151 China travel tips, Header

151 China Travel Tips to Have the Best Trip of Your Life

Everything You Need to Know about China to Enjoy Yourself, Avoid Getting Scammed, and Travel Safely

In the last four decades, China has become an economic superpower. This resulted in an ever-growing number of tourists, visiting the country to experience one of the planet’s oldest civilisations.

I’ve lived, worked, and travelled in and around China. The friendliness of the people, the chaos on the streets, and the sheer size of the cities – I fell deeply in love with everything there.

However, there are certain things you need to know before traveling to China to enjoy yourself fully.

For that reason, I’ve prepared this guide with 151 tips for travelling to China.

  • Tips that will save you from embarrassing yourself and from getting scammed. 
  • Tips that will make even the most ignorant person a China-savvy.
  • Tips that will you help you have the trip of your lifetime!

The purpose of this guide is two-fold:

  • On one hand, I want to share what really impressed me.
  • On the other, I want to make sure your stay is as pleasant as possible. Hence all the tips about how to bargain, avoid getting scammed, and travel around safely.

For the sake of a better write-up, from time to time, I use Middle Kingdom instead of China.

Things to Do Before You Go To China

You’d have to do several things before you board the plane to China, so you have the time of your life there.

  1. Get your visa. Unlike its neighbouring country South Korea, China requires a visa for most countries, even for U.S. citizens. Without your visa, you won’t be able to travel around China. And the government doesn’t provide visas on arrival like Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  2. Provide the dates of your China travel routine. When applying for a visa, you’ll have to give your travel dates, where you’re staying at, an invitation (if someone has invited you), and proof for all these. This means that you’ll have to have your hotel reservations ready before you go to the embassy or consulate in your country. The second time I went to China, I was going to work there and had my accommodation covered, so I had to provide the address I was staying at.
  3. China has a 72-hour (3-day) Visa-Free Transit. You can visit 18 Chinese cities without a visa if you have a long layover. The time limitations are 72 hours, and they apply to 53 countries. Since very recently, some visa-free transits have been extended to 144 hours (6 days).

Countries, Which Qualify:

  • 24 countries from the Schengen Area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
  • 15 other countries from Europe: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Macedonia (FYROM), Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom.
  • 6 countries from North and South America: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and the United States
  • 6 countries from Asia: Brunei, Japan, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, United Arab Emirates
  • 2 countries from Oceania: Australia, New Zealand

Cities, Which You Can Visit:

  • Changsha, Chongqing, Harbin, Guilin, Xi’an
  • Beijing, Dalian, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Tianjin – Extended to a 144-hour (6-day) Visa-Free Transit
  • Chengdu, Guangzhou, Kunming, Qingdao, Wuhan, Xiamen – Will be extended to a 144-hour (6-day) Visa-Free Transit from January 1st, 2019.

Documents for Application:

  • A passport that’s valid at least 3 months from entering China. To play it safe, have a passport that’s valid for at least 6 months.
  • A visa for your final destination (if applicable).
  • A completed Arrival/Departure Card (incl. name, nationality, date of birth, gender, passport number, visa number and place of issuance, flight number, and purpose of visit).
  • An onward ticket with a confirmed seat.

Procedure:

  • Notify the airline when checking in, so they can declare your request for a 72-hour visa-free transit to the airport customs before If you’re transiting through Beijing’s airport, you can apply for the visa-free transit permit after arrival.
  • There’s a special lane/counter for the 72-hour visa-free transit at immigration, so you can follow the signs to go directly there.
  • After the authorities approve your request, they will stamp a permit on your passport.
  • If for some reason, you cannot depart on time (a flight cancellation or a sudden illness), you have to file a visa application at the Municipal Public Security Bureau. Otherwise, you cannot apply for an extension of your stay.

Important:

  • Only flights are eligible for transfer in China. The policy doesn’t apply to other means of transportation.
  • Your flight can only stop in one Chinese city and should depart from the same one. There’s an exception for the cities of Jiangsu, Shanghai, and Zhejiang where you can choose to depart from Hangzhou Xioashan Airport, Nanjing Lukou Airport, or Shanghai.

While this 72-hour visa-free transit is perfect for long layovers, 3 days in China are never enough. Thus, if you’re planning a visit, my sincere recommendation is from 10 days to two weeks, minimum. If you like slow travel like me, cities like Beijing alone can take up to a week or more.

  1. Buy a VPN before entering China. If you plan on working and staying in touch with social media, you have to purchase a VPN. China blocks Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and many other major social media websites. When I was working there, I tried using numerous other websites. They were either incredibly slow or couldn’t load at all. For long-term travellers, this could be outright annoying.

    Purchasing a VPN is the way to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. VPNs show your IP address as if you’re connected from Australia, New Zealand, or the United States even if you’re on Chinese territory.

    Important: Buy your VPN before you go to China because it blocks the access to all VPN companies once you’re there.

Learn more about VPNs here.

  1. Get an outlet adaptor for China. The voltage in China is 220 V / 50 HZ. Mainland China, as well as Hong Kong and Macau, use a voltage power of 220 Volt, 50 Hz AC.

Do you need an outlet adaptor for China? The chargers of most electronic devices can function normally in the range of 110V~240V. The majority of hotels and accommodation have electrical outlets that provide both 110 V and 220 V. Despite that, I’d highly recommend to have a portable plug adaptor and use it. I didn’t use one, and I’m pretty sure that made my phone’s and laptop’s battery lives much lower. So:

  • Is an adaptor mandatory? No.
  • Is an adaptor recommended? Yes.

There are two types of power sockets. Mainland China uses two kinds of power sockets – type A and type I. The first one can also accommodate plug types C or F, commonly used in most countries of Europe.

  1. Prepare yourself with an app or a phrasebook. If you already know some Mandarin, that’s going to be incredibly helpful. If not, it’s prudent to download a translation app (make sure it can work offline, too) or to bring a tiny Chinese phrasebook. While in big cities young people might speak basic English, if you venture out in the countryside, you’ll have to rely either on those translation apps/phrasebook or mimics and gestures.

Money & Currency

China’s currency has been in use for more than 2000 years, being the first decimal currency system. In addition to that, it was the first country to use banknotes and metal coins, which had a huge impact on the global financial system.

  1. The currency of China is the yuan. Yuan’s symbol 元 is used in the Chinese language to refer also to the currencies of Japan (yen) and South Korea (won).

Fun fact: Yuan also serves to translate other currency units. For instance, the euro goes by the name Ōuyuán (欧元, literally meaning “European yuan”), and the United States dollar goes by the name Měiyuán (美元, literally meaning “American yuan”).

  1. The Chinese Yuan has two acronyms. The first one is CNY. CN stands for China and Y stands for yuan. The second one is RMB. It derives from the word “renminbi”, which means “national currency”. So, prepare to see a lot of price tags in both CNY and RMB. They are the same currency.
  2. Exchange money at home or withdraw from Chinese ATMs and larger bank chains. I’d highly advise you to have some CNY before you even go to China. It can come in handy for taxi rides and other things that cannot be paid with a card. If you want to exchange some money when in China, either search for international ATMs in major cities or seek larger bank chains like HSBC.
  3. There are only few banknotes. Since there are countless money forfeits, the Chinese yuan’s biggest banknote is 100 RMB (around $15). Imagine how many bags of 100 RMB banknotes you’ll need to buy a house in Beijing if you’re paying in cash!
  4. Bring cash on you. While many places (big hotel chains and classy restaurants) now accept MasterCard and Visa payment, the most popular card scheme in China is UnionPay. That said, for the most part of the Middle Kingdom, cash will be the only* option.

*In the last year, China’s online payment industry has skyrocketed, with 700+ million users. This makes China one of the biggest cashless economies in the world. But you’ll need mobile apps like AliPay to be able to perform such payments.

