When you’re travelling to another country, you want to be as prepared as you can be. China is a particularly unique country to travel in, from language barriers, culture shock and internet censorship. Popular western websites like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are censored by the Chinese government. These are the best alternative apps to download on your phone for your upcoming budget adventure tour in China.
The most popular social media app in China is WeChat; it’s similar to Whatsapp and free to download. WeChat is fundamentally a messaging app, but it also has a WeChat Pay feature, that allows you to pay for things through the app. It’s become an increasingly popular method of payment throughout China, in restaurants, on the metro and for companies on WeChat.
Unfortunately, Google Maps is not accessible in China, so you’ll need an alternative app to help you find your way around cities. Baidu is the Chinese version of Google, and Baidu Maps is a great way to navigate your way around China. It’s free to download for Apple and Google devices, however, it requires an internet connection so watch out for your roaming data charges.
We understand that as a backpacker in China, you probably won’t have an internet connection at all times. OffMaps 2 is a great map app that gives you access to maps while you’re offline, and its navigation feature can direct you to your destination using your phones internal GPS, so your phone could be on airplane mode and you would still be able to use it. With a £0.99 download fee, it’s a small price to pay to avoid any tricky situations! The only downside is the app is only available for iOS devices – sorry android users.
Subway systems in China are generally very easy to use, with stops announced in English as well as Chinese, and stations written in Romanised pinyin and characters. However, with Metro China Subway, you can plan your route in advance and customise your journey to be either the fastest or simplest (least changes). The app is free to download for Google and Apple devices, but it requires an internet connection to function. To access offline features, you must be a VIP user which costs £0.99 for 1 month. Just be sure to turn off their auto-renewal feature if you only need 1-months worth of membership!
When you’re travelling on a budget, it’s important to keep track of the most up-to-date currency exchange so you can make sure you don’t get confused and overspend in a foreign currency. The most popular currency exchange app is XE Currency, which is accessible in China and free to download. And when you don’t have any internet connection, the app saves the last updated rates for you to use.
If you’ve booked a tour in China, you’ve probably heard people talking about pollution. It’s true, China does experience higher pollution levels than people from western countries are used to, however, it’s not always as bad as it’s made to seem. A great way to check the level of pollution while you are there is with Air Matters, which gives you up to date AQI readings.
In the last few years, public hire bicycles have been popping up all over China. Unlike London’s Boris Bikes, ofo offers a new dock-less system that lets you pick up and drop off a hire bike anywhere you want. Using the app on your phone, you can scan the QR code on your bike to unlock it and start your journey. The app is free to download but you need to link your bankcard to your account to start. You’re charged 50p per half an hour, and it’s capped at £5, which is pretty reasonable and a great way to explore Chinese cities!
Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, so we understand that travelling in China can seem quite daunting if you don’t speak a word of the native language. However, there are some great translation apps that knock Google Translate out of the park (which is good because it’s blocked in China!). Pleco is one of the best pocket dictionary apps, as it can use your phone’s camera to scan documents and translate them for you.
WayGo is another visual translator that scans foreign text, however, it can translate Chinese, Japanese and Korean, which is great if you’re planning on stopping by China’s neighbouring countries. The best feature of WayGo is that it can scan and translate images without an internet connection. The app has a free trial which allows you to make up to 10 translations per day. There are two paid options; $2.58 for a week of free translations, or $8.58 for unlimited translations.
As we mentioned, the Chinese government enforces a rigid censorship on almost all western social media websites, sometimes known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’. We’ve provided an abundance of alternative apps to download for your adventure in China, however, it is possible to access Facebook, Google, Instagram and the likes with a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN routes your connection through a server to make it look like you’re accessing the internet in a different country. However, it’s important to remember that although VPNs are not illegal in China, they’re not exactly accepted either, so use them at your own risk.
ExpressVPN is one of the apps to use in China, however, you would need to purchase a 1-month membership which costs $12.95. NordVPN in another great option, with a monthly fee of $11.95. Paid-for VPNs tend to offer a far more stable and reliable service than free VPNs, however, if you are only planning to update your Instagram followers or your family on Facebook every so often, then free versions are more than enough. Betternet offers a paid-for premium service, but you can also use it for free if you’re okay with the occasional ad!
Interested in a budget adventure tour to China of your own? Take a look at our 2019 tour dates for our 25-day China Loop, our 15-day Half China Loop and more! Or send us a message in the chat box below.