Backpacking through China is something you can’t truly prepare for. You hear its crowded and its polluted but you never truly understand until you do it yourself.
I went in the summer which was the high season. If I had three words to describe my time in China, it would be humid, polluted, and crowded AF. All I kept thinking was ‘know wonder the visa process to enter the country was so difficult, there’s already way too many people here to begin with.
China is one of those countries that a little forethought and preperation goes a long way. You’ll want to know these things before you visit China and here’s what I learned after backpacking China.
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Things I Learned Backpacking CHina
You will see people spitting on the ground to clear there nose, just as we would blow into a tissue to clear ours, the Chinese hawk it up and spit on the ground.
Everyone honks their horn while driving for any reason…to let someone know they’re beside them, to say ‘hey I’m coming over so you better watch out’, or my personal favorite for no apparent reason at a red light and the horn is held down for one long blare until the light turns green.
3. Peeing in Public
This is something I read about when I was preparing for my trip but didn’t believe it until on my second day I witnessed my first account. Getting off of the subway as soon as I hit street level, I saw a man pissing right there on the sidewalk…not in the bushes, not in a trashcan, right there on the sidewalk.
4. Get Used to Squatting
Squat toilets are still a thing, find your balance and prefect your aim.
Bring your own toilet paper because you won’t find any in the bathrooms and that’s a predicament you don’t want to find yourself in. Have you ever tried to eat noodle soup with chopsticks? The same goes for napkins.
6. Always have your Passport on your Person
Police can stop you at anytime and ask to see identification (I personally never had this happen to me) and you don’t want to be stopped without it. Also, if you are booking a hotel or a train, you will need your passport to complete the booking and to be able to enter some sights, like the Forbidden City.
YOU MAY ENJOY: The Top Sights of Beijing
Although very crowded, subways are clean, efficient, and easy to navigate! A++ They also close at 10:30, I learned this one the hard way!
Always wanted a tight butt? Well come to China because you will be doing a lot of stairs all of the time.
Maybe its because there are so many stairs but everyone seems to opt for the escalators and avoid the stairs if possible. So if you’re willing to put in the leg work then you’ll always be a step up!
10. Sim Card
Do yourself a favor and purchase a Chinese SIM card when you land. It doesn’t cost very much and you will be connected to the internet at all times. This is very useful when lets say you get lost and need to access google maps. You must have a VPN to do this.
I used VyprVPNthe whole time I was there and didn’t have a problem and it worked really well. Sign up here and receive 25% off any annual plan purchased.
I always feel so uncomfortable doing this. But if you don’t haggle you will get ripped off, so put on your bargaining pants and giddy up.
Most countries need to obtain a visa before they travel China.
China has population of 1.379 billion people, now thats a lot of people! You can image how crowded it can be. I went backpacking through China in the high season (whoops). It was crowded everywhere at anytime, day or night.
You can’t fathom how crowded it is until you experience it yourself. Think of how many people across the world want to hike the Great Wall of China or play with the pandas, well everybody inside China wants to do the same, its mayhem!
15. Pedestrians Don’t have the right away
If you’re used to walking on a crosswalk when the little green man is on and assuming you have the right away…well your assumptions are incorrect.
16. Look Both Ways when Crossing the Street
I know this may sound like a no brainer but if you’re crossing a one way street and you only look to the left because thats the way the traffic would be coming from, thats not always the case.
Driving in China looks like chaos and I’ve seen people driving up the wrong way on daily basis. Always be observant and aware because they will run you over (half joking)!
17. Direction of Walking
For example in the subway when you are walking down the right side of the stairs, following the down arrows or walking up the stairs, following the up arrows. That doesn’t apply here people walk anyway they like, making something simple very chaotic and challenging.
18. The Abundance of Electric Cars & Mopeds
I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of electric vehicles on the road! Alright China!
19. Waiting in Line
The Chinese don’t really wait in lines (unless of course its for a train or plane (see next post). They sort of huddle and then push there way through. I call that ‘cutting’ but here its just how you get places. You must stop being polite and start being assertive.
