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[TRAVEL TIPS] Essential Things to Know Before Travelling to China

From the majestic Great Wall to the serene vistas of Guilin, from the rich flavors of Sichuan cuisine to the modern skyline of Shanghai, every aspect reinforces why China deserves a prime spot on your travel itinerary. Moreover, with the recent introduction of visa-free travel to China for Singapore and Malaysia, there’s never been a more enticing time to discover the wonders of this diverse and vibrant country.

Read more: [TRAVEL TIPS] Essential Things to Know Before Travelling to China

Sharing some of the essential things to know before travelling to China from my recent trip to Guangzhou:

China has transitioned into a cashless economy era, prominently featuring major e-wallets such as Alipay and WeChat Pay. Payment instructions for these platforms are ubiquitous, visible in locations ranging from shopping malls to wet market stalls. Since registration for these payment methods necessitates a Chinese bank account, one can opt for cash payments instead. It’s worth noting that cash payments are still widely accepted. However, transactions made through Alipay and WeChat Pay incur a 3% transaction fee for amounts exceeding 200 RMB, as foreign currency cards are detected. Notably, Youtrip cards are accepted at major stores within malls.

Download the Youtrip card via my referral link to receive $5 credit.

Alternatively, it’s advisable to have some cash readily available. Certain establishments still accept cash payments as well.

Here are some essential apps to download for your travels in China, designed to streamline your travel:

  • Alipay (支付宝) or WeChat (微信): These versatile payment platforms are widely accepted throughout the country, ensuring smooth transactions.
  • Apple Maps (苹果地图) or GaoDe DiTu (高德地图): Navigate with ease using these reliable mapping apps, whether you’re exploring on foot or by vehicle.
  • Baidu Translate (百度翻译): Overcome language barriers effortlessly with this translation app, facilitating communication in various situations.
  • Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行): Secure transportation easily with this ride-hailing app, offering convenient options for getting from place to place.
  • Baidu Maps (百度): Stay on track with this comprehensive mapping tool, providing detailed directions and points of interest.
  • Metro China Subway: Simplify your urban travels with this app, offering information on China’s extensive subway systems for efficient navigation.

It’s advisable to prepare in advance for airport travel, as queues can be lengthy, particularly during peak holiday periods. China’s high-speed rail network is both efficient and cost-effective, providing travelers with an opportunity to witness the country’s varied landscapes. Subway systems and buses offer convenient options for navigating cities, although language barriers may arise when using taxis. Utilizing the Didi app is another practical solution for transportation, and it can also be accessed via Alipay. Alipay app not only serves as a means of getting around but can also function as a metro, bus, and train card, offering a high level of convenience.

The app developed and operated by China, WeChat (known as Weixin in Chinese), reigns supreme in the realm of communication within the country. Virtually everyone, from elderly grandmothers to expatriates, utilizes it. Its availability in English enhances user accessibility, and personally, I find its user experience superior to that of other messaging platforms. WeChat serves as an excellent means to connect with locals. WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Line, and Messenger are all inaccessible without a VPN. Therefore, it’s advisable to acquire a roaming service or an eSIM card. I purchased e-sim card during my trip to gain access to my usual communication tools.

While it’s widely known that mainstream social media and websites are blocked in China, it’s a reality that inbound travelers must contend with. The list of banned platforms encompasses Google and all its affiliated products, along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp. Previously, accessing these sites required installing a VPN before your trip, a practice I followed when traveling to China five years ago. However, the situation has evolved, and it’s not necessarily mandatory to install a VPN to gain access anymore.

Beijing and several cities in the northwest have experienced significant air pollution in the past. However, concerted efforts have been made to improve air quality in Beijing, making it safe to visit these days. For short stays (less than 10 days), investing in masks is unnecessary unless you have a pre-existing medical condition. However, it’s advisable to download the Airpocalypse app, which can assess air quality and help you adjust your plans accordingly if the weather deteriorates. Unlike fixed group tour itineraries, our private guided tours offer great flexibility, allowing guests to adjust attractions to optimize their stay. Some individuals may have trouble breathing, so it’s essential to monitor your health condition closely.

Squat toilets remain prevalent in public places throughout China, with a designated handicapped stall often featuring a Western-style toilet, typically located at the end. Fortunately, seated toilets can readily be found in upscale hotels, airports, malls (especially in developed cities), high-end restaurants, and even on high-speed trains. Notably, fast-food chains like McDonald’s or KFC have adjusted their facilities to cater to Chinese preferences. The terms “WC” and “toilet” are commonly used, rather than “bathroom” or “restroom.” Always ensure you have toilet paper with you, as it’s often not provided in public restrooms. Additionally, you may encounter a bin next to the toilet for used toilet paper disposal, as some sewage systems are not equipped to handle paper. While instructions may sometimes be posted on the back of the door, they are typically in Chinese. As a precaution, whenever you encounter a bin, it’s best to dispose of the paper without scrutinizing it and then promptly leave.

By keeping these essential tips in mind, you’ll be better prepared to navigate the wonders of China and make the most of your travel experience.

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