10 Things You’ll Learn as a First-Time Traveler to China

by farwestchina / Jul 12, 2014 / 0 comments

10 Things You’ll Learn as a First-Time Traveler to China

10 Things You’ll Learn as a First-Time Traveler to China


1. Tour buses stop at far too many tourist traps

Unless you have the money to hire a private driver everywhere you go, you’ll probably find yourself sitting on a tour bus at some point during your visit to China. Like it or not, this also means that you’ll find yourself stopping and visiting a jade factory, silk store or some other useless destination.

Saving money in China has its drawbacks and this is one of them. Feel free to just sit in the bus or, if you feel so inclined, find out what it feels like to pay ten times what you should for a souvenir.

2. McDonalds food CAN look appetizing

It’s been years since you last stepped foot in a McDonalds back home and you probably can’t remember what a KFC looks like. After a week of traveling through China and experiencing the local food, though, those golden arches seem to be calling your name.

It’s not that the local food isn’t good – it’s very good! – but even the most experienced traveler needs a break from the oil-heavy stir fry’s every once in a while.

Eating at a China McDonalds. From 10 Things You’ll Learn as a First-Time Traveler to China

Eating at a China McDonalds

3. Everyone gets sick once. Or a few times.

Speaking of food, everybody knows that a visit to those street stalls and that hole-in-the-wall restaurant down the alley is risky. Even if you don’t take that risk, though, you’ve got a good chance to end up sick. You’re in China for goodness sake.

It’s not a problem, though, because you packed some Pepto-Bismol from home and made sure you had plenty of toilet paper handy for any emergency stops.

4. Unless you’re prepared, nobody on Facebook will know how much fun you’re having

Of course you’re not a Facebook addict (nobody admits that), but it would be nice to keep family and friends updated on all the cool places you’re getting to see during your journey to China. Right?

It’s a good thing you came prepared. Since you already knew how to overcome China’s internet restrictions, you’re tweeting cool pics and updating Facebook on your latest travels.

5. After a hard day of travel, don’t fall onto your bed in exhaustion

You feel like you’ve walked 10 miles through the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Bund in Shanghai and you just want to collapse when you return to your hotel. Unless you’re staying at the 5-star Ritz, don’t let the fluffy comforter fool you. You’ll learn quickly not to make a hard fall onto your bed unless you want to bruise your already tired body.

6. You will get cheated. Live with it and just have a good time.

You can see it in their eyes as you approach. They don’t see you as a human, they see you as a dollar sign. Lots of them.

Unless you’re an expert at haggling in China, you could spend 30 minutes or more trying to show them that you’re not going to let them take advantage of you. Maybe other travelers are suckers, but not you!

Or you could just do the math and realize that you’re wasting your sanity and a half hour of your life over what probably amounts to US$5. Sometimes it’s best to just let them win.

7. Despite the term “hard sleeper”, it’s actually a great way to travel

Because your body still hurts from the fall on that sorry excuse for a hotel bed, you can only imagine that when Chinese call something “hard”, it’s probably a solid rock.

But what you’ll come to find when you’re taking a train in China is that unlike the “soft sleeper” - which is nice but too expensive - and unlike the “hard seat” which is incredibly uncomfortable, the “Hard Sleeper” is actually a great way to travel.

It’s also an excellent way to meet people and the beds really aren’t that bad as long as your expectations aren’t high.

8. China is waaaay too big

It hits you when you walk for almost an hour just to get a few blocks down the road or you take a 30+ hour train to your next city…China is HUGE.

It’s a good thing you didn’t try to cram too much sightseeing into too short a time. The last thing you want is to remember your time in China from the backseat of a taxi or hanging out the window of a tour bus. You gave yourself time to leisurely enjoy the places you visit, to walk the neighborhoods and your glad you did.

9. Traveling during a Chinese holiday SUCKS

Sure, holidays are always a difficult time to travel – ticket prices are usually higher and harder to buy. But it can’t be that much worse in China, can it?

Actually, it can. Much, much worse.

It’s a good thing you marked out Chinese New Year, October Holiday, and May Holiday off your possible travel dates. All it takes is one time sleeping on the floor of a train for 4 hours for you to swear off traveling to China again…ever.

10. Pandas really are as cool as they seem

All they do is sit around, lazily eating bamboo, yet somehow you’ll find that this is oddly entertaining. And the idea of paying an ungodly amount of money to hold a baby panda actually crossed your mind as a possibility. They’re really that cute.

Your significant other – especially if you’re traveling with kids – will be grateful that you took the time to stop and see the pandas.

A Chinese panda at the Chengdu preserve. From 10 Things You’ll Learn as a First-Time Traveler to China

A Chinese panda at the Chengdu preserve



What else would you add to this list?




Josh Summers first moved to China in 2006 and has been traveling around the country ever since. He currently lives in the far western province of Xinjiang where, among other things, he attempts to help other people enjoy traveling to China. You can find him on Google or contact him at josh [at] farwestchina [dot] com.



Another great Wandering Educators read by Josh:

Teaching English in China: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming



All photos courtesy and copyright Josh Summers