China is truly a country on the march. Bolting into modernity and leaving the world in its wake, this multifaceted country is bewildering in its immersive vastness, intriguing social complexity and incredible icons. There’s the razzle-dazzle diva of Shanghai, with cosmopolitan rooftop bars and cutting edge design, the 250BC ancient terracotta warriors of Xi’an, the UNESCO listed Great Wall of China, Beijing’s Forbidden City and rural areas where traditional life remains unchanged. But one thing is clear – China is going places!
While the fascinating history and culture are sure to capture the attention of many travellers, not everything is as it seems in China, and if you’re visiting for the first time, you might encounter some surprises along the way. To help you enjoy your first trip to one of the world’s greatest travel destinations, we’ve put together a list of tips to help make your trip as seamless as possible.
Plan your visa in advance
China requires visitors from most countries to obtain an entry visa (even if just for transit). For Australians visiting China as a tourist, you will need to organise for a full visa, prior to travel. For more information, read the Smart Traveller fact sheet.
Money in China
While large hotel chains and upscale restaurants now accept Visa and Mastercard, the most widely accepted card scheme in China is UnionPay. However, for the most part, when travelling in China, you will need to pay with cash.
The official currency of China is the Yuan. Businesses in China don’t accept any other currencies (including US dollars and Hong Kong dollars), so make sure you come with enough cash to cover you from city to city (International ATMs are only available in major cities).
When and where to visit
China is a big country, with differing climates! For the first time visitors, recommended destinations include Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Guilin. It’s important to remember that different regions do have different weather conditions, and attractions throughout the year, so be sure to check ahead of time!
Summer in China is smoggy and humid, and is typically the busiest time of year for major cities, as both locals and tourists take time off during this period. For a less-crowded and cooler temperature experience, we would recommend travelling in the off-season from October to March.
The language barrier is a big hurdle to overcome for foreigners visiting China. China has two main languages, Mandarin and Cantonese; so depending on where you’re visiting, it’s useful to learn a few key phrases. A good travel tip – always keep the card of the hotel you are staying at to show taxi drivers!
The Chinese government censors a lot of media and has blocked sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. If you want to be able to access these sites while you’re in the country, you’ll need to purchase a VPN that covers China.
Managing your health
The larger cities in China have serious problems with air pollution. Many locals swear by masks on days with hazardous air pollution, but it’s much safer to avoid exertion on days with particularly bad pollution.
Some other health-related tips that need to be considered include:
- Do NOT drink tap water. Bottled water can be purchased at most restaurants and stores.
- Pack toilet paper. Most public toilets in China don’t provide toilet paper, so it’s always a good idea to pack some in your bag. Hotels and tourist restaurants always have toilet paper available.
- Pack some hand sanitiser. Similar to toilet paper, hand soap isn’t always available in Chinese bathrooms, so be sure to carry a small bottle with you.
Travel with an open mind!
Like with all travel destinations, try to avoid visiting with preconceived ideas. Seek opportunities to interact with locals and learn more about Chinese culture!