Welcome to China
So you want to visit China and you did your homework on what cities are worth the visit. The environments and experiences range literally from one end to the other based on location and season but there is a place for everyone here! Buckle up for the trip of a lifetime and share the legends, history, and journey along the way!
When planning your trip you want to be fully prepared and informed on what to expect so we made an easy way for you to be a pro China traveller. Here you will find details on the essentials to help make your travel experience as care-free as possible. Read every section carefully and plan your trip based on what you are looking for when you travel abroad.
We are assuming Chinese isn’t you first language which is why you arrived here. The Chinese network of apps and websites is so vast but it never seemed to reach to foreigners, but worry no more. We have put together a few need-to-know items before you come to visit that will make your stay as easy as Ee-Ar-San!
Remember, unless you’re Chinese you are a foreigner no matter what you look like so respect where you visit in every way. Check your attitude at the door! Chinese are amazingly friendly and love to help and assist foreigners (unless you’re in a taxi). This is true so much that you are better off having your Google Translate app ready to go with Chinese (simplified) version downloaded in case wifi or data isn’t accessible. So always try asking and keep it simple, like 1-5 words at a time since they mix up the sentence structure.
Here are a few things you need to prepare yourself for when traveling to any part of China:
There are many things about China that you will find interesting, intriguing, and outright comical… this might not be one of them. As advanced as the country is you will see an old practice more often than not when it comes to the plumbing here. We call it the “death drop” or some refer to it as a hole in the ground but one thing is for sure, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. The squatting technique is actually more natural for your body and it has been the practice for centuries before modern day or “western toilets” as they are called. You will be met with this and often times there is no toilet paper. In these Chinese toilets you can not put toilet paper in them and you will notice a waste basket nearby. Yes you got it, the precarious position you are in is exactly what you think. Again the natural position allows for less mess but the best idea is to just handle your business before you go out or find a hotel or handicapped bathroom. It is also a good idea to have tissues with you as toilet paper can often times not be provided in these Chinese style bathrooms. When needing to use the restroom you simply ask for “Toilet” or the international choice “WC” which stands for Water Closet (we can thank the British for that) and most will know. There are public restrooms all over China and restaurants, shopping malls, almost all have them but again it is hit or miss whether they have a western toilet.
In many ways you will go about your journey not noticing at all a socialist communist-like regime. In all reality China is changing and adapting so you likely won’t see anything that will strike you as negative government control, accept for one small detail… web based products. Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page must have done something wrong here in the red country because every Google product and Facebook product is “Mei You Le” (May-Yo La) or no more. At some point it was decided that these products were not right for the peoples republic and was therein banned. Youtube, Instagram, Gmail, Google Maps, Dropbox, Netflix, Amazon/Amazon Music, Uber and a host of others will just spin and spin and spin until you lose your mind. This can cause some major issues if you only use Chrome, Google Drive, or Gmail not to mention having Facebook be a primary source for reaching out to emergency contacts or other important information. Oh but the tranquility of leaving social media behind is not all but lost. If you have an international data plan you will find blazing hot speeds of 2G data to speed that death spiral up just a tad but not enough to keep you sane OR you can find out how to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which is like having your money in a Swiss bank account. Find out more about this in our section on planning ahead. Bing is the number one search tool here which includes yahoo and related products. Oh and not to “single” anyone out but Tinder works strong, not that you need it or anything…
Noises and Spitting:
This is common, very common. Expect to hear burping, chewing, clearing of the throat, spitting, and even other noises without a single person acknowledging.
A small town is considered less than 5 million people, so, personal space doesn’t exist. It’s ok if someone is crowding you, take a deep breathe and pretend they are your friend cause they mean no harm. It is also common to bump people and smash in line to get onto an escalator, have a little fun with it but never raise your elbows or be aggressive.
