gingerbread china tips

What the Travel Guides Didn’t Tell Us About China

gingerbread china tips

Traveling so easy a Gingerbread can do it!

  • Chinese Visas cannot be mailed in the United States.

Its Easy Passport & Visa courier service was the most affordable visa courier we found. Customer representatives were very responsive and our visas were received before the estimated delivery date.

  • English-speaking tour groups are a popular attraction.

As our guide stopped in front of historic monuments to educate us, non-English speaking passersby would stop to watch and on occasion join our tour group for various lengths of time. We were instant celebrities. Our photos were taken while we waited in lines, ate dinner, talked to each other, and walked along the sidewalk. We received smiles and laughter anytime we posed with locals or waved at cameras. 

  • English is not common.

In some areas signs are in both English and Chinese, but not everywhere. We encountered very few English-speaking people other than tourists. We used the Google Translate app to read menus, tickets, signs, and labels, and translate conversations with taxi drivers.

  • Manners are a bit different. 

In Beijing, very few people turned their head or covered coughs and sneezes. Spitting was also very common. In line for dumplings, Stephanie felt the sneeze on the back of her neck from the woman behind her in line.

  • Prepare to be last in line. 

There was very little personal space in crowded areas and we were invisible as we waited in line. We were cut in front of, ran past, or pushed out of the way. Mitch was handing his money to a cashier to purchase a ferry ticket. A man stepped in the small space between Mitch and the window to start a new transaction. After the man received his ticket, the cashier continued with our purchase as if there was no interruption.

  • There only eggs for breakfast are in fried Rice.

Breakfast consisted of Lo Mien, vegetables, dumplings, fried rice, and fruit. The milk for cereal was hot. If coffee was available there was very little. We were frequent customers at Starbucks near the end of our trip in search of breakfast sandwiches and hot coffee.

  • It’s unusual to order only alcoholic beverages at a restaurant. 

In Beijing, we asked our guide if there was a bar nearby to have a drink before a show. He was confused by this question. After some explaining, he laughed and shook his head no, when we’re drinking, we’re eating. Ignoring this knowledge, we sat down at a table in a nearby restaurant, held up 2 fingers, and said Ting Tao. Our waiter returned with chop sticks, plates, menus, and no Ting Taos. Mitch walked to the cooler, pointed to 2 beers, and tried to hand back the menus. We received our 2 beers and ordered some dumplings, but regretfully caused a lot of confusion.

  • Carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper or tissues in a day bag.

Many of the bathrooms did not have soap, paper towels, or toilet paper. Also, squat toilets are much more common than Western style toilets, which took some getting used to. Museums and more touristy places had 1 Western toilet, with a very long line.

  • USD are not accepted most places. 

Having very little Yuan, we asked our guide the estimated cost of a taxi ride from our hotel to the airport the next morning. Exceeding the highest estimate he provided half way through the ride, we began to panic. Attempting to pay in a combination of Yuan and equivalent USD for the remaining fare, our driver was not happy. Only having $20 US bills left, we handed him one and thankfully he accepted.

Traveling Gingerbread Note: Download the XE Currency app to stay up to date on current exchange rates.

  • Rickshaws are not impervious to traffic jams. 

While a rickshaw is much quicker than walking or a taxi, there are still delays. On the way to dinner, our rickshaw encounter several traffic jams of bicycles, motor bikes, and small trucks making deliveries on the narrow streets. Our driver skillfully maneuvered through several back alleys to reach our destination.

  • Bathrooms are used by residents and customers.

In a more residential area of Beijing, we saw signs for bathrooms every block. Our guide informed us the public washrooms are used by the nearby residents and customers. 4 families live in a square home without a bathroom, one family per side. The middle is a shared open air kitchen and garden.

  • Taxi drivers reach destinations very quickly.

Our taxis drove along the side of the highways to avoid traffic and never decelerated to merge, change lanes, yield, or turn. It is legal in China to make a left hand turn at a red light.

  • The electric to the hotel room turns off when the room is unoccupied.

After multiple unsuccessful attempts of turning on the lights, we realized a room card must be placed inside a small pocket on the wall to turn on the electricity. This caused some difficulty with only 2 chargers. We were only able to charge electronics while we were in the hotel room and would switch devices in the middle of the night.

  • The hotels exceed our expectations.

All of our hotels were clean and had western beds, western toilets, hot water, complimentary slippers, shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. We purchased Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillows for the overnight train, but used them almost every night in addition to the hotel pillows. Some of the pillows provided weren’t the feather and foam pillows we were used to in the United States.

  • Americanized Chinese food is served in China. 

Our first night in China we ate kung pow chicken, chicken Teriyaki, Peking duck, steamed broccoli, white rice, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice. We were so disappointed. Later, we learned Chinese order Americanized Chinese dishes at restaurants because this kind of food is not prepared at home. We were glad to eat authentic Chinese and home cooked meals the remainder of our trip.

  • Seafood is very fresh.

At a Chinese noodle restaurant, Stephanie walked to the counter a few feet from our table to order drinks while waiting for lunch. She heard a splash followed by a squeal from our table. She looked up to see a man’s hand emerge from the nearby fish tank with a large fish in his hand before disappearing into the kitchen. 

  • Beverages are frequently served warm

Finally arriving at our Beijing hotel after 2 days of travelling, we were pleased to find our mini fridge stocked with beer, water, and soda, but it was warm! Throughout our trip, many restaurants, markets, and stands served beer and water at room temperature. 

September 2017


2 responses to “What the Travel Guides Didn’t Tell Us About China”

  1. janaline's world journey Avatar

    Some great tips about China. I will be moving to Shanghai in September and am sure I will find these tips very useful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Traveling Gingerbread Avatar

      How exciting! Eat lots of dumplings and steamed buns for me. 🙂


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