He Said/She Said: China Tips

He Said/She Said: China Tips

After spending six weeks in China it’s easy to see why many RTW (round the world) travelers don’t hassle with this behemoth of a country.  There’s no backpacker trail like SE Asia, where travelers follow the scent of banana pancakes.  However, the rewards are definitely worth the struggles.  DON’T BE INTIMIDATED BY CHINA. Here are our top tips for China first-timers.


I’m not sure why people skip China when they travel around the world, it is, after all, a huge part of the world we live in.  It is huge in size, population and economic impact.  I knew little more about China than the statistics and food before stepping foot on the mainland, with six weeks left here I am already lamenting how little time we had here.  China should be a must-see on everyone’s travel list, with natural beauty and diversity matched by few other countries, modern and thousands of years old at the same time.  Here are a few things you should consider before traveling China.

Get your visa in your home country.  The days of flying to Hong Kong and getting whatever visa you need there are gone.  These days if you go to Hong Kong, or any embassy outside your home country, the most you will be able to get is a 30-day, two entry visa.  Though this sounds good, allowing you 60 total travel days, you will find 60 days is not enough time to see a country larger than the USA or Western Europe.  Also, embassies abroad or in Hong Kong may deny issuing you a visa at all (see this note from the Chinese Embassy in Hong Kong).  Applying for the visa in your home country will give you many more options such as multiple-entry, one-year validity, and 90 days per stay.

Learn how to write a few Chinese characters.  For the most part English will get you around on trains, planes and in hotels, but not in restaurants.  Figure out some staples and how to write the characters.  I learned “lamb meat” during my first week and haven’t looked back, seeing as though I can live off a diet of lamb and rice indefinitely this works for me.  If you have more specific or varied dietary needs you will probably want to learn a few more characters…


I’ve always been told “jump and the net will appear”, which has made me a fly by the seat of my pants type of person.  This does not bode well for travel in China.  My number one tip for anyone heading to China is plan ahead.  Until our arrival in China we booked a bus the day we wanted to take it and showed up in a new town with no reservations.  Doing that in China will try your nerves and push you to your emotional limit.

I’m not advocating you book all your trains and hotels before you arrive or join an all inclusive tour.  However, a little advanced planning will go a long way.  Before you get to China you’ll want to have a list of your must-sees, which you can supplement with stops on the way and what you hear from other travelers.  Once you’re on the ground you have to start buying train tickets and booking accommodations, especially if it’s summer time.  Summer is when all the Chinese travel and crowds reach epic proportions.

You can book train tickets up to 10 days before your departure date. If you don’t want to be stuck in a non-air conditioned hard seat for long trips you’ll need to be in line at the train station or advanced booking office 10 days before your trip.  To purchase these tickets you’ll need to plan ahead as well and get your desired destination, date and time written in Chinese to present to the often non-English speaking attendant selling train tickets.  Don’t forget to bring your passport too, because you will want to cause bodily harm to everyone in your vicinity if you wait in line for two hours only to find you can’t purchase tickets without it.

Many more specifics to come on China logistics, but for now all I can advise is to start planning…

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» Cindy :
Sep 2, 2011

Great hints for success.

thinkCHUA Reply:

Cindy, more to come, but this should get China travelers started. We have learned a lot traveling over land.

» dad a :
Sep 4, 2011

another travel tip and one we adhered too, is take a guided tour with english speaking guides…..suppose you never thought about that option……your amazing……love dad a

» weiwei(魏伟) :
Sep 6, 2011

I am a chinese, I am living in Wuhan, Hubei province in central Cinese. My name is weiwei, 魏伟, “魏”is my family name,”伟”means great. Next time If you have a chance to Wuhan, You can give me e-mail。

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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