13 things to know before you go to China
China is a huge and fascinating country, and like any country or culture there are certain things to consider in terms of what you should and shouldn’t do when you visit.
Feeling intimidated by the idea of visiting the world’s most populous country? That’s when it’s a good time to ask someone with a bit of experience. Andrea Sadiwnyk is a Contiki Sales Manager, Visa Specialist and former China resident. Here are her do’s, don’ts and travel tips to keep in mind when visiting the Middle Kingdom:
Do: Try the street food
China’s food is amazing in general, but some of the best food you’ll have is from street stands. A must try is Chuan’r, which is kebabs (meat, vegetables, sea food, and tofu options available) cooked up on small grills street side. Not only are they super tasty but they’re usually only 1 RMB per stick. Bejing’s famous Snack Street has huge variety of Chuan’r and other great street food options.
Don’t: Worry that you’re eating mystery meat
The vast majority of food that you get in restaurants is either beef, pork, chicken or fish. There are places around the country where dog, or mouse is eaten, but these tend to be considered regional delicacies and are only available in certain places and always clearly labelled. But, if you’re still not comfortable, China also has a wide variety of very good vegetarian friendly dishes for you to explore.
Don’t: Pay the first price the vendor gives you
Unless you are in a very high end store, you are expected to haggle. When you ask how much something costs, typically the vendor has tripled the price of the item already.
Do: Use your phone to help you shop
Sometimes the vendor will have a calculator to show you the price of an item if they don’t speak much English. If they do, you can clear off their price, enter yours, then hand it back to the vendor. The process repeats until you both agree on a price. If they don’t have a calculator, use your cell phone for the same purpose.
Don’t: forget to learn a couple of phrases before you go
Though a translator app will be the most helpful, a few useful phrases to know before you arrive are:
- Ni Hao: Hello
- Zaijian: Good bye
- Xiexie: Thank you
- Yao/Bu Yao: I want/I don’t want
- Duo shao chen: How much is this?
Don’t: Be afraid to phone a friend
If you ever run in to a situation where you need to be understood but you cannot communicate, a good tip is to call your hotel and speak to the front desk—as usually the individual working there will speak both English and Chinese fluently. Explain what you need to them and then pass your mobile to the other individual so the message can be translated to them.
Do: Go out and explore what China has to offer
China has a little bit of everything on offer, from glittering mega clubs to basement dive bars frequented by the expat community. Dress code is rarely, if ever, enforced and almost no one will ask you for ID. Beer will always be your cheapest drink option, but you can get just about any alcohol you prefer as well.
Don’t: Forget the business card for your hotel
Taxi drivers usually do not speak English, and they normally cannot read the name of the hotel written out in English letters. The best thing to do is carry the business card of the hotel you are staying at with you when you go out (found at the front desk). Business cards will have the hotel’s address written in characters on it so the driver will know where to take you even if you cannot explain it.
Do: Take the train
China is a really big country, and airfare can be expensive, so taking the train for part of your trip is a great option. An overnight train is not only a good way to see the country from ground level, but also a real locals experience – and you won’t waste your daytime travelling as well.
Don’t: Leave without picking up snacks
There is food available for sale on most trains, but the selection isn’t great. It’s much more fun to pick up a variety of snacks and drinks before getting on the train. There is free hot water available on each train car, so instant ramen is a popular meal option. Sharing your snacks is also a great way to make friends with other people in your car.
Don’t go with anyone to a “tea ceremony” that is not your trip manager—they may seem friendly, but you will end up paying exorbitant amounts for food, drinks, and entrance fees and their own “tour guide” fee on top of that. Do be careful of pick pockets, it can be a problem in major cities.
Do chat with locals who come up to you to practice their English—they genuinely want to get to know you and your culture. Unless they ask you to a tea ceremony, see point above. Don’t be surprised when you get stared at or someone takes your picture—many Chinese people from more rural areas have actually never met a LaoWai (the common term for foreign nationals) until then.
Do carry cash because everything is paid for in cash. There are ATMs everywhere but very few places will take a credit card. Don’t worry about picking up RMB before leaving home, it will be faster to just find an ATM at the airport upon arrival.