Travel Tips for First Time Visitor to China
China is a large country at a size of 9,596,960 sq km. China was only partially opened to the world from 1980 onwards and has been a communist country for many decades. Although there is much progress in the travel industry and infrastructure of China, there remain areas that need to be improved before it can match the level that most tourists would require.
However, much of the fun remains in that it is different from the rest of the world. China will be the host nation for the Olympics in Year 2008. Travel facilities and infrastructure will be improving quickly as we approach year 2008.
China is rich in culture and history. Visit the Great Wall of China in Beijing, sip Chinese tea in Xiamen, dance with ethnic tribes in Yunnan, check out 19th century European buildings in Qingdao - there is so much to do and see in China!
Below are some travel tips to make your travel in China easier:
China require entry visa from most countries. Apply at the Chinese consulate or through your travel agent before travelling to China.
Extremely diverse; tropical in south to subarctic in north. Be prepared with the right seasonal clothing.
The unit of currency is known as Renmembi(RMB) or Yuan. Get some Chinese Yuan in your local country before travelling. When in China, exchange foreign currency for local currency in the banks or at the hotel. Banks tend to give slightly better rates than hotels. Take note that some banks close for a noon siesta between 12-2pm.
Most better class hotels and shopping centres take credit card or travellers cheques. Smaller hotels and shops take cash only. Once out of the bigger cities, credit card and ATM cards tend to be almost impossible to utilize. Cash is still king in Chinese business and trade.
Counterfeit notes are common in China. Check carefully before accepting change, especially if it consists mostly 100RMB notes. You can feel a texture difference where counterfeit notes are concerned.
Understanding of English
Most civil servants, custom officials, police, hotel staff and men in the street do not speak English or at best a smattering of English.
Most signboards and notices will carry both English and Chinese. However, be aware that translations are notorious for transitions so bad that one can hardly understand what was its original Chinese intention.
Do not expect hotel or shop workers to understand English. Only the very big hotels will have staff that will understand English.
Most young people can understand basic English if you speak slowly.
China is generally a safe country. However, hang on tight to your wallet especially in crowded, popular tourist sites in tourist cities such as Beijing and Xian.
These tourist cities also have a lot of touts in the streets touting everything from currency exchange to jewellers to female companionship. Avoid at all costs!
Bus, train, ferries and domestic flights are quite well developed. Avoid the crowd at the stations and book your tickets through the hotel tour desk or the nearest tour agent. Prices are likely to be competitive and tickets will be delivered to your hotel room. Again, avoid ticket touts who approach you in the streets.
Local buses are cheap (US$0.10 or YS$0.20) and you may want to try them out. Taxis are convenient and are available at all hours. Starting fares differ from each city and may be as cheap as US$0.70 in Weihai and US$1.50 in Shenzhen.
Avoid travel in China during peak holiday seasons or book tickets well ahead.
There is a good choice of hotels in China ranging from one star to the most luxurious 6 stars. Most of the time, the rooms are safe and clean and in my opinion, cheap does not mean bad.
There are many websites selling China hotel rooms on the internet. You can also check out the travel counters which are available in most train, bus stations as well as airport.
Book ahead if travelling in peak seasons.
Peak Tourist Seasons
Chinese New Year: Date varies but generally late January or early February
May Day: First two weeks of May
China National Day: Middle two weeks of October
Avoid travelling during these periods. Book rooms and travel modes way early if you need to travel. Believe me, the crowds during these period of time will be scary. What do you expect when the entire Chinese nation of 8 billion people are on holiday as well!
Local food is absolutely fabulous. Try as much Chinese food as your wallet or stomach can afford. Restaurants are available everywhere and open to late hours. Most restaurants will have a menu that include photographs of the various dishes. Better yet, simply point at the food that the next table is having, especially if it looks delicious!
However, avoid street side stalls and drinking directly from the taps if you have delicate stomach.
Mobile phone coverage in China is good in most locations. Global auto-roaming within China is not a problem.
There are cyber-cafes everywhere in China, especially in tourist areas. Most are patronised by young people playing online games but you still can check your Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail. Access may be a bit slow for international websites.
You will need to show your passport as China has tight regulations at Internet Cyber Cafes.
One of the worst experiences many people have with China is the atrocious toilet facilities. Things have improved very much but it may still be a good idea to empty your stomach or bladder at every opportunity in a hotel, restaurant or departmental store. Public toilets and toilets in small shops can be a nose hazard!
Useful China Travel Tips
Try to get a English speaking tour guide at every opportunity you can. China has a rich and wonderful history and culture and without a guide, somehow, the flavour and significance of most tour sites can be lost.
*Sneaky tip: Hang around a group that has a English speaking guide if you cannot afford one!
Always ask for a receipt from a taxi driver so that you can complain if you have been cheated or for tracing purposes if you happen to leave your camera behind in the taxi.
Try to take the namecard for each hotel that you are staying at as these cards will have a Chinese address and the map of your hotel location. This is useful if you need to seek assistance to find your way back as the English version or pronunciation of a hotel or a street name may be quite different from the Chinese version.
After a tiring day, check out Chinese foot reflexology or Chinese TuiNa (Chinese massage). Wonderful for the body after a hard day and very cheap to boot. Simply look out for shop signs that show two feet! They are everywhere.
Make friends with the Chinese whenever you can. They love to meet foreigners and will make good tour guides. Just buy a small present as a small token of appreciation.
I lived, worked and travelled in China for the last 7 years. If you would like more research materials to prepare for your trip to China, be sure to visit my website at http://www.chinese-culture.net