  1. Chinese businesses accept only one currency. Businesses in China won’t accept any other currency, including the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) and the United States dollar (USD). Be prepared for that if you’re going to do business in China.
  2. Inform your bank you’re visiting China. It’s prudent to tell your bank you’re going to be using your credit/debit card in China. You don’t want to end up not being able to use your card due to some strange reasons or untypical transactions.
  3. Bring at least two debit/credit cards. If you’re traveling to China for more than a couple of weeks, it’s essential to bring at least two credit cards with you to be prepared for any force majeure circumstances. Also, please keep them in different places.

How to Avoid Scams in China

Nothing ruins your stay in a foreign country quicker than being robbed or scammed. Thankfully, if you come prepared to China, it’s quite easy to evade that.

Times change. Scams do, too. However, there are several scams in China that have been played on tourists for years now.

In this section, you’ll find the most common ones, where they often occur, and how to avoid them.

  1. The Fake Money Scam. If there had been a chart with the top scams in China, the Fake Money Scam would have secured the first place. Luckily, in recent years, it has become a much rarer one. That said, it’s still a thing. The scam occurs in two major ways:
    • You pay a taxi driver with a 50 RMB or a 100 RMB banknote, and they quickly change it with a fake one, claiming you gave it to them in the first place. Police are of little use in these situations, so usually, you’ll have to say goodbye to another of your real notes.
    • You pay for something small with a 100 RMB banknote. In return, the vendor presents you a counterfeit 50 RMB note, while the rest is real.

    Where: The Fake Money Scam is most common with taxi drivers and street vendors in big cities.

    How to avoid it: It’s easy to dodge this scam. Just get your money from a reputable source – either a local ATM, a Chinese bank, or a trustworthy money exchange (not a random person on the street). Have some change on you when riding taxis or paying on the street. Don’t be afraid to inspect the notes if you have others. It’s common for shops to do that, so you can do it, too.

  2. The Massage Parlour Scam. This scam focuses on western tourists – specifically men. The scam involves a person who approaches you on the street for a massage offer. What is supposed to be a “normal” massage soon turns into something erotic. Before victims realise, a big boss, accompanied by a couple of other sturdy guys, comes in, asking for as much as $4,000.

    Where: The Massage Parlour Scam is very common, especially in Shanghai’s downtown.

    How to avoid it: Don’t trust anybody who talks nice to you on the street. If you feel something is fishy, it often is.

  3. The Tea Ceremony Scam. Similar to the previous scam, this one also targets western tourists. Already common for years, it typically involves two-three beautiful young Chinese ladies who tell you they’re “students”. The usual small talk leads to them inviting you to experience a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, including tasting 8-10 different teas in a short period of time. Often, the tourists believe it’s an inexpensive offer, but later they’re shocked by a bill of $100-430 (700-3,000 RMB), or more.

    Where: In the tourist areas of Beijing or the area of Shanghai’s People’s Park.

    How to avoid the scam: Don’t trust anybody approaching you on the street.

  4. The KTV Scam. The scam involves locals luring you into karaoke bars (KTV) or nightclubs, and then overcharging you on drinks. Most of the time, the bill includes drinks you haven’t even ordered. The gigantic price sometimes rivals lobster-and-champagne galas.

    Where: Big cities like Beijing, Wuhan, etc.

    How to avoid the scam: Don’t trust anyone on the street, especially young girls who want to practise their English or seem overly friendly.

  5. The Exorbitant Price Scam. While this is not particularly a scam, it’s good to warn you that local vendors will quote you an extortionate price just because you’re a foreigner. When you’re in China, you’ll notice that most items on the street or at local marketplaces don’t have a price tag.

    Since bargaining is an indispensable part of business in China, vendors will price something high, prepared to discount it. This applies especially to foreigners like you. The quote most foreign faces receive ranges in the 5-10x mark.

    Where: Street vendors, local bazaars, touristy areas of large cities.

    How to avoid the scam: While paying 10x more is next to crazy, don’t sweat a couple of dollars. These people need to eat, too. That said, the best way to avoid paying outrageous prices is to inform yourself. What I did at a local market in Beijing was to go around all vendors. By doing that, I saw what the “real” price is and was able to haggle. Another way to do it is to ask a local. I know haggling might be uncomfortable for you as a foreigner, but that’s how things work in China. But it’s fun, I promise you that. : )

Languages

Although Chinese is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn, it’s the most spoken mother tongue in the world today. About 16% of the world population (1.2 billion people) speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

  1. China has 299 living languages. Some of these languages are so different from one another that people will have a very hard time communicating properly.
  2. The official language of China is Mandarin. Whenever people say they speak Chinese, they mean Mandarin. Mandarin Chinese is part of the Sino-Tibetan family. It is spoken by 910 million native speakers mainly in the northern and southwestern part of China, accounting to 71% of the country’s total population.
  3. China’s second official language is Cantonese. It’s mainly spoken by people in the Guangdong province, mainly the city of Guangzhou, and it spread in the Pearl River Delta region. Guangzhou’s other name is Canton. It’s from this city that the language received its name. Cantonese is official in Hong Kong, and it’s used for all governmental documentation. Cantonese is also official in Macau, along with Portuguese (see below). Around 80 million people speak Cantonese, whose three main dialects are Macau dialect, Hong Kong dialect, and Guangzhou dialect.

    *Although Shenzhen is close to both Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the predominant part of its population speaks Mandarin.

  1. Other widely spoken regional languages include Wu Chinese and the Hokkien dialect. The number of Wu Chinese speakers is around 80 million, while those of the Hokkien dialect are 37 million.
  2. English and Portuguese are the two most spoken foreign languages. Around 10 million people speak English all over the Middle Kingdom, mostly in the huge mainland cities and in Hong Kong. Portuguese is official in Macau.

    Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions (SAR) of China. This means they enjoy little to no interference by either the Communist Party of China or the Central Government. Hong Kong is a former British colony, which became a SAR in 1997. Macau, a former Portuguese colony, became a Chinese SAR in 1999.

  1. Be prepared for a lot of Chinglish. Chinglish is the slang for written or spoken English that has an influence from the Chinese language. Foreigners commonly apply the term to nonsensical or ungrammatical English in various Chinese contexts.

    Chinglish will be everywhere. It’s a result of bad translation apps, an inexperienced translator, or something else. Regardless of the reason, you’re going to see it a lot. Some translations will make you giggle, too. But there are some that are just too cute.

  1. Locals barely speak English. While you might be able to get around with some English and gestures in the centres of huge cities, if you venture out, you’ll find virtually nobody speaks English (or any foreign language for that matter). Nonetheless, people in China are generally very friendly and will try to help you even with mimics and gestures.

    *This tip applies to mainland China. As mentioned in #8, in Hong Kong and Macau, English is an official language.
    **Source of dataWorld Atlas

  1. Expert Advice
“Even though I had studied Mandarin for two years very intensively before going to China, I still struggled to get by in the beginning. I quickly joined a local language exchange group where foreigners and local Chinese people meet once a week to practice both English and Chinese together. You not only get to practice your Chinese but also make a lot of new friends, which helped me a lot to settle in when I didn’t know anyone. This kind of language learning approach worked really well for me as, besides the usual words and phrases, you also learn some colloquial expressions and slang from the locals, which is super helpful if you really want to know what’s hot in China. You can find language exchange groups through groups on Facebook or WeChat. Simply search for the Chinese city you live in and ask where the local language exchange groups meet. Failing that, notice boards at universities should also do the trick.”
Linda Dunsmore, Asia Travel Platform Creator and China Travel Blogger
Linda Goes East

Food

From the United States through Europe to Australia, Chinese food is revered the world over. The combination of fresh ingredients and numerous spices makes it one of the most delectable and distinctive foods you’re ever going to savour. And the place to make your palate experience the real foodgasm is, indeed, China.

