The Asian giant is a fascinating and huge country, very very big. This, added to the fact that it is not so prepared for tourism on your own (and less so if you are a foreigner) makes organizing a trip to China on your own more difficult than you had imagined at first. However, do not panic, it is possible, exciting and here I leave you my infallible advice.
How to organize a trip to China on your own
A valid visa is required to enter China. You will be checked at the airport but also in hotels, train stations, etc. so it is essential to get it out.
You can do the paperwork in person, but if, as was my case, you don’t, the best thing is to apply online because you don’t have to send your passport by mail and wait a lot, which always gives me a little something.
The visa is valid for 30 days (when I went it was from the date of issue, but now it is from the entry to the country). Anyway, you have to use it in less than 15 days from the processing, so they will send it to you by ultrafast mail the same week of your outbound flight even if you ask for it months before.
Changing currency to Chinese Yuan
Changing money in China was less easy than one might expect. Although I had read that many hotels and exchange houses did this without problem, the reality upon arrival in the country was that almost exclusively, the Bank of China was authorized to do so.
I remember that in Leshan, we changed for the first time within the country, and the girls who were working were totally legit on the matter. Between the different characters, the lack of English, etc. etc. it was a bit chaotic, but they were very nice, and in the end with the help of the whole branch and Google Translate, we managed to do it.
The language barrier in China
The Chinese don’t speak English. That’s right. They only half defended themselves in the lodgings.
A recurring problem when taking taxis in the city was that many people didn’t even stop when they saw that you didn’t look Asian for getting out of trouble. Thanks to the internet on our mobile phones, we would quickly look for a place in Chinese where we would like to go, so that we would not have to worry about not understanding each other. Even so, in Beijing it was almost impossible for us to get a taxi.
Having the internet to be able to express yourself in their language is fundamental. I think the trip would have been very difficult without this tool.
Anyway, smiles speak!
How to buy train tickets in China
In the main cities there are several stations and many trains, but there are still more Chinese. That’s why the most convenient thing is to take the tickets you bought from home if you have a clear route because they will be sold out in flight. For online reservations only Chinese cards can be used, so the only viable solution is to hire a Chinese company to be on the lookout for the day they are released (about a month before departure) and quickly buy your ticket.
I asked for my desired times and they ask for your flexibility (in case they don’t get the time you want). When they go on sale, they buy them and issue you a bill with the price (which they had previously told you) and you pay it within 48 hours. Then they send you the reservation and with it and your passport you can go to any station in the country and they will give you not only the tickets of that city but all the ones you have reserved. It’s very convenient because you go to the ticket office once and forget about it. With all the things you have to bring on a trip to China on your own, you will appreciate the effort and time you save.
When you are going to travel, go early because you will have to show your passport in a security control and the stations are very big. However, following the screens and guiding you by the train number (the city not because it appears in Chinese), you will find the platform easy.
Which cities to visit in China in a fortnight or more
On the route I propose, we start in Beijing and end in Shanghai. I think it is a fairly complete itinerary through China for the first time and it is also very wise to enter through one city and leave through another so as not to abuse the transfers more than necessary.
Besides reading many blogs before going, I also bought the Lonely Planet in China, with a lot of information and the advantage that many addresses and names are also written in Chinese.
As you will have seen, preparing a trip to China on your own is not only possible, but it will also be an unforgettable experience.