Looking for China travel tips? Fuel up on our must-have knowledge and advice
If you’re planning to travel to China, but aren’t sure what you need to do to prepare, then keep on reading. Whether you want to know the best time of year to travel to China, whether you need a visa or what the best activities are, we’ve compiled the best China travel tips and advice so you can be sure to have the trip of a lifetime.
China is a land of rich cultural heritage with an incredible 3,600 years of written history and cultural traditions including poetry, calligraphy, opera, costume, festivals, and porcelain. You’ll see rich history displayed throughout China through monumental ancient treasures like ancient palaces, buried armies, pagodas, temples and, of course, the Great Wall of China.
What do I need to know before travelling to China?
1 – Bring cash
Cash is still king in most of China and while some branches of bigger banks will let you use your bank cards to withdraw cash or exchange currency for you, you may struggle to find these in less touristy areas.
2 – There’s no need to tip
Tipping isn’t very common in Chinese culture, but it is worth knowing that it’s considered polite to offer money with both hands when paying.
3 – Public transport is good and widely available
Don’t expect to rely on car rental. China has a large public transportation system, including a high-speed rail network and a great metro system, that works well and is efficient.
4 – English isn’t widely spoken
It’s worth learning a few essential phrases and maybe having an app like Google Translate.
5 – Stick to bottled water
Tap water in China is undrinkable, but safe to use for washing hands and brushing teeth.
China is a large country with some of the most widely ranging climate differences for a single country. In Northern China, you’ll find that the summers are hot and humid, while the winters are cold and dry, with temperatures well below freezing. Southern China is hot during the summer, but it is also subject to monsoon rainfall, usually from April to September.
If you struggle with really hot weather, and we’re talking around 40°C (104°F) here, then don’t book a trip to China in July or August. While weather does vary across the country, most of China is very hot during these months and it’s particularly uncomfortable in the cities.
China food and drink
The dishes you’ll find across China vary greatly and those you tuck into in North China will be totally different from those you pick up in Southern China. And while you might recognise some foodie terms from Chinese dishes you’ve tried in Western countries, Szechuan and Cantonese for example, you’ll find the food tastes totally different.
Prepare yourself for intensely flavoured food that will make your taste buds tingle and dishes that make the most of ingredients you’ve never tried before, from sea vegetables to exotic seafood and snake. Authentic Chinese food can be a shock to Western palettes, but it comes out of one of the richest and most diverse culinary heritages in the world, so make the most of it.
Tea and China have a closer than close relationship. It was one of the first countries to cultivate tea and is the world’s largest exporter of green tea. Sample a proper cuppa, whether that’s oolong tea, scented tea, black tea, white tea or compressed tea: all are popular across China.
Baiju is a drink found across China, but it’s not one to sink back freely unless you actually like having a sore head in the morning. This alcoholic drink runs at between 80 and 120 proof, so not something to drink by the bottle. It’s really a category of drink that covers about a dozen different Chinese liquors made from grain, but the most popular kind is produced with at least two different grains and fermented in mud pits.
Is it safe to travel in China?
China is a safe country for tourists. Petty crime does exist, particularly in touristy areas (but few tourist spots in the world are immune to this) and weather can cause problems, so be especially careful during the typhoon and monsoon seasons. Overall, China is safe and well worth taking the time to explore.
What is the best time of year to visit China?
The best time of year to travel to China is during autumn or spring. Summer can reach unbearably hot temperatures, with monsoons drenching parts of the country, while winter can get incredibly cold. It’s also a good rule of thumb to avoid travelling during public holidays, especially Chinese New Year when thousands will be moving around the country and tickets for travel come at a premium or sell out completely.
What should you not wear in China?
You won’t need to go out of your way to dress completely different in China – most fashion trends are similar to Western ones – but following a few guidelines will help you have a more comfortable stay. Keep the short shorts and low cut shirts at home and try to choose clothes that don’t show too much skin. If you’re travelling during the hotter months, lighter fabrics like linen will help you keep cool. It’s also a good idea to aim for smart or smart casual when you’re out and about.
Do you need a visa to travel to China?
Travellers from most countries will need a visa to travel to China and you’ll need to secure one before you go as you can’t apply at the border. It’s best to apply three months before you travel, but don’t leave it any later than one month before you’re due to go.
If you’re planning to pop over to Hong Kong and then return to the mainland, make sure your visa allows you to make a second entry into China.
Your passport will also need to be valid for at least six months from when you enter China.
Do I need any vaccinations to visit China?
For travel to China, the World Health Organisation recommends vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, rabies, tick-borne encephalitis, polio and tetanus. Vaccinations for yellow fever, cholera and Japanese Encephalitis may also be considered in certain circumstances. Check with your local health clinic for more information.
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