China is a truly magnificent country that is culturally rich with great intensity. It is a huge country with something for everyone to see and experience. From a trek on the great wall of China to visiting the forbidden city and time at the French concession in Shanghai to trying their elaborate cuisine. I was forever intrigued by our neighbour who are truly a world apart, though they shared a border with India. This curiosity was courtesy my father whom while growing up, I have watched take off to China and upon his return listen to him in awe about his travel stories about the people there, work culture, their unique diet and how he adapted at times.
While travelling to China I was lucky enough to have experienced the country like a local with my Chinese friend and avoided a lot of hurdles of a new culture that I would have caught unaware.
Here’s a compilation of things that I have learnt from my visit to china, some that my father told us from his multiple visits to the country and a few that I wish some one had told me before we got there.
10 Important Things to know before travelling to CHINA
Though most major hotels and upscale restaurants accept credit cards, there are many small businesses who still prefer exchanging for only cash. Especially the towns outside Beijing and Shanghai. Even the taxis accept cash and if you plan to go street shopping and experience their street food, carry sufficient as majority of these places do not accept visa or master cards. Also note; they do not accept any other form of currency like the US Dollar or Euro. They only accept their official currency i.e. the yuan or also know as RMB.
LUXURY BRAND KNOCK OFFS
While shopping (not at luxury department or luxury stores) one will easily come across many fakes for high end and luxury brands like Louis Vuitton to Apple. Convincing logos and well made bags, shoes, electronics and make up from these brands are sometimes difficult to differentiate from the real thing and the persistent shopkeepers end up convincing you to buy them for half the price or even less. If it’s such flawless knock offs that you are looking for, Nanjing Road in Shanghai is a great place to bargain.
If it’s not a major department store, boutique or a chain it’s expected off you to haggle for the price on everything. Never accept the marked price or even the first mentioned price of the items. You should end up paying only 50% of the initial price so keep going till they agree to it to sell you for that much or else move on to the next store.
Never, just never drink the tap water in China. It is contaminated unlike in the Europe or US. If you are staying at a hotel, get bottled water from the super markets. In restaurants do not ask them to serve normal water, ask for sealed bottled water instead. At many restaurants serving local cuisine, you can drink the the boiled or hot water that is served before the meal.
CONVERSING WITH LOCALS
Very few people mostly at good hotels or upscale restaurants speak English in China. So to learn a few words or basics in Mandarin or to even get important phrases translated and written down somewhere handy is a good idea. It is usually extremely difficult to converse with taxi drivers here. In that case, I went prepared before hand with a list of destinations and their addresses translated in Mandarin. If someone at your hotel speaks English even they can help you book taxis and translate the places for you. But keep in mind, even though the staff may seem to be speaking broken English they all don’t necessarily translate well.
BLOCKED SITE ACCESS
In China major social media sites and search engines are blocked by the government. Sites like Google, Facebook, Instagram, You tube and Gmail are inaccessible once you step into the country. Most hotels have purchased VPN services that drops this virtual wall to let their international guests easily access all these sites. If that’s not the case with your hotel, you will have to purchase VPN online. When shopping for VPNs look for the fact that they cover China as many free options do not.
Taxis as a mode of transport is the best option in china after metros in major cities. However, they are definitely better than the hassle of renting your own car or figuring out driving in the traffic and in crowded places. Important thing is to be sure that you rent the metered taxis and not any other or else they’ll take you for a ride. Also, you are not required to tip the taxi drivers and these taxis turn out comfortably cheaper to get from one place to another.
FOOD IN CHINA
China has amazing food. I thoroughly enjoyed my Chinese culinary experiences and I will understand if you tell me that it’s not going to be your cup of tea. If you are not accustomed to the original Chinese pallet (we are not taking about Indian Chinese), I will say getting access to restaurants serving non-Chinese dishes in not convenient, but again, not that difficult. There are usually many popular fast food chains and restaurants serving away an array of international cuisines. These places are mostly located in major cities or CBDs, so if you plan to go more into the outskirts or villages you might find getting any food suitable to your pallet a lot difficult. I highly recommend vegetarians to do their research for Indian restaurants around and study the menus before hand or else rice is the only thing that will be edible in sight.
Street food in china is amazing. There are so many stalls serving away a variation of everything deep fried to all things matcha (green tea). Such places are almost everywhere. If you feel confused about what to try and which vendor to choose from, just follow the locals and join the one with the longest queue, those are likely to be a safer bet. I enjoyed matcha ice cream on sticks, the popular soup dumplings, prawn tempuras, green dumplings, crepes and savoury pancakes. If you are in Shanghai, try them at Nanjing Road and Yuyang Market.
LOCAL SIM CARD
On arrival one can purchase a local sim card at the airport with sufficient data at ease. The process gets only a little longer if you are trying to get one in the city. On that note, we have noticed it is better getting it outside with the service provider “China Mobile” as their date service is a lot faster. Then again if you feel the need to get one at the start of your trip, airport is your best call. This will help you locate your destination on the GPS, download translator apps and also find restaurants and convenient stores.
Keep a note of these 10 important things before travelling to China and you will experience a smooth trip with only amazing memories to this culturally intense country and don’t forget to try their famous soupy dumplings while you are there about which you will find in our other post from the CHINA SERIES.