Tuesday, November 4, 2014

China Guide Checklist



Currency & Credit Cards
I was only able to withdraw CNY 1,000 at a time. I’m not sure if that’s a Chinese policy or that’s the ATM’s issue with international cards. Remember to call your bank to inform them that you are using your card overseas. I always inform BPI even though I plan to spend in cash all the way. The annoying part here is calling up BPI’s hotline (89-100) and waiting for eternity to talk to a phone banker. It is not in their “regular menu”. I wish that in the future, BPI wil have either 1) more phone bankers to accommodate requests and 2) have the option of setting this online.

Accommodation
Not as cheap as I thought. A very good room in Siem Reap costs $16 for two pax pernight, with breakfast. In China, it costs CNY 180 or $29. And the room is not as nice. Based on Tripadvisor posts, the hostels are not up to par compared to Europe hostels. No breakfast. If yes, then you’re lucky.

 
Our accommodation in Pingyao
 
Food
It is actually a good thing that breakfast is not included in the room price. The streets are filled with delicious options. I am not a fan of Chinese food. Probably because it tastes too much like a home-cooked meal. My mom is an awesome cook. I find yang chow, beef & broccoli and other what-nots quite unappetizing. Food was a hit and miss for me. It was an alternate of bland or oily food. OILY. Eeeeeh. We did find some amazing life-changing dumplings though.

Xiao long bao, some type of chao fan and clear soup
Entrance Fees

Some parks:
Shanghai Zoo
Pingyao Pass – CNY 150
Forbidden City – CNY 60
Jingshan Park – CNY 2
Entrance Fee, Mutianyu Great Wall (no cable car) – CNY 58
Summer Palace – CNY 30
Temple of Heaven – CNY 30
Botanical Gardens, Singapore – SGD 5 for Orchid gardens

It turned out that having a 14-day visa, instead of the 18 days we wanted, is an “advantage”. China became too much “same same but different” feel to it after a couple of days. Sarah calls it “unified”.

Capturing autumn colors in the Great Wall of China
 
Toilets
Mixed. Some are clean enough and some are not. You will know the level of cleanliness of a toilet based on its smell from outside. Most toilets are equipped with a mix of squat and western toilets.

Souvenirs
TEA. The English drink their tea. The tea is made in China. 
I was expecting to find shopping malls like Tutuban and 168, and buy cheap finds there. However, it looked like China didn't have anything like that. The shopping streets in Shanghai and Beijing house expensive brands - a lot of which I cannot pronounce.
 
Trains

Seat61 has a detailed and helpful guide how to book train tickets in China.

I was very apprehensive in booking a train ticket when we were in China because the Shanghai to Taiyuan route was 16-hours, and I badly wanted a first class sleeper berths. This train ride is my longest train ride and first overnight train experience. My best friend and her husband who were residing in China were eager to help in booking train tickets. We provided our destination, intended dates, and copies of our passport and visa.




Pre booked train tickets:
First class sleeper berths from Shanghai to Taiyuan: CNY 509.50
Bullet train from Pingyao to Beijing: CNY 198.00

We also booked a second-class berth from Taiyuan to Pingyao for CNY 28.00 on the day of our arrival in Taiyuan. We could’ve booked this earlier and skipped the hassle of buying the ticket: the language barrier was really frustrating, but we managed. But I was hoping to get a bullet train to Pingyao which would take only 30 minutes vs. this train which took 2 hours.





Dealing with the language barrier
Tough, but manageable.
Print the Chinese names of your hotel names, directions and map. I relied on the websites of the hotels/hostels where we stated. There are phone apps that can help you very well, especially in ordering food. I am not a fan of apps, so I let Sarah do all the managing of these things.




You can come prepared, but don’t expect everything to be smooth sailing. You just have to deal with it. Don’t let it ruin your trip.

Packing Tips, Packing List

Wheeled luggage. A small one. We travelled in China via trains, so it is still a tad convenient to use a luggage vs. a backpack.

When my hand-carried luggage was inspected in Beijing, they confiscated my powerbank. Unlabelled powerbanks cannot be hand-carried, those have to be checked-in. Frustrating, that was a souvenir from my previous work.

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