My Top Ten Tips when traveling to China

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I’ve traveled to China over 30 times in the past 10 years, so I’m a seasoned travel veteran. These are my Top Ten China Travel Tips to help you have some peace of mind when you are traveling to the most populous country in the world!

(Tip #10) Bring your travel charger and ethernet cable. Even though most hotels carry them, most will charge you an extra fee per day usage. It is better to bring your own and save the money. Also, make sure you get the adapter to fit Chinese outlets, which have three-prongs, in the shape of a triangle.

(Tip #9) Bring your own US medications. Even though you try to avoid it at all costs, some Chinese food might get you sick. In that case, make sure you have handy your anti-diarrhea pills, like Immodium and Pepto-Bismol. Also in case you catch a cold or flu, don’t forget cold/flu medicine like Tylenol and Claritin-D.

(Tip #8) When shopping for higher-end and more expensive items, always bring an English/Chinese interpreter. In department stores, price negotiation is not an option. However, privately-owned shops do have some wiggle-room on pricing on the goods they are selling. As a general rule, if you are foreign English-speaker you will pay more for an item than a local Chinese-speaker. Therefore, let the Chinese-speaker begin the negotiation on the expensive item that you want.

(Tip #7) Learn some basic Chinese phrases and learn some ettiquette when eating at Chinese restaurants, especially during business lunches and dinners. In most of your encounters in China (i. e. airport, hotel, etc.), most Chinese speak good English, but there are few important phrases you should learn in Chinese, such as “Where are the restrooms?”, “I need a taxi.”, “Thank you.”, “You’re welcome.”, etc. Also, when meeting with Chinese business people for lunch or dinner, be sure to learn the proper way to use chopsticks and also the other nuances of presenting yourself during a Chinese meal.

(Tip #6) Be a tourist, but don’t “act” like a tourist. Treat areas you visit with respect. Most ancient sites have been around for thousands of year and even though you may see trash around, this doesn’t give you reason to litter also. Another thing, most Chinese are friendly and welcome foreign tourists with open arms, but be very cautious of those few bad apples that may take advantage of you because you are a tourist. Watch your belongings carefully, especially if you have an expensive camera hanging around your neck or a cell phone clipped to your belt. Pick-pockets are ever-present.

(Tip #5) Don’t drink the water. Ah, of course you can drink water when you are in China, just make sure it is the bottled variety. Also make sure that if you buy bottled water from a shop in China, make sure the screw top has not been opened. Otherwise, you could be drinking plain ol’ tap water. Lastly, if you do order soft drinks at a Chinese restaurant, always ask for it “cold, but without ice”. Normally, Chinese ice is made with regular tap water.

(Tip #4) Stay at a 3-star or higher hotel. If you are concerned about the cost of a high-end hotel, ask our travel agent for a good hotel deal, since you’re already buying the tour package and/or plane tickets from them. Even though you’ll be paying more for your hotel, the difference between a 3 or 4-star hotel vs. a 1 or 2-star hotel is immeasurable. From the cleaner rooms, to the better food choices, and also better service – you’ll be glad you chose the better hotel.

My business travel to China usually takes me to the city of Suzhou. This is city is about a 2-hour drive to the west from Shanghai. Below is a list of hotels that I’ve stayed at while in Suzhou, my star rating of each, as well as the pro’s and con’s about each one.

