Visiting China-All you need to know

If you're thinking of visiting mainland China (not the restaurant, the actual country!), here're all the key things you should know
1. Main reasons why you should visit China
You might be wondering why visit China? What's unique here. From my visit experience, below are somethings fairly different/unique in China compared to other cities I have visited around the world
  • Sheer number of people and how everything works pretty fine without chaos and mess
  • Government efforts to monitor and control its people (internet restrictions, controls at tourist attractions, sheer number of CCTV cameras and so on
  • Ancient History and Historic attractions: China has deep rooted history dating backs to hundreds of centuries, much like India. Some places like Great wall of China, Forbidden city etc are unique to China and worth a visit
  • Technology Advances- fastest trains, cheapest products etc
  • Experience communicating with language barriers, cultural differences
2 China Tourist Visa for Indians
Visa will be least of your worries (unless you're from select north eastern states considered 'disputed' by China). Costs about 7k INR and takes about 7-10 days. Pretty standard process- full details in this post

3. Pollution worries
Some Chinese cities, including capital Beijing are notorious for air pollution, which could reach Hazardous levels very frequently. It is not possible to predict how bad the pollution will be on the day of your visit, so you should be prepared n hope for the best. Below are some things to consider w.r.t pollution in China
  • Pollution levels change very dynamically. It may be hazardous at 6 AM, may improve by 10 AM if winds are strong or if it rains. So don't lose hope- keep a plan B (like visiting indoor attractions such as museums)
  • Prolonged exposure to Hazardous air is definitely not good, if you have kids or elderly people it is even more dangerous. But at this point I won't say "never visit Beijing because of possible pollution" - you might get lucky pollution is less during your visit or you might be able to survive without major impact if you're visiting for just a few days- use your discretion.
  • Don't plan prolonged stay like 7-10 in one city- take a train n go to another city if pollution is too bad
  • When pollution crosses hazardous levels, masks and other techniques won't help. Best option would be to stay indoors, preferably in a room that has air purifier and wait for pollution level to come down a bit before venturing out
  • Pollution is mostly around Beijing and other northern Chinese cities. South part of China has better air
4. Language problem
Yes, language will be a problem as most Chinese do not speak fluent English. However it is manageable.
  • Most public boards are also in English, so you can figure out basics like next stop of the subway etc.
  • Translator apps are very famous- use one, put your query in English, let the app translate it to Chinese and then show it to someone- they can respond in sign language or broken English or use their own phone to translate their response back to you
  • I used TSIM Global SIM Card which didn't have local internet restrictions, so I could use Google maps and other services normally and navigate my way around, without depending on any local help.
5. Internet restrictions
Chinese government has lots of internet restrictions in place. Google maps, Gmail, WhatsApp and lots of services you're used to back home won't function in China. Your options are
Option 1: Manage with Chinese equivalents of these  services
Option 2: Use VPN or such technology to bypass restrictions
Option 3: Use an international SIM (like TSIM Global SIM) on which these restrictions may not apply

6. Finding Veg Meals
Not easy but manageable
  • Big cities do have several Indian restaurants. So with some effort you can find good Indian food.
  • Rice is common part of many Chinese meals, just that they have it with various non-veg items. If you can find a way to translate and communicate with hotel staff to make you a meal with rice (without eggs or anything) and a cup of vegetable curry they will be able to help. Alternatively you can buy plain rice and have it with pickle, curd (available in supermarkets) or other things you're used to. 
  • I could easily find cucumber, banana, apple, orange, ground nuts, chips, buns etc in super markets to keep hunger in control
  • Before booking a tour check and confirm if they can provide veg food. Most operators are used to having vegan customers so they often offer veg food.
Unfortunately none of the hostels I stayed at had kitchen facility accessible to guests. So carrying rice/noodles from India wasn't useful.

7. Finding cheap flights
Refer this detailed post on Airlineblog for this. If you can plan well, you will be able to get return ticket for under 25k from India to China.