20. Cueing Up Hours Before you Need to
The only time that I saw the Chinese waiting in lines when I was backpacking through China was when they were waiting to board a train or an airplane. Even though everyone had assigned seats, they would still cue up hours before the gates even opened just so they could run to be the first ones on the train. And yes there were still “cutters” (see above).
21. Using your Phone to Pay for Everything
Very similar to ApplePay, the Chinese scans the APP or barcode and voila they have paid, anything from street food to cabs.
22. Street Food
Street food is plentiful, delicious, and cheap. Rule of thumb do as the locals do, if you see locals eating at a street vendor then its probably good and I’d follow suit.
23. Personal Space
Sometimes there will be a lack there of, Shanghai alone has 24.18 million people in it. I mean what do you expect.
24. Speaking English
We as Americans are spoiled as most places in the world the people speak English so its easy to ask questions and get around. Not here, not in China, no one speaks English and it’ll take some work to navigate around and order food. But this makes it more fun right?!?!
25. You Become the Tourist attraction
Not many westerns travel to China so you will get stared at a lot and will be asked to have your picture taken. They are staring because they are curious, not because they are judging.
Although I always smile when I see someone ogling me and most of the time you won’t get a smile back, its okay, you’ll get used to it. As for the picture taking, you’ll feel like a small time celebrity!
26. Legal to Drink on the Street
You will more than likely only see a tourist doing this, but it is legal. And since we’re on the subject of beer, it is about 3% no matter the size or the brand.
It’s there, you feel it, you see it.
Backpacking through China is all about experiencing new cultures and seeing how others live differently throughout the world. China is definitely a culture shock but one filled with rich history, diverse landscapes, and some wonders of the world. If you’re looking for an adventure, you’ll find it in China.
This sounds familiar to me and Philippines can be the same. I’m glad you had the passport with you when it happened.
I hope me and hubby can backpack Asia.
Backpacking Asia has been one of my fondest experiences.
I have always wanted to visit China and it is very high up on my bucket list. Your article has reminded me to give it some priority. Thank you for sharing.
Yes some countries require a bit more planning and China is one of them.
Loved your style of writing. Short, crisp and conveys the message in minimum words. Certainly informative. Most of the tips you have given will be applicable to travelling to India too.
Thank you. Yes I’ve heard this about India, thats why I’m itching to go so bad! Hopefully this summer!
Sounds like you had major culture shock there. Glad you still had fun though.
This was my second time to China, 10 years apart. Culture shock yes, a fun time absolutely but those are the things I live for.
I agree to all of your points, but I would add these 2 points:
a) People, mostly men, smoke everywhere. You select a restaurant, because the food looks nice and the air in the restaurant does not smell like smoke…wait 10min and somebody will walk in and smoke for the rest of your meal.
b) Chinese New Year: You will hear fireworks a week before until a week after during the day and at night. This is something to experience.
That was a thoroughly interesting read. Having never been to China myself, there were heaps of things on your list that I didn’t know about. Like peeing on the street- I had no idea.
Ya I was quite surprised myself when I saw a man peeing in broad daylight on the street. A definite culture shock for sure.
Thinking back I 100% agree with you on the smoking. I guess I was just used to it! I didn’t travel there during the holiday but have heard the chaotic stories of traveling during that time and I want to avoid that at all costs!
I haven’t been to China, but am interested in going one day. However, the pollution and crowds do worry me. Thanks for your very honest advice. Saving your post.
I spent most of my time in big cities so the pollution and crowds couldn’t be avoided. I want to go to explore the mountains and nature side of China so I think all in all you could find something that would meet your needs when traveling to China.
I’ve never been to China but your article gave me a good chuckle since pretty much all the points are applicable to India as well! Since I’ve grown up in India seeing all of this it doesn’t surprise me much but it’s interesting to see things from the point of view of visitors. Still, sounds like you had a good trip and your pictures are amazing!
Glad you got a chuckle as it was meant to be humorous and raw and real. I’ve been itching to go to India actually and hope to spend a month backpacking around this summer so it’ll be nice to sorta have a leg up. Had an amazing time, I live for being out of my comfort zone in a foreign place.