  • Bamboo Grove Hotel – 2.0 out of 5.0 Stars – I’ve stayed here about 3-4 times. Pro’s: Good American buffet breakfast; rooms are clean. Con’s: An older hotel, and the decor reflects that.
  • Royal Garden Hotel – 1.5 out of 5.0 Stars – I’ve stayed here over 10 times. Pro’s: Price is very cheap, but you get what you pay for; right on the Ren Ming Lu (Road), which has many shops. Con’s: No high-speed internet in the rooms, except for the business area; non-smoking rooms still smell like smoking rooms; rooms are small; hotel is old and the rooms show it. Note: As of 2006, the old Royal Garden Hotel was torn down to make way for the new Royal Garden Hotel, which should be completed late 2007 or early 2008.
  • Gloria Plaza Hotel Suzhou – 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars – This used to be my favorite hotel in Suzhou, but the quality has gone down in recent years. I’ve stayed here over 10 times. Pro’s: High-speed internet in each room; rooms clean; good American/International buffet; close to some tourist shopping areas. Con’s: Decor quality below-average; it seems they are cleaning the carpet in the hallways everytime that I’m there; the water temperature in the shower is very inconsistent.
  • Younger Central Hotel – 2.0 out of 5.0 Stars – I’ve stayed in this hotel twice. Pro’s: Bigger rooms are available, so always upgrade to a suite; hotel is relatively new, very clean and modern; right next to the popular shopping areas. Con’s: Buffet is so-so, and rooms are small if you don’t upgrade; high-speed internet is not really high-speed, perhaps dial-up modem-like. Hehehehe…
  • Sheraton Suzhou Hotel & Towers – 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars – I’ve stayed in this hotel once, but have eaten the dinner buffet many times. Pro’s: High-speed internet in each room; hotel is relatively new, but looks like part of the Great Wall; buffet is perhaps the best in all of the Suzhou hotels; close to the tourist shopping areas. Con’s: Small rooms; price for a normal size room is relatively high (that’s why I didn’t stay here too often); very popular with American business travelers in Suzhou, so may have to book early to get the accomodation you want.
  • Shangri-La Hotel Suzhou – 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars – I’ve stayed in this hotel once so far, but it is my favorite and preferred Suzhou hotel 😉 . Pro’s: Very new hotel (just opened in June of 2006); rooms clean and well-maintained; executive-type rooms in the higher levels, which even have their own executive eating area. Con’s: Buffet is above-average, but I still consider Sheraton’s as the best buffet; located in an area away from downtown Suzhou so there are not many tourist shops around; price is relatively high, but worth every penny. For some room pictures of this nice hotel, click here.

(Tip #3) Prepare all your travel documents in advance. While you are on your flight to China, the stewardess will provide you with three China entry documents. Fill them up while you are on the plane, not when you are going through Chinese immigration. The lines will be long, so have patience waiting. The Chinese entry documents that you need are:

  • China Immigration Form – The important information needed to complete this document are your passport number, your visa number, and the hotel name and address/phone number that you will be staying at.
  • China Quarantine Questionaire – Due to the bird flu scare, you will need to indicate any diseases that you have and whether you’ve been near any farm animals recently.
  • China Customs Form – You’ll also need to enter your passport number on this form, but you will need to list any commercial items that you are bringing into China, if you are on business. Furthermore, if you are bringing in gifts, there are limits to how many bottles of liquor and boxes of cigarettes that you are allowed to bring into China.

(Tip #2) Get a Chinese visa. Make sure it is not expired before you leave for China and also make sure it doesn’t expire while you are in China. I’ve had many colleagues that thought their visa would still be good, as long as they entered before the visa expired. However, when they tried to leave China and their visa expiration date was past. Oh my, it was ugly – don’t let it happen to you.

In any major US city, just go to your local Chinese embassy, and get a Chinese visa. I believe they come in increments of 1-month, 3-months, 6-months, 12-month. Since I travel on business, I usually get the 12-month visa and forget about it. Some travel agents will take care of the Chinese visa for you, so you can avoid those long lines at the embassy.

(Tip #1) Keep your passport with you at ALL times. When you are in China, treat your passport like it’s your third arm 🙂 – keep it on your body at all times. Of all the things you don’t want to lose while you are in China, it is your all-important, passport. You can lose your travel tickets, money, traveler’s checks, credit cards, camera, cell phone, etc. – all of which are replaceable while you travel. But if you lose your passport while you are in China, be prepared for much agonizing pain of trying to prove you are a US citizen and all you want to do is go back home. Good luck! It can be done, but your fellow travelmates will be back in the USA, while you are still in China proving your identity.

If you are the type of person that always misplaces things, buy one of those passport travel holders that you can put around your neck or a fanny-pack to put around your waist. Another thing, although you may trust the people traveling with you (as in a tour group), always carry your own passport as opposed to allowing them to. Lastly, it is a good idea to make a photo copy of your passport picture page and visa page, and keep it in a safe place while you travel.

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