China can be a hard country to travel with its crazy culture and constant queuing so I wanted to provide anyone thinking of visiting China with some travel tips to enhance their experience. So here are my 10 travel tips for China based on my personal experiences.
- Be prepared for sideways queuing
- Always take your passport with you to buy tickets
- Arrive at train or bus stations with at least 2 hours to spare
- Be prepared to regularly have your photo taken
- Personal space is not a term that is well understood
- ALWAYS carry toilet roll
- Book travel tickets in advance
- Plan your trip in advance
- Always carry cash
- Not all cash machines will recognise your card
Be prepared for sideways queuing
Wherever you go, be it the supermarket, train station, a bar or just the local bank, be prepared for sideways queuing. No orderly lines are formed, just people cutting in every gap that appears. I learnt quickly that when in Rome do as the Romans do and become Chinese with regards to the queuing system!
Always take your passport with you to buy tickets
Do not ignore this travel tip for China as they will not sell you train or bus tickets otherwise. This can be a bummer as you may have walked miles to reach the ticket office only to be turned away.
Arrive at train or bus stations with at least 2 hours to spare
Even though you have your allocated seat on your ticket, you will probably have to queue to get into the station where your passport and ticket will be checked before you go through a security check. You will usually then arrive at another queue to reach the required platform. So make sure you arrive with lots of time to spare.
Be prepared to regularly have your photo taken
Photos will be taken of you wherever you are and whatever you are doing with no shame. This will happen more often if you are blonde, tall or have distinctive features such as tattoos. I was in Beijing during the holiday season (August) where there were lots of Chinese tourists that have rarely seen westerners. I was lucky enough to have my photo taken continuously, sometimes they asked and sometimes they slyly position their friend in your line of sight and snap away thinking you don’t notice! Just embrace it and make sure that you smile.
Personal space is not a term that is well understood
Just like the London underground in rush hour, Chinese people like to squeeze as many bodies as they can on the subway and on buses. It’s better to pay for a seat or bed on a train so that you can have some space but be aware that there is an unseated option. This means that if lots of people choose this option, they may encroach on your personal space to find some form of comfort– especially if the journey is a long one!
ALWAYS carry toilet roll
Now you definitely do not want to be caught out when you need the loo and have no paper so another one of my top travel tips is to carry toilet roll or wipes everywhere you go in China. Public toilets, even hostels and hotels rarely supply it and you don’t want to be caught short! Also the toilets are of the squatting variety so I would suggest avoiding baggy harem pants!
Book travel tickets in advance
My travel plans had to be adjusted as Colin and I are last minute decision makers and not very prepared which meant that train and bus tickets were not available on the dates that we wanted. Remember that train and bus is the main form of transport in China and they get very busy especially during Chinese holidays.
Plan your trip in advance
China is huge and not the quickest country to travel, especially if you’re on a budget. I felt like we spent too much time in the North and Eastern cities of China and would have liked to have spent more time in the West and South but didn’t plan the trip very well. I suggest that you work out what you want to see before you go and save a few days in case you change your mind, or find something amazing and want to change your plans when you’re there.
Always carry cash
Most places you visit in China, including tourist destinations, will only accept cash. Please bear in mind that there is rarely an option to pay by card so ensure that you carry enough cash for your needs.
Not all cash machines will recognise your card
The cash machines available in China will rarely recognise Visa cards so my advice would be to try to find an ICBC ATM or bank as they worked every time for us. Get out as much cash as you can when you find one as you may be stranded otherwise. (see point 9 above!)