  1. Chinese food in China is different from Chinese food abroad. While it’s true you can find good Chinese restaurants abroad, the place to experience the real, authentic, mouth-wateringly delicious Chinese food is China. Bear in mind that when westerners mention Chinese food, it’s usually Cantonese food that comes the closest to the one they have in mind.
  2. Locals eat fresh food daily. When I was living in Guangzhou, I noticed it everywhere. People with small shops would stop working at lunch, use a portable gas stove, and prepare their food behind their stall.
  3. Chinese food is predominantly spicy. Lots of sweat and spicy pleasure await you in China if you’re a piquant food worshipper. Starting from Sichuan and Hunan (the spiciest) and going to Beijing and Shanghai (the mildest), Chinese food is spicy for the western palate everywhere. Bear this in mind when you order.

    If you can’t eat spicy food, you can ask, “Zhe la ma? 这辣吗?” (“Is this spicy?”) or simply “La ma? 辣吗?” (“Spicy?”) If they nod, you’d know not to order it.

    Insider TIP: Usually, all dishes on the menu have photos next to their names, so you’ll figure it out on your own most of the time. If you see lots of red peppers, you’ll know to avoid it.

  1. Menus in most places will only be in Chinese characters. Thankfully, most menus also come with handy photographs. However, they could be misleading, too. When I was in a restaurant in Beijing’s Haidian district with my friend, George, we ordered a meal, which looked enough for two people. The dish that arrived was the epitome of minuscule.
  2. Chinese food is fried, but it’s a different kind of fried. Many people believe Chinese food is bad because it’s mostly served fried. While that’s somewhat true, first of all, it’s a different kind of frying method, and, second, in many regions, it’s better to eat the food fried rather than raw. Trust me, I’ve had some food poisonings, and it was a pain in the ass. Literally.

The Chinese method of frying is stir-fry. It uses a small amount of very hot oil in which they stir the ingredients in a wok. In the west, we mainly use deep-frying for preparing our meals.

  1. Chinese people eat rice almost all the time. Yep, this is not a myth. The rice is steamed, not fried, though. They don’t flavour it. Instead, they often put some part of the other dishes in the rice bowl and eat it like this. In other words, bread is to Europe what rice is to China (and most of Asia for that matter).
  2. Try the street food. Don’t be afraid to savour food you encounter on the street. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, and it’s everywhere! A good strategy to be on the safe side is to see which vendor has the largest queue. Locals know better. 😉
  3. Be careful with raw food. While living in China, and since I’m a curious gotta-try-everythin’-I-can dude, I tested my taste buds with all kinds of fruits and vegetables. While fruits were generally safe (succulent, too), I got some minor stomach issues with vegetables when trying to prepare a salad. So, my advice is to be very picky or just cook the veggies (if that’s an option).
  1. Expert Advice
“Visiting China can be a cultural shock at first, but the more you immerse in this fantastic country, the more you will love it. Being a vegetarian here can be tricky, but on the other hand where else can you experience the Great Wall while eating… insects?!”
Valentini Argyropolou, Greek Footwear Designer and Travel Blogger
My Shoes Abroad
  1. The food in the North of China is different from the food in the South of China. In the South of China, locals not only eat more spicy food but they also add a lot of sugar. On top of that, desserts are not really sweet, but food that’s not sweet in the west – like bread and yoghurt – is usually sweet.
  2. Bring probiotics with you. If it’s your first time in China, chances are you’re gonna put your stomach to some serious tests. Thus, it’s advisable to go prepared. Probiotics improve digestion, boost natural immunity, and increase the number of good bacteria in your stomach. Make sure you consult with your doctor.
  1. Play with the chopsticks. If you really want to immerse yourself in the Chinese culture, you might as well try the fun-to-use chopsticks. While locals often use a spoon for their soups, you’ll notice the absence of a fork and a knife for the main meals. In most places, you’ll probably be able to ask for them, but if you’re feeling adventurous, play with the chopsticks. You’ll love it!
  2. You can find bizarre food, too, but it’s not common. By bizarre, I mean anything from insects and dog meat to omelette with fish intestines or cow’s anus with sauerkraut (tried the last two). However, bear in mind that these foods are not common, and you’ll have to ask the locals if you’re feeling adventurous.
  3. Many local restaurants are inexpensive. China is still a very affordable destination, so eating out every day is not going to break the bank. In fact, most local restaurants are not only inexpensive but also serve delectable food. Just be wary of hygiene and look for busy places. Ask the locals for recommendations.
  4. Try the local beers. China has some good local brands. You’ve most probably heard of Qingdao (or Tsingtao). It might be China’s most famous beer brand, but the beer Snow is the country’s most consumed and ubiquitous one. While living in Guangzhou, I tried the local brew – Zhujiang beer. It was light and tasty.

Tsingtao
Tsingtao Brewery Co., Ltd.
European Pale Lager
4.80%
Year-round
Zhujiang
Guangzhou Zhujiang Brewery Co. Ltd.
Japanese Rice Lager
4.30%
Year-round
Snow
China Resources Breweries Limited
European Pale Lager
4.80%
Year-round
Lhasa
Tibet Lhasa Brewery Co.
American Adjunct Lager
4.60%
Year-round
Black Yak
Shangri-La Highland Craft Brewery
German Schwarzbier
5.40%
Year-round
Harbin
Harbin Brewery Group
European Pale Lager
5.50%
Year-round
Kingway
Shenzhen Kingway Brewery
Pale Lager
4.50%
Year-round
Wusu
Xinjiang Wusu Breweries Co.
Pilsner
3.10%
Year-round
  1. Don’t worry – there are western beers, too. China is the world’s largest beer market. In fact, it’s twice as big as the U.S. market. So, if you don’t fancy trying something new (hey, I’m not here to judge), there’s plenty of foreign brands, including Beck’s, Budweiser, Carlsberg, Heineken, and Stella Artois.

*Insider TIP: Bear in mind prices for foreign beers in China are two-three times higher than local ones.

  1. If you’re up for strong spirits, try the baijiu. Báijiǔ (白酒), literally meaning “white (clear) alcohol” is a must-try if you’re feeling cold. Typically, it’s a distillate of fermented sorghum, but other grains might be used for its production, too. People from the Southeast of China may use rice or glutinous rice, while other varieties can be barley, millet, or wheat. It’s the world’s most consumed spirit, with 5 billion litres sold in 2016 alone.

Health and Health-Related Tips

Getting sick in a foreign country is quite demotivating, but it happens to the healthiest of us. In this section, I provide you with several tips on how to manage your health better in China.

  1. Don’t drink tap water. The tap water in most places is non-potable. Don’t drink it to avoid getting sick. Most restaurants and shops will sell bottled water at very affordable prices.
  2. Avoid ice in drinks. If possible, don’t drink beverages that have ice in them since it’s most probably made from the same non-potable water.
  3. Locals drink hot water. Contrary to the west, in China, people drink hot water. So avoiding ice in drinks (previous tip) won’t be a big issue anyway, but finding cold water might be a problem.
  4. Drink plenty of tea. Your China travel just won’t be complete if you don’t tingle your palate with some of the million varieties of tea (茶). Tea is great for keeping you hydrated and ready for your next adventure. I’d also highly recommend visiting a tea ceremony if you have the time and the chance. Please be aware that it’s a common scam scheme if girls offer it to you on the street (see scams), so be extra careful about that.
  5. Have toilet paper or wet napkins with you. Ironically, toilet paper is a luxury in public restrooms in China. So is soap. Thus, carrying toilet paper and wet napkins, along with a hand sanitiser, is always a good idea.
  6. Use pharmacies if you need to. Pharmacies in the western world can be expensive and usually require a prescription for the most common medication. In China, you’ll find both eastern and western remedies at reasonable prices. Typically, you’ll be able to buy some prescription medication without a prescription. The pharmacist would require your identification, though.
  7. Big cities have hospitals that take care of foreigners. Chinese hospitals can be really daunting. Crowded, too. However, since there are lot of foreigners living and working in China nowadays, most major cities will have hospitals to cater to them. You might even find English-speaking doctors in the jam-packed public hospitals.
  8. The air pollution is a serious issue. Big Chinese cities have a lot of problems with air pollution, particularly the capital Beijing. Even locals wear masks on days when the air pollution levels are dangerous. If you have to go out on these days, wear a mask. Use this website to check the levels of pollution.

