Tips for Your First Trip to China

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Wild Goose Pagoda Shrine, Gregory Slobirdr Smith @ Flickr Creative Commons

Welcome to Wednesday Travel Tips!

Hooray! Willamette Intl Travel has arranged your first trip to China and you’re all set to go! But wait! China is a fascinating country, stepped in centuries of history and culture, but it can also be quite daunting at first. You’ll have to deal with culture shock, smog, chopsticks, and government bureaucracy. Knowing some little things before you go can ease your way into a stress-free vacation.

Get a Visa

China still requires an entry visa for most visitors. Prepare your application at least one or two months prior to your trip, in case of any delays. American citizens must submit a visa application, a $130 fee, your passport and your flight itinerary to the nearest embassy or consulate general. Call your agent at Willamette Intl Travel for more details.

Know When and Where to Visit

China in the summer is near-unbearable, with smog, humidity and crowds to match. Consider visiting China during the off-season, late October to March, for less crowds and cooler temperatures.

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Twin Pagodas, Russ Bowling @ Flickr Creative Commons

Pick up a bit of Chinese

A few phrases go a long way, so pick up a few handy ones before you go. China has two major languages, Mandarin and Cantonese (spoken mostly in Hong Kong), and dozens of regional dialects and minority tongues. While English is somewhat universal, many Chinese can’t speak it, especially once you head out of the main cities.

Culture Shock

Chinese life is very different than most Westerners’, so try to be aware of contrasts. In large cities, heavy traffic and pollution is a real problem, and many people wear surgical masks to protect their lungs. If you are sensitive to the air, try to stay out of the metropolises. Prepare for toilets—many are squat toilets without any paper. Bring your own paper and hand sanitizer with you. Drink only bottled water and boiled tea. Be wary when trying street food—you may encounter stale oil or old leftovers—and pack that imodium to fight off potential traveler’s diarrhea.

Food

Authentic Chinese foods tends to be very different than what you get at your hometown’s Chinese takeout. Cuisine varies from region to region, ranging from savory and mild to insanely spicy. Don’t be afraid to try new dishes—like Shanghai dumplings, Peking duck, hot pot, hairy crab—they’re often delicious (and even if they aren’t, at least you have a good story). And learn to use chopsticks before you go!

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Hot Pot Dumplings, LWYang @ Flickr Creative Commons

Censorship

The Chinese government censors everything from media to the internet. You will be unable to access sites like Facebook and Twitter. Assume that you won’t be able to access your favorite sites. Get a VPN on your phone and computer—just make sure that the service provider is not blocked in China.

Stay Safe and Healthy

Crime against foreigners is still extremely rare in China. In general, Chinese people have a favorable opinion of Westerners. The worse that may happen is that you are over-charged for stuff or pick-pocketed. Just stay aware of your surroundings, try not get too drunk in public, and count your change—it’s not rude in China.

Tourist Attraction: You

Be aware that outside of the main cities like Beijing and Shanghai, many Chinese don’t often see Westerners. You may find that people stare at you and even take photos of you. Don’t take it personally, most people are just curious. Be polite to strangers, but, like everywhere, keep your wits about you.

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