by Betty Nguyen
I’ve always wanted to visit the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. As for Shanghai, ever since watching James Bond’s Skyfall, the fight scene silhouetted with the beautiful modern landscape, totally inspired me for a visit.
BEFORE YOU VISIT
These tips were based on my personal experience and what locals have recommended:
1. Download a VPN
Google and Facebook and its affiliated apps are blocked. I advise downloading a necessary VPN (more information here) and other social media apps.
2. Prepare for different regional cuisines
Beijing food is salty and Shanghai food is mostly sweet. So prepare your taste buds accordingly. I was extremely bloated after the trip. It’s worth reading up on the different regional Chinese cuisines.
3. Prepare for the smog
China is very safe, but cities like Beijing can be polluted. So remember to bring a mask or your inhaler. We were fortunate to experience the Great Wall on a clear day (it rained the day before), however, on the third day, it was polluted and there were no views through the thick smog.
4. How to get WiFi at airports
Airports in Beijing and Shanghai do not offer free Wi-Fi unless you use their WeChat app or give them your phone number. If you don’t have the app, there are two options:
- Visit their tourist information booth and get a code for the free Wi-Fi
- Grab a coffee at Costa Coffee and get their WiFi code (they have locations in the main terminals in Beijing and Shanghai).
5. Stay central
Stay at a hotel that is in the downtown or in the city center. Even though both Shanghai and Beijing have modern subway systems that connect the outskirts with the city centers, it’s easy to underestimate how long it takes to get around.
6. Explore what’s left of the old city parts
Explore and enjoy the hutongs, which are favorite areas of Beijing. Avoid the ‘Americanized’ bars and lounges, where they charge up to $20 USD for a cocktail.
7. Watch where you walk (and breath)
Some people, especially men, spit loudly and freely. So watch your step and cover your mouths.
8. Keep your politics to yourself
Be diplomatic with your conversations and avoid talking about politics, history, and religion with strangers openly.
9. Bring cash for tipping
Tip your tour guide 10-15%, but no need to tip the taxi drivers. And you can use Uber there.
Feel free to negotiate pricing at the markets! We saved big on some items by offering 25% of the asking price (and ended up paying around less than half of the original price).
I booked China Tour for its great deal of $799 per person which included airfare (from LAX) and 5 star accommodations. The price alone was worth it. However, like all great deals, there were hidden catches. Overall, it was not ideal. The tours consisted of 20-30 people with stops at commission-based stores. I am not a fan of large groups, especially at historical sites. A lot of waiting around and a lot of people congestion.
However, like all great deals, there were hidden catches. Overall, it was not ideal. The tours consisted of 20-30 people with stops at commission-based stores. I am not a fan of large groups, especially at historical sites. A lot of waiting around and a lot of people congestion.
Also, their 5-star hotels were far away from the city center. In Beijing, for example, it took us an hour to take the subway to the city center from our hotel. Thankfully, to avoid some of the above issues, we hired private guides and had a much better time. For me, it would have been worthwhile and money well spent to curate my own hotels and activities.
I greatly enjoyed the Old French Concession in Shanghai and would stay in that area next time. Beijing had a fabulous night market and I would love to experience that again. For more of my Beijing and Shanghai recommendations, please see my Foursquare lists here.
Do you have any tips or suggestions, please leave your comment(s) below. Thank you for reading and below are some visual highlights of the trip: