As China is one of the largest countries in the world with a significantly diverse culture, a trip to China is surely an exciting adventure. However, there are many things you need to know before you go and things you need to do before you even set foot in the airport, which can make the preparation a daunting task. Don’t worry! This article will answer the most common questions asked by China’s first-time travelers.
1. Which places should I visit?
China offers an extensive range of tour options full of stunning sights, rich cultures, and mysterious places.
If you’re a huge fan of ancient water towns, you should definitely visit Tongli, Zhouzhuang (Suzhou), Nanxun, Xitang (Zhejiang), Zhujiajiao (Shanghai). Beijing and the 2,700-year-old Great Wall reveal the secrets of Chinese emperors at the Forbidden City to history lovers. You can also admire the incredible architecture of the Temple of Heaven, boating on the lake of China’s largest royal garden, the Summer Palace, and so much more.
If you’d like to see a beautiful combination of Eastern and Western Charms, add Yuyuan Garden, and Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum to your itinerary! If you’re interested in giant pandas and religious culture, don’t miss Chengdu, pray on the Golden Summit of Mount Emei, or admire Leshan Giant Buddha.
There are many wonderful places to see and things to do in China. To avoid getting lost in a long list of destinations, we’ll help you narrow down your choices and design your own itinerary later in this article.
2. When is the best time to visit China?
China’s diverse cultural and historical attractions are ideal for traveling all year around. In general, Spring (April-May) and Autumn (September–October) are the most comfortable and recommended times for a trip to China. These periods are neither too hot nor too cold, and fall is generally drier and warmer than spring. You just need to wear light clothes during these periods and maybe carry a light jacket.
3. What are China’s visa policies and required documents?
Though US citizens don’t need a visa to enter many countries, you will need to get one to enter China. Visas to China are issued by the Chinese embassy or consulate-general serving your area. You can work with the embassy or a Chinese consulate directly if you don’t mind the bureaucracy. Otherwise, you can always ask someone to navigate this for you. For example, you can have a travel agent or a special visa agent in a major city near you manage the process for you. You will need to pay for the visa (typically under $100) and the special visa agent as well.
You can also check China’s visa-free transit policies for certain cities and regions.
4. How many days should you stay in China?
After a long journey to get to China, you probably won’t want to just scratch the surface of China and take snapshots with the landmark attractions.
For first-timers, we suggest you take at least 6-8 days to visit China’s “Golden Triangle” – Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. By visiting these cities, you can see a spectrum of the highlights of China: the majestic Great Wall, the spectacular Terracotta Warriors, and the unique blend of Chinese and Western architecture at the Bund. During the 8-day trip, you can stay in Beijing for 3-4 days, Xi’an for 2 days, and then Shanghai for 1-2 days.
5. What kind of trip do you want?
It’s a good idea to narrow down your choice of destinations by clarifying what the trip is about. Are you the type to relax or to do exciting activities? Or do you want your trip to be a mix of relaxation and exploration? Your expectations will help you decide the perfect destinations for your trip. Determining the concept of the trip will protect you from traveling too far or cramming in too much, making the trip an unsatisfying one.
6. Should you travel solo or on an organized tour?
Traveling with an organized tour through a tour agency or making the tour arrangements yourself depends on your needs. See our comparison of traveling by yourself versus going on an organized tour:
|Traveling independently||– Suitable for adventurers or those who have a great deal of time to plan an itinerary|
– You prepare your trip based on your preference, choose your favorite accommodation, destinations, transportations, etc.
|– It’s not easy for first-timers to have a smooth solo trip in China. In addition to a lot of effort researching, planning, and bookings, you can waste time trying to visit as many places as possible and end up seeing less.|
– There may also be numerous problems to overcome, and it is not always the cheapest option. For example, you may not get the best price on hotels or transportation from their respective booking pages. You may occasionally get lost, be unfamiliar with the language, and lack a sense of security.
|Going on a tour||You can visit China’s key sights with less money and greater security.||– You will lack flexibility|
– You can only scratch the surface of Chinese culture.
