China is one of the most magical, beautiful and interesting places on earth, especially for westerners. Make sure to plan your trip well and prioritize the destinations and attractions you’re planning to see because the country is huge and full of gems. But, while you’re planning your itinerary, don’t forget to keep the following essentials in mind that will make your Chinese adventure much more comfortable and pleasant.
Grab your visa
China doesn’t offer visa on arrival, so make sure to arrange yours well in advance of your trip. When applying for a tourist visa, prepare a detailed itinerary of your trip together with return flights, accommodation reservations and other recites or provide a letter of invitation from a relative or friend in China. You can apply in person at a consulate or order your visa via post.
Cash is king
Even though businesses are slowly starting to accept Visa and Mastercard, UnionPay is most widely accepted. Still, in most parts of the country, cash will be your only option. The official currency of China is yuan (RMB). Remember that businesses in China don’t accept any other currency than yuan, not even US dollars or Hong Kong dollars, so make sure to exchange some money at a bank or money exchange spot.
Pollution is a serious issue
What you see online is mostly true, China has a serious issue with pollution, especially air pollution. Many larger cities are only survivable with a mask, yet still, it’s best to avoid exertion during the most polluted days. Air contamination is certainly concerning, but authorities are actively battling China pollution and fighting for a greener future. Many important figures vowed to clear the worst of the smog by ditching outdated energy producers and plants, so we’ll see what happens.
Time your trip
The summer in China is smoggy and hot, with super high humidity that can be intolerable for many foreigners. However, most people still choose to travel in the summer and swarm tourist destinations. So, if you prefer a less crowded vacation with cooler temperatures, consider booking your trips in the off-season (from October to March).
Use public transportation
If you want to get from A to B quickly, don’t hesitate to hail a taxi. China has a lot of taxis and they are efficient and cheap. However, most drivers don’t speak a word of English, so have an address written in Chinese at hand and learn a few phrases. Also, China has an amazing network of buses, trains and bullet trains that can get you across the country in just a few hours for extremely affordable rates. On the other hand, make sure to arrive at the airport two to three hours earlier. Airports can be very crowded and very chaotic, so you’ll love the extra time. Also, expect delays—these are almost guaranteed.
Chine is world-famous for its amazing food. Street food is especially delicious and interesting (and cheap). If you know which vendor to pick, seek for those with long lines full of locals—you can’t go wrong with these. In case you choose to hit a restaurant, you have to be very proactive when ordering food (put your hand up and yell for the fuyian). Also, don’t expect the efficiency of western restaurants. Sometimes, your companions will get their starter, main dish and dessert while you’re still sitting empty-handed.
The government in China censors almost everything, media and internet especially, so if you’re a social media addict, don’t expect to access Twitter, Facebook and the similar sites. Even Gmail and Youtube are blocked, so if you need to do business or post vlogs, forget about it. If you really need to access forbidden websites, get a VPN before you leave, but make sure the provider is not blocked in China.
Prepare for crowds
China has a population of over 1.3 billion, which means it’s a crowded place. While locals are totally used to having zero personal space, westerners might experience a true cultural shock. If you find yourself shoved when queuing or pushed in the street while walking, just get over it—it’s a normal part of living in China.
If you remember these things and keep an open mind, you’ll love your China adventure. These so much this huge country has to offer, from gorgeous architecture and rich culture to finger-licking food, so prepare to be amazed by this Asian giant.