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China – China Travel Tips

Some things we noticed

Whilst travelling in South America was challenging at times, it was a walk in the park compared to China. So we thought it might be useful for any future travellers if we jotted down things that we came across. Even as experienced travellers now, it hit us pretty hard

• Obviously the language barrier is the first obstacle. Its not just the verbal language, but the fact that you have no idea of the Chinese characters. Even things that we took for granted such as at least being able to identify a sign for a town or something so you know where you are going. You wont see ‘Pingyao’ written anywhere, its always the Chinese characters for the city – that makes it very hard to find your way around. Also it is very hard to get the pronunciation right so you will be asking where something is and you just get blank looks back

• English is virtually nonexistent, even in the major cities. Don´t expect menus, shops, transport and signs to have English translations or the staff to be working in these places to be able to speak English

• A lot of people use guides to help them travel around China. This is fine and certainly makes it a hell of a lot easier. However travelling without a guide is certainly manageable, you just rely massively on the help of the people at the hostels for booking trains and directing you around. The Hostel staff are most helpful if you can get them to write things down for you in Chinese script. From ‘I am allergic to peanuts’ for Tanya to getting them to write down train destinations/times/requirements. Every time we booked a train ticket, we walked up to the window with everything written down and we were fine, but you couldn’t expect to walk up to the same window and just ask for the ticket without being very good with speaking Chinese

• Make sure you book early for trains. A couple of days in advance is pretty much necessary. China does have a pretty extensive train network, but with 1.3 billion people in the country, there aren’t enough train spaces for the number of people wanting to travel. There aren’t any spots kept back for tourists or late demand, so you need to have a bit of an idea where you are going, or have a couple of days time flexibility. We generally booked our onward train as soon as we arrived in a new place.

• People who can speak a little bit of English will generally be really helpful and really enjoy practicing their English. Even if you are not looking for help, just walking the streets, someone will stop you with ‘Hello, where you from’ then try a few sentences before saying bye.

• The most common time to have someone start speaking to you will be at the tourist destinations as people from the bigger cities like Shanghai will enjoy a bit of English practice

• As we said in the blog posts, people love to get photos taken with you as a westerner. Especially getting their young children to have a photo with you. We did always wonder what happens with these photos, do they print them out and put them on top of their mantle piece and show other people when they come round their place?

• Don’t forget how huge the distances are in China. It’s easy to take this for granted, but travelling between most places will take you at least say 15 plus hours. This makes night trains and busses better for travelling and also saves a nights accommodation!

• Smoking is still common for Chinese. Occasionally, there will be non smoking places in train stations, however these seem to have more smokers in them than not. Trains and busses don’t necessarily have smoking prohibited and spending a full 20 hour night train ride in a confined cabin as a non smoker can be hard going.

• Chinese men and women spit all the time. You notice this pretty quickly walking around the streets hearing people bring up some big ones. At first it is slightly offensive until you realise that it’s just what they do on the street, in busses, on trains, in stations... I never put my bag on the floor again!

• It’s strange but we found that the more dodgy a restaurant looked, the better the food was. Ferdi and Lisa put it best when they said, that if the place has a glass front, don’t eat there. And the best places we found were always Chinese Muslim restaurants!

• Learning a few Chinese words is helpful as the people will really like it when you say something in Chinese to them. The only downside is that then they assume you are fluent in the language and will talk to you for the remainder of the time assuming you are understanding everything they are saying.

• I never ever saw another man wearing shorts, and copped stares from everyone when I was wearing them. We assume its a cultural thing that men never show off their legs, but it was pretty hot at times and everyone would still be walking around in jeans or suit trousers. Oh and open shoes such as thongs/flip flops... they have feet phobia, so this freaks people out, expect plenty of staring if you are wearing them.

• Its easy to see why China is becoming a world power, there is so much building going on, unlike in the western countries in economic troubles. No matter where we went, cranes, scaffolding, bridges, road works were ever present.

• Chinese people are not familiar with maps, even taxi drivers who you would assume are familiar with the layout of their cities... nope! On multiple occasions we showed someone a map to get directions or taken somewhere and had them completely bamboozled as to what they were looking at. The magnifying glasses came out and maps rotated like a spinning wheel.

But all the above made the travelling what it was, challenging but so rewarding! It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

Oh and one last thing, we had a good chuckle at some of the English signs that we managed to find around the place. Here is an assortment to show what we mean.

Its not so much the sign on this one, more the state of the said toilets in the background of the photo

That juice was so lame!!

Posted by dbgomes 08:24 Archived in China Tagged china round_the_world

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