I went on a group tour of seven cities in China in October which is considered an ideal time to go. There were so many things to consider in preparation for the trip, the main one being what to wear as the tour started in the north in Beijing where the temperature was supposed to be about 12C to Guilin in the south where it should have been around 20C. During the trip, we learned that the weather forecast was, as our tour guide put it, “just a suggestion”. I packed long sleeve t-shirts and a jacket for Beijing’s cold weather forecast and ended up wearing short sleeve t-shirts as the days were hot and sunny. Elsewhere, cloudy forecasts turned out to be either drizzle or heavy rain. Rainy forecasts in the south were hot, humid days instead. I regretted not bringing a pair of shorts, but when we returned to Beijing for the flight home, the temperature had dropped to 7C.
So if you’re planning a trip to China, here are a few tips to help make your trip more comfortable:
- Bring toilet paper – Going to the bathroom in China is a memorable experience. Most places had both western and Chinese style toilets. While the hotels have western style toilets, don’t expect the same anywhere else. Toilet paper is either available near the washroom entrance or not at all. Always carry a small roll with you.
- Boil water to brush your teeth – DON’T DRINK OR BRUSH YOUR TEETH WITH TAP WATER. The tour company recommended using the bottled water the hotel supplies each day. The problem was that I ended up using half the bottle for brushing and didn’t have enough to drink during the day. Yes, I could buy water from the hotel store or the tour bus (some had a cooler), but what I did instead was boil tap water to brush my teeth. Every hotel I stayed in had an electric kettle in the room. I boiled enough water each night before going to bed so it would cool off for the morning. This way, I kept the bottled water for the day.
- Bring multi-vitamins – Every meal, except for a couple of evening, is included in the tour package. It’s very convenient, but depending on what you’re used to eating, you may not like what’s available. I found that most restaurants served basically the same dishes for lunch and supper. There was either watermelon or oranges for dessert and almost always bok choy or cauliflower as vegetables. You may not get a balanced meal, so I recommend bringing multi-vitamins to help stave off a cold (I got sick halfway through the trip).
- Use hand sanitizers – As I previously mentioned, I got sick the second week. Use it before each meal.
- Bring a foldable umbrella and/or rain coat – With such unpredictable weather, it doesn’t hurt to bring a foldable umbrella or rain coat. Some members of my group got caught in the rain, were soaked and caught a cold. They were lucky if there was a vendor nearby selling rain ponchos. Pack one from the dollar store. I bought one from CAA for a couple of bucks.
- Adapters – Check whether your electronic devices need an adapter or converter. I bought an adapter to charge my camera battery, but never used it. The sockets in China look like a face: two eyes, a nose and two angled slots that resemble a mouth. I used the part with two eyes as the inner side is flat. Sometimes it was a struggle to plug in the charger, but it always worked. Some hotels provided an adapter for free.
- Extra battery and memory card for your camera – The scenery is gorgeous and the cities are spectacular. You’ll find you’re constantly taking photos on the ground and while on the bus. Make sure you charge your batteries every night. (See no. 6)
- Bring snacks – Beijing is 12 hours ahead of Montreal which means that 1pm in Montreal is 1am in Beijing. For the first week, I was still on Montreal time. Even though I was exhausted from touring all day, I woke up at 2am Beijing time, wide awake and hungry. A couple of cookies or crackers from the small packs I brought helped stave off hunger until breakfast four hours away. The candy was a small relief on those long, long bus rides or delays at the airport.
- Change your money at the hotel – I found that the hotel gave a better rate than Canadian banks. Besides, if you’re going on a group tour, you don’t need money as soon as you land. If you feel you need some, just change a few dollars. It goes a long way.
- Beware of pickpockets and purse snatchers – If you’re carrying a purse, wear it across your body and hold it in front of you. If you have a backpack, wear it in front like the locals do. Someone tried to grab my purse one night when I was in Beijing. I had gotten off the bus, and with my purse slung on one shoulder, I made my way through a crowd to join the group on the sidewalk. I just happened to turn around and saw someone’s hand between me and my purse. I immediately yelled that someone was trying to steal my purse, and he ran away and disappeared into the crowd. Since I yelled in English, nobody understood me.