We love China!
It’s such a stunning country, the people are friendly and kind, there is so much to see like the beautiful pandas of Chengdu, camping on the Great Wall of China, Disneyland Shanghai and beautiful Hangzhou.
But many people worry about getting around China without speaking the language. We’ve never had a problem and use number of ways to ensure we can get around easily. Plus many, many Chinese speak English too.
We’ve found the Chinese people to be so friendly - families have driven us to places we want to go, others have shared taxis with us to make sure we get to our destination and Emmie’s antics on long train rides have united entire carriages into group selfies even though we couldn’t understand each other.
So here are a few tips for getting around - they apply to any country really where you don't speak the language, but are super helpful in China!
This is my number one tip and these little babies are worth their weight in gold. Every hotel, hostel or guesthouse in China (and most around the world) will have a hotel name card (like a business card) for you to take with you and show to taxi drivers and people on the street if you get lost. It will have all the details in Chinese and all you need to do is show it to your taxi driver and they will get you home.
Screenshot the address of where you're going on your phone
When we are heading out walking, or in a taxi or taking public transport I take a screenshot of where we are going so I can show the taxi driver or check with people that we are heading in the right direction. Just say hello with a smile - Ni Hao (knee how) - and show your screen shot.
Screenshot the map of where you’re going
I also take a snap of the google map of where we are going - a close up of the location and streets around it and a wider pic of the general area. This also helps when showing people, train ticket counters, or taxi drivers where you are trying to get to.
Write down your train number, time and destination details when booking your tickets at the station
The people at the train ticket counters are super helpful and should understand what you need. If there are issues with asking for the tickets then you can show the paper with the written information on it - you can also screenshot the train you want and share that too. Don’t forget to book your tickets some days out from when you are traveling - or you may get to the station and find you can’t get a train, like we did!
Look for major landmarks on your map
I also look for major landmarks near where I am heading as it helps the taxi driver and can help with finding your way. I’ve used hotels, McDonalds and Starbucks to help me get my bearings and be directed to where I’m going.
It also helps with finding your way around cities and towns. We always identify a few landmarks - especially ones we can see on the skyline like hotels - which helps me get a feel for where we are exactly.
Learn some basic language.
Learning some language like greetings and how to say please and thank you is so important wherever you are. No one likes a rude or demanding tourist, right? Make sure to greet people with a smile and a hello when asking for help and you will get a smile and help in response.
Ask if anyone speaks English.
Seriously, I just ask people if they speak English and generally if they don’t a kind english speaking Chinese person will come over to help. I have stood in the middle of a crowd and asked if anyone spoke English and have had so much help. Don’t under-estimate the kindness of strangers.
Use the Internet
Wifi is everywhere and you can always pop into Starbucks or shopping centres to check messages and info. You could also buy a local SIM which I have done depending on how long we have been staying. It can be expensive (compared to other Asian countries) so in China I often just use free wifi.
Everyone uses WeChat in China, it’s the biggest communication app and it’s how you will be able to share information and contact people. - you can do almost anything in we chat, like call a taxi and pay a bill. We didn't get that fancy but we found it great for making contacts and being able to contact people for advice and help if we needed to. Make sure to download!
So many people have helped us on our China travels from those we met on trains to a bloke we bought an iPad form the in Apple store in Wuxi. We shared Wechat contact details and when we needed help - like when I smashed my iPhone and needed a store to fix the screen, I messaged him and he showed us where to go. So make friends and share contacts - people are happy to help.
Use photos to communicate
Another trick is to take a photo or screenshot of what you’re after - if you want apples, then take a pic of some apples and if you can’t find what you need then use the photos to help you communicate.
Best ever and my personal favourite - MIME!
Seriously you can’t beat a good mime and it’s lots of fun. When all else fails then put on a show to share your message and communicate what you need. Use gestures and facial expressions and have a good laugh!
As always we booked our flights through Skyscanner and found some super cheap flights.
I hope this is helpful and if you have any other tips I can add here please leave them in the comments!
Evie & Emmie x