Culture

6 Things To Know Before You Go To China

A handy guide to the ins-and-outs of travelling in China.

From Shanghai to Xi’an, Yangshuo to Chengdu, China is a melting pot of adventure goodness.

There will be glorious historical sites, lots of dumplings and real life pandas doing panda-y things, but if you’re planning a trip to mainland China, it’s best to come prepared. Here’s your go-to guide to living it up in some of China’s biggest cities.

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Get acquainted with a ‘ni hao!’

I am very aware that this is a generic travel tip, but honestly, even just the tiniest attempt at Mandarin lingo goes down a bloody treat in China. They love it – probably because you sound like a two-year-old child learning how to say ‘please and thank you’ when in reality, you’re actually a twenty-something backpacker with several stamps on your passport. Oh life’s funny, funny contradictions!

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Don’t drink the tea

That’s not how it sounds – the tea is delightful, truly it’s delicious. But only drink the tea once you’ve settled on a restaurant, looked at the menu and decided “Yes, I will choose to dine here today”. Otherwise, if you prematurely start sipping, you might be locking yourself into a restaurant with an English menu that has pricing two to five times the local rate. Say no to extortionate gong bao chicken, adventurers.

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Prepare to go sans Facebook

The internet is censored in China, which means you’ll need a VPN to check your Facebook feed, download apps or poke around on Gmail. This makes travel surprisingly difficult for us youngsters who perceive the Internet as our god-given right. Make sure you download any emails you might need to your phone before landing, stock up on your Mandarin-English translator apps and learn how to read a paper map. There will be Wi-fi, but half the Internet is missing.

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BYO business cards

No, you won’t need to spruik your latest work as a documentary filmmaker/social influencer/raw food chef while journeying through Shanghai – instead, grab the Chinese language business cards of your hotel or desired destination to use as a form of translation with taxi drivers.

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Rice is the last stop on the menu train

It may come as a surprise to most of us who grew up with the sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken from the local Chinese joint, but rice is not always served during a meal in China. In fact locals will often only order rice towards the end of the meal as a last ditch effort to fill up. If you desperately need rice to soak up all the good juices, then be sure to tell your waiter mifan (rice) mashang (straight away).

Photo: slj_tribe/Flickr

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Go to the backstreets for breakfast

This is the golden rule – backstreet China is where the magic happens. All you need to do is head straight out of your hotel and go for the alley behind. Guaranteed, there will be locals grabbing early bird noodles, fruit vendors selling to the nine-to-five crowd and just a bunch of exciting morning activities going down. Just watch the area wake up.

Photo: dave.see/Flickr