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Some hints and tips for travelling in China

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The following is by no means comprehensive or in any order of importance, they are just a few lessons learned during our seven weeks here. I hope that it gives you an insight into travel in China, inspire you to come and maybe help you with the planning of your trip. China really has been worth the effort!

1. Travelling by train is good. The new high speed trains are often quicker, cheaper and more pleasant than flying low cost airlines. We also travelled both hard and soft sleeper on slower, more local trains which we found to be OK (although the toilets could leave a lot to be desired). See the excellent www.seat61.com for full details of train travel in China – we found this site indispensable.

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2. Long distance buses always leave full but are cheap, efficient and (mostly) comfortable. Long journeys involve a stop for food and toilet break every few hours (carry small change for these). The most popular routes can get booked up and, so sometimes, it’s worth booking your seat a few days in advance but otherwise turn up and buy your ticket on the day. (Be careful of seat numbers above 40 as they tend to be on the back row and have less legroom; always ask for your seats to be together). Local town or city buses will take you almost anywhere for 1 or 2 Yuan.

3. Don’t be fooled by the impressive reception area at a Chinese hotel. Whilst this may give the impression that the hotel has many facilities, they may not be operating – we came across coffee shops with no coffee, bars and services long since closed and plenty of tired and grubby rooms. On the other hand we stayed in some fantastic hostels, B&Bs and homestays which, at their price, beat these hotels hands down.

4. The Chinese like to eat early – lunch is often eaten before or around midday and dinner from 5.30pm This means that local restaurants can close by 1pm in the afternoon and by 8pm in the evening

5. Smoking, whilst banned is many public spaces, is tolerated almost everywhere. A smoking ban is effectively enforced at some national monuments such as the Forbidden City and in national parks where there is a fire risk but even in Hong Kong where the ban is more strictly adhered to you can smoke at tables directly onto the street.

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6. Beer is cheap but the entrance fees to monuments and parks can be prohibitively expensive. Jiuzhaigou National Park and Huanglong Geopark were £30 and £20 entrance fee per day respectively meaning we had spent £100 in just two days before food, travel or accommodation – something that you must consider when travelling on a budget.

7. The rules of the road can seem indecipherable in some places and outright non-existent in others. When crossing a road as a pedestrian in cities, walk slowly and with confidence (preferably shadowing a local Chinese person) - the bicycles and silent electric mopeds will part and flow around you.

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8. Don’t underestimate how busy it gets during ‘Golden Week’ around the October 1st national holiday. The Chinese domestic tourism industry is really taking off and it seems like everyone heads away during this week; prices go up, crowds get thicker and hotels get booked out. Plan carefully and book your accommodation well in advance – we opted to stay put in Shanghai for the week and stayed with friends and here they had the army on the street nightly to control the crowds along The Bund!

9. Access to the internet is almost everywhere via wifi but Google can be slow and the ‘Great Firewall of China’ limiting. We found other search engines and a range of English language versions of Chinese sites tended to be more reliable.

10. The language barrier is ever present but not impossible. Even learning rudimentary Mandarin was useful but moving to another region, with its own tones and even dialect, often made our efforts unintelligible again. Nothing quite beats a good sense of humour, patience and a lot of pointing when it comes to ordering food/tickets/shopping! We were told by a graduate in Chinese Studies that Mandarin is a spoken language and we’re prepared to believe him, however, do learn the characters for ‘Gents’ and ‘Ladies’ toilets.

11. Chinglish (Mandarin or Cantonese translated in English) produces some wonderfully bizarre phrases that provide continuing entertainment. ‘Water your foot’ at the bottom of an escalator – we think, somehow mistranslated from ‘Watch your step’. Or how about ‘Self Enema’ on a restaurant menu in Beijing? Doesn’t bear thinking about…

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12. Some of the best things in China are free. Markets are fascinating, so is people watching in the park with the rows of dancers, singers, marching bands and even catwalking. Some museums are free such as the Shanghai Museum, as is the flag raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square and walking up Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. China isn’t all expensive.

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Posted by stuartfinch 00:48 Archived in China

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Comments

Very good stuff. As you head south, you might like a few cultural tips for navigating South East Asia?

I wrote something years ago... I'll dig it out and stick it up on Facebook.

by Alex Bicknell

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