Another option that you can consider is choosing a private tour. This is the kind of tour led by senior insightful local guides to visit certain places, customized based on your preferences. You can plan where you want to go, set your own pace, and be guided as much or as little as you want.
7. What are China’s must-try dishes?
Chinese Cuisine is a fundamental element of Chinese culture itself. Cultures in different regions are respectively distinctive. The same is true for food cultures. The most popular foods recommended by millions of tourists are the following:
- Beijing roasted duck
- Shanghai’s steamed soup dumplings
- Chinese hamburgers in Xi’an
- Guilin rice noodles
- Kung Pao chicken.
- Sweet and sour pork
- Hot pot
- Cantonese dim sum.
- Ma Po Tofu
- Cantonese char siu
- You will see a lot of menus in Chinese characters! If you’re not so confident with your Chinese, keeping a list of Chinese dishes that you’d like to try and asking the waiter/waitress or having a translation app that can identify images can be helpful.
- Don’t forget to bring your own napkins! This may sound strange to the US citizen; however, many Chinese restaurants and street food kiosks are likely not to set up napkins on the table. Make sure you carry your necessities with you!
- Giving a tip is not compulsory in the mainland of China, so you can choose to leave a tip or not. However, travelers are more likely to tip tour guides and drivers as a thank-you for looking after them during the tour.
8. Do you need to speak Chinese fluently to travel in China?
If you plan only to visit large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, you’ll be able to get by with English. From many tourists’ experience, the younger generations can speak basic English, and many are eager to help out when necessary.
However, if you plan on visiting the smaller cities off the main tourist trail, such as Zhangjiajie and Yangshuo, speaking basic Mandarin is invaluable. Plus, knowing some Everyday Mandarin Chinese phrases will be helpful as Chinese people really appreciate the effort to speak their language.
There are various language learning apps and programs for you to choose from. For example, Pandanese, a web-based Mandarin-learning platform that allows you to master 6,000 Chinese characters in a year, is a perfect choice for every Chinese traveler. After you’ve selected your learning purposes (travel, school, or business), you’ll receive Pandanese‘s handcrafted curriculum that is specially designed for each purpose. During the course, you’ll learn all Chinese radicals, characters, and vocabulary that are necessary for a trip to China. You can start learning with Pandanese for one year or six months before your trip for the best result.
Additionally, having a Chinese translation app on your phone would be helpful as it helps you communicate with the locals faster and more efficiently.
9. Are there any restrictions when traveling to China in 2022?
This is probably the most commonly asked question at the moment. When the whole world is still affected by the Coronavirus, including China, has this country opened up for tourists yet?
According to The US’s Travel State for China Travel Advisory, China is at level 3 on the Travel Advisory Levels, which is “Reconsider Travel.” If your time is flexible and you haven’t booked anything yet, you may consider rearranging your trip to a more appropriate time in the future. However, if you must travel to China for business or other important purposes, you need to meet the following requirements:
- Travelers might need to submit a Health Declaration Form to your nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate before the trip. They will need to certify your form and return it via email.
- All travelers must present two negative tests (PCR and antibody tests) taken within 48 hours of travel.
- For the newly qualified entrants, entry depends on having received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines at least 14 days before entry. They must apply for a visa in advance and show their proof of vaccination on arrival, as well as the negative tests.
- Arrivals are screened once more at the airport. Those failing the checks will be sent to government facilities to quarantine on arrival. Some regions demand a 14-day or 21-day quarantine period. The quarantine might take place at a government facility or your home.
And don’t forget to consult the CDC website well before leaving and close to the time you leave for the most up-to-date information!
The bottom line
Overall, China is an enormous blend of people, languages, and cultures, blessed with a spectacular natural environment and several thousand years of history. If you’re planning a trip to China, a detailed plan and preparation will go a long way to enriching your trip. Happy travels!
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Pandanese blog for more engaging stories about Chinese life, culture, and Chinese learning tips.
The easiest way to learn Chinese
Learn more than 6,000 hanzi and vocabulary in a single year.