Top Travel Tips for China
Below you will find our top travel tips for your China tour born of our extensive time spent living and travelling in this fascinating country. Please do let us know if you have any more to add!
Learn a Few Words of the Language
Always good advice for any travels. Chinese is quite a hard language so we don’t necessarily suggest trying to become conversational (but hats off if you give it a go!) Instead, it will help break the ice with local people if you can say simple words such as “hello”, and “thank you” and having an idea of numbers will help with bargaining.
Don’t Try to See Too Much
China is vast and most people don’t have more than a few weeks to ‘see it.’ This is a bit like trying to see Western Europe or America in 2 weeks – you aren’t going to see it all. Instead, focus on perhaps half a dozen destinations and see them well. The main tourist destinations are discussed here. You can always come back on a second trip for more!
Keep the Climate in Mind
China has quite steep variations in climate both across the country and in individual places. Beijing can be +40C in summer and -20C in winter. The optimal time to go is discussed here along with more climate information.
Travel With the People
By this we largely mean utilising the impressive train network rather than flying everywhere. A trip to China is not complete without a train ride and preferably on an overnight train for the genuine experience. It is also a good opportunity to meet people and get caught up in the adventure of travel in China that is as much shared by the locals on long journeys as for tourists.
Be Adventurous in What You Eat
Don’t play it safe on the food front. A Chinese menu will often have scores if not hundreds of dishes so always try and pick one or two previously untried options to complement the ones you have heard of. It is 100% guaranteed that you have not eaten some truly amazing dishes yet and you will never find them unless you try!
Eat Where the Locals Do
The Chinese have a real passion for food and eat out a lot more than we do in the West. This makes for real competition on the dining scene with a vast army of customers with a well educated palate. Consequently, if a restaurant s busy with locals (preferably with a queue) then you know the food is going to be good.
Be Aware of “Face”
The worst thing you can do to a Chinese person is make them “lose face” which loosely means to embarrass them in front of you or others. Once this happens you won’t get anything done. They key is to be diplomatic and patient and to only get angry when all other methods have failed.
Bargain and Then Some
When shopping in markets or from tourists souvenir stalls you will be viewed as a walking wallet and will need to bargain vigorously for anything you are buying. Stat with a third of the asking price and go from there. Don’t be afraid to walk away as it is almost certain that a stall nearby has the same goods and the stall owner will be well aware of that.
Avoid National Holidays
China has 1.3 billion people so the national holiday chaos at popular sights makes the traffic, queues and chaos of our bank holidays look all rather tame. The big one to avoid is the National Day celebration which lasts for 1 week from the 1st October.
Avoid Being Scammed
Obvious really but how to spot you are going to be scammed? Avoid anyone wanting to practice English with you, take you to an art gallery, opt to be your guide for free or take you to a tea ceremony. Pay for any goods in markets in cash rather than put on a card and only use taxis prepared to use their meters (that can be hard at stations and airports). Follow this advice and you will have avoided almost all issues that happen to travellers.
Don’t Get Too Political
The Chinese enjoy talking about politics amongst themselves despite heavy levels of censorship. Be careful about joining in though as they can also be very protective and you won’t know where the red lines are. Avoid any discussion about Tibet, Taiwan and increasingly Japan as you are likely to cause offence – or worse.
Rice Comes After the Meal
In China rice is eaten at the end of a meal as filler rather than with the dishes as we do in the west. The theory is why eat rice when there is other much more delicious and flavoursome food to eat? If you do want to eat rice with your meal you may need to be persistent in asking for it and expect baffled looks from waiters.
It Isn’t an Argument
Chinese people are quite gregarious and noisy so what might look like a shouting match is just normal conversation. We have always expected it must be like that so that the all important tones in the language are understood – but that is just a theory. In any case, it probably isn’t a row.
Try the Street Food…
There is some excellent street food available from delicious lamb kebabs to local versions buns and pancakes. Do try them but make sure they are cooked in front of you and opt for stalls with a queue of locals.
…but Stick to Bottled Water
Don’t drink tap water, stick to bottled water which is freely available and cheap. it is not worth ruining your holiday to do otherwise.
Bring the Kids
China is very child friendly as the Chinese adore children and seem fascinated by foreign children, particularly those with blond hair – you will be the centre of attention! This is a country where you can let you children run riot in a restaurant and no one will bat an eyelid.
Visa in Advance
Almost everyone (including you!) needs a Chinese visa that has to be obtained in advance of your travel there. Obtain it in plenty of time before your trip to avoid express fees (you can apply for it up to 3 months in advance).
China is a big, busy country and trains, planes and hotels fill up and the best guides get booked well in advance, particularly at peak times. It pays to book as far in advance as possible. Also, bear in mind that the best deals on international flights are usually the furthest time from the date of travel – last minute deals are rare these days.