How to Plan Your First Trip to China: Part 3 – Tips and Things to Know

In the previous couple of weeks, I looked at how best to visit China for the first time, and a one week itinerary. In this, my last post of the 3-arc post about travelling to China, I share some tips I discovered during our visit.

Before You Go

  • Do as much of your online research before you get to China. Wi-fi availability is hit and miss, or very slow, even in hotels. 3G/4G is available, but again, it is not very fast and is pretty expensive.
  • Make sure you bring cash. Although cards are becoming more popular, cash is still king in China. It’s also best to exchange your money before you arrive.
  • Travel light – especially if you are going on overnight sleeper trains, as luggage space is limited.
  • Download google translate app (and the language file) on to your phone. The app works remarkably well for Mandarin. It even translate street signs and menus, not 100% accurately, but well enough to given you and idea if you’d be ordering fish, meat or vegetables in the restaurant.

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When You Are There

  • Keep toilet tissue and wet wipes handy. This was one of the most useful pieces of advice we got.  Hotels and restaurants are usually ok, but attractions are hit and miss when it comes to tissue availability.
  • Many attractions offer discounted tickets for those over 60 or 70, so look carefully at  ticket price displays at the counter before you pay.
  • China is a vast country, but it adheres to a single timezone. So you don’t need to adjust your watch when you travel from one city to another.  It also means that sunrise and sunset vary (sometimes by several hours) in different parts of the country.
  • Be wary of strangers offering help. This might be at entry to attractions, at the airport, during shopping etc. It almost always ends up of you being out-of-pocket. A popular scam is to befriend tourists, invite them for a tea or coffee at a nearby cafe (who will be in on the scam). This ends up being a very expensive drink in the end.
  • Mind your valuables at crowded places – subways, shopping streets and attractions.
  • Crossing the road can be tricky. There are pedestrian crossings and lights, but these are not always adhered to. You best bet is to cross with a crowd.

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Using the Underground

  • If you are using the underground train, take small money (5/10 Yuan) or the self-service ticket machine.
  • Train station exit: Many underground train stations have multiple exits, labelled A, B, C, D etc.  Find out which exit is best for where you want to go, otherwise it could be a long detour.

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Hotels

  • Most hotels will request a deposit of 500 Yuan when you check in. This can be done by cash or card. It will be returned to you upon check out.
  • Breakfast times: In many Chinese hotels, breakfast finishing at 9.30 or 10 means that they stop serving any food and start clearing the plates at 10.  So arrive at least half an hours before the stated end time for breakfast.
  • Pick up a hotel name card from reception to show taxi drivers.
  • Ask the hotel concierge to write down the places you would be visiting. You can show these to taxi drivers or when looking for directions.

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Shopping

  • When shopping, keep a piece of paper and pen handy. It helps to write down prices when you are haggling.
  • Speaking of haggling, always haggle at markets, especially those near tourist attractions. The vendors will expect it and will offer you a higher price in the first instance. We usually opened the bargaining by making a counter-offer of a third of the asking price and ended by about paying half.
  • If you do show an interest in an item, this will be taken as interest in buying the item. The “just looking” answer is not well understood in China.
  • Don’t plan to shop. This sounds very odd as China exports many of the goods that we buy in our home countries. However, we found that in the normal high street shops goods are about the same price as you would buy in the UK. Prices in markets are cheaper, but these tend to be tourist mementos. Any genuine western brands are 3 to 4 times the price as them taxes on imported goods are high.

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You can read a day-by-day account of our visit, Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. You can also check out the trip highlights and tips on how to take an overnight trip in China.

Here ends my series of posts about visiting China, for the time being at least. I found it a fascinating country to visit, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will be returning.

Have you been to China? Have you got any tips? Or perhaps you are planning your first trip there and have got questions. Leave a comment below and let me know.

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