As said the Chinese love to help foreigners. Just smile and say “Hello” and watch where that gets you! But don’t expect restaurant staff to check up on you or visit your table. Remember, there are a lot of people and it would take ages to serve with the same style as other countries. Again, just smile and say “Hello”, they love to say hello back.
Everyone is glued to their phones. In movies, on the subway, at dinner, with friends, with family, and even places you didn’t think possible they are gaming, reading, watching movies, chatting, and being entertained.
It’s FREE for foreigners… yes that is right! Just check out the nightclub section below
99% of the time they don’t work here, even if it’s international. Check out the planning ahead portion for more info.
This is more difficult than ordering food. Unless you have the address in Chinese it is best to download Didi app and attach your foreign credit card to it. It is Chinese Uber and it sets the destination for you AND it’s the same price as a cab without all the hassle.
We know that the United States and a good portion of Europe have changed their ways when it comes to smoking indoors and even outdoors in many cases. China, is far behind this change. Simply said, you need to get over it if you plan to travel the world. You will smell like smoke if you go out at night and breathe it in on slow trains, in train stations, at restaurants, etc. The Chinese love to smoke and their cigarettes are much stronger and harsher on the senses.
Your senses get a bit overloaded sometimes in China with all the car and scooter honking. Most cases this is actually a kind jester letting the person or car in front of them know that they are coming up behind them and to not move or change lanes. But they also don’t have a lot of patience so they could also be saying “get out of the way”, “Go”, or “You’re an idiot”, but this wont apply to you unless you’re driving and even then they don’t do it aggressively.
You are in for a treat when it comes to the cuisine options in China and they range from region to region. To find out where the Trader Bros like to go visit the sections below. From street food to rotating restaurants you can spend anywhere from $1 to $50 to fill your belly and the average meal will set you back around $4. Try it all and sample from the large assortment of fresh produce and wonderful ways that Chinese food can be prepared. Malls are some of the best places to go unlike in the states and other countries. Here you can find some of the best food to eat that averages around $7 a plate. Going off of ratings won’t really help in China unless it is TripAdvisor and even then you are going to find more tourist ratings rather than locals. The Chinese don’t really leave reviews when it comes to dining out, probably because mom can make it better at home. Get adventurous and have your translator app ready to scan or speak for you, you won’t get let down.
China gets a bad reputation for water quality due to the environmental issues. However, it isn’t third world and boiling it is not necessary. In fact the water is treated but mostly for bacteria and viruses, it is the harsh metals that pollute the tap water here. Sometimes turning on a sink will start with a stream of yellowish water or even if left in a puddle on the floor or sink it will be of a yellow tent. This is due to rust from those metals. It is always best to have bottled water when you are in China and drink only water that is treated and filtered using reverse osmosis. The bigger restaurants know this and purchase their ice and have 5 gallon water service but again you can always just ask for bottled water.
Room And Board:
The Trader Bros love to get local and when staying in hotels they typically choose the smallest and most affordable. After all most of your time likely won’t be spent in your room. For the most part an average rated hotel in China is actually very good. Expect at all hotels no matter the quality to get free bottles of water, tea, and even toothbrush/toothpaste. An average hotel should be around $25 a night. You can splurge and go up from there and you will get a more comfy bed and amenities but even the average hotels will often include breakfasts where the buffets feature both Chinese and American style cuisine. There is always Couchsurfer, the app that lets you stay with certified and rated locals for free who will even take you out and show you around. Who knows, you may even find one of The Trader Bros hosting or staying there too! They utilize booking.com, airbnb, and expedia.com most often when choosing where they stay.
Technology rules the world in China, so get with the times. You can do things the hard way or you can just breeze right on through all the troubles that come with being in a foreign land not speaking the same language.
