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Ten Tips For Your First Trip To China


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Collete Wyant



Welcome to the captivating world of China – a country steeped in ancient traditions, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes. If you’re planning your first ever trip to China, congratulations! You’re about to embark on a remarkable journey that will leave an indelible mark on your travel memoirs.


China is a vast and diverse country, offering a myriad of experiences for travelers. From the bustling metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai to the majestic Great Wall and the tranquil beauty of Yangshuo, each destination promises a unique adventure. But before you jet off to this enchanting land, it’s essential to be prepared and equipped with some useful tips to make your trip smooth and unforgettable.


In this article, we will provide you with ten valuable tips for your first trip to China. Whether you’re an intrepid explorer or a culture enthusiast, these tips will help you navigate the intricacies of Chinese travel and ensure you have a remarkable experience.


Tip 1: Research and Plan Ahead

Before embarking on your first trip to China, it’s crucial to do thorough research and plan your itinerary in advance. China is a vast country with countless attractions and cultural experiences, so having a well-organized plan will ensure you make the most of your time there.


Start by determining which cities and landmarks you want to visit. Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an are popular choices for first-time visitors, but consider exploring lesser-known destinations like Chengdu, Guilin, or Hangzhou for a more authentic experience.


Find out the best time to visit each destination, as weather conditions can vary drastically across the country. The months of April, May, September, and October generally offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds. However, if you’re keen on experiencing traditional Chinese festivals, plan your trip to coincide with events like the Spring Festival or the Lantern Festival.


When researching accommodations, consider staying in local guesthouses or boutique hotels to immerse yourself in the local culture. Websites like Booking.com and Agoda offer a variety of options to suit various budgets. It’s also a good idea to read reviews from previous guests to ensure you choose a reputable establishment.


Lastly, familiarize yourself with the local customs and traditions. China has a rich cultural heritage, and understanding the etiquette will go a long way in earning respect from the locals. Learn about basic greetings, proper table manners, and appropriate behavior while visiting temples or holy sites.


By thoroughly researching and planning ahead, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the intricacies of Chinese travel and make the most of your time in this captivating country.


Tip 2: Learn Some Basic Mandarin Phrases

While English is spoken in major cities and tourist destinations of China, learning some basic Mandarin phrases will greatly enhance your travel experience and make it easier to communicate with locals.


Start by learning a few essential phrases such as greetings, thank you, please, and sorry. Being able to say “hello” (nǐ hǎo), “thank you” (xièxiè), “please” (qǐng), and “sorry” (duìbuqǐ) will go a long way in showing respect and building rapport with the locals.


In addition to greetings, it’s helpful to learn phrases related to directions, ordering food, and asking for help. Phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” (xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ?), “Can you recommend a good restaurant?” (nǐ néng jiànyì yí jiā hǎochī de fànguǎn ma?), or “Excuse me, can you help me?” (bù hǎo yìsi, nǐ néng bāng wǒ yí xià ma?) will prove valuable in various situations.


Not only will locals appreciate your efforts to communicate in their language, but it can also lead to more genuine and immersive interactions. Learning a few key phrases can also come in handy when traveling to smaller towns or remote areas where English may not be widely spoken.


There are numerous resources available to learn basic Mandarin phrases. You can download language-learning apps such as Duolingo or Memrise, invest in pocket-sized phrasebooks, or watch online tutorials to familiarize yourself with the pronunciation.


Remember, even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect, locals will appreciate your attempt to speak their language and will often go out of their way to assist you.


By learning some basic Mandarin phrases, you’ll be able to connect with locals on a deeper level, navigate challenging situations, and make your travel experience in China even more enriching.


Tip 3: Understand the Cultural Norms and Etiquette

China is a country rich in history and cultural traditions, and it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the cultural norms and etiquette to show respect and avoid any unintended misunderstandings.


One important aspect of Chinese culture is the concept of “face,” which refers to maintaining one’s dignity and reputation. Avoid behaviors that may cause embarrassment or loss of face for yourself or others, such as public displays of anger or overt criticism.


Punctuality is highly valued in Chinese culture, so it’s important to be on time for appointments and meetings. It’s also customary to bring a small gift when visiting someone’s home or attending a social gathering. Gifts such as tea, fruit, or small souvenirs from your home country are thoughtful gestures.