Check out the Pollution section below to learn more about masks.

Pollution in China

The humongous growth of China since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, the country’s then political leader, at the beginning of the 1980s came at the expense of increased pollution. This includes soil contamination, waste, industrial pollution, electronic waste, as well as air and water pollution.

In September 2013, the government adopted an Action Plan to curb the high levels of air pollution in large cities, in particular, Beijing. That said, pollution is still a thing, so I’ve compiled several tips to avoid getting sick and ruining your travel in China.

  1. Large Chinese cities are polluted. Although the Chinese government has taken serious measures to limit the air pollution levels, the huge metropolitan areas are still not safe. While I am not advocating to avoid large Chinese cities (I love Beijing and Guangzhou), if you’re sensitive to air pollution, it might be better to skip them.
  2. Bring an air pollution mask with you. Research data show that 37.5% of Chinese residents breathe air that’d considered unhealthy in the western world. When the air quality index is below 100, unless you’re very sensitive to polluted air, you can go without a mask. However, severe problems happen when the index goes above 150. If you need to be outdoors in such a situation, it’s highly advisable to wear a mask.
  3. How to choose a mask?
  • The mask of your choice should be airtight, forming a close-fitting seal around your face.
  • Wearing basic cotton masks or surgical-style masks can be more dangerous than wearing nothing at all.
  • Consider the mask material – it has to filter out even the tiniest particles of matter.
  • If you want to exercise outdoors, consider the mask’s ventilation – it has to have a comfortable space for breathing.
  • Think about the mask’s style. The most effective ones are rarely attractive, so it might be a good idea to place the “ugly” one under a more “beautiful” one. This won’t double the protection, but it’ll make you feel less awkward when walking around with it.

Accommodation in China
Hotels, Hostels, and Airbnb

Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and the following economic upsurge of the country in the last four centuries skyrocketed China’s tourism. Nowadays, you have a humongous selection of accommodation spots. New places to stay are mushrooming every day, which means you’ll be able to find a spot irrespective of your budget.

General Accommodation Tips

  1. Request a non-smoking room. Smoking in public spaces, including hotels, is allowed in China. This is great news for you if you’re a smoker. However, if you’re not, make sure to request a non-smoking room.

Important: Even if you order a non-smoking room, previous guests might have smoked there.

  1. Inquire if the staff speak any English. When my friend and I were in Beijing, we would have had a lot of trouble in our hotel if it hadn’t been for our Chinese friend who booked it. Although they told her the staff speak English, we had difficulty communicating with them when she wasn’t around.
  2. Bargain for your room. China is a bargaining culture. Usually, you can reduce the price with up to 30%, especially if you’re staying for more than a couple of days. Knowing some basic Chinese is a tremendous help in such a situation.

Fun fact: When we checked in our hotel in Beijing, my friend Zhen bargained for us, which reduced the hotel price by further 25% for the whole stay.

  1. Get your hotel’s business card when you check in. Often, the card will include a small map of the area with the spot of the hotel. Losing your bearings in huge Chinese cities is quite easy, so you can show the card to a taxi driver or ask for directions on the street.

Important: The Chinese name of the hotel won’t probably have anything to do with the English name on the card (for instance, “The Golden Horn Business Hotel”), so that’s another reason to have the business card with you.

  1. Lock valuables and bring earplugs. If you’re staying at shared accommodation spots, locking your valuables and bringing earplugs with you is advisable.
  2. Keep the deposit receipt. Budget or mid-range hotels may require a deposit for the room/room key (typically 100 RMB). Don’t lose the receipt because you’ll need it to receive your deposit when checking out of the room.
  3. Always check your room. To ensure everything is in order, and to avoid paying any fines for things you haven’t done, it’s advisable to inspect your room before you check in at a hotel. If there’s a problem, request another room as it’s not certain they’ll keep their promise to fix the issue immediately.

Hotel Types in China

The China National Tourism Administration divides hotels into five ranks. The majority of them are rated as 3-star hotels or above (in line with international standards). You’ll find comfortable facilities in most of them.

  1. 1-star or 2-star hotels are clean and economical. These usually start at $10-15 per night, but their staff is highly unlikely to speak English. Expect very basic conditions and tiny rooms, but most will have a private bathroom. Chinese breakfasts are usually hearty.
  2. 3-star hotels always have a private bathroom and other amenities. Starting at $18-25 per night, three-star hotels in China come with an air-conditioner, colour TV, fridge, phone, and a private bathroom. There may be internet access, too, except for hotels in Tibet. Most of these hotels also have banquet halls, conference rooms, laundry facilities, and restaurants and lobby bars.

Depending on the location, some of the 3-star hotels may also have beauty parlours, clinics, massage rooms, saunas, and swimming pools. The hotel staff might speak basic English, but that’s not certain.

  1. 4-star and 5-star hotels in China are luxury properties. With prices, starting at $65-80 per night, these hotels pride themselves on large and soundproof rooms, spacious lobbies, and business centres. They also have health facilities, 24-hour room service, delectable Chinese and western food, and all that jazz. Their staff will most probably speak decent English and the standard is similar to hotels of the same rank in Europe and the U.S.

Insider Tip: Opt for international brands (Four Seasons, Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton, etc.) in big cities. Chinese-owned ones (Hualuxe, Nuo, Shangri-La, Wanda, etc.) have similar pricing, but their service and quality control is less consistent.

*All hotel prices are according to research on Booking, Expedia, and Hotels.com. 

  1. Expert Advice
“Views are the number one reason why we select a hotel. And China has plenty of fantastic views to enjoy from the privacy of your room. The view directly over Zhangiajie National Forest Park is simply unforgettable. In Pingyao our room opened to a charming Chinese courtyard complete with the soft chatter of locals preparing tea. For big cities, choose an international hotel. A view over the towers of Pudong is beyond money. However, our best finds were middle size family-run hotels: brilliant location, comfort and the warmth of the Chinese. Equally cool all around the country: tolerance. As a couple we never had a problem getting a big bed.”
Milos Mitrovic, China Enthusiast and Travel Blogger
Happy Frog Travels
Booking.com

Hostels and Other Options

  1. If you’re on a tight budget, try the hostels. While the hostel industry in China is still lagging behind the western world, it’s becoming more and more popular nowadays. Places like Beijing, Shanghai, and backpack-friendly spots like Guilin and Yangshuo offer great choices for solo travellers. The hostels are clean and some of them arrange tickets, offer organised tours, and rent bikes to locals and tourists alike. I recommend Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse – top location and utmost comfort with plenty of hot water.
  2. Some cities offer university dorms. This kind of accommodation starts at $3-5, and some universities may even provide private rooms for a slightly higher price. If you have a local student friend, ask him/her to help you arrange such lodging. Agoda offers some good options for dorms. 

Airbnb in China

  1. Airbnb works in China. If you’re a fan of Airbnb, you’ll be happy to find out it works in China. However, Airbnb’s Chinese branch will require a bit more information from you than if you’re staying anywhere else.

The following information will be stored, used, and processed by Airbnb, including:

  • Your name, telephone number, and email address
  • Booking dates
  • Messages between you and the host
  • The names, nationality(ies), passport/national ID details, as well as the passport expiry date(s) of all guest(s) staying at the accommodation, including yourself

Bear in mind that, similar to other accommodation companies, which do business in China, Airbnb China may disclose your information to agencies of the Chinese government, without any further notice to you. Learn more here.

Co-working Spaces in China

In the last five years, co-working spaces have been sprawling around the world at a quick pace. This is a natural result of the ever-growing digital nomad culture, and China is no exception.

In this section, you’ll find a list with some of the top co-working spaces in China. The starting price per month is around 1,000 RMB ($145) for a basic desk. Bear in mind that you’ll still need a VPN to circumvent to Great Firewall.

