I’ve just returned from a month long 1st visit to China. Here are my travel tips, in no particular order, for the 1st time visitor.
1. Buy a China Mobile SIM card. I took China Unicom, a big mistake, & found it extremely difficult to refill.
2. Download apps before you land in China. An offline translator, such as Microsoft Translator or iTranslate will be extremely useful. WeChat is a must, as everyone yes, really] in China uses it. It has a built-in translator & allows voice calls. Canadians, do install Fongo on your phone to stay in touch with folks at home. For maps learn how to use Baidu maps. Ctrip travel app in English also came in very handy. For all my hotel, train & flight bookings.
3. You cannot use any service associated with Google or Facebook, they are blocked. Every local youth seemed to be using a paid VPN, ask them which works best in China.
4. Take several breathable 100% synthetic sport t-shirts & underwear. Why? Because you can wash & hang dry them in your hotel. Laundry service is not always available & can be slow. I did not see a single Laundromat anywhere.
5. Plan your itinerary well, before you leave. It would be most convenient to book 2 one-way air tickets from Canada, to return from a different point. If the cost is too high, book to a central point like Shanghai. I made the mistake to booking to HKG & was forced to go all the way back south to HKG, only to catch a flight north. This cost me extra time & money for no benefit.
6. Inside China, travel by hi-speed rail – its clean, comfortable & super-smooth. Costs about the same as air but oh so convenient. There’s a metro at every major train station but not so at every airport.
7. If you do start in Shanghai, plan a circular trip – going north, west, south & then back east [or vice versa] to Shanghai for your return flight.
9. All the food is saltless, so carry your own salt & pepper shaker. If you’re craving coffee you cannot buy regular coffee anywhere. You’ll have to order an Americano but watch out, Costa coffee charged me RMB10 for adding cream & sugar. I found McD’s McCafe most honest in this regard.
10. Download metro maps in English of every city that you intend to visit. Invaluable. Try & use the metro freely. Its clean, fast convenient & costs very little – I never paid more than RMB5 for any of my trips. Depending on how long you intend to stay in a city, you can load up your metro card with extra money to save time. Metro cards are not transferable from one city to another. They can also be used on the bus.
11. Carry CAD with you, instead of RMB. I made the mistake of carrying RMB from Montreal, only to find better rates available in China, even at the banks.
12. Never travel during the 2 major 1-week holidays – Spring Festival in Feb & national holiday in Oct. I made the mistake of travelling Oct 1-8, only to pay a 60% premium for hotels & airfare. Train tickets were sold out.
13. Visa & MC are not universally accepted. Several hotels & most restaurants did not accept it. If you have a Chinese bank account you can setup & use AliPay & WechatPay [accepted everywhere] as a phone app. In fact, you just can’t use the go anywhere bikes if you don’t have 1 of them on your phone.
14. If you’re a solo traveller looking to join a tour group, be prepared to pay a 70% single supplement.
15. Budget at least RMB500/day to be reasonably comfortable.
Bonne chance & happy travels.