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Largely irrelevant for this site, but still, tips from my trip to China last week:)

So I had a great trip to China last week and loved it all, except maybe the horrific traffic. I had done a ton of research on details that were important to me before I left, but it was hard to get accurate information. And I know there's a lot of sources and travel websites out there but I like to get most of my information from this site - I know the personalities that post here and I trust their advice.

So here's what I saw, focusing on the issues that I was most worried about:

I brought an N95 face mask but did not use it. Most people were not wearing them...maybe about 10% were. The air in Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an was visibly dirty and I have asthma but I did not have any trouble breathing at all.

It is indeed crucial to carry toilet paper with you and lots of anti-bacterial wipes.

Internet is funky. In addition to the usual blocked sites like Facebook, Google etc., lots of common US sites just fail to load when you go to them. In addition, I was unable to send any email whatsoever at any of my hotels and my tour mates reported this same issue. I could receive email but not send any.

TMobile is a great resource over there because, as long as I was pulling data over my phone, my Gmail worked, I could look at Facebook and I could search on Google.

Posted by
11368 posts

Thanks for posting this,Valerie. We love to travel to Europe but Asia is also very high on our travel radar.
I recently returned from my third trip to China, different provinces visited each time. The big change was that the bad traffic was even worse and these were third tier cities. Gridlock on city streets. "High rise cities" are under construction everywhere out in the country for the huge population's needs. We saw increasing pollution since last visit to China, especially in Shanghai where we didn't see any on our other visits. We also didn't require facemasks.
We had no problem receiving or sending emails from any of any of our hotels via WiFi and they were often in very remote, less touristed areas. You don't realize how much you depend on Google until you can't access it!

Posted by
2651 posts

Yes - the traffic - oh my! It would be the number one determining factor in whether or not I return to China. One night in Shanghai we spent an hour trying to cross part of town - less then 7 miles. Another night it took us 15 minutes just to get out of our hotel parking lot to make a left turn. It was absolutely unbelievable.

Posted by
5837 posts

I was aware that China blocks Google and had Firefox as an alternative browser on my tablet. I could use Firefox to access my E-mail account. My wife's iPad Safari browser also worked for E-mail access.

Posted by
6788 posts

Yes - the traffic - oh my! It would be the number one determining factor in whether or not I return.... One night...we spent an hour trying to cross part of town - less then 7 miles. Another night it took us 15 minutes just to get out of our hotel parking lot to make a left turn. It was absolutely unbelievable.

Ah, sounds exactly like Seattle. Welcome home! You've just seen a glimpse of our near-future.

Thanks for the tips. I've traveled pretty extensively in Asia but have not made it to China yet - starting to plan for our first brief foray into China in early 2018. Toilet paper, check (I've found this to be the case all over Asia, actually, except of course in Japan where they take great steps to pamper your bum in ways we can only begin to imagine). Yeah, the internet can be tricky there with The Great Firewall. Did you find the language barrier posed much of a challenge?

Posted by
2651 posts

@David - I had read that hotel staff spoke reasonable English but I did not really find this to be true. Our hotel in Shanghai employed a German who was fluent in English and her only job was to hang around the lounge area and speak to the English speakers, answering questions etc. The desk staff there spoke a bit of English. At our Xi'an and Beijing hotels there was only very minimal English at the front desk. We had the benefit of being on a small group tour and so we had a guide with us and he was enormously helpful. I do not think I would have enjoyed my trip as much if I had been completely on my own, communication-wise. We did go out one night alone in Beijing and took the subway to do so and we were able to figure it all out, purchases tickets, get to our destination etc...but we were the only non-Chinese in sight and we were quite the spectacle.

Posted by
87 posts

Thanks for posting this Valerie. There is usually someone else looking for info on places that RS tours might not have guided tours of. take care, Margaret

Posted by
14580 posts

Hi,

Thanks for the valuable information, tips, and observations. I have Rough Guide Shanghai as a source for a future trip, which has to be done in the next 2-3 years. How did you like Xian?

