You are planning a vacation in China? There are a few things to keep in mind, starting with the visa. As an Asia expert, I would like to help you with important tips to plan a wonderful trip – and to avoid any nasty surprises on the spot.
Ten things you should never do as a tourist in China:
1. Don’t fly off without a visa
It is possible to fly to Asia as a tourist via China, and when you stop over in China, in some places the airport is open after the entry stamp (which is limited to one day), and you can actually walk out of the glass door unmolested – in Chengdu, for example, which is a popular destination on the way to Bangkok, the airport is not far from the city, and a short day trip would be a good idea there. But then you have the problem on the return or onward journey, if the passport does not contain a proper visa.
It can happen that you are stopped from entering the country and the next time you don’t get a visa at the embassy. The fact is that in China hardly anyone checks, you generally meet little police, because the country is generally very safe. Few hotels ask for the passport, so the country is basically open to the traveler.
2. Do not just go off in a group
Even Sven Hedin and Ella Maillart traveled alone through China a hundred years ago, joining locals on the road. This is the only way to get to know the country and its people and to get in contact with them, because especially the Chinese, who have never met a European except on TV, are afraid to approach a group or even a couple, but the Chinese are at least as curious as we are and would like to exchange a few words with a foreigner or at least say hello.
By the way, this is very easy: "Ni Hao Ma?" (How to?) "Wo hen hao" (I’m fine) – And you have new friends and are quickly invited to dinner or a beer.
About the person
Kuno Paulus is a tour guide, photographer and author who lives in Strasbourg and Bangkok. From May to October he travels with groups through Alsace and Baden, France, England and the Canary Islands, the winter he spends in Asia (China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Topics: News, travel experiences and all things food-related. All information is available on his homepage.
China trip: How to make it easier?
3. Do not take too much luggage
Especially in China, the distances traveled to get to the special places are often very, very long. This can be done with a bus trip of several days or you spend a lot of time on the train. Many take the plane for convenience. But on every trip, lugging your suitcase (rollers don’t do any good because of uneven sidewalks – if they exist at all) or a fully packed backpack is the most annoying thing to do. Almost everything in China is very cheap to buy locally and why should you burden yourself with unnecessary things?. I don’t carry more than one hand luggage size bag on my travels, which is very durable and expandable with zippers, and I never pack more than seven kilograms in it. This makes things easier in the truest sense of the word.
4. Do not refuse invitations
On my travels in Asia, it happens all the time that you meet a group of locals sitting on small plastic chairs, drinking beer or liquor, enjoying a barbecue or playing cards. A friendly look – and you are beckoned. Then, of course, you drink the offered beer, sip on the homemade liquor and reach into the offered bowl with the hellishly spicy sauce.
Most of the people don’t speak much English, but they are happy when a foreigner sits down with them and exchanges a few words. This is quite simple, because everyone in the world knows Michael Schuhmacher, Bastian Schweinsteiger or the big German car brands. You can’t believe how well known and how popular Germany is. And finally, as a traveler, you represent your country and want to make a good impression.
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5. Don’t just eat in restaurants
China is a huge country with a diverse population. There are over 50 minorities and on every street corner there is cooking, sizzling, steaming and grilling. There you just have to try, even if you know in the rarest cases, what you actually buy. Street food is cheap and most importantly always authentic. There are soups and rice dishes, fried tofu and lamb kebabs, exotic sweets and little cakes.
Many things may smell unfamiliar or even look strange, especially when you can still recognize the sea creature or the little bird. But in our country there are also quails and snails, which might make the Mongolian flinch. So don’t be shy and grab it, because at home you only get sausage, kebab or fries and an original sheep kebab from East Turkestan is a beloved speciality in every Chinese pedestrian zone, which unfortunately you don’t get in any of ours.
6. Be afraid of diseases
Of course, digestive difficulties with unfamiliar food and discomfort with unfamiliar time and sleep rhythms are to be expected. However, the overly cautious visitor misses out on a lot of fun, which is what the unaware traveler does. China lags far behind Germany in terms of hygiene. It is better not to look into the kitchens, toilets are seldom of European standard and many of them do not look as healthy in the country as they do here. It gets more adventurous the further you are from civilization.
However, China has a better health care system than Germany, well-equipped hospitals and a millennia-old tradition of healing art. A good Chinese doctor diagnoses with the help of hand pulse measurement and heals with acupressure and medicinal herbs without chemicals and without side effects. There are therefore quite a few Europeans who travel to China to see a doctor.
7. Use drugs
Unfortunately, I experience on almost every trip that young Westerners let the smoke of marijuana rise and bags are passed around. But: No country in the world wants to see foreign stoners, even if some locals like to sell the homegrown smokes. China has a long, painful history with opium wars behind it and the state power doesn’t take any jokes when it comes to drugs. Even though the tourist may be spared the death penalty that the locals face, deportation is a quick and expensive end to the vacation, and you don’t want to see the inside of a Chinese jail.
8. Leave without leaving any information
China offers wonderful and sometimes adventurous hiking trails. There are always accidents or missing persons reports, which you don’t hear about in western media, because the Chinese reporting is focused on Chinese, politically colored and in Chinese characters. The Chinese Internet is huge, but in Chinese. None of us can read this. So we get fantastic pictures of Chinese mountain hikes, but no news about who is crashing or when a ferry sinks in a storm because the captain had control of a sea vessel with minimal training.
You should always inform someone on the spot and additionally at home regularly about where you are, just in case. Besides, one should carry the passport on the body. Address, phone number, contact person, blood group, drug intolerances and allergies belong in the waterproof plastic bag with the passport.
9. Do not use your cell phone to its full capacity
Because in China it’s easy and cheap. The the Chinese never had landlines, but cell phones from the beginning and are smartphone country no. 1. The Chinese use the cell phone for everything: Wechat, Baidu and Alibaba replace Google, Facebook and Ebay and are much more user-friendly. It is best to buy a sim card at the airport and there is internet even in the last corner of the country. A powerful powerbank is recommended for the cell phone. By the way, I use a 20.000s, which holds five loads.
10. Do not take selfies
The Chinese loves his smartphone and his selfies. The background serves as a backdrop for the selfie for the social contacts. Who has no photo, was not there. If a foreigner shows up, he or she is often the target for the joint selfie. Therefore, many people ask you to pose for the photo and also to take your girlfriend or your mother in your arms. Sometimes whole groups want to take a picture with you and are just as happy if you take a picture of them for yourself as well.
The European prefers to shoot landscape photos and sights without disturbing tourists, while the Chinese prefers people in the picture. So change your snapping behavior and enjoy the photos later on, where one – never meeting so young again – grins happily into the camera!
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