questions that people have will be addressed in this Do’s and Don’ts guide to having a better trip to China.
1. Don’t Over-pack
Especially if your trip to China is short, there is no need to pack much more than clothes and some necessary personal effects. Shelves of Chinese markets are full of recognizable and trustworthy western brands, including Pantene, Colgate, Nike, Kellogg’s, and Nestle.
Instead of packing extra socks and large-sized tubes of toothpaste, save yourself some back-ache later by purchasing these items as needed while traveling in China. If possible, just take one backpack. The transportation hubs that you will be frequenting are extremely crowded. The fewer the baggage, the less the hassle of pushing through these huge crowds.
2. Do Prepare for the Two P’s
That’s staggering Population and appalling Pollution. Travelers and expats in China often let these two P’s get in their way of enjoying their vacation or work experience. At all costs, don’t let yourself be defeated by the mental pitfall of these two problems in China. China is a developing country and is nowhere near the living standard level as any western country!
There are many ways that one can get ready for these two societal problems of China. Firstly, be open-minded. Understand that these issues have developed out of circumstances that the average Chinese person has no control over, so avoid blaming anything on the commoners that you come across on your journey. Secondly, do some research and watch videos. Get an insight at to what it will feel like before plunging into this vastly different society.
3. Do Learn Chinese
The Chinese language has built a reputation for being one of the world’s most difficult for foreigners to learn. This is true in some aspects; however, most that accept the challenge will agree that spoken Chinese is actually very simple; the most difficult part of the language is actually reading. This is good information for those that want to learn a few key words while residing in China on short-term trips! China IQ provides opportunities for learners of the Mandarin Chinese through many of its articles.
4. Do Make Local Friends
Now that you have studied a few phrases and key words of Mandarin, use it as often as you can! Chinese people love it when you try to speak their language, even if poorly executed. Therefore, the greatest reward for your effort is being able to make local friends. Just a few weeks in China and you may get dozens of contacts through the exchange of business cards.
Not only is it possible to make business contacts very easily, these new friends may offer to take you to experience something local. This is because you know English (even if you aren’t native). They would be delighted to spend a day or half a day with you as a tour guide to get the chance to practice their English.
5. Do Be Aware of Scams
Although Chinese people tend to be unusually friendly to foreigners, do be consciously aware of scam artists. China has some of the best scam organizations in the world, and they target foreigners. Many of these fraudulent groups operate in high-tourist locations, such as at the Great Wall or the Bund in Shanghai. Being approached by a family is much safer than being approached by an individual.
These scams are often played out by a pretty, outgoing, and young girls with fluent English. They will approach a foreigner by him/herself and will offer to take the independent (and usually ignorant) traveler to see a “tea ceremony” or to some special place. Either while in the taxi or after arriving to the location, the girl’s Big Brother(s) will extort money at knife or gun-point. In addition, be aware of anybody asking for change as fake currency may be exchanged. Although these situations are not very common, it can happen, so watch out to prevent yourself from getting into danger.
6. Don’t Over-plan
China is slightly larger than the United States in land-size. That being said, imagine how much of the US (or Europe) you might be able to cover in a short trip and then make an appropriate plan. If your trip is one month or less, be careful not to be overly ambitious. Try to focus on one region or one linear tour.
Initially, you want to find how your interests match China’s transportation system. Although China’s public transit system is far more extensive than in the US, some locations, such as a famous mountain or lake, may have limited access. Sometimes these locations are serviced by only one train that leaves and returns once a day.
Another common concern is that foreigners in China often have setbacks. A hotel you booked may not accept foreign guests, the bus you’re riding to your next destination could break down, the stinky toufu you had last night might not settle with your stomach today, or a plethora of problems arise at a moment’s notice. Take your trip in China slowly this time, and plan for a return trip to see the other side of the country!
7. Do Download these Apps
China has more smartphone users than any nation in the world at over 500 million at the end of 2015. This massive user count has created the demand for high-quality apps to service the wide needs of the commoner. Some of these Chinese apps are actually very useful for travelers, too. Other apps are not made in China, but are still useful. Let’s look at some of the best apps for travelers in China:
- Gewara (very cheap movie tickets)
- Baidu Maps (most common, alternative to Google Maps)
- Pleco (most popular Chinese-English dictionary)
- WeChat (most popular chat service)
- 12306 (China’s national train ticketing service)
8. Don’t use a VPN
VPNs are almost a must for those that plan to stay in China long-term. How about those visiting for a short trip? Forget it! There are a number of reasons to not bother with a VPN. This service comes at a price, meaning if you purchase this, you will be more inclined to make use of it while in China. However, the reason you wanted to come to China was to have a vacation.
But you want to connect with family and friends, you say? Skype is still an option in China, as well as long-distance calls and other options out there on the Internet! Your VPN will be a distraction from your real purpose of being in China. All those pictures and stories can be shared when you return!
9. Don’t be Afraid to Try
Just try! Whether it is food, some new place, or new friends, China has a lot to offer. You might arrive to your next city and discover there is a famous site that you didn’t originally plan to visit, but your Chinese hostel mates invite you to go. You should definitely go with them!
China’s culinary history dates back to nearly 4000 years ago! You definitely need to try as many of China’s diverse regional dishes as possible. Although China is known for their unusual culinary tastes, Chinese people most love to eat pork, and with thousands of years of experience specializing in pork recipes, the Chinese are arguably the best in the world at cooking it.
10. Do use these Websites
Just as for the smartphone apps, these websites are a must for traveling in China. Some provide English while others may require some help from a Chinese friend; no worries though, Chinese people are very kind and would be willing to help you! The following websites are helpful:
- 12306 (China’s national train system ticketing website)
- Baidu (Chinese Google)
- Ctrip (most common hotel service website)
- Taobao (Online shopping site, extremely cheap!)
- QQ (common form of communication)
Takeaway – not Panda Express!
If you have read this information–and jotted down some of it–you are guaranteed to have a better experience. Many have learned the hard way about these do’s and don’t, but after having read this, you are surely to be glad knowing you learned the easy way. Nobody wants to regret going on a trip they saved up their money for because they weren’t properly prepared! Now go to China and have an adventure!