Please don’t get me wrong when I call them survival tips, China is definitely one of the safest countries to visit. Despite the huge population, the crime rate is very low. Even for girls, you can easily get out at 1am without any concerns about your safety. However, when it comes to travelling, the culture and the whole society system is so different from the western world. The tips here are to make people travelling in China uncomplicated.
First Things First: Get A SIM Card For Your Phone
You will soon realize how difficult it is travelling without internet here:
- You need a phone number to book any tickets online;
- You need a phone number to reserve a taxi;
- You need a phone number to reserve a table online;
- You need internet to use Map on your phone;
- You need internet to use Wechat, to ask for direction, etc..
On your arrival to any international airports, get a SIM card if you can. These SIM cards are specifically for foreigners, which might be more expensive but at least easier to get. When you get out of the airport, all the telecom operaters require a Chinese ID card to i a ssue you a SIM card, unfortunately passports(especially foreign passports) just don’t work. A SIM card not only prevents you from off-grid, but also ease your way for lots of ticketing, dining, calling taxi, etc..
Wechat: Cash is not the King anymore
Wanna have a glimpse at how the future payment is? Try Wechat Pay or Alipay. Wechat is essentially a chatting tool. On top of that, it provides a very convenient payment between phone users by simply scanning the code. What makes it useful is that all the merchants or individuals can use it for transactions. You can use it for tickets, groceries, open markets, or even donating money to beggers. On our 20 days stay in China, the scenarios that I need to pay in cash counts to less than 200 Yuan, which means, with Wechat, you can bring less than 200 Yuan banknotes in your pocket, how convenient it is.
As a chatting tool in the gene, WeChat provides you to connect with people. Messages within WeChat can be translated directly, which makes it a very useful tool to communicate with locals who doesn’t speak English.
Apart from these, Wechat also has an open platform for all the other company’s apps, including the Chinese version of Uber, tripadvisor, etc. You can easily call a taxi with Wechat, reserve a table in a restaurant, or simply use it to track your online orders.
In a word, Wechat = Whatsapp + Facebook + Paypal + Uber + Tripadvisor + ANYTHING
Eat with locals, eat like a local
China has great variety of food. The well known Eight Great Cuisine includes different types of food from the whole country. Either you are craving for dim sum, or spicy chicken, there shall always be lots of restaurants in the corner waiting to be explored.
Think twice if you decide to go for Italian or French food, these are considered as a western experience here, so you might either pay a huge bill for a good one, or a cheap but low quality one (just like the ‘modified’ Chinese food in Europe). It’s worth noticing that KFC and McDonald’s are popular in China, not only because they are the easiest Western food experience here, but also they have adapted themselves to China’s market. You may even find some Chinese style food here, including porridge, donut sticks, etc.
Visit the Supermarket
Visiting the local supermarkets (either Carefour or local chain) is always fun. The supermarket is a place showing the real facet of local life, and you will be amazed how convenient life is in China. Most of supermarkets are within a shopping mall, meaning you can first go (window) shopping, and go get the groceries without leaving the mall.
Always buy fresh fruit at the supermarket (instead of the fruit shops or stalls) as the they usually offer fresh produce at lower price. Water, soft drinks and any other beverage should be also purchased here, as you can find the lowest prices, and the biggest variety. Try the Jasmine Ice tea – it is my favourite drink!
Apart from the daily consumptions, you can also find local delicacies in the supermarkets. In every town/region/province this section will be filled with different products. For instance in Lijiang, you will be able to find here rose cakes, rose jam, and mushroom, in Chengdu you can find local ham and hot pot soup base while in Xiamen you will find pineapple cake and fish jerks. Take a look at these sections and you will be amazed how much more cheaper it can be compared to the tourist shops lined up in the busy streets outside.
Don’t buy chocolate – China is not a chocolate consuming country, therefore the variety and the offer is poor and the taste is underwhelming. If you crave sweet flavours try some local delicacies – such as custard buns or peanut crisps. Much better experience than nibbling on some bad tasting imported chocolate.
Do try the various flavours of Chips! In the supermarkets you will be able to find some of the tastiest chips in the world (not exaggerating)! Personal favourite is Lay’s Cucumber flavour, but some other experimental flavours such as Spicy Sichuan HotPot and or Salted Egg are also great. For fruit lovers, durian flavour is a must try.
Local map service
There’s no google service in China, which means your favoriate Google Maps is not working here. And even if you download the offline version, it might happen a lot that the map is outdated already. For iOS users, they are connected with a local map provider (Gaode, from Alibaba group), so the Apple Maps works fine in China. For Android user, use either Gaode or Baidu, which provide the best maps here. Another option is to use Tencent Map, within WeChat, so you don’t have to install extra maps App.
Nowadays English is already a compulsory language in the school, though speaking might be a bit hard for students. However, during the travelling, you might deal with people don’t speak English most of the time. So using a translator app is really helpful. Surprising Google Translator works here. But the best app shall be the Tencent Translator, which works very well for all the language and real-time service here. Try both apps and choose the one you like.
Don’t drive, walk with caution
Driving is very difficult here. It’s not only because rules are slightly different, but also that lots of drivers don’t follow the rules, and some of them even think it’s very cool to drive faster than the others. What makes it worse is that there are also pedestrians crossing the road suddenly, or motobikers riding in the way. Apart from this, drivers also don’t want to let pedestrians the way to walk through the zebra line. So as a pedestrian you shall also make sure the car stops for you before you really cross the road.
*By the time this article is released, the government is pushing strict regulations on the misbehavior. However, changing my stereotype might take as same time as it take for people to change their misbehaving mindset.
Connecting to your favourite apps – VPN
Connection to those apps that you like to use for social interaction as a foreigner (such as Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp or Google service) might be difficult from China. If you would like to stay connected you will need to seek some help from a service called VPN. VPN simply masks your connection location through a different server, such as one located in Hong Kong for example, and lets you access content that might be blocked by the Great firewall of China.
During our travel, we used Hexatech (free), which is slow, but stable. If you are more of a sophisticated kind, try Express VPN which is a much faster connection to the internet, at a cost of monthly fee of 12 USD.
Always bring your IDs
Either you are using passport or some other identifiers, bring it with you. It’s not that the policemen will come to check your ids, but when you want to get on a long-distance bus, train, or book a tour package, a valid ID is compulsory to get the tickets or reservation.
There’s always someone gonna help you
Chinese people are just so friendly. It’s deep in our culture that friends from far away are always precious guests (as long as you behave). If you get in any trouble, just speak out. People might be not confident to speak English, but most people are willing to help as long as you ask them.
If you have any questions or suggestions about travelling in China, feel free to drop me an email through firstname.lastname@example.org