By Phin Upham
China is a fascinating place to travel. As one of the most heavily populated countries in the world, China offers delicious cuisine, great cheap shopping, and a look into a fascinating and ancient culture. However, there are some ways to navigate the culture and country that they might not tell you in your average guidebook.
Here are some tips that I wish someone had told me before I loaded the plane to the People’s Republic of China:
1) Keep your wits about you in the marketplace: As in many other foreign countries, it’s important to make educated purchases in the marketplace. It’s important to inspect what you buy before purchasing it. Electronics for example are often made well, but may not include instructions as their American counterparts do. Be aware that shop keepers will try to rip you off as well as taxi drivers and food merchants. You should be familiar with the market price of most foods and products before hitting the streets.
2) Avoid tourist hot spots at certain times of the year and day: Try to avoid the tourist attractions during the late morning through the early afternoon. Many bus tours drop off hundreds of foreigners at those times of day. It’s best to go in the early morning or late afternoon in order to avoid the crowds. My suggestion is to avoid a tour group altogether and plan out your own itinerary. Most locals are helpful if you need suggestions. However, not everyone speaks English, obviously.
Also, try to avoid traveling during the Chinese Official Holidays because transportation can be an absolute nightmare. If you are going to travel at that time, make sure to book your tickets way in advance.
3) Never underestimate the power of a smile: No matter what country you’re in or language you speak, a smile is the universal language of hospitality and friendliness. The Chinese appreciate any and all attempts of foreigners to speak Mandarin. However, if all else fails, a smile goes a long way!
4) Aim to eat at the places the locals eat! The restaurants packed with foreigners are typically inauthentic and way too overpriced.