15 things to know before visiting China

While most visitors to China last year were from Asia, more than five million people also flocked from the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and France.

So, yes, western amenities are becoming more common in China, but there are still a few surprises that can catch travelers unawares.

Here are a few tips I’d wish I’d known before visiting this fascinating and at times, frustrating, country.

1. Cash is King

While some larger hotel chains accept standard credit cards, for the most part, you’ll need cash, specifically yuan, colloquially known as “kuai”.


Getting cash can be a challenge, as many Chinese banks do not accept foreign cards.

Exchanging money, too, is a complicated drawn-out process that usually involves bank employees fumbling about for 20 minutes checking passports, signing papers and getting the special foreign currency machine from the back.

So carry more cash with you or try larger bank chains, such as HSBC, to withdraw from your foreign account.

2. What in the Weird?!

Absurd things happen, and often.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve landed on another planet because, culturally speaking, some things are just. plain. bizarre.

My neighbours clothesline: sometimes cabbage, sometimes fish – I’ve even spied clothes once or twice!

Whether it be a man selling bags of live bees, my neighbour lovingly washing and hanging out cabbage leaves or bottle feeding goldfish, there is always a surprise in China.

3. Crowds and Popped Space Bubbles

In a country of 1.2 billion people, and millions more visitors, it’s a fact: there will be large crowds wherever you go. Visit famous monuments and attractions early, pre-book and most importantly, try to stay zen.

This is the experience for some, luckily not for us. Keep an eye out on the blog for the best spot to visit China’s Great Wall. Source: universiablogs.net

Likewise, personal space here is in limited supply.

Don’t be surprised to feel the breath of a fellow shopper down your neck at the supermarket queue, or even get a little shove, but remember to always stand your ground.

4. Don’t Tip in China, for the most part

Locals don’t tip and neither should you.

Source: wanna-joke.com

In China, tipping can be considered rude as it implies the employee is not valued by the business owner.

Having said that, there are also instances where it is merited, such as tour guides or restaurants catering to Western tourists.

Here is a good guide from WhotoTip.com.

5. Speak up!

Customer service here is distinctly different, so don’t expect waiters to be on smiley standby for your every whim. In short, shout out if you want something.

Capture d’écran 2016-03-28 à 18.57.05.png
Dumpling lady, Y U NO feed me?

6. Chinese eat everything

Shark fin, dogs, turtles, cats, insects, and snakes. Yes, it’s true, these animals make it onto the dinner table in China.

The Chinese taste for the exotic is thought to stem from a history of poverty, political change, a status symbol and a belief that many animals hold medicinal healing qualities.

Whether or not you order a dish of an exotic animal is entirely up to you, but do know that you may be fueling an illegal trade and animal extinction by putting your money where your mouth is.

Capture d’écran 2016-03-28 à 19.01.10.png
Assorted live seafood for sale at Chaoyang Wet Market, including the endangered Bumphead Parrotfish.

7. It’s fine to burp, slurp, spit and stare

Many visitors to China can feel confronted, even disgusted, by seeing what the West often deems as ‘bad habits,’ but here it’s just part of daily life.

Burping and slurping shows you’re really enjoying the meal.

Spitting is very common to see in public as the Chinese believe it is important to cleanse the body immediately, adopting the ‘better out, than in’ mentality.

Staring is actually a compliment. The starer is taking a real interest in you, a genuine curiosity.

Burp to your heart’s content but never leave your chopsticks upright in the bowl!

8. Drinking water in China

Nah, I wouldn’t..

Generally speaking, tap water in China isn’t drinkable. Bottled water is cheap and available everywhere.

8. Eating street food in China

Chinese street food is delicious and plentiful!

When it comes to meat vendors, again, nah, probably better not to risk it.

Try to buy street food early in the day or ask the vendor to make a new stick of ‘said product’ fresh for you. Also follow the queues, if people are lining up for it, it’s probably a safer bet.

Copyright: WMMD.com

9. Bring your own bathroom

Most Chinese toilets do not provide toilet paper or soap. Most will be squat toilets. So always carry a packet of tissues, hand sanitizer (and an essential oils bottle if you’re particularly smell sensitive).

This is the opposite of what you’ll get. Source: Midas Touch Toilets

10. Catching trains in China

China has a great high-speed network of bullet trains to take you across the country, which costs next to nothing.

Often the railway stations are big, chaotic and crowded, so allow yourself ample time to get to the station in time for your train.

Sometimes you may find people sitting in your seat and will need to firmly, but politely, tell them to move their tuckus.


11. Getting Around

If you think about it, China’s ‘bicycle kingdom’ only ended in the last few decades and so, the people on the roads are the first generations of Chinese drivers.

To politely put it, this means driving in China is an absolute shit storm.

My advice? DON’T DRIVE here, rather take a taxi and hold on for dear life.

There is one road rule in China: “Go”

Taxis in China are inexpensive and plentiful. Most drivers don’t speak English, so always have a hotel card handy or destination address in Chinese.

As a pedestrian, note that cars have the unofficial right of way, so watch your toes.

Public transport
The bus and metro systems are reliable and easy to navigate but like in most cities, you don’t want to be caught up in the peak hour rush.

12. Bargaining – Tài Gui le!

As a general rule, bargain and bargain hard! Most stores will start at prices well above what you should offer.

Start off with about half and then go from there.

If all else fails just say “Tài guì le!” (thai gwey leh) “That’s too expensive!” and walk off. You’ll usually get your price doing this.

Here’s some good tips on how to haggle from BunchofBackpackers.com


13. Taking photos in China

The Chinese love to take photographs, it’s practically a national sport. So don’t be surprised if a local tries to snap a sneaky photo of you or even comes up to ask for a picture.

This kid took about 50 photos of us as we were listening to our guide.

14. Don’t accept a compliment or gifts right away

In China, it’s easy for a foreigner to develop a big head as you field compliments and gifts from left, right and centre. But remember, it’s polite to refuse them at least once, as it shows humility.


15. English is becoming more common

English is now taught in most schools but many Chinese people are too shy to use it.

So be careful what you say!

Others, though, will go out of their way to practice with you and try to connect via Wechat.

And one more…Don’t Worry

In terms of crime, I have never more safe in a country than in China.

Not once have I heard of a tourist being attacked or even pick-pocketed.

Sure, China’s government, low air quality and crazy roads may deter some tourists but it would be be a shame to miss out on visiting this dynamic and fascinating country.

Source: Lifeandtimesofagirl

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Expatorama says:

    I’ll never look at my drying rack the same way, I had no idea it was such a multi purpose piece of equipment! I love the ‘otherness’ of living abroad though, it’s never dull and the further from home you get, the more quirky differences you encounter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WhoMovedMyDumpling says:

      I couldn’t agree more! I can see why so many say that the expat lifestyle is addictive.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great blog! Wish somebody told me all this before having to find out the hard way. Enjoy your time behind the bamboo curtain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WhoMovedMyDumpling says:

      Thanks! Definitely still learning and finding out the hard way myself. Great adventure!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark Clulow says:

    Absolutely love this post! I’ve been in China for 8+ years but I’ve been away for a few months… Looking forward to getting back now that I’ve read this!

    Regarding safety – China FEELS really safe, which is nice. As a burly British White Male I know how lucky I am to feel safe in most places, but LOTS of people get mugged and pick-pocketed here – foreign and local. Always guard your possessions closely. I haven’t used my back pocket since 2007…

    Thanks for the article!


    1. WhoMovedMyDumpling says:

      You’re right, it’s good to be vigilant! *Cuts all pockets out of pants* 😉


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