Well, I have made the first step, the tickets are booked and now I am doing as much research as I can to hopefully reduce the amount I am FREAKING out. I recently spoke to a fellow traveller and when I mentioned that I was going to China first they burst out laughing and said that it was a tough country to start with. Hmmm, language barrier for a start!! How do I know when to get off at the right train station for example? I am starting to panic!! Please give me any tips for things like getting to the city we want to and to the hotel once we get there.
Well depnds if you have done no travelling at all then it may seem quite a tough place, because no-one speak english. I went there for 3 weeks and travelled around but only after I had travelled other places for 2 years so I enjoyed the challenge it was nice not to be spoonfed everything like SE asia nd Oz.
But the chinese don't hassle so they will leave you well alone, whenever I wanted to go somewhere I just pointed to the chinese place name in my LP, again if you need to get off somewhere just point to it on the train and the conducter will let you know when to get off.
If you have someone to go with you will be fine, but I was on my own and I did get a bit lonely when travelling as no-one to talk to. If this kis your 1st time then you might want to think about flying into Thailand first to build up your confidence then going onto China afterwards as you would enjoy the challenge more.
As for them leaving you all alone, that is right for the most part, but you will find some acceptions to that. For example if you go and do the Jinshaling-Simatai day hike along the Great Wall of China (a must do), I had this village woman harrassing me to buy a book which I told her I didn't have enough money to buy it. She followed me until the last long downhill dip of the 18km walk. So she would have followed me for a good 15-16km when I told her straight out and hundreds of times along the way that I don't have enough money to buy the book. I mean how bloody simple can it be to understand especially when I shook my head to demonstrate that as well as speaking the words incase she didn't understand. Apart from that they didn't harrass like they do in other places in Asia especially if you go to India. The language barrier is really big and if you can't say where you are staying in Chinese, you may find if you need a taxi you are waiting for many hours. So it is a 100% neccessity to get your hostel/hotel to either give you their business card with the address in Chinese characters, or write the address down in Chinese characters. It'd also be a good idea to have the phone number of the place just incase they have no idea where it is. That happened to me when I hailed down about 100 cabs over well over an hour. No driver spoke a word of english and it ended up getting dark so I just paid a driver to get him to call the phone number of the hostel which I had written down in my little trusty address book.Then the hostel was able to give good enough directions to get me back there. If I hadn't of had that address book I probably would've never got back because the place I was staying at was in the middle of a district which had hundreds of narrow streets and nothing that I could mark as a point to remember my way.
That was my first place outside of where I live, and initially it did freak me out a lot but after the first couple of days the shock dropped a lot and I was just able to enjoy myself. I didn't ever get the train, I just went everywhere either on foot (anything up to 20km a day) or by taxi to some of the more distant surrounding attractions. A large percentage of drivers will claim that the metre isn't working but if you ask about sometimes you will find someone willing to use the meter instead of ripping you off. The taxis were very reasonably priced, but of course compared to using the trains and stuff it's a lot more expensive. I was living it up by getting the taxis a long way, going to the Chinese Acrobats (a must see when in Beijing), doing the dayhike, doing another long day tour to many areas and I think I went through about $100US in 4 days. So if you live it down a bit and still stay in a hostel, you could get by even cheaper. To get to the Great wall Jinshaling-Simatai part, I went on this bus tour booked through the hostel. Then to get to the Badaling section along with other things along the route, I got a taxi to this bus station which the hostel told me about and then they took me across town in a taxi to the resting spot for the bus because it didn't go for ages.
As for no one to talk to if you travel alone, stay at a hostel and even if you generally aren't at ease talking to strangers it'll make your time a lot more enjoyable. You'll then be able to talk english to fellow travellers and have them understand, you can possibly pair up with some traveller(s) for the day or more sight seeing around the area (especially good in Beijing where it has just so much to see in and within about 4 hours drive from the city).
Maybe with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing just around the corner, a lot of signs may have been chaged to have an English and a chinese version to make it more foreigner friendly.
Thailand would be an easier first up stop, but it wouldn't be jumping in the deep end by going to China first, especially if you have any plans on going to India. If you go to India especially in any of the big cities you'll probably be thinking what the f... am I doing here? I don't belong here (like you have landed on another planet that still has a few of the things that look familiar like, Coca Cola although the shower water that could only be put on cold looks more like petrol with that rainbowish tinge to it). China at least had hot showers and the water wasn't like petrol, but any public toilet was a little inhumane (bring a roll of toilet paper with you or at least a few pocket packets of tissues for use in those toilets).