  1. UR Work

Website: https://www.urwork.cn/?lang=en_US

Locations: Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Xi’an, Xiamen, and many more

Amenities: coffee bars, gyms, game rooms, libraries, meeting rooms

  1. WeWork

Website: https://www.wework.com/

Locations: Beijing, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen

Amenities: coffee bars, meeting rooms, private phone booths, unique common areas

  1. Naked Hub

Website: https://www.nakedhub.com/en/#1

Locations: Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai

Amenities: coffee bars, board & meeting rooms, uniquely designed spaces, swimming pools

  1. Soho 3Q

Website: http://www.soho3q.com/home/#!/

Locations: Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzhen

Amenities: 24/7 access, coffee bars, chill-out areas, events, printing facilities, meeting rooms

  1. TechTemple

Websitehttp://www.kejisi.com/en/

Locations: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen

Amenities: an onsite café, 24/7 access, chill-out areas, printing facilities, meeting rooms

Travelling Around China

  1. To visit Hong Kong or Macau, you have to have a multiple-entry visa. When I was living in Guangzhou, I wanted to go to Hong Kong to explore the crazy city. It was good I talked to some foreigners only to realise if I go to Hong Kong, I cannot come back. The reason: my visa was one-entry only. See, Macau and Hong Kong are considered Special Administrative Regions, so, to visit them, you’ll be leaving mainland China. If you’d like to venture out of mainland China, ensure your visa is multiple-entry.
  2. China has numerous bullet trains. One of the most efficient ways to explore mainland China is to take the high-speed trains. Ticket prices are more than affordable, and the average train speed is around 250km (160mi) per hour. Bullet trains link the large cities, making train travel one of the most convenient and affordable means of transportation. Plus, you get to gaze at astounding horizons.
  1. Expert Advice
“ China is the third-largest country in the world, stretching for about 3,550 km (3,250 mi) from east to west and 5,500 km (3,400 mi) from north to south. So you have quite a distance to cover when traveling in China. If you are short on time, use internal flights and high speed trains. You can book tickets online using Chinese booking sites. I have used trip.com and I recommend them. Taxis are quite affordable for traveling in cities. Public buses are cheap. Use them to cover shorter distances. Whatever your travel vehicle is, prepare the names of your destinations in Chinese to show them when buying tickets or to your taxi driver.”
Anita Sane, China Travel Expert and Blogger
SaneTravel

Public Transportation

  1. Take the metro. The fastest way to dash around large cities is hopping on the subway system. You have to know that it’s crazy busy everywhere, especially in Beijing. Prepare yourself for legions of people either staring at their phones or talking loudly to their counterparts.
  2. Chinese people can get annoying when they push or take your turn. Know that this isn’t (always) intentional. Neither it’s them being rude. It’s a matter of culture. But even more importantly, it’s a matter of “survival”. They literally won’t get to work if they don’t push a bit and get on the next tram/bus/metro.
  3. Get to the airport a bit earlier than usual. The airports in China are some of the biggest and busiest in the world. Thus, it’s prudent to arrive several hours earlier. I’d go for four. When I was flying out of Guangzhou airport, I was advised to go there 4 hours earlier due to the hordes of people flying to Africa. All of them were carrying at least two enormous suitcases. That hugely delayed the line.

China Travel Tips, Airport Queue Line, Guangzhou, Guangdong

  1. Take a taxi. Taxis in China are cheap compared to western standards. Keep in mind, though, that most taxi drivers will speak very little to no English. Thus, a good idea is to prepare your address in Chinese characters in advance, or ask the hotel reception’s staff to help you with that.
  2. Driving in China is crazy. If you’re experiencing the Middle Kingdom for the first time, be prepared for some chaos. If you’re borderline audacious, then go for it, but it’s not recommended! ; )

Cities

This section provides you with basic facts about some of China’s largest and most popular cities, so you can choose your favourite ones and plan your trip accordingly.

  1. Beijing

Population: 20 million
Whereabouts: North of China
Province: **Municipality of Beijing
Landmarks: Forbidden City, Great Wall of China, Temple of Heaven,
Famous for: Home to 7 UNESCO heritage sites.
Read more about Beijing in this article.

Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven & Summer Palace :Dive in China’s mesmerising history with a 7-coach tour of some of Beijing’s most iconic sites. Learn 500+ years of history and more. Check all Beijing tours here
  1. Shanghai

Population: 29.5 million
Whereabouts: China’s central coast
Province: **Municipality of Shanghai
Landmarks: The Bund (Waitan), Nanxiang Old Street, Yu (Yuan) Garden
Famous for: The biggest port in the world

Full-Day Sightseeing Tour with Lunch : Experience first-hand the modern and traditional combo that has contributed to Shanghai’s unique charm. The tour includes the Bund, the Old French Concession, Yuyuan Garden, and more!
  1. Guangzhou

Population: 45.6 million (aggl.), 14.5 million (urban)
Whereabouts: Southeast of China
Province: Guangdong
Landmarks: Baiyun Mountain, Canton Tower, Shamian Island,
Famous for: The start of China’s Maritime Silk Road
Read more about Guangzhou in this article.

Full-Day Guangzhou Private Tour with Lunch : This 8-hour tour will take you to Guangzhou’s most eminent spots, including peaceful temples and pagodas, as well as chaotic markets. The tour includes a delicious Cantonese lunch.
  1. Shenzhen

Population: 12.5 million
Whereabouts: Southeast of China
Province: Guangdong
Landmarks: Dapeng Fortress, Deng Xiaoping Portrait Square, Window of the World
Famous for: The first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of China
Read more about Shenzhen in this article.

Dapeng Fortress and Jiaochangwei Seashore Day Tour : Explore the fascinating Dapeng Fortress, the seashore of Jiaochangwei, and dip yourself in downtown Shenzhen to try the local food.
  1. Hong Kong

Population: 7.35 million
Whereabouts: Southeast of China
Province: *Special Administrative Region
Landmarks: Victoria Peak, Disneyland Park,
International Finance Center
Famous for: The city with most skyscrapers

Private Tour with a Local : Probably the most fun way to explore the bustling Skyscraper city. Learn about where to buy groceries, how to get around Hong Kong, and more. Click here for all other tours.
  1. Macau

Population: 0.65 million
Whereabouts: Southeast of China
Province: *Special Administrative Region
Landmarks: Ruins of St. Paul’s, The Venetian, Macau Tower
Famous for: The gambling capital of the world; the world’s fastest growing metropolitan area

Macau World Heritage Trip with Lunch at Macau Tower : Discover Macau’s most iconic heritage sites with a knowledgeable guide and sample a delectable lunch. Try your luck in Macau’s first casino.
  1. Tianjin

Population: 12.7 million
Whereabouts: North of China
Province: **Municipality of Tianjin
Landmarks: Huangyaguan Great Wall,
Panshan Mountain, Dagu Fort
Famous for: European-style architecture
and a cradle of folk arts

  1. Xi’an

Population: 6.75 million
Whereabouts: Central China
Province: Shaanxi
Landmarks: Terracotta Army, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, City Wall
Famous for: The birthplace of Chinese civilisation

Xi’an: Terracotta Warriors and Banpo Museum Coach Tour : See the legendary Terracotta Warriors and Horses on this 8-hour tour of Eastern Xi’an. Swim in Chinese history at Banpo Museum and enjoy a mouth-watering lunch.
  1. Chengdu

Population: 9.3 million
Whereabouts: Southwest of China
Province: Sichuan
Landmarks: Chengdu Panda Base,
Wangjiang Tower, Mount Qingcheng
Famous for: The home of giant pandas

Chengdu Private Tour of Leshan Buddha and Panda Base : Profit from the expertise of a local guide with this full-day private tour of Chengdu’s Panda Breeding Centre and the heart-stopping Leshan Giant Buddha. Lunch included.
  1. Chongqing

Population: 7.8 million
Whereabouts: Southwest of China
Province: **Municipality of Chonqging
Landmarks: Dazu Rock Carvings, Three Gorges Museum, Ancient Town of Ciqikou
Famous for: Its spicy food, especially hot pot.

