what to expect traveling in china: China is a crazy, beautiful and shocking place. Many of us feel familiar with Asia and even Chinese culture. Especially as backpackers/ travellers as so many of us have visited the well trodden nations in the South East of the region. In the west we also have many China towns and have experienced the food and culture up close on many occasion. Despite the discovery that in fact many of these China towns dotted around the globe, that I always considered would offer a watered down and westernised version of china, are in fact quite authentic, China still came as a huge shock to us.
Of course. Heading to Asia we expected a culture shock and in truth that is also one of the reasons to visit in the first place. To get out of our comfort zones and experience a completely different way of life. To go to exotic, far flung and confusing places and allow their culture to soak into us. But nothing prepared us for the reality of China. It’s vast extremes of filth and beauty, harsh rudeness and breathtaking majesty!
Kids in crotchless pants!
Yeah, you read that right! Never did I think I would ever write that but here we are, in China! We’ve seen so many babies and young children getting around in these crazy pants, I mean, are they not a bit chilly down there! Some thankfully at least have nappies/ diapers on but even still its weird. But others, they just let their kid go whenever and wherever! I mean sure, we can give kids some leeway when it comes to peeing in a bush in the park occasionally, but in flower beds on the side of the road, just weird. I’ve seen kids as old as 8 just drop their pants, stood right next to their mum, and just pee right in the street facing traffic…no one batting an eyelid!
Spitting and slurping!
No one mentioned this and it really does take some getting used to. They spit, not just a little, but they really go for it. Hocking up and spitting everywhere. The noise becomes something you hear at times on an almost constant level and can often be nauseating. For Brits especially this is really not something we are used to being so acceptable. Spitting at home is frowned upon in even the most needy of situations. I remember a huge debate over whether footballers should spit so much and how it is effecting the youth!
Not only spitting do you have to contend with but the Chinese are the nosiest eaters ever, its like being at dinner with a 2 year old! Someone along the way didn’t tell their kids not to slurp or eat with their mouth open! Again, as a Brit its kind of hard to deal with and sometimes makes you feel a bit ill!
Pushing and no personal space!
They don’t queue! Again, as Brits this is hard to deal with. Queuing is part of our very fabric and it’s hard not to get majorly offended. In truth as much as it may hurt your soul you have to join them in order to stand any chance. Elbows fly about, old people are tossed to one side getting off the metro, people will lean over you to pay for something before you and you will be battered and bruised by the time you eventually make it to where ever you where going! They really don’t care! In fact. In many places where it is necessary to queue they have had to construct elaborate barrier systems. Which they even try to push through!
Real Chinese food…not the watered down western version!
Being British we love a good Chinese takeaway every now and then, and also being veggies there are so many options for us on the menus. So when we knew we was starting our Asia leg of travels in China we thought the food situation would be easy. Far from it in fact, literally nearly every dish contains some sort of meat and to make matters worse they can’t grasp the concept of being a vegetarian! Which is weird when you think that they are mainly all Buddhist’s. I think even the majority of meat eaters would find some of the dishes rather freaky! Instead of nice pieces of chicken or tender cuts of beef, a lot of Chinese people are chowing down on deep fried chicken feet for breakfast or boiled lambs hooves for dinner! So be prepared to see the real side of Chinese cuisine. what to expect traveling in china: A wake up call on what is Chinese food!
Smog and smoke
Before we arrived in China we obviously had an idea about the levels of pollution in the air. All the media coverage over the past few years has made us aware of the smog in the big cities, but we just thought that there maybe a slight haze if anything. Oh was we wrong! As soon our flight into Beijing was starting to descend we could see the smog smothering the city. When we first arrived in the city centre we could tell straight away that it wasn’t just normal fog but instead had a polluted smell to it and at times made it difficult to breathe. It also made it really difficult to take quality pictures because the visibility was so low. We did however come to realise during our time in Beijing that the smog wore off once the working week came to an end. We also came to realise that it wasn’t just Beijing or just the major cities that were covered in smog, but as we passed through the country even small towns are full of polluting factories and many house holds still burn coal to keep warm! what to expect traveling in china: a cough!!
Staring, pointing and even photo taking!
Straight away we realised that being a westerner in China gets people staring and pointing and even talking and chuckling amongst themselves. It can feel quite strange at first but after a while you start to get used to it! I even caught a random Chinese guy taking candid pictures of us just walking down the street! I just don’t think in most places in China that they’re used to many tourists. We also got our photo taken and selfies with random people a few times, its a bit embarrassing but kind of makes you feel like a celebrity!
