With a massive population, booming economy, wealth of ancient history and a plethora of sights to see, China is one of the most popular destinations on the globe. To match the size of the world’s third largest country, we’ve assembled a big list of practical tips to prepare you for what’s ahead, from trains to technology to tours.
Visit a Park
For a glimpse of Chinese life, visit a park. In almost every one, you’ll find people walking, kids playing and lot of socializing. Around 7 a.m. on most days, locals gather to exercise en masse. You’ll most likely see large groups singing, dancing or practicing tai chi. If you feel self-conscious standing on the sidelines and watching, take a special Beijing Morning Tour.
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Going by Taxi
Many cab drivers in China speak minimal English and cannot read pinyin, which is romanized Chinese. Have someone at your hotel write down the address of your destination in Chinese characters, and always carry a card with the name of your hotel written in Chinese characters.
China is home to the world’s largest high-speed rail network, with trains providing a fast, safe and inexpensive way to travel. You’ll find several different types of trains with one thing in common—speed. On a trial run of the new Shanghai-Beijing route in late 2010, China’s new generation CRH380 train set a world record of 298.9 mph (481.1 kph). A ride on the world’s first commercial, high-speed magnetic levitation (maglev) line is almost like flying. See for yourself—the Shanghai Maglev train runs between Shanghai and Pudung Airport.
Photo Credit: Max Talbot-Minkin
Beijing – Jingshan Park
To escape the crowds of the Forbidden City, cross the street in front of the north gate and step into Jingshan Park. After you view the splendidly preserved imperial gardens, hike up Jingshan Mountain. As the highest peak in Beijing, it affords unmatched panoramic views over the Forbidden City and surrounding areas.
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No Facebook Allowed
Facebook fans will need to put their musings and updates on hold while traveling in China. The government has declared Facebook illegal and bans access to the site. Censorship will also prevent Internet users from accessing specific sites considered sensitive by the government.
Respecting personal space and lining up in an orderly fashion are not customary in China. Competing with a population of over 1.3 billion, even senior citizens push to get ahead of a crowd. Whether you’re boarding a train, waiting at a ticket booth, or entering a special event, it’s every man, woman and senior for themselves. Don’t be shy—it’s quite alright to push to the front of the herd.
Photo Credit: Drew Bates
Better Safe Than Sorry
China is safe for tourists, but densely crowded. Always keep your valuables in a money belt, neck pouch or held in front of you when traveling on subways and buses—especially during rush hour and when visiting tourist sites with large crowds. See our array of security gear at TravelSmith.com.
To experience patriotism in true Chinese style, visit Tiananmen Square before sunrise for the daily flag-raising ceremony. Hundreds gather to view a special honor guard carefully raise the country’s flag, accompanied by the Chinese national anthem. The solemn, three-minute event is timed to match the sunrise, so it changes throughout the year. Remember to allow time to pass through security.
Forbidden City Tips
Photo Credit: Peter Rowley
Many people in China do not speak English, and signs in outlying areas are usually only in Chinese. Unless you speak the language or live in China, it’s best to travel with a tour to get the most out of your trip. Local guides with a host of insider information often join tours at each destination.
Special Access Tours
If you have unique interests, consider an add-on tour with specialists. Let a Jewish historian take you past Jewish quarters and synagogues, or follow an expat who’s lived in Shanghai for decades. History buffs, culture fans, foodies and shoppers can all get their fix on small-group (six person) tours.
It’s important to respect cultural customs so you don’t offend anyone. Chopsticks are eating utensils—not drumsticks, pencils or toys. Asians consider it rude to:
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Kites in Flight
The Chinese have a long-standing love affair with kites. If you visit China in April, you can catch the annual International Kite Festival in Weifang and see thousands of colorful winged creations in flight. The very popular opening ceremonies kick off the festival that bestows the coveted title of Kite King to one of thousands that compete.
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Smaller shops and restaurants, as well as many other businesses in China do not accept credit cards. ATMs are plentiful in major tourist areas, but may not accept foreign credit cards further afield. Be prepared with small bills.
In general, the Chinese do not appreciate an unkempt appearance. Dress conservatively and suitably for the occasion, usually smart casual. Revealing attire is not appropriate for most situations. If you travel on a tour, bring a formal dress or suit in case you attend a special dinner, show or opera.
Aside from top-end hotels and mainstream locales, be wary of fresh fruits and vegetables that may be washed with unpotable water. If food isn’t cooked, peeled or boiled, it’s best to avoid it if you’re off the beaten trail. Many travelers take probiotics as a line of defense.
Local specialties are truly the spice of travel. While in Beijing, be sure to try the following:
Seeing the Great Wall
The most popular and well-preserved portion of the Great Wall is Badaling, which includes an entry fee and a few challenging inclines, steps and railings. Be sure to dress appropriately for the season and wear comfortable walking shoes. If you’re traveling in the spring, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds, a mild climate and lush, new vegetation.
Admission Fee: April 1 to October 31: CNY 45 (approx. $7.25 U.S.);
November 1 to March 31: CNY 40 (approx. $7 U.S.)
Cable Car: One way: CNY 80 (approx. $13 U.S.); Round trip: CNY 100 (approx. $16 U.S.)
Getting to the Great Wall
There are several ways to get to China’s most popular destination:
(approx. 1½ hours)
For more info, visit: www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/beijing/greatwall.htm
Languages in China
There are over 200 languages spoken in China. The official language is Standard Mandarin, but special administrative and autonomous regions have their own dialects. Depending on where you travel, you’ll hear a host of foreign tongues:
Cantonese is also spoken in Guangzhou, the Guangdong province and the eastern Guangxi province.
Points of interest become even more crowded during holidays in China. Check Chinese calendars for holiday dates when planning your trip. The country’s most important celebration is Spring Festival Week in February, when the entire population returns home for new-year family celebrations. National Day celebrations occur over 7 days in October. Hotel rooms and airfare, as well as rail and bus tickets are in peak demand during these periods.