Have an easy, breezy time exploring China with these nine travel hacks!
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a pro at speaking Mandarin, and neither do you have to be a super experienced backpacker to find your way around the world’s most populous country. And, now that you’re familiar with some of China’s off-the-beaten-track destinations (thanks to us!), we say bookmark this list of travel hacks that’ll in come in handy if you’re ready for that upcoming adventure.
1. Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
If you haven’t heard, sites and apps like Facebook are banned in China. For anyone who wants to circumvent the ‘Great Firewall of China’, getting a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a must. It helps you create a secure connection to another network over the Internet so you can access your usual online links. However, it’s important to note that using a VPN does have its limitations: at times it can slow traffic and be unreliable. Be sure to download one before you arrive in China; check out VPNs like NordVPN and Golden Frog. Also, in the event of patchy network and connection, it’s generally better to have your Wi-Fi router, just in case.
2. Connect with the locals via WeChat
You might wonder what everyone in China uses for social media if Facebook and Instagram are banned. Well, there’s WeChat – the multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment (yes, payment – more on that later) app. For visitors like yourself, it’ll be good to have it installed on your phone so you can easily stay in touch with those you meet in the country, especially if they speak English. Hidden drinking spots, cool new attractions, a menu you can’t decipher – who knows what you’ll find out from them as locals (or frequent travellers to China)?
3. Make sure you have enough local currency on you
Remember how we mentioned the locals use apps like WeChat to make payment? In many parts of China, card and cashless methods are used for transactions, and major credit cards like American Express and Mastercard aren’t accepted in most places. So, be prepared to use cash when purchasing anything.
4. Set up a Hotmail account to check emails
This one’s for Gmail users: Don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up a VPN but want to be able to at least clear your inbox on the go? For some reason, Hotmail isn’t blocked in China, so what you can do is create an account with them before linking it to your Gmail. This way you’ll be able to see all the emails that come in via Gmail, and you can even choose to send notes out using from your linked Gmail account.
5. Download away and go offline
Again, since you have to use sites like Baidu instead of Google in China, it’s wise to download all the apps you need beforehand so you won’t have to rely on online services for things like Google Translate (which is really useful if you don’t understand Mandarin). There are also Chinese dictionaries you can get and use offline.
6. Find your way around with Tencent Maps (or keep it old-school with a guidebook)
Even if you do set up a VPN and manage to load Google Maps, don’t count on it being up-to-date. There’s a lot of missing and inaccurate map information for certain areas in China, so you’re better off downloading an app like Tencent Maps. The text may be in Mandarin, but it recognises English words like ‘airport’, and the maps on here are way more updated compared to the ones on Google. Alternatively, a physical copy of a guidebook will work. Just make sure it’s been printed recently (like 2017 or 2018).
7. Book your train tickets online
Trains are a great mode of transport in China – they’re comfortable, almost always on time, and affordable. However, you can avoid the stress of navigating your way around a train station to buy tickets (plus, imagine how difficult some of those conversations will be if you don’t speak Mandarin) by getting them online via sites like Trip.com. Credit cards are widely accepted too, so payment won’t be an issue.
8. Be prepared to deal with hard beds
In China, most hotels (and households) have beds that are on the hard side. It’s mostly a cultural thing (and some believe it’s better for back support), so if you have trouble adjusting to this, request for a room with twin beds instead of a double bed. This is so you can have the freedom to really spread out and find a comfortable position if need be.
9. Stock up on your own medication prior to your arrival in China
The Chinese have their own way of dealing with illnesses and ailments: traditional Chinese medicine (also known as TCM). Plus, some believe that certain types of medication, like Loperamide, for example, may be more difficult to find than others, so it helps to make sure you have a sufficient amount of all the pills you require before you arrive.
Now that you know what to expect, start looking for great flight deals and tours for China (courtesy of Changi Airport’s travel partners) for that upcoming trip of yours. Also, if you’re feeling lucky, enter Changi Airport’s Unexplored China contest and stand a chance to win air tickets to some of China’s most underrated cities.
This article is sponsored by the Changi Airport Group.