The best time to visit China is during spring or fall. The weather tends to be warm and dry during these periods, in contrast to the bitterly cold winters and hot, humid summers experienced in much of the country. China’s sheer size, however, means there are no true limitations for travel, and with one or two exceptions it is possible to visit all year round.
In general, the ideal time to visit western China is between April and October, when the flowers are blossoming and the local bazaars throng with life. For those heading across the high passes or into the mountains, the best time to visit.
For more month by month information in China check here.
YOU WILL NEED A VISA TO ENTER CHINA
Tourism in China requires a visa and is typically a single entry visa with a stay duration of 30 days. If you don’t have a visa they will not let you in!
The tourism visa requires your passport to be valid for at least 6 months and it must have at least two blank pages. You must also have an invitation letter from a china travel agency or an individual or round-trip tickets and a hotel booking. There is no e-visa system so you will have to complete and application form and send it, with your passport, to a Chinese consulate or embassy.
For more information on visa for China, check here.
BUY A VPN BEFORE YOU TRAVEL (FOR YOUR COMPUTER AND PHONE)
Websites and apps that uses Facebook or Google to log in or have Facebook or Google plugins will cause problems for you to use in China without a VPN. This includes popular traveling sites like Airbnb. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google (including Gmail and Google maps), and even Netflix are all blocked in China.
A VPN or Virtual Private Network, will disguise your IP Address so it will look like you are wherever you connect to; America, Australia, Great Britain etc. This should allow you to connect to websites that are blocked locallay. You will need to purchase and download you VPN before travelling to China as many of these VPN sites are blocked in China.
You can also try using Microsoft Bing in China, unlike Google it is not blocked!
NAVIGATING THE CHINESE LANGUAGE
Chinese is not an easy language for most of us to learn, but it is worth learning a few words in Mandarin before you travel.
Unlike many other tourist destinations, English is not common in China and it is very rare to be able to use it with locals outside of foreign hotels and some major tourist attractions. It’s even rarer outside of Beijing and Shanghai.
It is a good idea to have all the addresses you need for your trip prepared in both English and Chinese. For example, hotels all have their own Chinese names that do not match the English name. For this reason, it is always good to keep names and addresses with you in both languages to avoid problems with taxis and directions.
There are some useful apps that will help you navigate your way around.
- Pleco is the most most popular translation app. Its offline dictionary means it is available to use whether or not you have service, and it allows you to search in English
- Google Translate is a good tool to use because it offers a download features that allows you to access its translation dictionary while offline, which means you’ll still be able to use it without an internet connection. Google Translate also allows you to enter and translate full sentences, unlike Pleco. It is also the only Google app that isn’t blocked in China.
Many wifi locations and services in China will require a local phone number. For example, many public wifi hotspots often require you to enter your mobile number in order to receive an SMS message with a code that activates the Wi-Fi. It will likely cost you an arm and a leg to use your own phone and phone number with the exhorbitent roaming charges. Instead buy a SIM card when you arrive in the country. SIM card sales in China are regulated and require a passport for registration.
WeChat is absolutely essential for communicating with anyone in China. Whether they are local or an expat, everyone in China uses this instant messaging app that puts usage numbers of WhatsApp or Skype to shame. Using WeChat is much more common than sending an email in China.
GETTING AROUND IN CITIES
Many cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Chengdu, Chongqing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, have cheap and efficient metro systems. The subway is the cheapest way to get around and it’s very intuitive. In many cities you can buy a public transport card that can also be used on public buses. Signage and announcements are all in English, so it’s easy to figure out which way to go. Most tourist sites in Beijing, for instance, can be reached by subway. We recommend avoiding the subway around rush hour, however, as it can get very crowded. Being polite and queuing is unheard of, so be prepared to dive in and push your way through.
China’s subway systems are often huge and growing rapidly; Shanghai’s metro system is the world’s largest rapid transit system by route length, while Beijing’s is the world’s busiest rapid transit system.
Taxis and ride-sharing are also very common in China, and you can easily find a cab outside most major attractions and transportation hubs. The staff at your hotel can always call you a cab if you need one as well. Outside of these locations, though, hailing a cab can be difficult without the use of Didi (the Chinese version of Uber), which requires a Chinese phone number. It’s a good idea to download Didi, which has an English version, so that you can reserve taxis more easily.
Please note that taxi drivers rarely speak English, so be sure to have your destination written down in Chinese characters.
BEWARE OF THE TOILETS!
Western toilets are common in hotels, big-brand malls, and 5-star tourist destinations, but everywhere else you should expect to squat.
While public toilets are common in residential areas, they will always have squat toilets and never have toilet paper. For this reason, make sure you always have a pack of tissues with you (which can also serve as napkins which are uncommon in local restaurants). Also, be aware that public toilets may not be very clean.
Large malls and popular fast food places like McDonald’s, KFC and Starbucks also make good toilet stops while walking around town. Generally, the tissues go in the bin next to the toilet, not in the bowl.