When interacting with others, especially elders or people in positions of authority, it’s important to show deference and respect. This includes using proper titles or honorifics when addressing them and avoiding interrupting or speaking over others.


While dining in China, there are specific etiquette rules to be aware of. Wait for the host to initiate the meal before beginning to eat, and don’t finish all the food on your plate as it may imply that you were not provided enough. Instead, leave a small amount of food to show your satisfaction.


When using chopsticks, never point them directly at someone or leave them sticking upright in a bowl of rice, as both actions are considered impolite. Instead, place them neatly on the chopstick rest or on the side of your plate.


It’s also important to be mindful of public behavior. Loud or boisterous conversations, aggressive behavior, or queue-jumping are generally frowned upon. Also, avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics or controversial issues, as these can be seen as offensive or disrespectful.


By understanding and respecting the cultural norms and etiquette in China, you’ll create a positive impression, forge meaningful connections with locals, and make your visit more enjoyable.


Tip 4: Prepare Necessary Documents and Visas

When planning your trip to China, it’s essential to ensure that you have all the necessary documents and visas in order to avoid any potential issues during your travels.


First and foremost, check your passport’s expiration date. Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended departure date from China. If your passport is nearing expiration, it’s recommended to renew it before your trip.


Most visitors to China require a visa to enter the country. The type of visa you need will depend on your purpose of visit, such as tourism, business, study, or work. It’s important to research the specific visa requirements for your nationality well in advance.


Apply for your visa at the nearest Chinese embassy or consulate. The application process usually requires submitting your passport, a completed application form, a recent passport-sized photo, and supporting documents, such as your travel itinerary and proof of accommodation.


Ensure that you have copies of all your important documents, including your passport, visa, travel itinerary, and insurance information. Keep both physical copies and digital copies stored securely, such as in cloud storage or email, for easy access in case of loss or emergency.


Aside from visas, it’s also important to consider travel insurance. While it’s not mandatory, having travel insurance that covers medical expenses, trip cancellation, and lost belongings can provide peace of mind during your journey.


Lastly, familiarize yourself with any specific entry requirements or restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities. This includes regulations regarding prohibited items, customs declarations, and quarantine procedures, particularly in light of current health concerns.


By preparing all the necessary documents and visas beforehand, you’ll have a hassle-free entry into China and can fully enjoy your time exploring this captivating country.


Tip 5: Pack Appropriate Clothing and Essentials

When packing for your trip to China, it’s important to consider the climate and cultural norms of the country. Here are some tips to help you pack appropriate clothing and essentials for your journey.


The climate in China varies greatly depending on the region and time of year. Check the weather forecast for your destinations and pack accordingly. During the summer months, lightweight and breathable clothing is essential, especially in southern cities where temperatures can be hot and humid. In the winter, pack warm layers, including a good coat, hat, and gloves, as temperatures can drop significantly in northern areas.


It’s also important to consider cultural norms when choosing your clothing. While China is becoming more westernized, it’s still advisable to dress modestly, particularly when visiting religious or traditional sites. Avoid revealing clothes or clothing with offensive slogans. Instead, opt for conservative attire that covers your shoulders and knees.


Comfortable shoes are a must, especially if you plan on exploring cities by foot or taking on hiking adventures. Choose shoes that are sturdy and provide good support to tackle the uneven terrain of some popular tourist destinations like the Great Wall or rural areas.


Don’t forget to pack essential items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, and a first aid kit. These will come in handy during outdoor activities or remote travels where access to certain products may be limited.


If you have any specific medical conditions, make sure to bring an ample supply of any necessary medications, as the availability of certain medications may vary in China.


Lastly, bring a travel adapter with you to ensure your electronic devices can be charged. China uses a different power outlet and voltage standard, so an adapter will enable you to stay connected and keep your devices powered up throughout your trip.


By packing appropriate clothing for the climate and being mindful of cultural norms, as well as bringing essential items, you’ll be well-prepared to fully enjoy your time in China.


Tip 6: Familiarize Yourself with Chinese Currency

Before your trip to China, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local currency, the Chinese yuan (CNY), also known as the renminbi (RMB). Understanding the currency and the exchange rate will help you navigate transactions and make informed financial decisions during your travels.