Have a great trip.
[ Edit: Edited on Apr 11, 2007, at 2:43 PM by aharrold45 ]
Oooo you must do the train it's the best thing, although they can vary quite a lot, my 1st one was lovly airconditioned I was in the middle bunk and had fresh sheets the journey was 18hrs and cost about £15, the 2nd was not air con and the locals spat on the floor and I was on top bunk but I felt quite safe, this was about 20hrs probably £10 the 3rd was one step lower and was the peasant train, but once I was on my bunk and the train was moving LOVED IT and it cost about £5 for 15hrs, if you take the bottom bunk the locals will sit on the end and smoke fags if it's not air con, air con will be available mostly between toursit places like beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
If you can try and brave trying to get round like a local as you will save so much more, I went to the great wall with a chinese tour bus and it cost so much less.
Def don't miss the summer palace it's loveley, But don't do what I did and discover the lake at the end of the day when you think you were about to walk through the exit. I nearly killed myself walking round it when I was ready to drop before. And if you get the chnace and if it's still running do the Yangzte river cruise from Chongquin to 3 gorges dam, theres a mention in LP how to do it.
Thank you so much for your help guys, it sounds as if it is going to be a real adventure, but maybe not as scary as i first thought!!!
I come from china. it is easy to travel in china. some places are very interesting: YunNan-LiJiang, ShangHai, NanJing, HangZhou, BeiJing. you can take train or air plane, by train is cheap but not so comfortable, air plane always have big discount.
If you come to China, my friends, you can contract me and I can give you help that you need. I just hope if one day, I come to your contry, you can give me some help or advice.
I am in China at the moment and have been for 3 weeks now. This is my first time travelling too so I might be able to help a bit. I thought that it would be best to jump into the deep end as it would make travelling later easier.
The trains in China are great as they are cheap and you don't need to worry about missing your station if you have a sleeper as you hand your ticket to the conductor, who in turn gives you a card when you get on and they wake you up or tell you just before your stop so they can get the card back off you. Also you don't need to worry about smoking as it is not allowed in the carriages anymore and if you want air-con you can pay a little extra to go on a train with air-con.
Hostels are deffinatly the best choice as you mix with loads of people and it is the best way to get advise and recommendations for destinations around China.
I did China very near the beginning of my RTW as well. I did it right after Japan and everyone kept telling us it was so difficult and the people are rude and all kinds of things to scare us. What we found instead was that it was actaully far easier to get around than Japan, there was more english signage (especially around Beigning as they prep for the Olympics) and the people were for the most part very helpful. The other great things about China is that it's like several countries in one. The people, the language, the food, the scenery all change with every few hours you travel which makes it very interesting and also ensures that if you don't like one place, you can get an entirely different experience just at rain ride away. Be sure to leave enough time though and don't try to see everything if you're on a limited schedule. Because it's such a large country, the travel can become very tedious and exhausting. I wish that I had spent more time in the West and less time on over night trains. It's a vibrant, rich, exhilerating country and should not be missed on any Asian adventure. Oh and on a personal note, try to avoid spending money to support the government, they're still oppressing the Tibetans, and refusing to use their power for good in places that need it most like Burma and Sudan. Enjoy.
I am currently travelling through china ( 5 weeks) with two other people as the first leg of my round the world trip and have found it easy going so far. We started in Beijing and have done the northern route (history tour) in the lonly planet (A MUST HAVE!!) and are now in Nanning in the south just about to head into Vietnam. We have found the north and south very different to each other with the south a little easier going and a little more tourist friendly. We met very few travellers in the north also. Dont stress about busses or trains we havent had to many problems there and the best bet when it comes to the language barrier is to find a younger person usually a student as they more often than not speak enough english to help you. The hardest tickets were from Xi'an to Shanghai (hard sleeper) and we got our hostel to organize them for us as the person at the station said there were none but that is about it. You can check out our blog (Team DMC) it has our travelles and exploits so far. I havent done much travel before this either, only two weeks in tailand and so far China is quite fun and easy going so dont worry to much.
You're going around the world. You have to start somewhere and eventually end up in China some time or the other. I'd say, just relax and enjoy the cultural change (shock)
You can be sure of one thing, though. After you're done with China, it'll be smooth sailing after that. You'll be like a PRO in any country.
Have a great time.