China is a tantalizing countries with many grandiose attractions. However, every time I visit this country I always feel somehow disconnected. It was the first time in my travels that I felt that way. The first time I visited, I crossed the border from Kazakhstan to the autonomous region of Xinjiang and I had the feeling to enter another planet as soon as I entered.
However if misunderstanding can sometimes strike, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that most people were pretty helpful and had a desire to help me.
I wrote this article to share with you some China Travel Tips to help you have a blast during your journey throughout China.
#1 Download a VPN BEFORE!
My first China travel tips concerns about internet, and the so-called Great Firewall of China.
If you like to be connected on the internet everywhere that you go and you don’t want to miss any of your favorite social medias, I’d strongly recommend to download a VPN BEFORE entering the country, as it might be impossible once you’re in.
A thought about “free VPN” : a VPN can monitor everything you’re doing online, therefore if you download something free, I believe there’s a high chance that you are the product. It means they might sell your personal information to the plethora of interested companies.
You’ll also often see people recommending Nord VPN on the web, but it might be because Nord VPN offers a pretty interesting commission to people recommending their products. So make sure you check out the quality of the VPN before paying for one!
#2 Be ready to queue every time you want to buy a train ticket
If you’re like us and you don’t like to get tickets through a travel agency, you’ll need to brave the long queue at most train stations.
Queuing is not quite part of the culture, so don’t be upset if someone is blatantly passing in front of you when it’s your turn.
Getting a ticket can be quite of a challenge, since you’ll mostly encounter ticket officers not able to speak in English. But more on that later!
So don’t be in a rush and leave plenty of time to get your ticket. Always carry your passport with you, otherwise you won’t be able to get a ticket.
#3 You’re not gonna like the constant smell of smoke
Chinese people like to smoke. It is especially true once you’re getting to more remote location.
Even if in Europe most countries have slowly started to ban smoking inside, there’s still a long way to go in China.
Don’t be upset if you see a fellow smoking right in front of a no-smoking sign. Despite their explicitness, these signs don’t seem to have any effect on some smokers.
My best advice would just to give them the universal death stare, while occasionally pointing at the no-smoking sign to make sure they get the message. It was particularly annoying when we were traveling in China with our 2 year-old-kid during our journey from Hong Kong to France overland. I remember taking night trains, where some elderly would just light up a smoke in front of the room. Not the best when you’re concern about the second-hand smoke!
#4 Ready to workout? You’ll have to squat every time you’re going to a local toilet!
This might not be a problem depending on your habits, but for those you are used to the comfy toilet seats, you’re in for a ride!
Depending on your style of travel, you might accross these squat toilets quite frequently. That won’t be the case if you have a habit of staying at higher end hotels and eat in fancier restaurants, however if you have to go to the toilet in local restaurants, or maybe the round-the-corner bus station, you should be ready to squat to do your dirty business!
#5 Speaking of toilets, don’t forget to bring your own tissue!
My fifth China travel tips might seem evident if you’ve been traveling in Asia long enough. But I prefer to say it one more time, because being stuck in a toilet without tissue is definitely no pleasing sensation.
Don’t forget to always carry a pack of tissue with you, although to be honest you’ll occasionally find elderly people selling various toilet-related stuff at the entrance.
Well just get ready for different kind of bathrooms as the one you’re used to know, because Chinese toilets are one of a kind! I found out that a common toilet habit is to squat, while using your left hand to smoke a cigarette, and the right hand to check your phone. You wonder how I know that? Well, the first toilets I ever entered in China had absolutely no door and was just a ridge where people were squatting over!
Let’s say that the more remote you’re traveling, and the worse the toilets will be. You should be fine around Beijing, Shanghai, or other popular cities for tourists!
#6 Finding a hotel can be difficult
Beware! Most hotels can’t accept foreigners, especially the cheaper ones. A hotel need a specific permit in order to receive foreigners. If you scroll on the popular website booking.com to find your next accommodation, you have to know that most of the cheapest options won’t be able to host you. So even if you can book, make sure that they have the permission to receive foreigners.
Don’t even think about dropping by a city without knowing where to sleep. You might lose a lot of time if you plan to go around the terminal and find a cheap option.
Of course, you won’t have this problem with high-end hotels since all of them have the appropriate certification.
#7 They probably have a different noise tolerance as you do
Throughout my travels around the world, I’ve learnt that noise can be quite relative from one culture to another. We became rather tolerant, and we didn’t even budge when our neighbors blasted music all night long while we stayed in Cali in Colombia.
However I must warn you that even if you won’t encounter this problem of neighbors partying all night long in China, you might be annoyed by the noise public places such as public transportation.
They don’t seem to have any problem listening to music full volume while you’re right next to them trying to sleep, as well as talking loudly on the phone in a rather small place.
I kind of feel that Chinese are used to the noise and that they don’t even care anymore. I’ve seen workers sleeping right next to construction site.
If you’re bother by the noise and you plan on being in public areas, you might want to get a pair of earplugs or some solid noise-cancelling earphones.
#8 Translating apps and dictionaries will be your best friends
Although many Chinese can speak great English in main cities, I found out that the overall level is probably the lowest in all the countries I’ve been to. Once again, it is especially true when you choose to wander in off-the-beaten tracks location.
Even though hand-gesture might do the job, I’d strongly recommend to always have a translating app with you. It might not be perfect in terms of translation, but at least you’ll manage to get your point across.
You might also want to get a sim card in order to be able to translate on the spot, or to call your Chinese-speaking friend so that he helps you to get out this tricky situation.
With a translator, getting a train ticket, directions to the main attraction or order some specific foods will not seem like a daunting task anymore!
#9 You will be the attraction!
Some areas of China are not used to receive foreign tourists. You need to accept that sometimes you might even become the attraction. No, you won’t be able to go incognito around town.
Although it is not specific to China, but sometimes locals did ask me to take a picture with me at a popular tourist attraction. I really don’t mind, when they ask before at least.
I let you imagine how we sometimes felt, traveling with a 2-year-old kid from a French guy and a Hong Kong mom. Surely we did attract a few look!
- Overland travel from Hong Kong to France
- Camping on the Great Wall of China
- Hiking the Great Wall of China
- How to get from Beijing to Ulan Bator
- Our experience going from Beijing to Mongolia
- Extreme budget travel in Hong Kong
After 3 long trips around China and several months spent in the country, I have plenty of knowledge to share about traveling in China. Feel free to ask more China travel tips, or just share your experience with us!