Top Tips for Visiting China
Chatteris’ own Alice Sherlock shares her tips to make your trip to China stress-free
With Hong Kong being so near to China, it’s the perfect excuse to visit. Yes, it can be a challenging country to visit, and it does require a little more adaptability than other destinations, but it’s a trip that leaves you very rewarded and eager to see more.
|The Bund, Shanghai|
Before planning my three week trip last year, I spent endless evenings researching, from best things to eat, apps to download, and little tips and tricks to help me. And guess what? Whilst these were all super helpful, I still realised that my extensive research didn’t even touch upon the things I discovered along the way. So here you go, everything I wish I’d known and is necessary for a successful first visit to China…
First things first, you’re going to need a visa. I decided to take the plunge and go with an agency as I’d heard from many others that going directly with the Chinese embassy is incredibly time-consuming, albeit a tiny bit cheaper. With an agency, you fill in the form, they check it thoroughly, and do all the major leg work for you. In classic Alice style, I’d left it super last minute, but even still, the agency can return your passport complete with visa in four days. You can apply at any time before your trip (but bare in mind that visas are only valid for the next three or six months) and you can even apply just the day before, but it will cost you more! Prices range from HK $800 - HK $2000 (around 80-200 GBP), depending on the length of time you submit beforehand. An additional note is that your passport is more important than it ever has been before, as you need it to book train tickets and to enter places like the Forbidden City. You must carry it with you everywhere.
You’re gonna need a lot of storage on your phone as you’re going to download apps like you’ve never downloaded apps before! The first one you’ll need is a VPN app. Without one of these, you’re not going to be able to access any social media or email sites. The best free ones I found were Thunder, Express, and Yoga. Next, get your hands on WeChat. Parallel to the worldwide WhatsApp, WeChat is the most popular social media in China and is very useful to have as friends you meet along the way will most likely want to add you on WeChat. It’s also vital for accessing some free WiFi spots as you have to accept terms and conditions through the WeChat app. Another app I found super useful was the Microsoft Translator app, which you can type or speak what you would like to say and it instantly translates into your chosen language. Just remember to download the Chinese language within the app beforehand!
|Mutianyu Great Wall, Beijing|
The currency in China is RMB (referred to as the ‘Yuen’), and it’s comparable to HKD in exchange rate (the colours of each of the denominations are also similar too!). I would two thousand percent change money before you go, because getting hold of money there can be a pain. I normally prefer to change my money in country to get the best rate, but in China only one bank, ICBC, will change money for non-Chinese people. ATMs are available in China, but each one only accepts certain cards, plus they only distribute 100 RMB notes, which can be awkward to pay with sometimes. Something I also discovered later in my trip is the wonderful WeChat pay, where you can pay for things just using the WeChat app. Unfortunately, you need a bank account in China to add funds independently, but at most hotels and hostels, you can actually give cash to reception, who can then send that same amount as a WeChat payment to your account, and voila, WeChat payment is possible! It’s also important you don’t have too much physical money left over at the end of your trip, as it is very difficult to change it back into HKD. One last tip is that every hotel and hostel I stayed in required a 100 RMB key deposit, so make sure you keep that amount aside when you arrive at your accommodation.
I’m not really sure why, but Mondays seem to be the extra important day in China. As a result, most of the tourist attractions in cities across the country are closed and not open to the public. Be careful when planning which cities to visit and which days you’ll be planning to visit specific tourist attractions.
If you join me in princess land, you’ll understand my complete disinterest in using the squat toilets that dominate China. I used one once, and that’s me done for a lifetime. Over the last year, the wonderful Chinese government have spent millions modernising public toilets for tourism, and now in most public bathrooms, there are Western potty toilets, including one disabled toilet. Many people in China refuse to use the Western potty toilet, which means the line is always non-existent and you can wee straight away! Also, one bonus tip for you: You’ll read all over the internet to carry toilet paper with you everywhere in China as it doesn’t exist - and it doesn’t mostly - BUT if you do run out and there is a disabled toilet lurking around, nip in there because you’re bound to find some.
And there we go, some handy tips and tricks to enjoy China! Like I say to my loved ones, visiting China is so much easier now. It’s still not easy…but that’s what makes the stories!