Follow these steps if you want to get around with limited stress:
Getting to Hangzhou:
FROM SHANGHAI PUDONG PVG: Charter bus, charter bus, charter bus! Don’t even bother trying any other way from Shangai Pudong Airport (PVG). There is a 3 hour bus that takes you to Hangzhou City Center and is only around $18. If you try to go light rail, taxi, or subway to Hongqiao (Shanghai’s second airport and railway station) it will take you at least 1 hour, then you will buy a train ticket at and wait around 30 minutes at least, then the train is 1 hour. All of that will occur with long lines, wait times, stress, and will cost around $10-15… take the charter. Exit the baggage claim at PVG and head up to the second floor where you will be in a long hallway going towards the other terminal, trains, Maglev, and metro. You want the Long Distance Bus which is only a few yards/meters down the hallway and down stairs or elevator in the middle of the hall. Follow the signs to the bus that look like this or show someone this image:
Once there go to the window and buy a ticket, say Hangzhou (Han-Jo). The bus leaves almost every hour from 7am-7pm, you can get a ticket fairly easy and within a few minutes so no need to rush and be there an hour early (unless holidays).
FROM SHANGHAI HONGQIOA SHA: If you arrived at the smaller airport or found your way to Hongqiao Railway Station then you are only one 45 minute high speed train away from Hangzhou! It is important to know that Hongqiao has an airport and a train station but its easily accesible to either once you are there. Just follow signs to Railway Ticket Office ***you cannot get into most train stations (line with airport-like security and xray) without first buying a ticket, so go to the ticket station first which is on the bottom floor. Signs will be in English and has a symbol that looks like this or show someone this image:
Read more about what to expect and how to go through the train process below.
Long Distance Bus:
As it implies, long distance travel can be done by bus and is often the second least expensive means besides trains. Sometimes a train may not go to the destination you would like directly and requires you to go first to another larger city. In these cases a direct mode of travel can be the same or cut down on time. For instance, traveling from Hangzhou to Suzhou is not very far, about 1.2 hours by train or 2.5 hours by bus. However, the train must go from Hangzhou to Shanghai and then onward to Suzhou. The train will cost a little over 100 RMB ($15) and the bus is 50 RMB ($7). When getting a bus you want to search your maps for bus stops or online search. If you are at the airport it is very straight forward. You just look for signs such as the one below or show someone this picture. Every airport and train station has buses that depart from that location however, they might not run routes to your final destination.
Like any big city you will see lots of Taxi cabs driving around and you will also be met with people at airports and train stations walking up to you saying Taxi. First things first, if they aren’t in their cab and it doesn’t have the light on the roof, it’s not a cab and they will rip you off. Second, if it does look like a cab and he is walking up to you, he is going to rip you off. Finally, if it is a cab and you get into it and he flips the meter on you are golden and have just utilized a taxi! Make sure they put the meter on and do not negotiate a price, because it will always be double. Expect to pay a minimum of 12 RMB ($2) to 50 RMB ($8) to go one from a few blocks to across town. Be ready with your map and DO NOT use english addresses or maps. They do not understand even if you put it on guidance in english and it shows arrows. Google maps has basic Chinese BUT they still do not know what is going on so unless you have the address to your destination in Chinese then we do not suggest getting a cab. If you’re staying in a hotel or B&B just get a card from the front desk and keep it on you or take a picture, show the drivers whenever you want to go back. Also Booking.com has a feature that shows the address in the local language which is handy. Do not be offended if you get into a cab and try to show them or show them an address and they wave their hand saying “No”, “Bu” (boo), or anything with “Bu” in it. You will need to get out of that cab and get another. This is a mystery for Trader Bros and even for all of the Chinese we have asked. It is either because the distance is too short, too long, or they are afraid that they cannot speak to you or get you to where you want to go. It may not go well if all you have is 100 RMB and you just got a 12 RMB ride, they usually dont carry a lot of change because everyone pays with Alipay (Chinese Paypal/Venmo) on their phone. Try to carry a few smaller notes. Either way, Didi is the obvious solution!
