China Travel Tips
China Travel Tips
Written for Startbackpacking.com by James Esbester
1) Learn to smoke!
Or learn to not be too bothered by other people smoking around you, because the Chinese smoke incessantly, and seem to have a preference for enclosed spaces (lifts, buses, etc.)
It’s common to be offered a cigarette when meeting people, and they often don’t understand that many people simply do not smoke.
Even though I’m not a smoker, I found it very useful to carry a packet around with me anyway. It’s a good way of making friends (especially in rural areas), and it gives you a place to dispose of the cigarettes it would have been rude not to accept.
2) Learn some of the language before you go. A good idea in most countries, in china this is almost a necessity. Most people do not speak English here, outside of the main centers (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong). At the very least, learn to say “How much?” (Duo shou qien) and the numbers – you’ll need these a lot!
Almost as useful, learn the Chinese method of finger counting – you will quite often see this instead of being told the cost of small items.
3) Always check the price of something before you buy, especially in restaurants. It’s not just a tourist thing; anyone who doesn’t check is likely to be overcharged.
4) If you genuinely think someone is overcharging, complain! They will quite often back down quickly if they realize you know the correct price.
5) Eat local! The best (and cheapest) food is often found in what look like quite dirty little places. The standards of hygiene in restaurants are actually remarkably high in China – in 11 months, I only became ill from the food once.
6) Try local specialties. Food from other provinces is rarely cooked well.
7) Ordering without an English menu is easy – simply point at someone else’s food, or go into the kitchen and choose your ingredients.
8) It’s worth investing in a pair of your own chopsticks to avoid the fiddly disposable ones given to you in most restaurants. Also, the widespread use of disposable chopsticks is responsible for much deforestation – up to 25 million trees a year are chopped down to make those 8 inch sticks, so casually discarded!
9) Chinese beer may be weak and tasteless, but it’s a better alternative than baijiu (‘white alcohol’), a truly disgusting rice-wine. Be careful when drinking this, your head will not thank you in the morning! Be especially cautious when drinking with Chinese friends – the ‘ganbei!’ (‘Down it!’) never seems to stop.
10) For some reason, many people seem to feel compelled to buy foreigners drinks, especially after they’ve had a bit themselves. It’s easily possible to have a night out and not end up paying for anything, even if you try!
11) Bring a student card with you (or buy one if you’re visiting Bangkok before China). Many sights have half price entry for students, even if they don’t mention it. It’s even worth trying other photo cards – they often accept this if it looks even vaguely like a student card. (a PADI scuba card even works!)
12) The e-long (www.elong.net) website is good for picking up discount flight tickets.
13) When buying tickets yourself, be prepared! Have someone write the characters for where you want to go, what class of travel you want, etc. In the major cities, there is usually someone that speaks English in the train stations, but don’t rely on it.
14) Hostel ticket services are often cheap ($1-2), well worth it if it saves you an hour (and a headache!) at the station
15) Hard sleepers are the way to go on overnight journeys. Soft sleepers aren’t any more comfortable, are only marginally cheaper than flying, and sometimes have music pumped into the carriage all night.
16) I found the main tourist spots to be overcrowded and underwhelming. In particular, anywhere with a name such as “The crane flies over the spotted camel”, or something equally strange is quite common and is usually applied to rock formations – avoid it! Other places nearby will be just as beautiful, and much, much more peaceful.
17) www.chinatrekking.com is a great website for info on small towns and natural places in the west of China.
18) If you’re into outdoors activities, bring your own equipment with you. Anything available in China is either very poor quality, or very expensive (more than I would pay in England!).
19) Scams are rife in major tourist destinations. The most common are the ‘tea ceremony’ and the ‘art students’. Do not trust anyone that mentions these!
If you do get taken in and realize it, you can try to use an aspect of the culture to back out of it – mention the word ‘Qing’ which means ‘to invite’ and also ‘to pay for’ – it is understood that whoever does the inviting also pays for everything and they invited you!
20) If someone approaches you at the Kunming bus station and speaks good English, checks your ticket and claims you are on ‘his’ bus – it’s a scam. No-one working there speaks much English. Don’t believe anything this guy says – and slap him for me.
21) Finally, don’t try to see too much! China is a huge country, it would take years to see all that it has to offer.
China Travel Tip: Remember that you are looking at 15+ hour journeys every time you move locations! To generalize, the east coast is good for cultural aspects of China and big cities, the west is cheaper and has some amazingly diverse landscapes.
Meet the author of China Travel Tips:
James comes from England and has been living and working in Chengdu, China for longer than he cares to admit. It has allowed him time to travel the area extensively and even trek in Nepal.