Chongqing: Ciqikou Village & Hotpot Private Tour : Half-day tour of Ciqikou Village, also known as “porcelain village”. After your visit to the village, you’ll savour a fantastic hot pot meal, the traditional food of this area.
  1. Hangzhou

Population: 8.25 million
Whereabouts: East of China
Province: Zhejiang
Landmarks: Leifeng Pagoda, Lingyin Temple, West Lake
Famous for: The home of silk

West Lake, Dragon Well Tea Village & Linyin Temple : This full-day tour will show you China’s most popular lake, West Lake, and the breathtaking Linyin Temple, established in 328 AD. The tour also includes a lunch and tasting of Dragon Well Tea.
  1. Kunming

Population: 4.05 million
Whereabouts: Southwest of China
Province: Yunnan
Landmarks: Dragon Gate, Stone Forest, Yuantong Temple
Famous for: The city of eternal spring

Stone Forest Private Day Tour : Discover the enthralling Stone Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Your guide will narrate you the legend behind the fascinating natural structures.
  1. Nanjing

Population: 6.6 million
Whereabouts: East of China
Province: Jiangsu
Landmarks: Confucius Temple,
Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Zhongshan Mountain
Famous for: Former capital of China during the Ming dynasty

Nanjing Highlights Tour : Nanjing served as the capital of numerous Chinese imperial dynasties. This 8-hour tour will take you through the city’s most famous highlights. Lunch and bottled water included.
  1. Xiamen

Population: 9.8 million
Whereabouts: Southeast of China
Province: Fujian
Landmarks: Gulangyu Island, South Putuo Temple, Zhongshan Road Walking Street
Famous for: China’s most sophisticated city

Xiamen Highlights Sightseeing Tour : Full-day tour with a local guide. Hop on the ferry to Gulangyu Island. Visit Shuzhuang Garden. Drive along the shimmering East Coast and stroll the Zhongshan Road. Lunch included.
  1. Zhuhai

Population: 1.52 million
Whereabouts: Southeast of China
Province: Guangdong
Landmarks: Statue of Fisher Girl,
The New Yuanming Palace, Dong’ao Island
Famous for:The Chinese Riviera,
The most liveable city in China

Important: I know population is a controversial topic as it can be measured in three different ways – city proper, metropolitan area, and urban agglomeration. Bear in mind population stats may vary greatly when you compare city proper to metro to agglomeration. In this guide, I am using urban agglomeration and the statistics come from citypopulation.de.

Booking.com

Censorship

Internet censorship in China is one of the world’s most extensive because of numerous laws and administrative regulations. This is widely known as “The Great Firewall of China”. As scary as it may sound, there are some ways to circumvent it, which you’ll find in this section.

  1. Many Social Media outlets don’t work in China. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Viber YouTube, Twitter, etc. are either banned or don’t work properly in China. Locals and foreigners use WeChat to communicate with ease.
  2. The largest search engine doesn’t work in China. Google is not allowed in China either. Neither are all its various products, such as Gmail, Google+, Google Translate, Maps, etc.
  3. How to make these work? I used a friend’s VPN from Bulgaria. Although it worked, it was incredibly slow. There are free VPNs (like skyVPN) for up to 500 MB of data, which might be enough for occasional emailing, but that won’t be sufficient if you want to upload images. Thus, I’d recommend you use a paid VPN service. The majority of paid options usually cost $10-15 a month.

Here’s a list* of VPNs that currently work in China. The Chinese government, with its Great Firewall, is always hunting for VPNs. For that reason, I’ll be updating this list on a regular basis.

  • TunnelBear
  • ExpressVPN
  • Astrill
  • TurboVPN

*December 2018 update.

  1. Some western websites do work. If you don’t want to use a VPN, there are other options for you. For searching in English, you can use Yahoo and Bing. If you know Mandarin, you can use Baidu, the Chinese “Google”. Skype also works in China quite well, so you can use it to chat with or call your friends and family.
  2. Buy your own SIM card to enjoy good internet speeds. Avoid purchasing it from the airport because it’s usually overpriced. The good thing is, they speak some English there.
  3. Try some of the most popular mobile apps in China. One of the best Chinese mobile apps is WeChat. With it, you can virtually do anything – from chatting and sending photos through ordering taxi and reserving restaurants to paying for services. Here’s a list of China’s most popular mobile apps.
  • Weibo
    The Chinese Twitter
    A combination of Twitter’s microblogs, Facebook’s social networking connections, Reddit’s portal-like discussion forums, and Yahoo’s news portals.
    411 million users
    asd
  • Baidu
    The Google of China
    A technology company, specialising in Internet-related services.
    665 million users
    Baidu, Inc.
  • WeChat
    The Chinese Facebook
    A multi-purpose mobile messaging app
    1+ billion users
    Tencent
  • TaoBao
    The Chinese Amazon
    The biggest e-commerce website
    617 million users
    Alibaba
  • IQIYI
    The YouTube of China
    An online video platform
    500 million users
    Baidu
  • TikTok
    A social media app for live broadcasting, as well as creating and sharing videos
    500 million users
    ByteDance
  • Meituan
    A group buying (voucher) website for locally-found retail services and consumer products
    320 million users
    Meituan-Dianping
  • QQ
    An instant messaging software service
    709 million users
    Tencent
  • Kugou Music
    A music streaming and download service
    800 million users
    Tencent Music
  • Momo
    The Chinese Tinder
    A social search and instant messaging mobile app
    180 million users
    Momo Technology Co.
  • Alipay
    The Chinese PayPal
    with better features (most transactions are free)
    530 million users
    Alibaba Group
  • Toutiao
    The Buzzfeed of China
    A news and information content platform
    173 million users
    ByteDance
  • Tencent Video
    A video streaming platform
    512 million users
    Tencent
  • UC Browser
    The third most popular mobile browser in the world
    500 million users
    UCWeb
  1. The media are also censored. China might be a capitalistic economy, but it’s still a communist country. This model works well for growth. But it doesn’t provide fair grounds for freedom of press. Don’t get into big trouble as China has not banned the death sentence. Although the number of executions is a state secret, the estimations for 2013 were 2,400 people.

Chinese Festivals

Traditional festivals are an important part of China’s culture and history, both modern and ancient. In this section, I have selected festivals for their specific Chinese nature. Usually, the dates vary from year to year since they’re celebrated in accordance with the Chinese calendar.

  1. Chinese New Year

Date: Between the 1st and 15th day of the first lunar month.

Traditions: Also known as the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year is China’s most important festival. It includes a 7-day holiday in all parts of China. The various festival activities include setting off and watching firecrackers and fireworks, eating dumplings, and dragon dances.

  1. Lantern Festival

Date: Between the 15th day of the first lunar month.

Traditions: As you may have noticed, it takes place on the last day of the Spring Festival. The festival activities comprise of lantern and fireworks watching, folk dances, eating Tangyuan (“soup ball”), and solving lantern riddles.

  1. Qingming Festival

Date:April 4th and April 6th of the solar calendar.

Traditions: During this festival, Chinese people pay respects to their ancestors. The activities include visiting graves and burial grounds. Its name in English is Tomb Sweeping Festival. Locals will also fly kites or go for a picnic, enjoying the warm spring weather.

  1. Dragon Boat Festival

Date: The 5th day of the fifth lunar month

Traditions: Around mid-June takes place the glorious Dragon Boat Festival. The most typical activity of this celebration is racing with dragon boats. Locals eat sticky rice dumplings (zongzi), wear a perfume pouch, and hang mugwort leaves or tie a five-colour silk thread on their doors.

  1. Summer Solstice

Date: Between June 21st and June 22nd of the solar calendar

Traditions: Nowadays, the Summer Solstice happens on either June 21st or June 22nd of the solar calendar. During that time, daytime is around 15 hours in Beijing and 17 hours in cities at higher latitudes. Locals eat wheat noodles since around that time of the year, wheat becomes ripe.

