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china travel tips

10 Travel Tips for Visiting China


As a country undergoing the grandest developmental makeover in recent history, China is becoming an increasingly popular destination for ESL teachers and backpackers alike. Traveling to China for the first time can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be if you come prepared with a few travel tips.

china travel tips

1. Don’t project American standards onto China

A problem about living in China is that Americans and other westerners who live here have no qualms complaining about it. A developing country yearning to compete with the U.S. on a global superpower level, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is admittedly an easy target for criticism if you hold it to the same living standards as your home country—assuming you’re from a developed country. Don’t be that person who always starts a sentence with, “If we were in America, …”

2. Carry toilet paper everywhere

Imagine you’re walking down the street when nature calls. Public restrooms in China don’t have toilet paper, so unless you carry a wad of it in your back pocket for such emergencies, you’re gonna be wiping with your underpants. Also, public toilets lack the convenience and comfort of porcelain seats. If you haven’t used a squat toilet before, check out this guide to using the Asian squat pot.

3. Don’t be afraid of the government

The government, police and communism have no effect on my daily life—apart from erecting that minor inconvenience, the Great Firewall of China. I was a littler nervous about rampant censorship and overeager police officers before I came here, but it’s hardly a fierce political or social environment. Unlike in America, the police in China are scarce. Historically, neither the Chinese government nor the U.S. government has a spotless record, but today, America resembles an aggressive police state more than its far eastern counterpart.

4. Don’t think you have the right-of-way

I’ve almost been hit by a car in China a dozen times. Even if the crosswalk light is green, it’s not your right-of-way. Cars and other vehicles come first. To make matters more dangerous for pedestrians, most people in China drive like 16-year-old American girls, and nobody uses their mirrors. Cars change lanes sporadically, and drivers sometimes straddle the line between lanes, just because.

china travel tips

5. Don’t be afraid to try the street food

One of the best reasons to travel to a foreign country is to experience its cuisine. Don’t travel all the way to China just to eat McDonald’s every day; try the street food! It’s everywhere, it’s delicious, and the best part, it’s cheap as dirt. If you are seeking intercultural immersion, there’s no better way to get a feel for a culture than by eating its authentic, traditional street foods.

6. Never reject a gift from a Chinese person

This is true in many instances. If a Chinese person offers you a drink, it’s very rude not to accept. When a Chinese person gives you their business card, take it with both hands and look it over briefly before you pocket it. When you receive a wrapped gift, you aren’t expected to open it immediately. The only exception to this rule is if you’re in Beijing and a stranger offers you tea. Just say NO.

Also, if you give a Chinese person a gift, don’t give them a watch or a pair of shoes. It signifies that your relationship is coming to an end.

7. Don’t expect people to understand English

China isn’t a tourist-centric country yet, and while the demand for English proficiency is rising steadily, don’t expect any Chinese people over the age of 30 to speak English. Your best bet for English communication is to speak with high school and college-age students. Oh, and many of the Chinese who CAN speak English will find you first. They’re often very eager to practice their ESL and become your friend.

china travel tips

8. Don’t drink the tap water

It might have poopy particles floating in it, so always boil water from the sink before consumption. Once, I unwittingly drank two tall glasses of tap water here in China. Sharp stomach pains and violent diarrhea barraged me for three days following that dumb mistake.

9. Don’t wear green hats

This one is a little odd, but it holds true. Wearing a green hat is a cultural faux pas in China, and if you wear one in public, people might think you’re an idiot. The Chinese phrase for “wearing a green hat” (dài lǜ mào zǐ) sounds very similar to the Chinese word for cuckold. Because of this, wearing a green hat symbolizes that you have an unfaithful partner.

10. Get a VPN

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google are blocked, so if you want access to your favorite social media and websites, you’ll need to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Don’t settle for a free VPN service or it’ll take five minutes just to load your own Facebook profile page. Instead, sign up with a premium VPN provider like VyperVPN. It’ll cost you a few extra bucks per month, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Can’t wait to see how many comments you get on the “drive like 16 year old American girls.” Remember the man you passed on Strait Lane when you were 16? Honk Honk???

  2. In the UK it’s the older generation you have the watch out for on the roads. 80 year olds who never really took a real driving test, are going deaf and have terrible eyesight is a bad combination.

  3. Hi Kevin. I agree with your list, for the most part. However, number 6 needs more information. Not accepting a gift can sometimes be offensive. However, there are two things to keep in mind.

    1) Refusing to take a gift is actually a form of politeness, depending on the situation and accepting one too fast can be kind of rude. Many Chinese people will refuse to take gifts several times before accepting them. It shows that you don’t want to inconvenience the person giving you the gift and that’s a form of respect.

    2) Accepting a gift can be dangerous… sort of. If you accept any form of kindness from a Chinese person, they may feel that you owe them a favor in return. This is how relationships work in China. When someone does something nice for you, like buy you dinner (etc.) there is often an ulterior motive involved.

    Lastly, I would add that not accepting a gift is actually more rude in the west than it is in China.

    That’s my $.02

  4. Here I want to correct one of your cognition. For “The Chinese phrase for “wearing a green hat” (dài lǜ mào zǐ) sounds very similar to the Chinese word for cuckold.”, remember that (dài lǜ mào zǐ) isn’t sounds like the word cuckold, it’s just an idiom, with a literary quotation back of it. Although that quotation, precisely a ancient story, has already been left behind by many people, but the sense remains. Actually, if you’re a Chinese who wear a hat in green the other day, you might be treated as a queerfish by the people surround you. But as a foreigner(lao3 wai4) concerns, it will be Okey….

  5. The Chinese phrase for “wearing a green hat” (dài lǜ mào zǐ) refers to the practice during the Yang Dynasty that the families of a prostitute would have to wear a green scarf on their head. Over time the scarf became a hat then the term was applied to the husband of a woman who ‘had relations’ with another man.

  6. Thanks for the tips. Could you offer some advice on how to politely turn down an offer of an alcoholic drink? I do not drink by choice and I want to avoid causing offense. I was thinking about getting a card made up to say I am allergic to alcohol. Would that be understandable?

Let me know what you think


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