11 Essential Tips for Your First Trip to China

China is a beautiful country boasting its rich culture and centuries of history. However, for the first-timers, it might bring a culture shock. If you are one of them planning the first trip to China, you must be aware of certain important things to have a stress-free holiday in a foreign land.

In this blog, we have come up with some essential tips for your first trip to China.

1. Get your visa in advance

Visitors need to have an entry visa to enter the boundaries of the Republic of China. You must submit the visa application at least 2 months prior to the travel date. If you are an American, submit a fee of $130 along with the application, flight itinerary details and passport to the Consulate General or Embassy nearest to your place.

2. Best Time To Visit China

Visiting China for the first time? If so, plan the trip during the time that is best suitable for foreign tourists. In summers, China is sweltering and smoggy with high humidity levels that can be quite unbearable for tourists. If you want to visit the country with fewer crowds around, book your tickets for the off-season – October to March. The temperature remains and cooler and the weather is also pleasant.

3. Plan your China itinerary well

China is a vast country with the largest population of the world. It is impossible to visit all the popular destinations on your first trip. So, we would recommend you to start from Beijing, Shanghai or Xi'an. All the places have different climatic conditions, so keep track of it while creating the itinerary. You can also include Qinghai region on your China travel checklist. The place has beautiful lakes, magnificent mountain ranges and spectacular landscapes.

China has fastest high speed trains in the world, and the networks of the train routes are very expansive, it’s very convenient and time-saving to travel from one city to another. And most first and second tier cities have metro systems, the fee is also surprisingly cheap, usually takes less than 0.5 dollars, and the metro stations look new and clean.

4. Be prepared for the language barrier

Language barrier is the first hurdle for foreign travelers visiting China. To manage a week or two in the foreign country, it is important to learn a few common phrases in Mandarin, the most common language in the country. Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong. English is turning into the universal language, but there are Chinese people who still can't speak it.

To communicate with the cab drivers, always have your hotel’s business card. Locals can also help you go back to the hotel, in case you are lost.

5. Know about the censorship

The Chinese government has censored everything, from media to Internet. If you are a social media addict, we are sorry but you won’t be able to browse your Twitter and Facebook account in China. Sometimes, you might not be able to access your email. What you can do is, get VPN in your laptop and phone. Make sure the service is not blocked in the country.

6. Culture shock for westerners

A Chinese city generally has more highrise buildings than a city in other countries, residential buildings with more than 30 stories are everywhere. And in city center areas, buildings over 1000 feet tall are common, some cities even have 1500 feet+ skyscrapers, this is very different from European cities, and even America doesn’t have so many tall buildings.

Many buildings in China look like out of Sci-Fi films, one of the best examples is the new airport of Beijing, the Daxing International Airport. Unlike European cities and American cities, which generally have population of only less than 5 million, China has many cities that have have populations of over 10–30 million. That’s why you’ll see crowds of people in metro stations, shopping malls, restaurants, popular attractions.

Chinese lifestyle differs a lot with that of a westerner. We would like you to read about their culture and tradition before going to China. In major cities of China, traffic and pollution is a big issue. You will find people moving around with surgical masks on their faces to stay protected from pollution. Be prepared for squat toilets, they don’t have paper. Better carry a hand sanitizer and paper along!

Pollution is a big problem in the Republic of China. If you have serious respiratory problems, strike out the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. One of the important tips for your first time in China is that if you are a foodie, be cautious while tasting street food. You might smell stale oil or leftovers. Drink only boiled tea and bottled water.

7. Get ready to be clicked!

The Chinese people outside Shanghai and Beijing are not much used to seeing foreign travelers, especially westerners. You might across some staring and some might even click pictures of you – just give them a warm smile. Don't feel bad as this is just their curiosity to find someone different from them in their country. Be polite to the locals but like it is always advised, stay alert and have your street smarts handy.

8. Such thing as set price is nonexistent

The more you haggle, the lower the costs. One shop puts an item for 1000 yuans, the other puts the same item for 200 yuans. You should always negotiate price and don't depend on one shop for finding a decent price. It gets tiring… better just pay for it or don't buy anything if you need your nerves for visiting touristic sights.

Coming to the street vendors, you can bargain with them for the price but unless you want to buy something, do not ask for the price. You won’t want the vendors to follow you around, would you?

9. Restaurants in China

Chinese menus usually have photographs, and the food has nothing to do with the stuff Chinese restaurants sell in western countries. The food is much more veggie based, oily, and full of garlic and chilies. And there will be things you have never seen before. It is absolutely amazing. And after a while, your food and drinks are brought by several waiters, all at the same time.