The Chinese are a proud bunch and are in many ways ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to being technologically savvy. They have also taken the products of other countries and copied them or even bettered them. Uber is one of those, as it does not work in China. But do not fret, Didi is there to save the day and it also likes foreigners. What does Didi mean? It translates to younger brother, it also is the way Chinese communicate the “ding ding” sound on a phone, but who really knows… it means you’re getting a ride in China! You can create an account and attach any card you want to it, we suggest using one that does not have international fees. You can book express cars which usually there are more of them so wait time is less OR select cars which are just a little nicer. These are basically the same as a cab but without all the issues and smoking. Download all apps before you come to China because internet/data can be really slow. Once your here you can rock and roll. Click on this link to get a discount on your first ride!
The subway network in most of China is incredible and fairly easy to understand as opposed to many other countries. It isn’t vast and layered so you wont need to go deep into the bowels of the underworld like you do in London and Ukraine. Here you can often get a ONE day card, THREE day card, and REFILL card. All of the service desk staff speak enough english to understand Metro Card, it also helps that “card” in Chinese is “Ka” so subway card is “Di Tie Ka” (Dee-Teeuh Kah) or you can show them this and give them however much you want on the card (they may say with seriousness something in Chinese you won’t understand and chacnes are they are telling you that the refill (green card) is 15 RMB as a deposit. Just say OK and give them the money):
地铁卡 (Subway Card)
In order to get on a train you will need to go through security which consists of a metal detector and xray. It’s pretty relaxed so don’t worry. If you have a bag in your hand or on your back you will need to put that through the xray. You won’t need to take out anything in your pockets. Once you pass through you just wave/hold your card over the gate card RFID/magnetic reader and the arms will move back allowing you to enter. If you have an iphone and data, iphone maps shows the transit system very well, you can even zoom in on the stations and identify the exit letters which is handy. Subway trips can be around 8 RMB-12RMB per full journey and you are charged every time you enter and exit the subway gates. That said, if you do a few trips in one day you can spend about 30-50 RMB. The easiest way to jump on and off based on where you are going is to simply know the color line and which END STATION is the direction of where you want to go.
There are a few things you need to know about riding the trains in China. Some cities may have more than one train station or Airport. Be aware and know that in advance and have the Chinese characters for the one you will be traveling to in your cell phone notes so you can quickly show them. If you are in the airport you can follow signs like this one below but do not try to enter all train stations without first having a ticket, they will turn you away. Follow these signs or show someone this picture:
If you have a water bottle it is okay, but when you go through security they may ask you to drink a little if its in your hand. If its in your bag it is ok. Also, sometimes they may confiscate certain items like what is not allowed on an airplane. These types of things aren’t really addressed on their website or on a sign so if you just treat it like an airport you are fine. Chinese trains stations are overwhelming and breathtaking… seriously they are the most massive things you will see and show a kind of technological “communist” engineering side of Chinese. So be prepared to be amongst thousands of people. You must arrive at least 1 hour before train departure to be safe in bigger cities. When you go to the ticket office there is a line It can take 30 minutes to get your ticket and 10-20 minutes to get through security lines. Look at the window labels and find the window that says “International Guests”, “Foreigners”, or something of that sort because these lines are usually shorter and the agent will speak better english. If you are traveling with another person it is a good idea to split up and wait in separate lines. Sometimes the international window is also for returns/refunds and they will tell you to go to another window which is just standard ticket window. You will know if you are good to use the window if you give them your passport/s and tell them your destination and they do not tell you to go to another window. So wait to see if they take your passports before leaving the other line if your split up.
