China is an incredible country; full of history and unimaginably different cultures from East to West and from North to South. It can be a lot to take in. When I moved to China I had no idea what was awaiting me. I had my visa and felt ready to explore this amazing country. Little did I know, that I had many lessons to learn along the way.
To make your first trip to China a smooth and stress-free experience, I have a few things I suggest you bear in mind before you go to be prepared and informed.
REMEMBER TO APPLY FOR YOUR VISA IN ADVANCE
Unless you’re only staying in China for less than 72 hours while in transit, China requires visitors from almost all countries to have a visa. Find out what the rules are in your country and how long it will take to process your visa.
In Denmark, you can either go to the Chinese Embassy in person to apply (525dk), or you can send your passport to the embassy with a postal service at an additional fee. Do double check what your options are in your country, as it varies.
WHERE TO GO
The top recommended tourist destinations in China are; Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Guilin. Different regions have different weather conditions, and special attractions throughout the year, so make sure to check ahead of time!
Personally, I would suggest that you get to see and experience both the city and the countryside in China while visiting.
The cities in China are enormous and all have very different energy and history, making them all very different experiences. On a first visit to China I would recommend visiting Shanghai and Beijing. New and old. You will get to see how different two big cities in China can be.
The countryside in China is absolutely stunning. If you want to make a 2-3 day trip out to the mountains and the countryside, go to either Huangshan or Moganshan. Both mountains are very accessible from Shanghai. We were blown away by the hospitality of the locals and the wonderful nature.
** Are you interested in making a trip to the bamboo forests of Moganshan, but not quite sure how to go about it? Check out my suggestions for a weekend away here!
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The summer in China can get incredibly hot and unbearably humid. If your vacation time allows for it, consider visiting China during the off-season. To avoid the sweltering heat, visit from late September to June.
Bear in mind that there are two major public holidays in China;
- October Holiday – 1st-7th of October
- Chinese New Year – January/February; it follows the lunar calendar and therefore changes every year. Do check!
These two holiday are the main vacation times for most local Chinese. This means that they get to go home to visit their families and it therefore causes a major human migration twice a year. With hundreds of millions of Chinese on the move, you can only imagine how that affects all means of public transportation within the country.
As mentioned, the Chinese cuisine varies a lot from region to region in China. There are four main ‘kitchens’ in China. The North is the wheat-growing area and therefore very heavy on noodles. The northern food tends to be heartier and you will find a lot of stews and dumplings.
The Southwest is very famous for something called ‘mala’ – a spicy and numbing sensation caused by a peppercorn.
In the South, it’s very warm and allows the farmers to grow up to three crops of rice a year. In the countryside, you see picturesque rice fields everywhere. This also means that the southerners are bigger on rice compared to the north for example. The food tends to be lighter and more delicate.
The East faces the Chinese seas and is very seafood heavy. The dishes are fresh and tend to be on the sweet side with sides of different pickled vegetables. If you go to Shanghai, you must try this local noodle soup!
In China fruits and vegetables are usually sold according to season. I always loved that about living in China. You learn to appreciate the seasons and look forward to mango season, peach season, persimmon season.. When easing seasonally, everything just tastes that much sweeter and fresher.
Don’t be afraid to try new foods!
When going to China there is an obvious language barrier. English is slowly becoming more and more common among the younger generation in the cities. However, many Chinese cannot speak it. By keeping a business card from your hotel to show taxi drivers, you might make things a lot easier for yourself. Learning a few simple phrases and numbers can get you far and will be very helpful especially when shopping.
To avoid an upset stomach, only drink bottled water and boiled tea! Also, be wary when trying street food – you may encounter bad quality cooking oils or old ingredients.
Take your precautions if you have a sensitive stomach. You might want to bring Imodium with you, as your stomach may not always agree with all of your food choices.
The Chinese government are still censoring both the media, certain websites and social media platforms. Sites like Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter are all blocked, and you will not be able to access them without a VPN. If this is a big issue for you, make sure to get a VPN on your phone and computer before entering China.
China is a huge country with many very different traditions and customs. Every region is different; different dialect, different cuisines, different lifestyles and I could go on.
As I’m sure you’re already aware off, China is facing issues with pollutions. This is especially apparent in the bigger cities. Some people choose to wear masks to protect their lungs.
In China it is very common to use squat toilets. Some places offer both squat toilets and Western toilets. When out in public, I actually came to prefer the squat toilets. Less contact = fewer worries, if you know what I mean. Public toilets rarely provide toilet paper, so make it a habit to carry some around with you along with hand sanitizer.
When it comes to street vendors and shopping at markets, it is perfectly acceptable to negotiate prices. As a rule of thumb, they will never sell anything to you if you have completely undershot the price. Have fun with the seller while bargaining – it’s always easier to come to an agreement if you’re on good terms.
Remember to be kind and respect that it is a different culture – a smile can take you a long way!
SAFETY IN CHINA
As with any big city around the world, there’s a chance of being pickpocketed. Travel smart, and obviously keep your bag close to you when you’re in crowded places such as tourist attractions and public transportation.
That being said, China is an incredibly safe place to be and to travel through. As a woman, I have never felt unsafe or harassed. The worst that may happen to you is that street vendors see an opportunity to over-charge you for items.
As always, be a smart traveler!
BEING THE TOURIST ATTRACTION YOURSELF
Once you venture out of the larger cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, be aware that locals are not used to seeing Westerners. You may find that people stare at you and even request to have their photo taken together with you. Just smile, it’s part of the experience! Most locals in China are very curious and mean no harm.
Now, have an amazing trip!