Travel Tips for China

We visited Beijing and Xian with our 12 and 16-year olds. Here are our 10 top tips for first-time travelers to China, particularly Beijing:

  1. Beware when catching taxis. It is sometimes difficult at tourist areas getting the taxi drivers to use the meters. (The Silk Market and Tiananmen were two such places) I was only cheated once, but it made me very wary. So my son and I developed some "rules" for ourselves:

    • Take only taxis that you approach, not the ones that approach you
    • Take only the green/blue and yellow or red taxis, not the black ones
    • Make sure the driver's photo license is displayed on the dashboard
    • Try catching your taxis two blocks away from the tourist location
    • If you run into a problem ask for a receipt and get the license plate of the cab

  2. I was told in Xian you cannot buy medicines without a prescription, so we brought anything we thought we could need. I brought a small first-aid kit, Advil, and Immodium, but we needed a decongestant. You may be able to get what you need at a pharmacy in Beijing, but I don't really know.

    At any rate, it is advisable to bring whatever over the counter medicines you might need, even if they are now available in pharmacies throughout China, you will find yourself with a pack of medicine with name and dosage in Chinese...

  3. The water in Beijing or China in general is not safe to drink or even to brush your teeth. Most hotels will provide bottled water for you. Use it, it's there for a reason.

  4. Beware at teahouses, the infamous "teahouse scam" where unsuspecting foreigners are charged exorbitant amounts for a cup of tea still seems to be going on. Make sure you order only after verifying the prices. A man we met at the airport had paid 1500 RMB for tea, roughly US$20. How many cups of tea can you drink for that? He thought or was led to believe that the charge would be 100 RMB.

  5. Learning a few basic Chinese phrases before you go will take you a long way. We listened to some tapes and took a private lesson. It was extremely helpful and nice to be able to say "excuse me" when battling the crowds at the subway, or your basic "where is the bathroom" in a time of need.

    More than anything else, it is a nice ice breaker, we had a great time and only said one bad word that we still don't understand!

    Haggling at the markets

  6. The annoying hawkers (people at the stalls selling things) can be very aggressive. We decided the best way to tackle them was to completely ignore them, otherwise you encourage them to keep bugging you. The worst we found at the Forbidden City, I have heard of others that had them bad at the Great Wall and at the Terracotta Warriors. Just be prepared. It really threw me that there were even hawkers right ON the wall. The day we went, we only saw three other sets of tourists in the two hours we were there and about 10 or more peddlers.

  7. The subway is simple and convenient to use. We were told and found to be true that there is always an English-speaking attendant taking the tickets on duty.

  8. Take toilet paper with you everywhere. The majority of public restrooms did not have any.

  9. Cultural Tip: It is good manners to use two hands when giving or receiving money or your business card.

  10. Translation Tip: Many Chinese are better at reading basic English as opposed to hearing you say the words. A better way to make yourself understood is to write down anything you need translated.

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