So as I said in my blog post Reasons Why China is Fucking Mental (for A Westerner), China is a pretty crazy country. Here are a few practical things you should know before you go to China.
You Can’t Use the Internet
That’s not strictly true, you can use the internet. However, if you like using Google, Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc etc then you need to get a VPN.
A VPN is essential if you want to Google anything or access virtually any social media or foreign website. This is due to the Great Firewall of China, a combination of legislature and technology used by the government to regulate domestic internet use. You have the Chinese governments obsessive control over their people to thank for this.
VPN’s cost money but I found mine absolutely life saving! It also really highlighted how reliant I am on Google for everything! I used Express VPN throughout my trip and found it to be satisfactory for basic internet use. Although, I did struggle to complete anything band width heavy like blog writing!
There are loads available and many resources so do your own research based on the requirements of your trip! Just make sure you get it before you go as some VPN sites will be blocked by the Firewall. Also, ensure that your VPN works in China as the Firewall is constantly being updated.
You Can’t Pay On Card
You can’t use Visa or MasterCard in 90% of places! In fact, the only time I was able to use mine was at a cash point.
You could potentially use WeChat (Chinese version of WhatsApp) and Alipay to pay for things using your mobile. In the past, it was required that you have a Chinese bank account which obviously isn’t practical for travellers. However, recently you have been able to use foreign accounts. This method has been known to be unreliable though, with some accounts being rejected for no reason.
We struggled to even get WeChat as a communication tool, let alone set up our credit cards, so we decided to steer clear.
My advise would be to bring cash, but do a bit of research to work out whats best for you!
Taxi Drivers absolutely will over charge you if they can, especially if you are foreign. Make sure that the driver starts the meter when you get in. That way they must charge the correct amount. Additionally it’s helpful to research normal prices and have an idea of what your journey should cost.
Of course also ensure that you are using an official taxi. We got a lift from what was essentially, a bloke in a car one day in Harbin. This was out of sheer desperation, but we ended up being triple charged, so it pays to wait!
Another top tip: make sure you have your destination written in Chinese on a piece of paper before you go. It would also be helpful to have the name of your hotel written down too for emergencies. Drivers almost certainly won’t speak any English.
No One Speaks English!
English speaking is very rare, not just among Taxi Drivers, so prepare! I’m not saying learn Chinese before you go but at least purchase a phrase book. Learning a few simple phrases will go a long way.
For anything more complicated, we found the Google Translate App to be sufficient. Even if the translation isn’t perfect most people will be able to understand you with the help of common sense and context. Additionally, most people are also incredibly happy to help you, so you should be ok.
There are much better translation apps available and probably worth the investment for longer trips, particularly in rural China.
Bring Toilet Paper!
Bring toilet paper with you everywhere you go! Many public toilets simply do not provide it so it really pays to make space for this in your bag. I would also highly recommend some hand sanitiser.
Additional word of warning. Many public and hostel toilets will have squat toilets. These aren’t fun at all and I didn’t get used to them. If a sit down toilet is something you want I would suggest investigating your accommodation, to be sure. I’m sure most Hotels will have western toilets though.
Bring Your Passport Everywhere!
Bring your passport everywhere! For two reasons:
1. You will be going through a lot of security. At metro stations, going into tourist venues and even in the street. Random identity checks are also a thing. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually care about tourists but it’s a good idea to have it as a form of ID for these situations. Even if they just wave you on as they did with us every time.
2. This comes under the same point as above but slightly more specific. You will not be able to buy train tickets without your passport. You will also not be able to buy tickets to some tourist attractions, in particular the Forbidden City.
One of the smaller venues in the Temple Heaven wouldn’t allow us inside without showing our passport, even though it was free!
Basically, just keep your passport with you to avoid any disappointment. I personally prefer to keep it on me for safe keeping anyway. Bonus points if it’s in a secret money belt thing or something.
Don’t Drink The Water!
Water is not safe to drink in China.
Bottled water is fairly inexpensive to buy. You can also boil it before drinking. Many restaurants will give you hot water, tea or broth with your meal!
What did you think?
Let me know in the comments section.
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