China is a brilliant country, but there are so many differences in culture and travel when compared to European countries.
So if you’ve never been to China and you’re planning to visit, here a few things to think about before you fly.
Get the right visa!
British nationals need a visa for entry in mainland China – but you don’t need one to visit Hong Kong or Macao if you are visiting for less than a month.
A UK single entry visa costs £151, with an additional £66 for application service fees, though this will cost more if you need an express or postal service.
If you are planning to visit Hong Kong or Macao from the mainland and then plan to return to the mainland, you will need a visa which allows you to make a second entry.
Book your accommodation
This sounds like a silly thing to say, but for visa purposes and when entering the country you will need to be able to show where you are staying, after that you’re free to hop around.
You might be the main tourist attraction
There were a few occasions where I found the locals to be more interested in myself, than the historical site we were standing next to. People might stare if they’re not used to seeing Westerners, and I was even asked to pose for pictures with a couple of families. The key is to just smile and try not to look too uncomfortable!
Be sure to try the local food
Even if you don’t want to go the whole hog and try the fried critters on the market stall, this is a must – especially the dim sum!
Whilst I was already aware of the differences in the toilet situation, it still came as a bit of a shock. Make sure you have some spare toilet roll as a lot of loos don’t actually have any, particularly in the more remote areas. Also – prepare to build thighs of steel.
Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Bargaining for your street food, tech, clothes and pretty much everything in-between is acceptable in China. As a Westerner, I found that many vendors started their price overly high, but by seeming a bit disinterested in the product and with a bit of negotiating we often managed to get the prices down significantly.
Though do be prepared to be occasionally hassled by the vendor if you do decide to walk away from a sale!
Cut off from the media
The Chinese Government has censored a lot of social media, so whilst visiting you’ll be unable to access many sites such as Facebook and Twitter. We found that we couldn’t even access Google! Though China does have its own social media equivalent in the form of the very popular WeChat.
But if you do really need access to any sites like this make sure you download a VPN onto your phone.
Whilst English is spoken by a lot of people in China, some of the older generations and people living outside of the cities can’t speak it. Come prepared and learn a few basic phrases to help you along. I brought along a little travel guide which had a bunch of helpful words – however, the matter of the correct pronunciation is a whole different issue.
Manage your travel expectations
By this I mean, manage your expectations of how much of China you’ll be able to visit in your timeframe. China is a vast country, so try not to cram too much into too short of a time period. With so much to see in each city, it’s best to do each place justice and not run yourself out trying to see too much.
So I hope this helps and also convinces anyone thinking about going to China. It’s such a beautiful and vast country that I can’t wait to return and see what else it has to offer.
Let me know what tips you’ve learnt after travelling to a new country!