When I travelled to China earlier this year, people shared a range of advice, much of it leaving me nervous about staying healthy. Being prepared for every possible scenario gave me the best chance of a successful holiday. Now that I’m back, I thought I’d share the helpful tips I received from others, plus a few of my own. So if you’re travelling to China, here’s my top tips to make it a smooth trip.
In a world where most of us like to stay connected with friends and family back home, China has communication challenges. When I researched this topic most travellers suggested buying a sim card for your mobile phone once you have arrive in China. It is supposed to be cheaper and fairly simple to do. I didn’t find this to be the case and spent a good few hours trying to purchase a sim card. Unless you are in China for a while and have time to chase this option, I suggest taking a pre-purchased international sim card from home.
Facebook, Google, Instagram and many other internet social tools are banned in China and to get around this block you need to purchase a VPN prior to your arrival in China. A VPN will cost around USD13 per month and will allow you to bypass the ‘Great Firewall of China’ as it’s known.
AIRPORT FREE WIFI
Be warned about the free WIFI offered at Chinese airports. Although I tried joining to message my family to say I’d arrived safely, I didn’t manage to message them. However, my sign up was successful enough to mean that for the next couple of months I’ve had random messages and phone calls from Chinese callers. I don’t advise using the free WIFI at airports.
ACCESSIBLE PUBLIC TOILETS
Airports, train stations and other major tourist attractions generally have stand-alone unisex accessible western bathrooms. However, they have a funny hand rail system which is fixed and hugs the area around the toilet fairly closely which may make it difficult for a wheelchair user to transfer. This was also the case in the Holiday Inn Hotel I stayed at in Chengdu. There’s little you can do but it’s good to be aware.
Toilet paper and soap is scarce, or non-existent, when out touring, even in tourist areas. Take pocket packs of tissues with you and don’t leave the hotel without them. I also advise carrying hand santiser gel or antibacterial wipes with you at all times, most public toilet facilities do not have soap.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
I found there is a significant language barrier. I wasn’t travelling in Bejing or Shanghai so the situation may be different in those large cities. I suggest downloading Google translate on your phone as it operates without WIFI and will make life much easier and avoid bad choices when shopping. I purchased what I thought was a strawberry ice cream. It was not to my taste and went straight in the bin. My travel buddy used Google translate on the wrapper and told me it was in fact Red Bean ice cream. I don’t recommend it!
Google translate is also a good way of communicating with locals when asking questions. English was not widely spoken in the areas where I travelled and even the staff on Xiamen Airlines (the airline I travelled with to and from China) had limited English. Simple shopping in Walmart turned into a game of charades where I found my bananas being whisked away without me understanding why. Apparently I should have had them weighed and priced in the fruit and veg section before going to the check out. Rookie error!
Bargaining is common place. If you’re on a tour, ask the guide what’s a fair price for items you wish to purchase. Do however keep in mind that a couple of dollars saving to you, could mean a lot to the people you are bargaining with. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of getting a bargain. I like a bargain as much as the next person but if the item is already cheap, think about the difference that money may make to the person you are haggling with.
I’m an enthusiastic shopper from way back but these days, my aim is usually to buy something for the kids or family back home. I usually do a Google search before travelling to see what’s good to buy in the area I’m travelling. In China there are unique items which vary from region to region.
Decorative glass bottles which artists paint on the inside make a lovely gift. A limited number of artists have this skill and the intricate nature of their work is truly inspiring. The bottles come in a variety of designs including pandas, floral and traditional Chinese scenes.
Hand carved stone stamps made a novel and inexpensive gift for my friend’s children. I had the stones carved with each child’s name in both English and Chinese. It only took about 10 minutes and with the children learning Mandarin at school it was a meaningful connection to China.
At one tourist attraction we visited, an artist designed intricate calligraphy name plaques. He even offered to laminate them for easy transportation. This was popular with many in our group and was a lovely personalised gift for kids back home.
Silver jewellery is cheaper than at home so AJ received a necklace and many of my fellow travellers purchased bracelets, necklaces and rings too.
Visit your doctor at least a month prior to travel to receive vaccinations and health advice. I stayed well in China, but I stuck to my doctor’s suggestions. I drank sealed bottled water, I only ate fruit I could peel, I didn’t have ice in any drinks and used soap and hot water or hand santiser regularly to wash my hands. I also travelled with anti-nausea and anti-diahorea medication, rehydrating tablets (Hyrolite), a general antibiotic, itchy cream for mozzie bites and paracetamol. If travelling in summer, throw in mosquito repellant as the mozzies savaged my travel buddy.
In general I found accessibility to be fairly challenging. Stairs are narrow, often there’s no hand rail and temples have barriers on their entries which require visitors to step over to enter. Where ramps are provided, they are usually steep. Definitely not a 1 in 14 gradient. I would recommend splashing out on a private guide to help with local knowledge and to assist with negotiating sightseeing. China is cheap and you may be able to pay for assistance with access too.
One of our guest bloggers said their family researched accessibility for their trip to Vietnam by Googling images of the attractions they hoped to visit. This is a fabulous practical tip to get a general idea of the challenges you may face.
I absolutely loved exploring China but I must acknowledge the many challenges for wheelchair users or those with a mobility restriction. This may not be as difficult in the bigger cities. I hope these travel tips assist you in planning or deciding if China is a destination for you.
If you’ve travelled to China, I’d love to hear about your experiences and whether you have any tips to add.