There are different seat types including standing and the prices range according to class. Expect to pay around $11 for a bullet train or high speed rail. If you want to go big then pay $20 for a First Class seat which gets you some Chinese snacks and bottle of water of juice and more leg room or be one of only 4 to ride in the very front Business Class of luxury at around $30. These fully reclining bed style seats will help you get a nap in if you’re going long distance. You also get access to the business lounge located at the train station before your train leaves. If your train is leaving in 20 minutes or less you can often jump the line and ask someone towards the front if you can cut by looking distressed and pointing at your train time, again the
Chinese love to help foreigners. The train gates will open 10-15 minutes before the train departs so people can wait by the track. The gates will close 5 minutes before the train departs so if you are not running up to the gate within 10 minutes of departure its better to go to the window and get the next train or get a refund. You can get refunds on tickets within the same dayeven if you miss the train in the morning and take another train to the same location later in the evening. If you miss a train and do not go to the station for a refund the same day they will not refund you. Here is what a train ticket will look like and how you can read them.
The ultimate experience anywhere in the world is enjoying a bicycle ride in the streets or back roads and China is no exception. This country was made for biking around and you will be surprised to see the over 5 different options and thousands of bikes ready for you to rent and ride! There is a bike lane on almost every road and if there isn’t you can still go (accept highways, pay attention to signs) and everyone respects riders. There are even electric bike and scooter rentals but the easiest and world-wide option we have chosen as the best is OFO. You should download the OFO app before you arrive in China and apply your credit card just like Didi. Some of the bikes have baskets on the front so you can put your pack, purse, or bags in. All traffic lights even have bike signals for when you can cross the roads. Be careful of the motorcycles/scooters that will whizz by dangerously close. If you hear a honk of a scooter or bell of a bike simply stay in the lane and direction you are going, do not swerve or move out of the way. They are just signaling to you that they are coming around and if you move you might get hit and this applies to walking as well. Get 3 free rides with OFO by selecting this link and downloading the app.
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Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Here are some essential items the Trader Bros suggest when traveling abroad especially in China.
This is always a huge topic when we talk to groups or fellow travelers; “what is the best and cheapest way to exchange cash and do I even need to?”. The answer is yes, the Trader Bros have never been to another country and not needed local currency. Having exchanged money in every way possible, they have found that the easiest and cheapest way is to have USD cash planned out and on you. Once you arrive to that particular country you can go to the nearest and most known bank and exchange for the local currency. There is no fee for this and the currency is a straight conversion at whatever the current rate is. In China, Bank of China is the most well known and largest bank but others can also do this such as China Construction Bank or CCB (Bank of America partner with no ATM fees if you bank with BOAC).
Here is a breakdown of other methods that entail costs. Remember, credit cards don’t really work in most places even if they are international and if you book a hotel on booking.com or elsewhere it is common that you will actually need to pay upon arrival and they won’t accept that card you booked with. With that said, we still suggest having your card with you and asking, it will be fairly obvious if they take your card because larger more established chains and hotels have the same operating system worldwide.
- ATM- Pulling money off your personal banking account via debit card will cost you a one time fee (not based on cash amount) of around $4 USD AND a foreign transaction fee that is based on the amount of money you withdraw (check with your bank on these fees). This can add up plus you must consider that many ATM’s might not accept your card AND you are at risk of withdrawal limitations, traveling holds, and fraud/theft. For these transactions you do not need your passport.
- Currency Exchange- So you brought cash with you and you are at the airport and see currency exchange businesses, some of them even say bank. Here you will need your passport and they will charge you a one time fee that will be deducted off the total amount after conversion. The fee is a flat fee around $10 if you exchange under $500 but the exchange rate is typically higher. Use your GlobalConvert app to quickly see what the rate is at currently and compare
Sometimes image isn’t everything but we took the convenience of having items handy and merged it with a touch of fashion. When you need to travel light so you can enjoy yourself and be free this is what you need. Our partner Active Outdoor Supply produced Trader Bros inspired items for the expert traveller. Whether you get an AOS bag or have another in mind, it is important to stay streamlined and small. Bulky or loose bags not only are hard to manage but it allows for risks such as lost or stolen items. Carry only the essentials such as, phone, passport with tracking device, credit card, debit card, cash, a pen, tissues, a power bank, subway card, and a few other small items. The less you have in your pockets the better.
