15 Essential things to know before you travel to China

Discovering China on a guided tour is a wonderful way to learn about the country, its ancient history, iconic sites and fascinating blend of old and new.

From the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an and the beautiful landscapes and mountain scenery of Zhangjiajie, this is an incredibly vast country with so much to see and do.

To get the most out of your China Tour and ensure you are fully prepared before you go, we’ve put together this useful guide. To make your trip a memorable one, here are our top 15 essential things to know before you travel to China.

1. Learn some basic Mandarin

As English isn’t widely spoken in China, we recommend learning some basic Mandarin to help you get by. In the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the younger generations can speak basic English, whilst in more rural areas such as Yangshuo and Lijiang they are less likely to.

Our Tour Director during your luxury China tour will be an English speaking Chinese national and can assist when required. However, here are a few common Mandarin Chinese words to get you started:

  • Hello: Nǐhǎo (Nee how)
  • Goodbye: Zàijiàn (Zhai-jian)
  • Thank you: Xièxiè (Shieh-shieh)
  • Yes: Shì (Sheh)
  • No: Bù shì (Bu-sheh)
  • Good: Hǎo (How)
  • Bad: Bù hǎo (Boo-how)
  • How much?: Duō shǎo? (Dwuh shauw?)
  • You’re welcome: Bù kèqì (Boo kuh-chi)
  • Good morning: Zǎo (Zhow)
  • Goodnight: Wǎn'ān (One-un)

2. Greetings

When it comes to meeting someone for the first time, here are some tips so you can make a good first impression.

The oldest person is greeted first as a sign of respect, whilst if you are going to someone’s house, the host should always introduce themselves to the guests first. A simple handshake is also frequently used when greeting someone. Punctuality is important so you should also try to be on time or early, and never late.

3. Visa requirements

Before entering China, you need to organise a Chinese visa. Australian passport holders must submit their visa applications to the Chinese Visa Application Service Centres located in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth. Your local travel agent will be able to assist you further with your visa requirements.

4. High speed trains

China is well known for its high speed state-of-the-art rail network, one of the largest rail networks in the world. Travelling on board the high-speed rail trains is a popular and comfortable way to tour China with good connections. It is sometimes faster and more reliable than travelling by internal flights.

5. Toilets

As China continues to develop, more western style toilets are appearing in public places and in major cities like Beijing. However, you may come across eastern squat style toilets in public places outside of the major cities. We recommend always carrying spare toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

6. Avoid tap water

In China the tap water is not safe to drink, and this includes the tap water in hotels and restaurants. You should also avoid ice cubes in your drinks as these can be made from local water. Bottled water is available everywhere at a small cost and we also provide you with bottled water during your luxury China tour.

7. Money

Renminbi is the official currency of China and you can easily withdraw money from banks and ATMs in most cities if required. If you want to buy souvenirs or snacks whilst on your China tour, we recommend carrying some cash. Australian dollars and US dollars in pristine condition can be exchanged at most hotels.

8. Tipping

Tipping is common in China within the tourism industry, but not always necessary. As a result in luxury hotels and restaurants, many waiters or porters are accustomed to receiving a tip, hence all your tipping and gratuities are included on your tour with Scenic, so you do not need to worry when and where you should tip.

9. Get bartering

When at the markets, don’t pay the full price for an item – barter. Bartering or haggling for goods is a way of everyday life in China. With some shrewd negotiating skills, you can grab a great bargain on souvenirs as a memento of your tour. However, bartering in large stores or department stores is not an accepted practice.

10. Clothing

As China is a large country, the weather will vary depending on where you are and the time of year you travel. During meal times and formal occasions, Chinese people like to dress up so a nice dress or shirt and trousers is recommended.

As our China tours include a lot of walking, having comfortable shoes with good tread and grip is a must, especially with uneven flooring at ancient temples, and flights of steps such at the Great Wall of China. Other key items to pack include a camera, charger with adapter for your all-important photo moments, sunscreen and lip balm, mosquito repellent, sun hat and sunglasses and a raincoat or umbrella.

11. When to visit China

We recommend you time your visit with the type of weather you prefer and what you want to see.

During spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October), you can expect temperatures between 10-23°C so it’s best to bring layers. This is the most popular time to enjoy a tour of China with limited rainfall and comfortable conditions. You should however avoid the Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Golden Week at the beginning of October as most shops and some tourist attractions are closed and transport is busy.

In summer from June to the end of August, the weather can be extremely hot and humid with temperatures well above 30°C. However, summer also marks the rainy season, so we recommend a light raincoat and umbrella.

If you’re looking for more affordable prices, then a tour of China during winter should be considered, however be mindful that it can be very cold, especially in the northern part of the country and you might even see snow.

12. Table manners

Cuisine is a major part of Chinese culture, but there are a number of things to remember when dining to avoid possible embarrassment. Firstly, you should never stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl as this symbolises death. Avoid tapping your bowl or plate with your chopsticks as this is considered rude. However, burping at the end of your meal or slurping your soup is encouraged and shows appreciation and enjoyment.

When dining formally, stand during toasts and tap the table twice when drinking to thank the host. You should also leave some food on your plate as it’s rude to clear your plate entirely.

13. Sleeping

Firm beds are common throughout China, although this is less of an issue for guests on our luxury China tours as our accommodation is 5-star rated.

14. Electricity

Australian residents will require a travel adaptor plug when travelling through China. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. China uses a variety of different sockets, but most will take two-prong round or flat pins or the Australian 3 prong plug in newer fittings.

15. Forbidden to write things in red

Although red symbolises good luck and prosperity at weddings and festivals, writing someone’s name in red ink symbolises death. Be sure to avoid using a red pen.