These are the 10 things I wish I knew before traveling to China. I had an amazing time and loved (almost) every minute of my trip.
I have traveled to almost 30 different countries, many of them several times, so I would consider myself a seasoned traveler. But I have to admit that since this was my first trip to the Orient I was a little more careful in my planning.
But every trip has it's little bumps and these were some of the things that I wish I had know. I would like to pass on to you these thoughts so you can make sure that your own trip is worry free.
1. No Google
When I travel I have always had access to my Google accounts and have a copy of my itinerary, passport, medicines and other important documents on my email account. Guess what, China has no access to Google accounts at the time I was traveling in May 2016. You can use other email accounts but even with that we were finding that the hotels we stayed in (which were fabulous) had spotty WiFi. Carry paper copies of your most important documents in a separate place than your regular luggage or purse. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
2. Counterfeit concurrency and money switching is very prevalent.
China is an amazing place to go bargain hunting and there are great deals everywhere. If you are planning to buy a lot of souvenirs then you must make sure that the majority of your bills are of small denominations. You want to pay for your purchases in the exact amount. If you give a large bill to pay for it there is a strong possibility that they will give you counterfeit in return or they give you money from another country that looks similar to the Chinese yuan but is worth a 10th of the value.
Another scam was to quote you a great price on an item, you pass them your bill and then they make like you misunderstood the price and instead of giving you your bill back, they give you a counterfeit bill. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
3. Bargain Hard
Speaking of those great deals you need to know that bargaining is the accepted form of doing business. Most people in North America are use to going down 30, maybe 50 percent when bargaining. Nope, here you should be trying 75% especially if it is in a tourist market. Many people say that they don't want to bargain with people when the prices are so low any way but think of it this way, you wouldn't buy a pencil for $10 would you? You have to be offering them fair value to both you and them.
Offer 75% off, see what they come back with and then if they don't budge, walk away, many times they will chase after you with a better number.
4. Be prepared to have a LOT of photos taken of you.
I was cautioned about this, being a blonde, but I really didn't understand how excited the Chinese would be to see me. Most of the time people were subtle about photographing me but I did have one man walk right up to me. Imagine walking along and then a camera gets thrust in your face and a flash goes off (my sympathies go to celebrities) that moment was a bit scary.
For the most part I had fun with it, I would flash a peace symbol and I would even photo bomb people. Many of the people that asked to have photos taken with me would explain that it was to send to their families in the provinces who had never seen a white person.
5. Do NOT try to photograph the military or police or anywhere near them.
We were warned of this by our guide when we first arrived in China and again before entering Tiananmen Square, but what they should have warned us about was not to try to take any photos if there was any military or police nearby. One of the members of our group was trying to take a photo of a beautiful arch.... that just happened to have a group of military a few feet away from it. They saw here, assumed she was trying to take their picture and looked as if they were about to go after her. Luckily for us our bus was there and we left. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
6. Squat Toilets are not always the only option.
It is the one thing that all women tourists dread about China, their squat toilets. You will be given the advice to wear skirts and dress, practice your squats, carry toilet paper with you at all times, make sure you have wipes and hand sanitizer.
All great advice. BUT, we found that in many restaurants and tourist destinations there were western style toilets, but they were right at the back, you had to seek them out. Often they would have a toilet sticker on the stall door. Nothing more frustrating to use a squat toilet just to find in the stall next to you was a western style toilet. Of course this was only in the larger cities so if you are traveling through the country be prepared for the squat variety. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
7. Chinese Food might be the only food you get.
All the time, everyday. I realize that I was going to be in China but I thought that I might be able to get some western food every so often. I couldn't. While there are Pizza Huts and KFCs in the downtown of larger town when you are eating in restaurants it's going to be Chinese food.
After a few days it does stop becoming Chinese food and you just regard it as food. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
8. Your Hotel Staff will Probably not Speak English
You always assume when you travel that the people that will be serving you in the travel industry will have a tiny bit of English. Unfortunately this is not true in China. When we had some minor problems or when we wanted to ask questions at the hotels we stayed at, we found that there was a very limited amount of English spoken.
This was at several different hotels. When we went to have dinner one night at a hotel dining room they had to find someone that spoke English to come and serve us. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
9. The tap water in your hotel room is not drinkable.
This is vital to know. You MUST get in the habit of using bottled water to brush your teeth and clean your tooth brush. On some of the hotel tapes it stated that the water was not for drinking but for the most part it was something that you had to remember.
What would happen if you drank the tap water? You could get a very nasty stomach bug that could sideline you for several days of your travels. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
10. The Great Wall of China is Not a Wall
Finally, the Great Wall of China is 3,700 mile marvel that is only open in a few sections. Depending on what part of the Great Wall you decide to visit your trip there could be quite arduous. The Great Wall is more like a staircase with uneven steps that you are walking on top of. Make sure that the section that you are planning to travel you can physically handle.
Depending on the time of year you go to the Wall you might have to bring an umbrella for rain or a hat to keep off the sun. Make sure you know of the weather report before heading out.
There are Chinese websites that can help you make that decision and tell you when the best time of year to go see it so there is not too many tourists. 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to China
I loved my time in China and am already making plans to return. It was an adventure that I am glad that I took and if you are planning your own trip to China I hope you have a wonderful time!
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