  1. Double Seventh

Date: : The 7th day of the seventh lunar month

Traditions: Also known as Qixi Festival, the Double Seventh Festival is similar to what Valentine’s Day is to the western world. Since Chinese people show significant importance to girls on that day, it also goes by the name of Young Girls’ Festival. Locals enjoy great romance and love, eat noodles, and stargaze.

  1. Mid-Autumn Festival

Date: The 15th day of the eighth lunar month

Traditions: Also known as the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, The Mid-Autumn Festival comes second by importance in the country after the Chinese New Year. Its names stems from the fact that it always occurs in the mid of autumn. Moon Festival is another name for the Mid-Autumn Festival since during that time of the year, the moon is at its brightest and roundest form. Local eat moon cakes and appreciate the moon.

  1. Double Ninth Festival

Date:The 9th day of the ninth lunar month

Traditions: Going by the name Chongyang Festival, the Double Ninth Festival revers the number nine, which is the number of Yang (meaning “masculine”). The festival activities comprise of hiking mountains, eating Chongyang cake, and drinking chrysanthemum wine. The whole atmosphere is joyous and upbeat.

  1. Winter Solstice

Date: Between December 21st and December 23rd of the solar calendar

Traditions: The Winter Solstice, or the Winter Festival, is one of the 24 Solar Terms. Locals call it “The Small New Year”, during which family reunions usually occur. The dining customs include eating dumplings in northern China and sticky puddings in southern China.

  1. Laba Festival

Date: The 8th day of the twelfth lunar month

Traditions: The Laba Festival also goes by name of “Rice Porridge Festival”. Originally, it started as a celebration to people’s ancestors and prayers for good luck and a good harvests. Nowadays, locals consume Laba Congee – a porridge consisting of various types of rice, beans, bean curd, dried nuts, and meat. Today, there are 100+ different methods for preparing Laba porridge.

Religion

Amid China’s rapid modernisation and economic growth, there’s a rising number of religious believers in the country, in particular supporters of Christianity and Chinese folk religion. While the constitution of the Middle Kingdom allows religious beliefs, adherents from all religious organisations are facing increasing control and persecution.

  1. The Chinese state recognises five religions. These are Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. Practising other religions is formally prohibited, though often tolerated.
  2. China boasts the world’s biggest Buddhist population. The estimated number of practitioners is 185-250 million, according to Freedom House. Despite that Buddhism finds its origins in India, it has a lengthy history and traditions in the Middle Kingdom. Today, it’s the country’s largest institutionalised religion.
  3. China’s most practiced religion is not institutionalised. While Buddhism is the country’s biggest institutionalised group, the largest proportion of religious believers belongs to folk religion. The latter combines practices from Buddhism and Daoism (also known as Taoism). More than 80% of religious people in China practise some type of Chinese folk religion.
  4. Most Chinese people are not religious. Though China has long been a cradle of some of the world’s most enduring religio-philosophical traditions, the large majority of people is not religious. The percentage of non-religious* people is estimated to be more than 70%.

*Note: This number includes 21% of people who’re practising Chinese folk/popular religions.

  1. The Chinese Communist Party is atheist. Officially, CCP members can’t hold religious beliefs. Its almost 90 million members are prohibited to have any religious affiliation. The Party expulses members who belong to religious entities.
  2. Certain religious groups face high persecution. Falun Gong members, Uighur Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists face the highest level of religious persecution in the Middle Kingdom.
  3. China houses one of the highest numbers of religious prisoners. The population of religious prisoners is estimated to be tens of thousands. Rights groups claim many are tortured or executed while in custody.
  4. Tibet practises a different form of Buddhism. 6+ million ethic Tibetans practise a distinct form of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, has played a chief role in attracting foreign support for the autonomy of Tibet.
  5. The Chinese Catholic Church is independent from the Catholic Church in the Vatican. This is due to the fact that both countries have ceased their diplomatic relations since 1951. The major sticking points have been the recognition of Taiwan and an argument over the process of appointing bishops. In 2018, however, the two sides reached a provisional deal, in which Pope Francis recognised the legitimacy of several Chinese state-appointed bishops.

Cultural Habits and Differences

Like any other country, China has its own habits and differences. The next section of my China travel tips will focus on both the Chinese cultural habits, as well as the good and the bad differences, so you know how to handle them.

Cultural Habits and Tips

  1. Hand/receive cash and business cards with both hands. If you’d like to impress Chinese people, use both of your hands when giving or receiving money in the shop/on the street, or business cards at work meetings.
  2. The Chinese cheers means “bottoms up”. Another thing to remember when drinking is to not get drunk super easily. The Chinese word for cheers “ganbei/gānbēi” (干杯) means “bottoms up”, and people drink like this. Yes, even red wine. I’ve never seen Chinese people get ugly drunk, but I’ve heard some worrying stories.
  3. Lower your glass when you cling it with another. When drinking alcohol, lower your glass when you cling it with your counterpart(s). This shows respect. Bear in mind the other party might do the same. Try lowering yours even further, but don’t turn it into a game, especially if you’re drinking red wine. 🙂
  4. Wash your chopsticks. While in many parts of North China, it’s unheard of, locals in the south of the country will wash their chopsticks every time. In Guangzhou, in almost every restaurant, we were given a bowl of hot water. At first, it seemed like tea, but it was just to wash the utensils. If you’re unsure how to do it, observe how others do it (or just forget it altogether and order that spicy food).
  5. Tips are not mandatory. Chinese people don’t tip in general. I’ve even been chased by waiters to give me back the 3 RMB (¢60) I left as a tip. That said, tipping taxi drivers is not uncommon nowadays, and they’ll accept small tips from foreigners.

Good Cultural Differences

  1. The people are very friendly, genuine, and ready to help. China has met me with one of the kindest, friendliest, and most generous people I’ve ever seen. With some, I worked, with others, I travelled – they were incredibly helpful.
  2. Chinese people respect their seniors. Elders, both socially and in business, are held in enormous respect. While this is not typical in Europe or the U.S., for example, I find it quite admirable.
  3. Locals will avoid confrontation at all costs. Chinese people strive to dodge any kind of confrontation wherever and whenever possible in order to save face. If they lose face in business, this can lead to a permanently damaged relationship.
  4. In China, it’s okay to take a nap at your office. While that’s certainly not the case for foreign businesses in China, most local companies allow their employees to take a nap during their lunch breaks. I did that, too (maybe that’s why I love China even more).
  5. Mailing your belongings home from China is cheap. Inexpensive prices and an enormous diversity of products can make you easily go over your luggage limitations. Luckily, it’s quite cheap to send things home via the China Post’s surface mail.

Note: This can take up to one or even two months, but it’s probably the most affordable way to send your bits and bobs home.

  1. If you love haggling, you’ll have the time of your life in China. To me, this was one of the most fun things to do in China. Bear in mind that the starting price is usually between five and 10 times higher. If you don’t agree with the price at any point, just leave.

Some vendors and merchants might chase you down the street. It happened to me several times. One lady even got a little aggressive. When I looked around the area, I came back to her and she offered me a price that I couldn’t refuse. It was 10 times lower than the first she quoted me. Bargain everywhere, for everything. Save for high-class shopping malls, you can bargain for everything in China. This is where some basic Mandarin could come in handy.

Insider TIP: Learn some basic Chinese before you go. It helps TREMENDOUSLY, especially for bargaining. During my time in Guangzhou, I had basic conversations with locals who really appreciated my efforts. The simple nĭ hăo (hello) and xièxie (thank you) go a long way in China.

