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13 things to know before you go to China

China lanterns

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:

China temple

Food

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.

travel tips for china - Chinese street food

Shopping

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.

travel tips for china - street vendor

Language

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:

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.

travel tips for china - image of a street in china

Nightlife

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.

travel tips for china - China bar

Travel

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.

travel tips for china - China trains

Miscellaneous

Scams:

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.

Meeting Locals:

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.

Money:

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.

travel tips for china - green tea

Let us know your China travel tips in the comments!

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