Travelling in China – Dos and Don’ts
China is a vast country with every kind of landscape imaginable, a rich history, fascinating culture, and a wide variety of delicious foods to try. Since it only opened to foreigners relatively recently, it is not so geared towards tourism as some other Asian countries. However, if you are willing to put in some effort, travelling there is an immensely rewarding experience. If you are planning on holidaying in China you need to take several things into consideration first. This list of dos and don’ts should help you have a successful and enjoyable trip.
DO plan properly
As well as organising your plane tickets, visa and vaccinations, book accommodation and any train tickets well in advance. With such a huge population, things do sell out, so to avoid disappointment, do this as early as possible. Train tickets go on sale 60 days in advance online, and two days later at stations. When buying tickets only a day or two before your trip, have a few backup options ready in case your first choice is full. At the station you’ll need your passport to book, so don’t get caught out and be sure to take it with you. Booking your hotel early is also advisable. Some hotels only accept Chinese citizens as guests so if you turn up hoping to book a room on the spot, you could be turned away.
DON’T travel during national holidays
Avoid travelling during either of China’s two major national holidays, Spring Festival (usually early February) and National Week (the first week of October). Almost all Chinese have holidays at this time, so transportation and accommodation are more expensive than usual and attractions such as national parks and monuments become horrendously crowded making for a very unpleasant time.
DO have an itinerary
With so much to see and do, you will need to plan carefully to fit in everything you want to do. Try to choose attractions that are relatively close to one another to minimise time wasted by travelling.
Don’t – Overdo the sightseeing
Going from place to place seeing things is great for a while, but taking long train journeys or flights every few days is exhausting and you’ll quickly get travellers fatigue. So be selective, pick out the things you absolutely can’t miss, and leave the rest for next time.
DO make an effort with the language
Unlike a lot of Asia, English is still rarely spoken outside of Beijing and Shanghai, so learning a few basics can really pay off. People are much more helpful if you at least try to speak a little Chinese, so don’t worry about making mistakes. Although learning spoken Mandarin isn’t necessarily as difficult as you might think, learning to read characters is more challenging and if you’re only visiting for a short time it’s probably not worth it. However, if you’re vegetarian, have food allergies or are a fussy eater, it will definitely pay to learn a few menu items. Most restaurants do have picture menus, but these can sometimes be very deceiving!
DON’T be afraid to try new things
You’re probably not going to find sweet and sour chicken or spring rolls on any menus in China, but there are a wealth of other tasty choices and experimenting is part of the fun. Food is cheap so order a few dishes at random and see what comes out. You will find the majority to be surprisingly delicious.
DO be prepared to bargain
When shopping for souvenirs, you are likely to be overcharged, so be ready to bargain hard. As a rule, aim for about half of the original price, and be prepared to walk away if you think you’re being ripped off. Unofficial taxis are common in tourist spots and will try to charge far more than the going rate. If you can, find a metered taxi instead, these are much cheaper and the drivers are generally honest.
DON’T haggle for the sake of it
Not everyone will be out to cheat you, and if someone offers a price which you think is fair, go with it. A small amount of money will likely be worth far more to the vendor than it is to you, so don’t haggle over a few pennies.
DO be patient
Travelling in China is fraught with little frustrations. Long queues, delayed flights and unhelpful staff to name just a few. Try to remain calm and let it all wash over you. Becoming angry will get you nowhere, and in a way these little niggles are part of the national charm.
DON’T get left high and dry
Download everything you will need onto your mobile phone before leaving, because you might not be able to do so once you arrive. A Chinese dictionary and offline maps are a must, and you’ll need a VPN if you want to use social media. Your foreign SIM card will not work in China and you’ll have to rely on Wi-Fi to keep in contact with friends and family, so warn them that you might not be able to get in touch right away to avoid unnecessary worry.
DO have a great time
If you can avoid these common pitfalls, you’ll be well on the way to having a fantastic, once in a lifetime holiday, so plan carefully, prepare properly and enjoy!
About the Author
Natalie Saunders is a former EFL educator based in China. She currently works as a writer and translator with a special focus on Traditional Chinese Medicine and health.