Possibly Inconvenient Cultural Differences

  1. Zebra crossings are not respected. Chinese drivers don’t ever respect zebra or pedestrian crossings. This literally means that they won’t wait for you EVEN IF it’s green for you. I was quite audacious, and sometimes stopped them, but the danger is real. Please remember this tip when you’re crossing the street.
  2. Chaos is omnipresent. Local drivers not only disrespect pedestrians but they also honk like it’s their last day on Earth. This, coupled with the heavy traffic and teems of people, creates a cacophony, which might be disturbing for people from the West.
  3. There’s hardly any personal space. Chaos in gigantic urban areas also comes with a lack of personal space in China. The dense population translates into humongous crowds, especially on public transportation. On his first day in China, a German friend of mine couldn’t get on the bus for an hour because he didn’t want to push. He got used to it, but it took him a whole month.
  4. Be ready for a lot of eyeballs on you. In big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, locals are used to foreigners. But exploring the countryside will definitely make a westerner the centre of attention. This could mean taking photos with you, making small talk, or even touching your hair or skin.

Note: Don’t be rude. Most of the time, they’re really friendly and curious. I’ve heard cases of locals snapping a photo of foreign people or their fellow travellers from a distance. This didn’t happen to me (or I haven’t noticed it, for that matter).

  1. Squat toilets are a thing in China. Anyone up for an exercise? Even if you’re not, it’s highly likely you’ll come across many squat toilets in China, especially in hostels or budget hotels. This might be an inconvenience if you haven’t used one before, so be prepared.
  2. Expect to experience a lot of spitting. Locals – predominantly men but also some women – don’t use tissues or handkerchiefs. Instead, they spit. And they spit loudly. I’ve been flabbergasted more than once by the sounds they make. Spitting is quite common in South Korea, too.
  3. Chinese people are friendly, but that can be misleading. Here’s a personal story: When I was in Guangzhou, I was looking for my European bank in a neighbourhood. I couldn’t find it, so I asked a security guard in a shopping centre. He didn’t get my English, so I showed him my debit card for a second with the name on it. He was quick enough to take it and glimpsed at the numbers, without my consent. I quickly realised he might have memorised them, so I withdrew all the money I had in the card and called my bank to cancel it.
  4. Take better pictures. China is a very dusty country, making it a challenge to take a proper photo. Thus, it’s essential to get a good camera bag that is not only well sealed but also accessible. In addition, get a polarising filter, which will help you cut through the frequent smog. The filter will also make any blue in the sky appear more vivacious.
Booking.com

Why You Should Visit China

  1. For the love of history. As one of the world’s four ancient civilizations, the Middle Kingdom packs one of the mightiest punches when it comes to history and cultural heritage. The first Chinese dynasty to be described by ancient historical records was the Xia dynasty, which ruled from 2070 to 1600 BC.
  2. For the love of skyscrapers. China has more than 1,500* skyscrapers above 150 metres (495 ft), and more than 50 super-tall, 300-metre ones (984 ft and above). Recently, it has been finishing 100+ skyscrapers annually. More than 1,000 have been completed just in the last 15 years.

*Stats exclude Hong Kong, which has 9,000+ high-rise buildings. Out of these 1,500+ are over 100 m (328 ft), and 350+ over 150 m (492 ft). This makes Hong Kong the world’s tallest urban agglomeration.

  1. For the love of good food. Chinese food is one of the most delectable (fancy word for delicious) around the world. But to experience the most “devastating” foodgasm, you have to visit the country and savour its various dishes.
  2. For the love of natural spots. Peculiarly enough, there are many natural spots in large metropolises. But venturing out in the countryside will get you to see jaw-dropping vistas, breath-taking scenery, and mind-boggling natural phenomena.
  3. For the love of festivals. China has numerous festivals and cultural celebrations. From the Chinese New Year through the Harbin Ice Festival to the Summer and Winter Solstice, there’s a festivity for everybody.
  4. For the love of culture. Immersing yourself in new cultures is your thing? Well, rest assured China has prepared a cultural mix that’s going to tingle even the most fastidious travel palates!
  5. For the love of bargaining. China is a bargaining culture. That explains why Chinese people are some of the best traders on the planet. If you want to flex your trading muscles, there’s no better place than the Middle Kingdom.
  6. For the love of leaving your zone of comfort. Traveling to China means facing funny, and sometimes challenging, situations. Often, you’ll have to use mimics and gestures to get along. But isn’t this one of the most exciting things of being a traveller?
  1. Expert Advice
For the political situation. This is the oxymoron of the list. If you are privileged enough to travel, you will definitely appreciate this gift as soon as you realise that Chinese citizens live under very strict rules regarding their life, studies, travels, beliefs, etc. After a while in China, you will appreciate more the things that you used to take for granted.”
Valentini Argyropolou, Greek Footwear Designer and Travel Blogger
My Shoes Abroad

China is a mind-blowing place. To enjoy it in the best way, though, you must come prepared.

I truly believe my 151 China travel tips will provide you with all the information you need. That said, I’ll keep updating the tips on a regular basis. Bookmark this page, so you can visit it every time you need.

Enjoy your travel to China!

Do you think you are ready for China? Test your knowledge now:

151 China Travel Tips to have a blast, avoid scams, travel safely, and have the best trip of your life

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24 comments on “151 China Travel Tips to Have the Best Trip of Your Life

  1. KraseN

    Simply Epic!

  2. NTripping

    Wow, Svet, this post is the most brilliant piece of content ever published about travelling to China!

    I’m speechless 🙂 Bookmarked and will definitely refer to it in the future.

    Cheers!

    • Svet

      Thank you very much for the wonderful words, N, 🙂

      That was my point in creating it. Enjoy China like a local!

  3. Anshula

    This is the best guide on China I’ve ever read! I love that I can literally stay on this page, find all the information I need, and not have to go anywhere else (rarely find guides like those these days – thanks for making this).

    • Svet

      That was my purpose, Anshula, so I really appreciate and thank you for your feedback! It was my pleasure coming up with all this and doing all the research! Let’s make it viral!

  4. launchingthedream

    Beside the sheer volume of tips in this guide, the thing I love most about it is its simplicity, in both layout and message. Straightforward, easy to read, and packed full of good information. This is a keeper for sure. Kudos!

    • Svet

      Hung, you’ve literally described everything I was striving for – a sheer volume of tips, simplicity and straightforwardness. Thanks very much for your feedback, I really appreciate it 🙂

  5. Zori G

    Wow! Thank you so much for the information Svet!
    I loved all the tips and especially the funny Chinlish part (in Singapore we have Singlish)
    Could you recommend me any shopping platform where European sellers can sell their products without paying the huge prices to sell via TaoBao & Alibaba network?
    Thank you!

    • Svet

      You’re very welcome, Zori 🙂

      Ah, yes, I’ve heard of Singlish!

      As regards your question, I’m not entirely sure as I haven’t done business in China, but I’ll do some research and get back to you.

      On the top of my head, maybe Tmall? Have you tried your own website and how is it going? And how about WalktheChat (selling via WeChat)? And WeChat Pay?

      I’d also suggest you visit some trade shows or the Canton Fair 🙂

  6. Fly Away Godddess

    I love this! I every much enjoyed the thought you put into this post. China is on my list but it will be awhile before I’m there. Pinning this for future travels.

  7. thebeachbell

    Wow, this is seriously in-depth. I’ll have to pin it for when I eventually make the trip myself. Thanks so much for creating this!

    • Svet

      Yep, that was my aim with it 🙂 Thanks for reading it, and do come back to it when you go to China. You won’t need anything else. Literally!

  8. Travelure

    Blown! Total hard work, Svet!

  9. Shem Hooda

    Such an amazing post! I love how comprehensive and informative it is! I’d definitely love to return and see more of the places on your list, as I only visited Beijing on a 16 hour layover. Seeing the Great Wall was truly an experience of a lifetime!

    • Svet

      Thanks so much, Shem 🙂 This was the idea behind writing it. Yeah, China is vast, and I have a lot more to cover when I go there again, hopefully soon.

      Yeah, the Great Wall is definitely a world wonder!

  10. Joella

    I have reread this post several times now and each time I learn more. This is by far the best post I have ever seen on China and one I will recommend to others looking to plan a trip there. Incredibly well organized and filled with a wealth of information that is invaluable. Well done my friend!

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