I’ve just returned from an amazing holiday in China! It was both breathtaking and challenging at times, so I wanted to share with you my 10 tips for travelling in China to make your future trip a little easier. Stay tuned for more China posts on what to see and do, and most importantly – where to eat!
1. Organise your Visa before you leave
Most countries require a visa to visit China (including Australia, America, the UK and Canada). Mine cost approximately AU$100 and I got it within 3 working days from this company. Make sure you are organised and bring ALL your paperwork on the day of you appointment, including your visa form, flights, your tour itinerary, a copy of your passport etc etc.
2. Immunisations and other health concerns
Speak to your doctor at least a month before your trip to assess whether you need any immunisations (such as hepatitis A and typhoid). All my vaccines were up to date after getting them for my Vietnam trip 2 years ago. It’s also worthwhile to get a script for some antibiotics for stomach trouble, and bring along other medications such as Gastro Stop and Nurofen just to be on the safe side. English isn’t widely spoken and do you really want to mime your symptoms in a crowded pharmacy?
Chinese tap water is not safe to drink, so don’t risk it. Cheap bottled water is available everywhere and most hotels give you a complimentary bottle or 2.
3. Hand sanitiser and tissues
The vast majority of toilets in China are squats, and they are generally not particularly clean. And there is rarely toilet paper. So make sure you have hand sanitiser and tissues on you at all times! A good tip I found out is that if you’re completely adverse to using a squat, most public toilets have a disabled toilet which is generally Western.
4. Prepare for culture shock, and keep an open mind
I have travelled through developing countries before but I was initially really taken aback by China’s lack of… manners. They spit everywhere, children relieve themselves on the street, queueing isn’t a thing (I’ve never been shoved so many times in my life) and the standard of toilet facilities is less than desirable. However, China is an AMAZING country with breathtaking scenery, a fascinating history and culture and delicious food. But for the average Westerner, the shoving, the spitting, the queue jumping and the staring might be somewhat confronting at first. Embrace/ignore/deal with it and have a great time.
5. Scams in Shanghai
If you get approached by university-aged locals in Shanghai who ask you to take their photo, keep walking. The scam goes something like this – they ask you to take their photo, they compliment you, then they ask if you want to come with them to a tea ceremony/art exhibition/bar and then they take you to a place with hugely inflated prices and leave you with the bill. Smile politely and keep walking.
China overall is a very safe country to travel in, with the major concerns being these scams and pick pocketing. So be mindful of your possessions and all times, and avoid the scams!
6. Embrace Starbucks
I’m a self-proclaimed coffee snob, but finding decent coffee in China is tough (you will be surrounded by amazing tea though!) I never, ever drink Starbucks at home, but I found myself there every morning to get my caffeine fix. Fortunately, Starbucks are everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly expensive (AU$5 for a small coffee!)
So you’ve probably heard that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and most Google services (including Gmail) are now blocked by the Chinese government. But fear not, if you set up a VPN (a Virtual Private Network) on your phone before you leave, you will be able to access these services whilst you’re away. I did a lot of research before I left and went with VyprVPN.
8. Try street food – but be careful
I am forever warned to avoid street food in developing countries for fear of getting extremely sick. But street food tastes amazing, it’s a great way to mingle with the locals, and you get to try dishes you’d never ever sample again at home. A few good rules to stick to include only going to vendors with a long queue (meaning it’s both popular and the high turnover will ensure the food is fresh) and sticking to cooked or preferably deep fried foods (which kills any nasties). Shanghai is full of street vendors selling fresh fruit on sticks which is very tempting in the heat and humidity, but I was warned strongly against trying them.
9. Navigating the traffic
Traffic lights are more of a suggestion, as opposed to law, in China. Cars have the right of way, not pedestrians so be careful when crossing the street. Multiple cars/bikes/scooters will scream past you so always have your wits about you.
10. Always take a hotel card
Most hotels provide business cards in their lobby with the name and address of the hotel written in English and in Chinese and I highly recommend you grab a few. Since most taxi drivers don’t speak English, it’s nearly impossible to get back to your hotel without one!
Have you been to China? Do you have any more tips to add?