If you are a larger group, with many shared dishes, it is common to see several waves of dishes served. As in, you may have six dishes on the table, and as they begin to deplete, they are replaced with different dishes you had also previously ordered. So, if something is missing at first, don’t panic, it’s coming later, when there’s space.

Everybody takes a bowl of rice, and uses their chopsticks to reach for food items from the shared bowls. Some of the less defined items may have serving spoons. When you watch the Chinese eat, you will see that they actually manage to extract exactly one thing at a time with their chopsticks, not touching other bits. It is common to leave something. Not as a requirement, but there is simply no obligation to clean every plate as there is in the west.

At a private home, it may be better not to eat everything on the serving platters or bowls, because that may be construed as the guest is still hungry. So, when in a home, stop in time. At a restaurant, do as you please, it’s yours, you’ve paid for it. It is also common to follow the same order of appetizers, main dishes, and desserts as in the west, but it is not thought of as strange to go back to a previous food item at the end of a meal if it is still standing on the table.

To signal the end of the meal, you will usually be served sliced melon. As for drinks, beer and tea are common, as are hot water and sodas. A proper, Chinese meal takes time to eat. An hour if you are in a rush, two is better, and if someone brought some baiju, better make it three. Chinese dining is an experience of abundance and lightness.

10. Food in China

Chinese food is like cultivation of thousands of years with chemical reactions. Chinese foods are mix of everything. Its like the development of science in foods until it is perfect. Chinese foods are mixed with many ingredients that are mixed with many ingredients and most of their food will taste different. It is hard to find a very good example.

Also Indian may have influenced Chinese food. The pecking duck has some very hard to explain the whole taste of the sauce.

Colourful munch-a-long bao is such a treat strolling on Wuhan street. You must have the simple but spicy guo zao (regan mian) noodle breakfast there; the hot and dry noodles are fragrant with sesame, and the taste of vinegar, chilli oil and spring onions is a burst of sunshine in every mouthful. When in Guilin enjoy the historical mifen noodle, a staple food in Guangxi province.

Mifen restaurants serve the bowl of noodles and practically nothing else as all-day dining - you add the amount and variety of chilli and condiments in your bowl. Check out Hubu Alley, the Famous Food Street in Wuhan. Fermented spicy grilled duck Zhou Hei Ya or Black Duck is sumptuously savoury - a must-eat!

Go for seafood, like the oh-so-fresh Bali Lobster. Be warned: there seemed to be a crazy long queue always, waiting for a local specialty. But it is worth the wait! The chilli-peppercorn mixture is scandalous, eyes wide shut! If the heat is too high for you, try the garlicky crayfish, creamy and delicious, and not spicy at all.

Yuan Lao Si Hotpot, where mala rules! You know hotpot, a deluge of dried chilli peppers and a mother load of Sichuan peppercorns. Unless you want a new high, stay away - but, it’s a crime not to try, you will remember this experience forever.

Zhajiang mian is utter perfection. The sauce is made from fried soybean paste which is like soy sauce but 100 times better. China even has many different types of noodles like daoxiao mian or knife-sliced noodles because of the thick, wavy texture. Sichuan Hotpot is a lot more famous, with the mala ghost peppers.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is a makeover from Wenchang chicken, a city area in Hainan in southern China. The dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice is served with chilli sauce, minced garlic and dark soy sauce and usually with cucumber garnishes.

Located in north-central China, Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu — a semi-arid province with vast deserts, mountains, an occasional oasis, and the ubiquitous Lanzhou Beef Noodles - a not-to-be-missed soup noodles. The key to a great bowl of noodle soup is the noodles. Lanzhou beef noodles are hand-pulled.

Not just water and flour but a sprinkle of penghuicao (Halogeton arachnoideus in English, is sourced from a desert plant) renders the flour with increased elasticity. The iconic dish of Beijing China, Peking duck has been prepared since the imperial era. The meat is characterized by its thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook.

Peking is an older spelling of Beijing; the dish originated in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing in the eastern province of Jiangsu. Of the many variations of fried rice, Yangzhou Fried Rice also spelt Yangchow fried rice, or Yeung Chow fried rice is perhaps the most well-known dish of the city of Yangzhou, Jiangsu province.

During the Ming Dynasty, the chefs in Yangzhou added more ingredients to the golden fried rice, creating the Yangzhou fried rice.

11. Stay safe

Crime against foreign travelers is not a common thing in China. Being a westerner or foreign traveler, you will not feel unsafe while backpacking in China. However, pickpocketing is a common thing everywhere, so be safe. Considering you an outsider, the street vendors may overcharge you for the items. Lastly, do not drink in public and you can count your change.

Have a fantastic journey.
Kalyan Panja