What the Travel Guides Didn’t Tell Us About China

what the guides didn't tell us about china

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. Locals asked to take photos with us and we received smiles and laughter anytime we posed or waved for cameras. Our photos were taken while we waited in lines, ate dinner, talked to each other, and walked along the sidewalk.

  • 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 every day to read menus, tickets, signs, and labels, and translate conversations with taxi drivers.

  • Manners are a bit different. 

Very few people turned their head or covered coughs and sneezes. Spitting was also very common. Stephanie felt the sneeze on the back of her neck from a woman standing extremely close behind her in lines for dumplings.

  • 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 ticket for the ferry. 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 of it. We were frequent customers at Starbucks towards 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 we could have a drink at before a show. He was confused by this question. After some explaining, he laughed and said no, if we’re drinking, we’re eating. Still wanting to grab a drink, 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, and menus. Mitch walked to the cooler, pointed to 2 beers, and tried to hand back the menus. We received our 2 beers, 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 for 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, the 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. In that area, 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. We were only able to charge electronics at night while we were in the hotel room and only had 2 adapters.

  • The hotels exceed our expectations.

All of our hotels were clean and had western beds, western toilets, hot water, complimentary slippers, shampoo, soap, and toothbrush with toothpaste sets. 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 at authentic Chinese restaurants and home cooked meals the remainder of our trip.

  • Seafood is very fresh.

Waiting for our meals at an authentic Chinese noodle restaurant for lunch, Stephanie walked to the counter a few from the table to order drinks. While waiting to pay, she heard a loud splash followed by a squeal from our table. She looked just in time to see a man’s hand emerge from the fish tank grasping a large, flopping fish before disappearing back into the kitchen. 

  • Beverages are frequently served warm

Finally arriving at our Beijing hotel after 2 days of travelling, we were shocked to open our mini fridge and find warm beer, water, and soda. Throughout our trip, many restaurants, markets, and stands served beer and water at room temperature.


September 2017

Author: The Traveling Gingerbread

The Traveling Gingerbread is a place for us to share budget travel tips for people with full time jobs, fun facts, itineraries, and where to find the best craft beer. We have been traveling together since 2013. Living and working full-time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we travel as much as our vacation days and finances allow. We cram each adventure with activities, tours, experiences, and local breweries. We can't walk by an Irish pub without stopping in for a pint of Guinness. In 2019, we brewed our first beer and were hooked, although, we have no intentions of brewing more than small batches. We'll continue our self appointed roles of professional testers and creating craft beer trails.

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