Posted by
395 posts

It would be more helpful to provide some context regarding the need to carry toilet paper and the lack of English speaking staff at hotels. I.e., where and what kind of hotel, etc.

I never need to carry toilet paper in the half dozen cities in China. Even in Inner Mongolia's off the beaten path small towns, two star hotels and homey restaurants. Oh yes, in men's restrooms.

I found the front staff in the big cities' 3+ star hotels had sufficient English to handle tourist related communication. Not so with the cleaning staff, or in the small towns.

If you think traffic is bad, consider the tourists. Every must-see sight was jam packed, and with long lines. The vast majority were local. I won't get into their behavior. But it explains how they behave when traveling overseas.

Oh the price of admission. Every tiny sight would have a charge, and quite pricey. In fact, I cannot recall a single free admission.

Posted by
2651 posts

XI'an was my least favorite of the 3 cities but also the one we spent the least amount of time. I think part of that had to do with our hotel location - which was about 4 miles away from the Muslim Quarter and the temples/pagodas that are of interest in Xi'an and so, a night, when I would normally wander around on my own to see sites like this that were not covered on my tour, I did not venture out because the traffic was so brutal. I did wander out in the evening near my hotel (Golden Flower hotel) and strolled around that neighborhood for awhile and it was interesting, just for a view of a Chinese city and the street vendors and restaurants etc, but nothing really special.

Why did I need the toilet paper? Well, because there was no toilet paper in the bathrooms:) The hotels had toilet paper but in the bathrooms at the Terra Cotta soldiers, along the highway at rest stops, in the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, there was often a toilet paper holder at the entry to the bathroom for communal use, but it was almost always empty. Likewise, while sometimes I saw soap containers, they were ALWAYS empty.

We did not encounter a lot of lines at our sites, with the exception of the evening boat down the river in Shanghai to see the buildings lit at night. And while I felt all of the sites were well-attended by crowds, I did not find any of the sites to be uncomfortably crowded at all - I was able to move around freely and see the portions of exhibits that interested me. It was far better than I expected, crowd-wise, and way better than, say, Seattle's Pike Place market on a sunny Saturday in August, where I've actually been stuck in a mass of people, unable to move, feeling totally claustrophobic and having to elbow my way out.

I can't speak to tourist entry site fees. Ours were covered by our tour. I noticed our evening ride down the river in Shanghai was 50 minutes long and cost about $18, which I felt was pricey. Terra Cotta soldier site was about $22. Forbidden City was about $9.

I have lots of other thoughts about my trip - which I thought was an awesome experience - but I focused my trip report on just the 3 areas that were of most concern to me and which I could not get information I was comfortable with on TripAdvisor etc. I like to get my info from this RS site because I "know" the people who post here and I assume others feel the same way.

Posted by
2651 posts

So I've gotten a couple of PMs about other details of my trip, which I'm totally happy to share:) I loved China - it was a fantastic culture to get to see a little bit of. I found the people to amazingly friendly and very curious about us as travelers - especially in Beijing. There are lots of domestic tourists around and I think they created the bulk of the people who were so curious about us that they sidled up to us in hotel lobbies and at tourist sites. If you'd like tons of details and pictures of my trip, I actually have a blog you are welcome to read over. I am not sure I'm allowed to list a blog site on a public answer here - so PM me and I'll send you a link and you'll get more info and pics about my trip.

As to questions about the food allergy issue: corn was everywhere...sprinkled on salads, cooked into the fried rice at some places and, at my hotel in Shanghai, baked into the sweet glaze on top of a pastry!! I used my corn allergy card when I was eating away from our tour guide and it was extremely well-received...it's the best I've ever done with a food allergy card. When I was with my guide, he just talked to the restaurant staff for me and that worked out just fine. I even had one chef come out of the kitchen and show me her bag of starch she uses to thicken foods...it was a potato starch of some sort.