8. Budget: Cost of various things
Below is what various day to day things and services cost in China (1 CNY = 10 INR)
#
Product/Service
Quantity
Price
1
Taxi hire
4 kms
20 CNY
2
Metro/Subway ride
5-7 stops
Long distance
3 to 4 CNY
7-11 CNY
Airport service may cost more (25 CNY to PEK from City)
3
An apple
1, large size
5-6 CNY
4
Attraction Entry fees
Per person
20-50 CNY (cheaper off-season)
Forbidden city: 40, Temple of Heaven 28, Jade Buddha temple: 20 etc
5
Indian meals
Thali/ala carte order
50-120 CNY depending on items ordered n restaurant
6
Hostel stay
Per night
50 to 75 CNY
7
Bus ride

5 CNY
8
Water bottle
500 ml
4.5 litre mini can
1.5-2CNY
10 CNY
9
Essential items like hand gloves, pollution mask, monkey cap etc
1 unit
8 to 10 CNY each
10
Public toilet access
-
Free
11
Day tours

Great wall from Beijing-250-300 CNY
In general, for a day you would need about 300 CNY or 3000 INR except stay (150 CNY for food n drinks, 50 CNY Entry fees, 20-50 CNY for transport, 50 CNY other misc expenses). Factor 2000 INR per day for decent hotel stay, then your daily budget should be about 5000 INR

My 6 day trip cost me about 55000 INR (20k flight, 7k visa, 12k bullet train ticket, 5k hostel stay, 11k other expenses)

9. Getting around
Metro/Subway systems are very good in China, you can use them to get around. I used google maps (works with TSIM, not with local sim) and that was good enough. It wasn't 100% accurate- like the bus stop it showed was actually 200 meters away from what was shown in map) but overall worked very well. But public transport is not available/reliable late night/very early morning

There're other apps for city navigation as well.

Most attractions within city limits can be visited easily using public transport- no need to book a tour or hire a guide. Audio guides are available in major attractions. For attractions away from city, though buses will be available, a pre-booked tour would be lot convenient. Your hotel/hostel will help you with the booking.

High speed bullet trains connect you between big cities, for same price and overall time as a flight.
Taxis are affordable- a 4 KM ride cost me 19 CNY (INR 200). But many won't know English. Have your destination translated into Chinese and keep it ready to show them.

10. Other things to keep in mind
  • Carry passport/ID- as popular tourist attractions may have security check point where ID is mandatory
  • Streets of China are not as pedestrian friendly as Europe or Australia. You may struggle a bit to find proper/safe road crossing etc. So factor extra time
  • Season to visit- China gets extreme summer (40+ degrees) to extreme winter. Plan your visit when it is neither too hot nor too cold. My visit in End of November was a bit on colder side. I guess July to October would work best.
  • Scams: There're many tourist scams, including random girls making friendship with you and taking to a tea shop which will then charge you insane amounts for a cup of tea. So do your research and be vigilant.
  • Keep printed maps/screenshots or crucial info (like station names, directions, name of your hotel etc in case you have no network or run out of power
My China Blog Posts
  1. Great wall of China day tour with Leo Hostel
  2. Maglev Superfast trains in Shanghai
  3. Matchmaking markets in Chinese parks
  4. Temple of Heaven, Beijing
  5. Beihei Park, Beijing
  6. Tiananmen Park Flag Down ceremony, Beijing
  7. Longhua Martyrs' Memorial, Shanghai 
  8. Longhua Buddha Temple, Shanghai 
More posts coming soon

Karthik Murali, who visited China one month before me, has some of his experiences documented on his blog. You may refer them as well. His inputs made my planning a bit easier.

I didn't do any shopping- but you can buy cheap electronic goods, many innovative products and stuff in China. Overall my China visit was easier and cheaper than what I expected it to be. Because China is fairly different from rest of Asia, I think it is definitely worth visiting once. It is a large country-I could visit only 2 cities. Will plan one more trip to any southern city of China in 2020 or later, let me see.

4 comments:

  1. How was your interaction with the Chinese people? Did you notice any difference in treatment of foreigners of Indian origin vs the west?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't notice any difference in treatment during my short visit

      They were happy to help, tried their best communicating using apps, sign language and little English they knew

      When I didn't have passport to enter Forbidden city (tourist attractions have security check post where ID is checked),they let me through after showing my Adhaar card

      Delete

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