Hello blogosphere- it’s been awhile! I am back from my two-week trip to China, and am excited to share my wonderful experiences with you! Seeing that it was my first time in Asia, a lot of things were new to me. Here are my top ten tips for first timers going to China.
1. Get a visa
- Make sure you allow yourself three months to get a tourist visa to China! It is valid for ten years and will set you back a pretty penny, costing around $180.
2. Pre-arrange accommodation
- When you submit your visa application you have to provide a hotel reservation or an address where you plan to stay during your trip. I recommend reserving a room on booking.com, which you can always cancel afterwards.
- Keep in mind that AirBnb is also available in China. Shout out to my awesome hosts in Hong Kong!
3. Stock up on apps
- Many popular apps are blocked in mainland China, such as Google, Instagram and Facebook. Double check that your phone has a VPN client and download an extra on just in case. It will sure come in handy, when you need to double check your reservations and share your experiences with family and friends.
- Navigation: Getting around in big cities with millions of people can be overwhelming. I recommend downloading an alternative to Google Maps such as Maps.me or Baidu (only available in Chinese!) to help you find your way. Ctrip is great when it comes to buying train tickets, flights and hotels, and MetroMan is perfect for helping you figure out the subway system in big cities.
- Messaging: WeChat is the social media platform in China. It offers a messaging service kind of like Whats’app but also with a wall feature similar to a Facebook timeline. WeChat is the best way to stay in touch with new people you meet along your trip and once you return home.
- Translation: There are lots of good translation apps out there. Check out WayGo, which lets you scan characters and shows the real time English translation. This is especially useful when looking at street food menus or venturing out into less touristy areas.
4. Boil your water
- Drinking cold drinks is not common practice in China. In fact, many people in China will tell you that it is bad for your health to drink anything that isn’t at least room temperature, if not warmer. That being said, most people boil their water and drinking directly from the tamp is not recommended or common practice.
5. Get ready to haggle
- Going to local markets was certainly one of the highlights of my trip! It is a great way to pick up on local trends (such as rings for your smartphone), check out funny knock-off versions of your favorite brands (abidas, anyone?), and buy great gifts for people back home! As a rule of thumb, I try to bargain down for 50% of the first asking price.
6. Go to museums early
- Most museums in China are closed on Monday, just like in Europe, and typically close at 4:30 PM. Plus, lots of museums are free, so try to beat the crowds by heading out early.
7. Say cheese!
- If it is your first time in China, you might be caught off guard by people asking to take a picture with you. This is something that happens quite frequently, and with people of all different ages and genders. After a while you kind of get used to it and start feeling a little like a celebrity.
8. Jump the line
- Don’t be surprised if people cut in front of you while in line. It is best to be aggressive when it comes to queuing in China. Afterall, with so many people you might be waiting a long time otherwise.
9. Buy a surgical mask
- As unusual as it may come across, I highly recommend buying a mask while in China. The air pollution levels vary quite a lot depending on several factors such as proximity to factories and weather. If you want to find out more about the current air quality of where you are off to there are also several great apps for that such as Blue Map.
10. Embrace the culture
- Last but not least, soak up as much of Chinese culture as you possibly can. While there, talk to as many locals as possible to get a feel for what it is like. Before going, I recommend reading up on the recent history such as Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones or checking out some coursera courses offered by Chinese universities.