I still followed my basic food guidelines...fast food from a known source when I can find it, focus on bread, cheese and peanut butter and eat a lot of my Clif bars. It's never ideal but it usually works out.

Posted by
14580 posts

Hi,

Thanks for the info on Xian. Xian was historically a former capital of China. No problem with carrying toilet paper, I still do, old habit from staying in the hostels in Germany, Austria, France. . Bottom line is don't depend on the WC to have toilet paper when that particular one is the only one available but w/o toilet paper....just your luck at the wrong moment. No soap in the dispensers...I've run across that numerous times traveling in Europe.

Posted by
27426 posts

Yes, particularly in southern Europe TP can be a pretty rare commodity in public restrooms. I strongly suspect that many of those toilets are restocked only once a day (if that). Since men use a lot less TP than women for anatomical reasons, the supply in the men's room just lasts longer (perhaps even all day!). I've seen local women step into men's restrooms and come out carrying TP.

So, men: Your female friends and relatives are telling the truth; it's just that their experience is different from yours.

Posted by
9363 posts

At the Sacred Way and Ming Tombs, after checking in every stall (and inadvertently causing every automatic flusher to operate), we had to go to the little "office" in between the mens' and ladies' rooms to be issued a small quantity of toilet paper.

Posted by
46 posts

hi Valerie,
loved the blog, and glad your corn allergy card worked out! although, gosh it seems like there wasn't much fun stuff to eat... our favorite photo was of Ron with that ice cream. He looks so happy!

I've always been curious about the Xi'an terra cotta soldiers but the fascination does not overcome my reluctance to travel there. The state of the excavation makes me want to compare it to Pompeii: tons of tourists, parts closed off for restoration/further excavation, and probably more things still buried that I really want to know if they'll ever get dug up. (Number one hope for the Qin emperor tombs: that the legend about the mercury rivers and the miniature re-created jewelled earth and sky is a real thing, and some day a robot rover will go in and avoid all the Indiana Jones booby-traps to see what is really inside. But maybe it's better to think of stories instead of finding out what a disappointment is reality...)
Hope your next adventure is fascinating and easier to navigate food-wise.

Posted by
2651 posts

Thanks for all the fun responses, people:) I'm off to Egypt in January and I'll be keeping the same blog.

@kwidprquo - the Terra Cotta soldiers were not crowded at all...not one bit. We arrived at about noon and stayed until about 4pm. There was no line to enter, no crowding around the sites...nothing. It was great.

And the ice cream? Yes, I know it was only Dairy Queen but it was so fantastic!!

Posted by
9109 posts

Terra Cotta soldiers were not crowded at all

That was my experience as well. The buildings which house the excavations are huge; the size of a couple football fields. So they can accommodate a lot of people without being elbow to elbow.

Your next trip to China Valerie should be the famous Snow and Ice Festivals in Harbin. One of the most spectacular things on the planet!

Posted by
2651 posts

@staynsavor - I saw that area where they're doing the new excavation. You get a good sightline and it's interesting to see how demolished the soldiers are and how they slowly work them back together. Our guide told us there's only 8 archeological staff on site there and that they're in no hurry - seemed a fairly limited number to me.

@Michael - I looked that ice festival up - looks beautiful. China's giving out those 10 year visas now so I think it would be easier to go back. Right now, I feel like that traffic would impact my decision to return, but you never know...I did have a great time.

Posted by
11368 posts

The traffic in Shanghai was the least we experienced in our recent trip. Yes, there was traffic but in smaller cities such as Chengdu and Kunming the roads were gridlocked. In our three trips to China over fifteen years the big changes have been the huge numbers of domestic tourists( they finally can afford ro travel) and the traffic. Shanghai restricts the number of cars to be registered, given plates.
You can buy a car, but it doesn't mean you can deive it! And, therefore, the majority are new drivers.