12 Top Tips for First-Time Visitors to China

12 Top Tips for First-Time Visitors to China

While it’s less noticeable in places like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, or Shenzhen, Chinese culture will surprise you.

China is a huge country that is impossible to enjoy in just one visit. Still, knowing how to maximize your time in this beautiful land will allow you to have the best experiences while there. Before you finish planning your trip, make sure you review these top tips to get the most out of your visit.

  1. Visit more than one city

At the top of virtually everyone’s list is a stop in Shanghai or Beijing. Both of these sprawling metropolises are absolutely worth a visit. Beijing has some of the most revered historic landmarks including the Great Wall of China, something you don’t want to miss, plus Tiananmen Square. Shanghai is more of a financial capital but the cosmopolitan vibe and the stunning skyline with historic sites mixed in are also worth seeing. However, if you focus only on these cities, you’ll miss out on what makes China what it is. Try adding a few other cities to your itinerary like Qingdao (where the famed Tsingtao Beer comes from), Chengdu (where the famed panda sanctuary is), or the Tibetan culture in Xiahe which is quite far off the typical tourist path but worth the journey.

  1. Plan your trip according to Chinese holidays

Unless you really like crowds, it’s wise to avoid planning your trip to China during Chinese holidays. With everyone off work to enjoy the holidays, national monuments and landmarks become swarmed with people. Additionally, transportation can be an issue with crowded trains and many delayed flights.

  1. Don’t rely on your cards

In China, they have their own credit cards. And increasingly, they’re using the WeChat social app to pay for everything, even at street stalls. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be left in the lurch. Big hotel chains from the West will accept credit cards worldwide and cash is accepted as well. Familiarize yourself with the conversion rates prior to leaving so you can keep tabs on what you’re spending.

  1. Be ready to feel famous

One thing that shocks first-time visitors is that Chinese people are so used to only seeing other Chinese people that when they see a foreign face, it’s something quite novel to them. They’ll point and stare, and some may even take pictures of you while others will ask if they can take a picture with you. Try to enjoy your newfound fame while you’re there and know that they’re merely curious.

  1. Always carry the basics

Bathrooms in China leave much to be desired. In fact, you’ll be surprised when you find an actual toilet in a bathroom stall. Most bathrooms have squatters, a porcelain hole in the ground. They also lack toilet paper and soap. Upscale venues will have better facilities, but you should always be prepared with tissues and hand sanitizer in your bag.

  1. Be language-ready

You might not have time to learn how to master Mandarin, but you can certainly learn the basics of it. This will help you greet people politely and ask simple questions. For everything else though, install a good language app on your phone. Google Translate can take photos of signs or menus and translate them for you, making it much easier for you to get around on your own.

  1. Learn how to master eating with chopsticks

You can’t ask for a fork in a Chinese restaurant. You may get lucky with a spoon, however knowing how to use chopsticks will making eating easier. Start practicing now!

  1. Print out addresses in Chinese

To keep things from getting confusing, it’s best to print out your hotel’s address and keep it with you at all times. You should also do this with any landmarks you plan to see. You’ll avoid being taken advantage of by taxi drivers in this way and save yourself time and hassle too.

  1. Get ready for hot water

In China, hot water is served with everything. Unless you’re drinking tea. To a foreigner, it’s very strange getting a cup of hot water to drink with your meal. The tap water isn’t safe to drink, plus most Chinese people believe that cold water (and cold things in general) will make you sick. If you want cold water, buy bottled water from one of the convenience stores, though it will likely be room temperature and not chilled.

  1. Say goodbye to personal space

With a population of 1.4 billion people, personal space simply doesn’t exist. In Chinese culture, when you stand on line, you must stand right up close to the person in front of you. So when waiting on line anywhere, don’t leave any space between you and the person in front of you. If you do, someone will come stand in that space but try not to get angry. They assume you’re not in the line because of the space you’ve left.

  1. Smiles are universal

Wherever you go in China and whatever you wind up doing, whether you stick to the big cities or you hop on a train to discover the robust countryside, if you smile at the people you encounter, you’re going to get smiles in return. Smiles can say so much for you even if you have no idea how to say anything more than “ni hao.”

  1. Just go with it

China can be very shocking the first time you visit. It’s vastly different from the culture you know. While it’s less noticeable in places like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, or Shenzhen, Chinese culture will surprise you. Don’t let that stop you from digging into the adventure though. The food will be unlike what you’ve had in Chinese restaurants at home, life is a bit upside down, and some things seem like they’re decades behind. The best way to enjoy your trip to China in any part of it you visit is to open your mind and let the experiences have you.