Things to Know: China

Things to Know: China

We highly recommend going to China by joining a tour group but you don’t need a tour guide in Hong Kong. It’s just easier on a tour to pack in all the China sights in 10 days if you have someone transporting you, carrying your luggage and explaining the many sights and attractions. Plus, your tour guide is your translator. I speak Cantonese and a little Mandarin so we got around fine but others on our tour relied on the translator to help them. If you can spare more than 10 days, tack on a few days for Hong Kong. The city is amazing and has non-stop action 24 hours a day.

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Here are some things to know while traveling through China and Hong Kong.

  1. Get your travel visa early for China. You have to send in your passport in order to get your visa stamped for entry so make sure to renew your passport if needed before applying for your visa.
  2. Hong Kong is technically owned by China but they have 50 years from 1997 to assimilate into China’s socialist system and way of life. In accordance with the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, you don’t need a visa to enter Hong Kong like you do for China.
  3. You don’t have to get shots before you travel to China but I recommend getting your hepatitis vaccinations. This vaccine requires a succession of shots over time so get it early.
  4. Tipping is not customary in China. Many restaurants frequented by locals won’t accept tips because they find it offensive. They believe the relationship you have with them is that of a friend. However, in Shanghai, where the culture has become more Westernized, tipping of 10% is expected.
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  5. Don’t stick your chop sticks upright in your rice or noodles. Instead, place them flat on top of the bowl or on the table. Sticks upright represent sinking a boat or bad luck.
  6. People in China don’t find it rude to stare so don’t be offended if you get stares because they will definitely stare at you.
  7. Restaurants and food vendors don’t typically provide napkins. You will see many people carrying around small packets of tissue so bring some with you.
  8. In Shanghai, they will pass out warm cloths at the restaurants for your to wipe your hands but don’t accept them because they aren’t free. They will tack on a fee to your bill if you use them.
  9. Most of the restrooms don’t have toilet paper and they definitely don’t carry seat covers.
  10. Squatting toilets are more prevalent than Western toilets. If you can only use a Western toilet, look for a sign on the restroom stall that depicts an image of a Western toilet. Otherwise, squat with the little hump towards the front and flush by pulling the chain down.
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  11. Bring hand sanitizer because the restrooms don’t typically have soap for hand washing.
  12. There are restrooms available at every sight we went to which is very important to a person who has a small bladder like me. With the Olympics, China cleaned up its act and added a lot restrooms. They are plentiful and well cared for.
  13. In general, it’s pretty clean in China but people do still spit every where and don’t be surprised if you see parents drop their kid’s pants and let them relieve themselves right there in front of you.
  14. The breakfast included in the tour is good and has many offerings such as eggs, toast, fruit as well as Chinese breakfast choices. The lunch included is not good and will be the same bland dishes throughout the tour but it provides the sustenance you need for all the walking you will do.
  15. There’s a lot of walking on the tour.
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  16. The not so good lunch dishes makes the dinners on your own so much better. Ask the front desk where they like to eat dinner and go there.
  17. The water is not safe to drink and neither is the ice so stick with the bottled stuff or hot tea.
  18. Check the seals of the bottles you buy at the store as there have been reports of people bottling tap water and reselling it.
  19. Beer and soda costs the same or even less than bottled water. Opt for the beer since it’s included in the tour package.
  20. We found that in Mainland China, people spoke little to no English. They spoke mostly Mandarin but even if they didn’t speak English, they can understand enough of what you’re saying. In Hong Kong, a lot more spoke English as they were once a British colony but many spoke Cantonese. We don’t think it would be difficult for English speaking foreigners to get around China or H.K.
  21. You have to haggle when you shop at the street vendors. It’s part of the shopping process. Don’t ever say yes to the first price you hear. We often started at a ridiculous low price, like 20 to 25% of their asking price. For instance, Steve was offered an authentic NFL jersey for $89 and he started the negotiations at $20 and after a few eye rolls, they settled on the fair price of $25.
  22. All hotel rooms are equipped with a controller for your electricity. Slide your hotel key into the slot on the wall by the your front door in order to have electricity.
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