September 16, 2014

Travelling to China

Photo taken during our trip to Guilin in 2011
While it was not my first time to travel to China, it was for several of my IE Business School colleagues and classmates. Below are some tips for first-time travelers to China:

  • Visa - for citizens of most countries, travel to China will require a visa. The requirements to apply for a visa actually vary from country to country. For example, for Filipinos who are applying for a Chinese visa for the first time, you will be required to submit an NBI clearance. Some more information on this can be found here.
  • Language - Unlike in Hong Kong, regular people in China (even in Shanghai) will speak very little English. Almost 100% of taxi drivers will not speak English. They will also not recognize or be able to read our characters (just as we are unable to read their's). In most instances, it is good to have key addresses written down in Chinese (like your hotel address) and to have the hotel concierge write down the address of your destination to be shown to the cab. If possible, also have the hotel staff speak to the driver before hand in case the driver needs to be given some directions.
  • People - Despite the language barrier, most people will actually greet you with a smile, especially if you are a foreigner. My wife managed to travel to the water village (ZhouZhuang) outside of Shanghai and even if the bus driver could not speak a word of English, a local tourist "adopted" my wife and invited her to join their group as they went around so that my wife wouldn't get lost.
  • Public Transportation - As mentioned earlier, most taxi drivers will not speak English. The Metro in Shanghai is very easy to use and is clean, fast and efficient. My wife actually managed to go around the city by herself just by using the Metro. I am not sure how public transport and the subway is in other cities in China but China has invested a lot in infrastructure so I wouldn't be surprised to find that most cities have efficient and reliable public transportation. I don't remember seeing a subway when we visited Guilin a few years ago, but that was a smaller city in comparison to Shanghai.
  • Sightseeing - I would recommend that you visit popular tourist attractions during weekdays to be able to enjoy and absorb more. There are a lot of domestic tourists in China and they will normally flock to popular attractions during the weekends making it quite crowded. This could potentially spoil the experience for you.
If possible, I would also recommend to visitors of Shanghai to take the time to visit other places in China. As mentioned, I went to Guilin a few years ago with the family and found it to be a very beautiful place. I also visited Beijing more than 10 years ago and I'm sure a lot has changed.

I'm sure there are many other places like Guilin to be explored and I look forward to visiting China again in the future.