If you’re planning a trip to China, here’s a pretty comprehensive guide of things you might want to know before you go!
Like many countries, you need to obtain a visa before travelling to China. The process involves filling out a pretty detailed form and sending it off with your passport, or you can go direct to the Chinese Embassy in London. Once you’ve got your visa, you’ve got 90 days in which to enter the country, and the visa only covers you for 30 days once you’re there!
One thing you’ll need to have sorted before applying for your visa is accommodation for the entire duration of your trip; you have to have full details for your application, and if you don’t then you’ll get rejected!
Most of the major cities within China – Beijing, Shanghai etc – have excellent subway systems, which cost pence compared to the London Underground. You can pay per journey by selecting your final destination, and your ticket covers any line changes you’ll need to make to get there, or you can top up a pass.
If you’re considering hiring a car for your trip, let me give you a piece of advice: DON’T. The roads are absolutely crazy, with every driver in it for themselves! Driving through red lights is totally normal, beeping is constant and lane markings are more like guidelines..
Compared to a lot of places, taxis in China are real cheap! While some cities require taxis to have a meter by law – guaranteeing fair charging – some places, like Beijing, don’t, and you’ll need to agree a price with your driver before travelling. DO NOT settle for the first price they give you, even if it does seem fairly reasonable – you can haggle prices right down!
Oh, and those 9 million bicycles in Beijing? Yeah most of them are motorised now, but that doesn’t stop them from riding up onto pavements or the wrong way down the street.
Even in big tourist areas, most public toilets are not western; yes, you’ll need to squat over a hole in the ground. Some places may have one or two western cubicles, but often you won’t be provided with any toilet paper, so you’re best carrying plenty with you at all times just in case!
Social media and VPNs
Think you’ll be able to go without social media during your trip? Great, you won’t be able to get on it anyway! Chinese internet blocks pretty much all social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – and anything Google based, to name a few things. You can get around this by pre-purchasing a VPN, which routes your signal through a different country, allowing these servers to work no problem, but actually going without for a little while is a nice break! Hong Kong, however, is totally fine!
Do not expect everyone to speak English, or even always understand our letter symbols. Try and print out a few key phrases in proper Chinese characters, and any hotel addresses, as this will save you a lot of time and confusion!
General tourist stuff!
- A lot of tourist attractions discounted entry for students, so if you have student ID then its worth asking!
- Queuing is not done very well – there will be people pushing in!
- Umbrellas are used to protect from sun as well as rain, so everyone carries them pretty much everywhere
- Selfie sticks are also everywhere!
- Some places, including some tube stations, require security bag checks on entry – not unlike going through airport security!
- Tourists can be a novelty for some, so you might find you’re approached and asked for selfies and photos! Some people don’t even ask though, I had my picture taken slyly on trains and in the street..
China is such a fascinating place, would you ever visit?