hina Travel Advice



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Preparing for A Visit to China

Going to China? Maybe we can help you doing some planning. We hope that our advice is worth more than you are going to pay for it. Anyway, here it is.

xxxyyyIn other words, in most places and at most times you can get along without cash. To get cash I advise using Chinese ATM machines. In all of the cities I have been in you can find at least one ATM that accepts Visa/Mastercard and gives Chinese money (you need a pin number of course). Your credit card company will probably charge you 2% commission. I carry travellers checks for emergencies but never have used them.

1 Credit Cards

Credit cards are widely accepted in tourist-oriented places. All the best hotels take them and many of the middle grade do. Smaller ones probably don't. Same for shops. In some places but not all you might be asked to pay 2-4% extra if you pay by credit card. If you eat in big hotels and tourist-oriented restaurants you can almost certainly pay with a credit card.

2 Tipping

Tipping is almost non existant. I never do it, although in a few rare instances it might be expected. In some of the tourist oriented restaurants (but only some) there is an automatic 15% service charge added to the price. In otherwords, prices are 15% higher than they seem.

I don't have any good suggestions for how to say thank you for help, other than "thank you". In my guess the situation is not going to arise. But if you are on a group tour you are going to experience things that I don't know about. I rarely take tours. Once in a while when I do the word gets to me that a cash tip is expected for the guide/driver/whatnot. Then I give whatever others are giving.

Still, you might want to carry something useful to give that is related to the USA. Perhaps you can find some ball-point pens that say "Hollywood" or magnets. In Beijing I was brought a bunch of bananas as a welcome gift — i.e., I don't understand Chinese calculations.

3. Meals

Meals are easiest if you take them in hotel restaurants. This is because they will be clean and have English menus (but not necessarily English-speaking staff). There are plenty of other restaurants, from dumps to deluxe. In most of the places you'll visit you'll easily find McDonalds and KFC and sometimes Pizza Hut. For Chinese food look for a Mongolian Hot pot — it's the easiest to be sure it's safe to eat. Chinese like fish and you'll get excellent fish if you know how to order it. But, in practice, to be satisfied, you'll need a friend or guide in a restaurant or you'll be reduced to chance in what you get.

There is plenty of excellent street food and I think almost all of it is safe to eat and it is cheap. Just walk about and buy what you want from omlettes to barbecue to various breads. Everywhere you'll find fruit sellers. Just hand them some money and see what you get in return. No words needed.

Water is touchy. In my opinion it is good nearly everywhere but I still advise using bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing. I drink lots of boiled water (tea without tea leaves) in restaurants. Bottled water is everywhere.

4. Vacinations

Vacinations for flu, tetanus and hepatisis should be more than enough for China. Some doctors recommend Polio, but in fact, polio is nearly wipped out through the word. If you want to read a good discussion of tropical illnesses read the Lonely Planet Guide on Vietnam. In general cities are far safer, etc than rural areas, and most travellers will only see cities. You probably don't have immunity to Chinese cold and flu viruses. In a longer trip you have an excellent chance of being sick with a cold for a week. Take whatever your favorite cold remedies are with you .

5. Weather

5. The weather overall it is about the same as in comparable locations in the USA. That is, Beijing=New York, Xian = Chicago, and Guangzhou and Hong Kong = Miani, etc.

I'd bring clothes based on the layer principle: windbreaker, sweater, polypropylene long johns just in case. Clothes are cheap in China, so if you have the need and the time you could buy what you lack here.

6. Phone calls

Phone calls from China cost $2 or $3 per minute. You can buy a phone card that cuts that to 50 cents/minute but you will need help to find a place to buy it. In most of the cities I've been in there are internet cafes that are reasonably priced - $2-3/hour. But you have to find them and usually deal with staff that has limitied English. As you will be changing cities all the time you'll always be looking for a cafe.

If you want to send a package (gift/souvenirs) to the USA you'll have to have it inspected before it is wrapped. All this is  done at the post office -- by them. If you appear and look stupid they'll guide you by the hand. But it can take an hour or two.

Political discussions

Political discussions are okay. You can say anything you want. Most will fall on deaf ears. Most Chinese think that whatever China has done or will do is right. What they think are facts and their interpretation of facts will be far different than yours. You actually won't talk to very many Chinese, but if you do, don't be surprised if they are very forward and bring up some point (human rights, bombing of their embassy in Yugoslavia) and tell you that the USA is wrong.

8. Study

Study before you go; the more you know in advance the more you'll appreciate. Try reading the whole Encyclopedia Britannica articles on China (several hundred pages) and on Buddhism. Half of what you see will be temples. If you know the gods and myths of Buddhism you'll appreciate things much more. An excellent history of China is "The Search for Modern China" by Jonathan D. Spence. It covers the years 1600 onwards.

Updated September 12, 2002