Planning a holiday to China is super challenging, as this enormous country has a countless number of attractions and it’s impossible to experience many of them even on a long trip. If you are not sure where to start planning your itinerary, how to choose places to visit and you simply feel overwhelmed when you look at the map of China, this article is for you.
How To Start Planning A Trip To China?
Start with a map, simple as that! If you’re dreaming about going to China, you probably already know the names of some places you are eager to see. Mark them on your favourite maps app and check the distance between them. Ask yourself is it possible to visit all of them during just one trip and in amount of time that you have? Perhaps it’s wise to give up few of them?
Then look for other interesting places to visit. Use guides, magazines, travel blogs and search engines for top attractions. It’s also a good idea to check out few organized holiday packages from popular travel agencies. Their itineraries usually outline the top attractions in particular areas, so add them to your plan if they appeal to you you or avoid them, if you don’t like crowdy touristic places. Once again, put everything on the map. If possible, use one colour for your highlights and the other one for the alternatives.
Once you have marked all your places of interest on the map, it’s a time to face the toughest decision: where to actually go. Eventually you’ll probably have to give up many of these attractions, unless you can spend a few months rather than weeks in China.
The most important thing at this stage is to decide: are you going to do a round trip with the same airport of arrival and departure? Maybe it’s easier to land in one city and departure from another, visiting places between them? Or perhaps you want to focus only at one Chinese province as you don’t like to move around too much?
Next step is to find out the means of transport. Don’t worry, it’s not so difficult these days. With official Chinese websites available in English, plenty of travel apps and useful tips online, you should be able to manage. My advice is to use planes for the longest distances. Fast trains are reliable and comfortable, but also quite expensive and sell out quickly, so keep it in mind while deciding about your budget. Night buses are convinient for journeys longer than 8 hours, as they save your time and let you sleep while moving. However, they may be noisy (snoring or loudly passengers using their smartphones without headphones during the night are common) and uncomfortable if you’re a tall person like me.
Extra Tips to Prepare A Perfect Holiday In China
Once you have your itinerary and means of transport, there are still few important things to do.
1. Expect unexpected! In China a single province may be bigger than an average European country. Cities, even the ones consider small for Chinese standards, are enormous. They often have more than one main train or bus station. Always check the names carefully! Sometimes it’s tough to get a taxi (especially for foreigners) but it’s not that difficult to get stuck in a trafic or get lost. Delays, long queues, misunderstandings, not known local public holidays, Chinese biuroctacy, natural disasters and other “surprises” happen more often than you think. But hey, they only add the taste of an adventure to your trip and make it even more exciting! Therefore it’s smart to put 2-3 extra days here and there in your plan to cover that. If everything goes smoothly and you don’t use these extra days that way, you can always extend your stay in favourite places or search for interesting spots around them.
2. The Great Chinese Firewall blocks most of the Google services, western social media, popular news sites and so forth. You may know by now that you need to download a VPN to your smartphone. But don’t rely on just one, especially if it’s free! Test at least three VPNs at home to make sure you’re able to use your favourite websites and apps in China. I used both ExpressVPN and NordVPN as they refund money if you cancel your subscription within 30 days – and they did. Additionally, download offline version of maps and translation app, which you’ll use a lot. Last but not least, find out which Chinese apps would be the most useful for you. Look for the most recent information on blogs, message boards and websites focused only on China. Facts, not opinions!
3. Copy from the map and print all Chinese names of the cities, tourist sites, bus and train stations and other relevant places. Online translators work well, but not for original Chinese names that are different from their English equivalents. It will be very useful if you have to ask for directions.
4. In most places (except for the biggest cities and online bookings) you’ll need to pay by cash. Do not withdraw too much money from one ATM at once as even in a well known banks some notes may be fake! Counterfeit notes are quite common and you will notice that Chinese people are checking the authenticity of your money at almost every transaction. Don’t forget to inform your bank about your trip, so they will not block your card due to suspicious withdrawals.
5. Remember to remove your simlock before travelling as you’ll need a Chinese sim card. I’ve choosen “China Union” and it worked well. Make sure they will set up your phone for you, which they usually do for foreigners without asking.
6. Agoda and Booking.com are the best options to book accommodation while Trip.com is great to book trains and domestic flights.
Is China A Safe Country For Travelers?
Yes, absolutely. In fact I believe that China and Cuba are the two the safest countries I’ve ever been to! I’m not sure is this due the nature of Chinese people or is it because of political situation in both of these countries.
I’ve never witnessed any dangerous situation. Wherever I went, even late at night, I’ve always felt safe. After a while I’ve noticed that vandalism in China is nearly non existence and people don’t mind leaving their belongings unattended. I stopped worrying about taking out my wallet in public places very quickly, which would never happen in Europe.
The only problem was a lack of English language knowledge among the locals. This was particularly frustrating when ordering taxi (GPS or maps have no use there!) or asking for some help or advice. Chinese people often keep on distance as they’re afraid of a language barrier. On the other hand, if they do speak English, they may even approach you to have a chat and use an opportunity to practice their English with you! I’ve discovered myself that if you’re really in need, they will approach you and try to help anyways.