China’s been tipped by guides as one of the top locations to visit in 2018. The country is home to unexposed rural communities as well as some of the world’s largest metropolises; it allows for a budget holiday but remains connected by incredible infrastructure; the civilisation’s history dates back millennia yet today China is at the forefront of a rapidly changing world. It’s a country of contrasts and it’s safe to say visiting it this year will be very different to the next. Here’s our China family travel guide.
You’ll be pleased to hear China has one of the most accepting and child-friendly cultures in the world. You wont get any tutting for having a kid running up and down the train aisle, likewise it’s common to take your kids with you to all major tourist destinations. However, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean everywhere will be equipped with all the luxuries of home and if you want to avoid stress we wouldn’t recommend traveling with kids under 7.
Despite Western expectations for East Asian cultures to be a minefield for causing offense, this is generally not the case. There are still some important cultural faux-pas to avoid which you can learn more about in our Chinese culture travel guide.
The Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors, Chengdu Panda Research Centre -there are three incredible sights to give you a starting point, but the list goes on much longer than that. For our selection of the most important places to go on a 2-week trip, we would recommend having a look at our family itinerary or, if you’re interested in what people enjoy most, have a read of our backpackers’ reviews on Facebook.
On your trip expect to be able to have a hearty, high quality meal in a restaurant for around 40 CNY per head (roughly £4/$6). If you’ve got fussy kids, fast food restaurants such as KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut are now very common in the majority of China’s cities and Chinese, Western-inspired, restaurants are now also starting to arise. Western stores such as Family Mart and 7-Eleven stores sell a variety of Western snacks and standard fruit and veg is widely available.
It’s worth noting that buying food from Western chains will be more expensive (sometimes around twice the price) and if you’re looking to visit China with kids on a budget then try and get them to embrace its incredible food! As for what you should be trying, there is an incredible range of delicious and iconic dishes in China. Some of those that we make sure we pack into The Dragon Trip include Chengdu’s hot pot, Beijing’s peking roast duck, and Shanghai’s xiao long bao.
Dietary requirements such as being vegetarian or allergic to nuts is something that you will need to make sure you fully communicate – with emphasis – when buying food. As speaking English is uncommon outside Beijing and Shanghai this can sometimes be difficult. We put together this guide for vegetarians and vegans. If you are traveling with The Dragon Trip we would recommend asking your guide in each city to help you communicate your allergies/requirements when buying food and they will be more than happy to help.
Safety & crime
As tourist destinations go, China is a very safe country to visit. A joke among expats is that if you’re going to be ‘robbed’ there it’s going to be due to poor haggling at markets. And it’s true – relative to some tourist destinations you’re much safer from actual theft but it’s important to keep an eye on purchasing fake or overpriced goods. Pick-pocketing remains to be an issue in major tourist areas, so we would advise standard procedures such as keeping your bag on your front, where you can see it.
It’s very important to watch out for ‘tourist scams’ which have become widespread in major tourist cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. One which can be common is an offer to go ‘tea tasting’ in which tourists are offered to come to a tea tasting ceremony for a small fee, when they arrive they are charged an extortionate amount of money which they either pay or lose the original amount of money they gave.
Pre-trip packing and preparation
A visa is required for traveling in China. To do this you’ll need an invitation letter and itinerary of what you plan to do on your holiday. If traveling with The Dragon Trip we provide the necessary documents and help you with this process. As long as you have what you need the process is easy. For more information on this see our FAQs.
It can be handy to have photocopies of yours and your kids’ passports on you the majority of the time. China’s a country which loves documents and when booking things such as accommodation or train journeys you usually need your passport. Having a photocopy on you when you’re out for the day means you’re equipped if you ever unexpectedly need it, without having to worry about it being stolen.
There are three standard vaccines the US and Europe recommend for families traveling to China: Hep A, Hep B, and Typhoid. For a full list of possible vaccines and advice visit our FAQs page.
Technology & communication
When it comes to using your phone, so long as it’s been unlocked for international usage you should be able to use it. We would recommend purchasing an inexpensive prepaid SIM card from one of China’s three mobile phone providers (China Unicom, China Mobile, or China Telecom) directly from their retail outlets to use with it.
To make sure you don’t lose contact with your kids, get the whole family to install the free Chinese online messaging app, WeChat, on their phones. With an intuitive interface it operates in a similar way to Whatsapp. Having it gives you peace of mind that your family can stay in close contact during your stay. If you’re wanting to use Western websites and apps such as Facebook or Google then you will need to pay for a VPN provider which allows you to by-pass China’s strict internet restrictions. We could recommend reading this blog giving a simple breakdown of some of the most useful and important apps to have on your phone when traveling in China.