For some, China is the final frontier of travel. The most populated country on the planet, culturally diverse and scarily big – it can put off even the hardiest of travellers. However, for many, its slightly daunting nature is what makes it so appealing, and China is fast becoming one of the ‘must visit’ nations of the 21st century.
Sally Zeng, one of our Adventure Leaders, offers some tips for a successful China tour:
1. Tackle The Language Barrier
This is undoubtedly the biggest and most daunting prospect for travellers to China. Not only are the letters completely different, there are 32 regional dialects to get your head around too! It always helps to learn a few key words and phrases in Mandarin (the official language) before you arrive so you can at least understand the basics.
When trying to reach a destination, have the Chinese name written down to show taxi drivers or passers-by, just in case you need help and can’t pronounce the address.
All of the Adventure Leaders with The Dragon Trip are bi-lingual so we can really make life easier for the group, and for many, this is the main reason they choose an escorted China tour.
2. Decide Where You Want To Go
China is a vast country offering diverse experiences, from exciting and vibrant cities such as Shanghai and Beijing to the most beautiful countryside imaginable. Aside from the obvious ‘must see’ places such as the Great Wall, the world-famous Shaolin Temple in Denfeng and the Chengdu Panda Sanctuary, consider some more off-the-beaten-track places where you can get under the skin of the country. A couple of my favourite places are the Mogan Mountains – famed for its bamboo forests, or ZhuJiaJiao Water Town – a Chinese equivalent to Venice.
At the Dragon Trip, we cover China’s top spots, as well as places you never thought you could get to, such as secluded parts of the Great Wall, and offer the chance to experience the country differently, such as volunteering at an orphanage and at the panda breeding centre in Chengdu.
3. Appreciate Public Transport
The public transport system in China is very good and is a great way of mixing with a cross-section of society. The night trains are an exciting way to cross the longer distances in China. One of the places the locals gather and chat on trains is around the hot water dispenser. So if you want to fit in, pack some dried noodles and a flask, add the obligatory hot water and tuck in!
4. Discover Food Glorious Food!
The food in all its diversity, spiciness and uniqueness is bound to be a highlight of your China tour. Don’t be scared to try the local specialities such as the Sichuan Hotpot, Peking Duck or Hunan’s Hongshao Rou (braised pork belly). And try the street food too – it’s part of the experience! Have dietary requirements that you think might stop you from trying new things? Check out our Vegetarian & Vegan Guide to China for an extensive list of all the delicious dishes you can eat!
5. Consider The Weather
Generally, the best times to travel are April/May and September/October, but check what it’s like in the region you will be in, as there are regional variations to consider. A trip can be spoilt by unrelenting rain, high winds or sweltering temperatures so check before you book.
6. Interact with the Locals
One thing that takes a bit of getting used to is actually being a bit of a curiosity yourself. In some of the more regional parts of China you will be something of a novelty, so don’t be alarmed if you are being stared at or find locals taking a sneaky photo of you! Take it in your stride and smile. On the whole, most Chinese people are friendly, polite and honest, and like the opportunity to talk to visitors.
7. Embrace cultural differences
Whether it’s the country’s chaotic markets or its sometimes peculiar taste in alcohol, backpacking in China can lead to quite a few culture shocks. If you want to do it right and have a good time, don’t shy away. If you’re faced with a very loud Chinese stall owner at a market, don’t be afraid to haggle with them, they’re just trying to attract attention. If some food doesn’t exactly look like your mum’s home cooking, give it a go anyway – you might discover your new favourite dish. ‘Try something new’ is a cliché for a reason; because it’s definitely worth it.
Published 10th August 2018