This is one thing you need to be really careful about when visiting China! We feel quite ashamed about it but the minute we got into Beijing we got scammed! We had just come off a really tiring long haul flight with no sleep for over 24 hours, we were coming off the subway and ready to find the hostel for some much needed rest when these “really nice” Chinese girls who spoke really good English asked if we wanted a coffee and a chat before we got to the hostel, stupidly we did and it cost us around £30! Not a great start but one which came as a blessing in disguise because after that we made sure to keep our guard up at all times. So really it came kind of came in handy because there are so many scams to be aware of across China which could end up costing you a lot more than just £30!
When we decided to visit the great wall on our own instead of taking a tour we made sure to do our research, and yes there are so many scammers along the way. Make sure you read our dedicated post which should be online in a few days for more on which scams to look out for. Generally in China you need to have your guard up against people who approach you. It seems bad to travel with this guarded attitude but if you are polite enough in China they will get you. It is a shame and does take the edge off a bit, but when people are being friendly and speak good English, follow you or guide you around treat them with high suspicion especially in areas with high visitors!
Long travel times
China is a huge country and of course that brings with it long journeys. Even if you spend a while here stopping off at many places you will inevitably end up on a sleeper train of some kind, just hope they have at least “Hard Sleeper” left or you will be fighting it out in “hard seat”. However they do have bullet trains and even the second class sleepers are quite comfortable, but get ready for some real local experiences on the slow trains! what to expect visiting China: Being tired!!
Huge language barriers
In China it is not unheard of for someone to not even speak a word of English, even when they pass you on to their designated English speaker it is likely you will be struggling to have a full conversation or get that advice you need! It can be hard but also kind of nice to not be in a place where everyone understands you, especially as an English speaker, it also makes it more of an adventure. We suggest a phrasebook and asking hostel staff to write things down for you, we got our first hostel in Beijing to write down the words for vegetarian and it was a lifesaver!
what to expect traveling in china: It’s not all bad:
Beautiful mountains and countryside
China is also blessed with some of the most stunning and unique examples of nature in the world. Take the stunning floating avatar mountains of Zhangjiajie and the lush hump like peaks of Gullin that sit on the Li River. Once you leave the urban sprawl of polluted China and venture out into the countryside you will find a landscape like no other. True majesty and beauty lie in the rice fields, mountainsides and turquoise rivers of the southern sections of the country. Then there is of course Leaping Tiger Gorge with its fresh spring air and the wilds of Tibet, China really does have so much diversity on offer.
Stunning Ancient wonders
Of course, China is also home to one of the most unforgettable wonders of the world, The Great Wall of China. Nowhere else can you find such a wild and incredible feat of engineering along such a gigantic distance. The wall is also as diverse as the country it is named after having wild and untamed sections where nature is reclaiming this grand project back as it crumbles into a dangerous hike. Then there are the painstakingly restored sections, taking you back thousands of years to the glory days of this amazing structure!
Unparalleled history and amazing little towns
If urban China is getting you down, its no wonder, then fear not. This juggernaut of a country also has a much more laid back side with ancient towns and villages offering a change of pace. Wander the streets of the Ming era town of Pingyao and you will be transported back to an era lost in so many of China’s cities. To a town that hasn’t changed much in 2700 years and still retains that quintessential Chinese atmosphere you had most certainly dreamt of when you thought about visiting China. All over the country there are wonderful villages in rural settings too where traditional life is still very much at the forefront and the rapid progression of China seemed to have merrily skipped over!
China has on offer many unique treasures from its centuries old history. The Terracotta Warriors for example date back from 210–209 BCE which were found buried in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. This fascinating discovery is again totally unique to China and really is a must see. Each of the estimated 8,000 statues of soldiers, generals, horses and archers is individual, a work of art on a mass scale. Intended, we believe, to protect the emperor in the afterlife these really have to be seen to be believed!
What to expect visiting China: Fascinating culture
Of course, visiting such a faraway land is always a culture shock, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Getting into the thick of another culture always takes some adjusting, no matter how weird or even gross we think it is it is still the culture of the land you are in and must be respected. Once you get past the down sides of China you begin to see what a true adventure visiting such a place is. Wandering the temples and ancient towns you begin to see the beautiful side to Chinese culture.