The basic unit of Chinese currency is the yuan, with smaller denominations including the jiao and the fen. However, the fen is rarely used in everyday transactions, so it’s important to be familiar with the yuan and jiao denominations.


While some high-end establishments may accept credit cards, it’s advisable to carry cash, especially when exploring smaller towns or local markets, where card payment may not be widely available. ATMs are common throughout China, and you can withdraw cash using your debit card or credit card, but be aware of any fees or limits imposed by your bank.


It’s a good idea to exchange some currency before your trip, either at your local bank or at an accredited foreign exchange service. This way, you’ll have some cash on hand upon arrival in China for immediate expenses like transportation or meals.


Be cautious when exchanging currency at airports or in tourist areas, as exchange rates may not be as favorable. It’s advisable to compare rates and fees to ensure you get the best value for your money.


Keep in mind that smaller shops, street vendors, and local establishments may only accept cash and may not have the capacity to process card payments. Having small denominations of yuan will be helpful for everyday transactions.


While it’s important to carry sufficient cash, it’s also advisable to use precautions to safeguard your money. Keep your money in a secure place, such as a money belt or a hidden pocket, and avoid displaying large amounts of cash in public.


In addition to cash, mobile payment apps like WeChat Pay or Alipay are widely used in China. These apps allow you to link your bank account or credit card for seamless payments through your smartphone. Familiarize yourself with these apps and consider downloading them before your trip.


By familiarizing yourself with the Chinese currency and payment options, you’ll be prepared to handle financial transactions smoothly during your time in China.


Tip 7: Be Mindful of Food and Drink Safety

Exploring the culinary delights of China is a highlight of any trip, but it’s important to be mindful of food and drink safety to protect your health during your travels.


When dining in China, it’s recommended to eat at reputable establishments to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses. Look for restaurants that are clean and crowded with locals, as this is often an indication of good hygiene and quality food.


Opt for cooked foods and avoid raw or undercooked dishes, particularly when it comes to meat, seafood, and eggs. Make sure your food is thoroughly cooked to kill any potential bacteria or parasites.


Be cautious with street food. While street food vendors offer delicious and affordable snacks, choose stalls that have a high turnover of food and where ingredients are prepared fresh in front of you. Pay attention to hygiene practices like wearing gloves and clean cooking utensils.


When it comes to tap water, it’s generally best to stick to bottled water or boiled water. While some hotels and establishments may provide filtered water, it’s still advisable to err on the side of caution. Additionally, use bottled water for brushing your teeth to avoid accidentally ingesting tap water.


Wash your hands frequently, especially before meals. Carry hand sanitizer or wet wipes for situations where handwashing facilities are not readily available.


If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, it’s helpful to learn how to communicate these in Mandarin or have them written down on a small card to show to restaurant staff. This will help ensure that your food is prepared without any ingredients that may cause an adverse reaction.


Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed and peeled before consumption. This applies to both store-bought produce and street market finds. Avoid consuming fruits or vegetables that have been left exposed to flies or insects.


Lastly, be wary of consuming uncooked or unpasteurized dairy products, as these may pose a higher risk of bacterial contamination. Stick to well-known and trusted brands for dairy products.


By being mindful of food and drink safety, you can enjoy the diverse culinary offerings of China while protecting your health and well-being during your travels.


Tip 8: Stay Connected with a Reliable Communication Method

Staying connected while traveling in China is essential for navigating unfamiliar surroundings, communicating with locals, and accessing important information. Here are some tips for ensuring you have a reliable communication method during your trip.


Before your trip, check with your mobile service provider to understand if your international plan covers usage in China. Some providers offer reasonable roaming rates or data packages specifically for China. If your plan doesn’t include China, consider purchasing a local SIM card upon arrival, which will provide you with a Chinese phone number and access to local data and calling rates.


Download essential apps such as translation tools, maps, and transportation apps before your trip. Apps like Google Translate, Pleco, and Baidu Maps can be invaluable for navigating language barriers and finding your way around. Additionally, popular ride-hailing apps such as Didi Chuxing can make getting around cities more convenient.


While many popular websites and social media platforms are blocked in China, you can bypass these restrictions by using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows you to access blocked websites and ensures your online activities are secure. Make sure to install and set up a VPN before entering China.