You will be on your phone. You don’t realize how much you are on your phone until you think about how much your phone does for you. Taking photos, doing conversions, using apps, posting online, checking times and tickets, getting a taxi or ride share, translating, and of course communicating with friends and family. You drain your battery so much faster than when your at home due to being around more chargers and also using a computer for some of these tasks. The Trader Bros inspired Active Outdoor Supply power bank phone case is a must without a doubt. Without this device you are left with using a power cord and bulky charger. Damage your power cord and now you are left with purchasing a cord that may or may not be compatible. This power bank can be switched on with two clicks of a button AND it charges while your phone charges when plugged into a wall outlet. There is even enough space to put a bank note, hotel card, or small paper with important contact information between the case and your phone. Either way you will need to have a power bank.
***remember to not pack it in checked baggage, it must be with your carry on luggage when flying.***
Passport Wallet With Tracking Device:
When you travel, S!@# (Bad Things) happens because you are adventuring. Living on the edge and being spontaneous has it’s downfalls. Probably one of the worst nightmares you can experience is losing your passport. Ask Trader Bros very own Jordan Wendelken and he will tell you how thousands of dollars later, lost time, and major business setbacks were all a result of a lost passport in Thailand. Know where your passport is at all times even if it is not on you AND use your passport wallet to find your phone if you had an unforgettable forgetful night with the AOS Iter passport wallet and tracking device! This sleek leather design also has 4 card sleeves and easy passport removal flaps for when you need to quickly remove your passport to show customs/immigration officers or currency exchange agents. Less is more, having as many things in one area as possible is always best practice so you don’t misplace or drop things unknowingly.
Yes the simple little writing tool. Never travel without one. Like the last time you traveled abroad and the flight crew handed you an arrival/departure card or immigration form but no pen. It’s the simple things in life that really make a big difference.
We aren’t saying it will happen but it probably will happen. Nature calls and you want to be prepared. As said in the section on what to expect, Chinese bathrooms often don’t come equipped with toilet paper. We also don’t recommend walking around with a huge roll of Charmin so pack light. A simple travel pocket sized package of tissue paper will do. Also many restaurants do not have napkins and if you ask for them they will literally give you a pack of tissue paper and will even charge you for it.
APPS You Must Have
You aren’t Chinese if you don’t have Wechat, Tao Bao. or Alipay simply said. However, the latter two can’t be obtained without a Chinese phone number or even bank account. So let’s stick with the basics. WeChat is essentially a communication and social media tool but it is so much more. With WeChat you get the Chinese versions of Venmo/Paypal, Facebook/Instagram, and WhatsApp all in one. You can send money, pay for food, post pictures, find people near you, share contact info, real time location sharing, browse restaurant menus, translate messages, and access many other features. This app is a must if you are visiting China even if its only for a few days.
GlobalConvert Currency & Units:
It’s always impressive to meet that special someone who can immediately convert currencies in their head… the Trader Bros are always so astonished and floored… yeah well try converting Celsius to Fahrenheit or Kilometers to Miles or even better, Pounds to Kilograms. It ain’t easy and you don’ t need to know this thanks to the GlobalConvert buddies! Easily get the info you need to have a classy conversation with your new found travel mates! You can save commonly needed conversions so it’s always a few clicks away and best of all, it is FREE! Currently only on iTunes.
Luckily you can still use some Google products without connecting to the internet. It is important however to download the languages you will be using. The ability to have someone speak OR have it translate a conversation back and forth at the same time is amazing! No need to buy an expensive electronic gadget when you have this. The app can be a little clunky if connection is bad but even with wifi in China you can use it faster. The only feature you will need VPN or international data is the ability to pull a photo from your library and translate any scripts. The camera feature still works but taking a screenshot and then translating wont work without using an international data connection.