Asia, Travel

10 Tips for Travelling in China

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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!

china-visa

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.

shanghai-streets

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!)

7. VPN

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.

street-food

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!

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Have you been to China? Do you have any more tips to add?

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18 Comments

  • Reply Jenn of Who Needs Maps November 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Lovely post! We have recently traveled China and we found that the times of travel was important to note- like never travel during a holiday because it is SO crowded and you can barely move on trains, famous sites, everything! Also, travel within China is easiest if you take the train. Flights get pricey, so its best to get the overnight train (with the beds, of course!)

    We have even wrote a bit about the transportation as well http://www.whoneedsmaps.com/overnight-transport-in-china/ How did you travel around in Asia?

    • Reply Swah November 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      Loving your China articles Jenn! I had a few interesting train trips in China too, I will definitely mention them at some stage!! :)

  • Reply Liz @ I Spy Plum Pie November 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Love it. My folks lived in Shanghai for 3 years when I was at uni so I made quite a few trips over in that time, and got to see quite a few parts of the country which was amazing. Your tips are pretty spot on – it’s definitely the sort of place where you need to just go with the flow and remember it’s a country at a very different point of development than Australia. I went on a uni study trip as well and we adopted the phrase ‘nothing’s rude in China’ as that’s really how it feels most of the time!
    You also need to be prepared to be stared at a lot, and not subtly! Being a red-head with a nose piercing and ahh, rather top heavy, made me quite the spectacle apparently! To the point that people would just reach out and touch my piercing, or stop in front of me on the street to take photos. Somewhat uncomfortable but not much you can do about it!

    • Reply Swah November 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      I have never been stared at/photographed so much than in China!! It was kind of weird at first, then I just ignored it. And a great point you mention that it’s a country at a very different point of development than Australia – something to always keep in mind when you travel there!

    • Reply Swah November 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks Bec!

      • Reply Bec November 12, 2014 at 4:26 pm

        Loving your pages

  • Reply Helen | Grab Your Fork November 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Awesome tip on setting up VPN. I last visited China when I was about 12 so I expect it’s changed hugely since then. The toilet situation doesn’t look it’s evolved much though. lol. My first community toilet experience was quite unforgettable. Ha!

    • Reply Swah November 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Ah the community toilet, it’s quiet an experience isn’t it? ;)

      I am sure China has changed immensely in some ways and other ways…. maybe not!

  • Reply Martina Donkers November 10, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Hey Sarah!

    Those are some really great tips. :-) I never thought of checking for a disabled toilet – very clever! My most shocking bathroom moment in Beijing was a public convenience that didn’t even have stalls, just 4 squat pans next to each other. When I walked in, there was a girl in red-soled Lou Boutin stilettos in there – when you’ve got to go, it doesn’t matter who you are!! Haha.

    The hotel card tip is great too. I used it a lot in Thailand – such a handy way to find your way home!

    I think the point about being open-minded is fundamental though. China is soooo different from the western world, and it can be really confronting. But it’s a pretty fascinating place to visit!

    Martina :-)

    • Reply Swah November 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      I also had to brave a public toilet without walls/doors. I was pretty shocked at first! Haha. China is indeed such a fascinating place to visit, thanks for your insights Martina! :)

  • Reply milkteaxx November 11, 2014 at 12:50 am

    ooh i didnt know u could setup a private vpn to access everything, so doing that next time!

    • Reply Swah November 11, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      It was SO handy, highly recommended!

  • Reply Maureen | Orgasmic Chef November 11, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Great information, especially about the VPN.

    • Reply Swah November 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      It’s a lifesaver Maureen!! :)

  • Reply Leanne Cotte November 11, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for the great tips… :)

  • Reply Chalsie November 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I’m going to China in January and I cannot wait!! Initially I was going alone, but now a good friend has decided to join me, which makes me really glad reading through your tips. These are super helpful! Thank you for sharing them.

    I didn’t realise Gmail was blocked, which is frustrating because I actually own my own business and would like to stay in touch with my clients whilst away. So I’ll definitely be looking into getting VPN!

    Looking forward to more of your tips and tricks!!

    Chalsie x

    • Reply Swah November 26, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Have a fantastic time Chalsie! My second China post is up, on Shanghai, and stay tuned for more! xx loveswah.com/2014/11/travel-guide-shanghai-china/

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