Public Wi-Fi is readily available in many hotels, cafes, and tourist areas in China. However, keep in mind that public Wi-Fi networks may not always be secure, so avoid accessing sensitive information or making financial transactions on unsecured connections.


Consider renting a portable Wi-Fi device, also known as a pocket Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot. These devices provide you with your own personal Wi-Fi network, allowing you to connect multiple devices and stay connected wherever you go. Portable Wi-Fi devices can be rented at airports, or you can pre-book one online to pick up upon arrival.


If you prefer more traditional ways of communication, consider purchasing an inexpensive local phone for voice calls and text messages. Local shops and mobile providers offer a range of affordable options.


By ensuring you have a reliable communication method, whether through mobile data, Wi-Fi, or a local phone, you’ll stay connected and have the necessary tools to navigate your way through China with ease.


Tip 9: Explore Off the Beaten Path Destinations

While China’s major cities and popular tourist attractions are undoubtedly captivating, don’t miss the opportunity to venture off the beaten path and explore lesser-known destinations. By doing so, you’ll discover hidden gems and have a more unique and authentic travel experience.


China is vast and diverse, with countless hidden treasures waiting to be explored. Consider destinations like Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, known for its towering sandstone pillars that inspired the landscapes in the movie “Avatar.” Or head to the ancient town of Pingyao, with its well-preserved traditional buildings and rich history.


Another hidden gem is the city of Dunhuang, located along the Silk Road. Here, you can visit the stunning Mogao Caves, which showcase intricate Buddhist art and paintings that date back over 1,000 years.


If you’re seeking natural beauty, consider destinations like Jiuzhaigou Valley in Sichuan province, famous for its colorful lakes, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. Or explore the otherworldly karst landscapes of Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in Gansu province.


Immerse yourself in the rich culture of China’s ethnic minorities in regions like Yunnan’s Dali and Lijiang, where you can witness traditional customs, taste unique cuisines, and explore vibrant local markets.


When exploring off the beaten path destinations, it’s helpful to hire a local guide who can provide insights and show you the hidden wonders of the area. They can navigate the local language, recommend hidden gems, and provide cultural context to enhance your experience.


By venturing beyond the tourist hotspots, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for China’s diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant cultures. Embrace the spirit of adventure and embark on a journey of discovery to uncover the hidden treasures of this remarkable country.


Tip 10: Embrace the Experience and Immerse Yourself in the Culture

As you embark on your first trip to China, one of the most important tips is to embrace the experience and fully immerse yourself in the rich and vibrant culture of the country. By doing so, you’ll create lasting memories and make the most of your journey.


China is a country with a long and storied history, diverse traditions, and a deep-rooted cultural heritage. Take the time to visit iconic landmarks such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Terracotta Army, but also venture beyond the typical tourist attractions to discover hidden temples, ancient villages, and local festivals.


Engage with the locals whenever possible. Chinese people are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and interacting with them will provide you with a deeper understanding of their way of life. Take part in cultural activities like tea ceremonies, calligraphy classes, or Tai Chi sessions. These experiences will broaden your perspective and give you a deeper appreciation for Chinese culture.


Try the local cuisine and savor the flavors of authentic Chinese dishes. Go beyond the well-known favorites like Peking duck and dim sum and taste regional delicacies specific to the areas you’re visiting. Don’t be afraid to explore street food markets and local eateries, where you’ll find some of the most delicious and authentic culinary experiences.


Attend traditional performances, such as acrobatics shows, Peking Opera, or traditional music concerts. These cultural displays will immerse you in China’s artistic heritage and showcase the incredible talent of the performers.


Take the time to appreciate the natural beauty of China’s landscapes. Whether it’s hiking along scenic trails, cruising through breathtaking river gorges, or cycling through picturesque countryside, connecting with nature will rejuvenate your spirit and provide a serene contrast to the bustling cities.


Learn about the diverse ethnic minorities in China, each with its own unique traditions, languages, and customs. Visit minority villages and engage with the locals to gain insight into their way of life and learn about their traditional crafts, music, and festivals.


Remember to respect local customs and traditions while you immerse yourself in Chinese culture. Observe and follow proper etiquette when visiting religious sites, dressing modestly, and adhering to any specific rules or practices.


By embracing the experience and immersing yourself in the culture, you’ll create cherished memories, forge meaningful connections, and truly appreciate the wonders that China has to offer.