Traveling in China: ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’

Traveling in China is fascinating and frustrating. There is so much that is interesting and wonderful about the country, but there’s also some not so great things about it. Here’s my list of the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ of traveling in China. Remember to bring oodles of patience and an open mind when you visit!

THE GOOD

  • The People – in the four and a half weeks I spent traveling in China there were many instances where people helped me and were kind reinforcing my belief that on the whole people are good where ever you are.
  • The History – with literally thousands of years of history from some of the greatest civilisations on earth the history in China is astounding. From the incredible Terracotta Warriors to the Great Wall of China to Peking to mummies buried in the far western desert (Turpan museum had fascinating displays) there is a wealth of history to discover when traveling in China.
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    Terracotta Warriors, Xian

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    The Great Wall of China

  • The culture – China is so very different culturally. Once you travel in China you gain a better understanding of how different and interesting it is.
  • Traveling by Train – the trains in China are an efficient and comfortable way to travel in China, especially across some of the huge distances. If you visit during summer make sure you book your train well in advance in order to secure a seat or bed. I used China Highlights to book tickets online and found them to be extremely professional.
  • The Food – colourful, interesting and tasty (usually! see below for more) the food is a definite highlight of traveling in China.

    Barbecue in Pingyao

    Barbecue in Pingyao

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Street Food, Muslim Quarter in Xian

THE BAD

  • The Language – there is a limited amount of English signs and English spoken in China (in some cities it’s better than others, such as Shanghai and Beijing). Without some Chinese traveling in China can be quite challenging. However it is possible to travel in China without some Chinese. A lot of perseverance, a sense of humour and some miming should help you get by!

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    Gotta love the English translations here in China

  • The Hard Beds – Chinese beds are very uncomfortable and I couldn’t get used to them in my four and a half weeks of traveling in China.
  • The Heat – China is VERY hot in July and August. Combined with the crowds and pollution the heat can make it damn unpleasant to move around and travel. If you’re planning a trip to China I would strongly recommend visiting outside of July and August.
  • The Food – the food can be a highlight however with no Chinese and relying on photographs and/or pointing at other diner’s meals it sometimes resulted in an interesting/terrible experience.
  • Being Photographed Constantly – being white, blonde and blue eyed I unsurprisingly attracted a lot of attention while traveling in China and nearly every day someone would want to take my photo. Often they would ask politely or excitedly but sometimes you would turn around to see a camera pointed your way. I got quite upset when it was a camera with a massive zoom! I felt this was a big invasion of me and my privacy, and overall it’s tiresome especially after four and a half weeks.

THE UGLY

  • The Spitting – it happens all the time, often super close to you and it’s disgusting, do I need to say more?
  • The Pushing – China is crowded! So not surprisingly pushing and jostling happen a lot, particularly on the subway and at train stations. Usually it’s is not ill-intentioned like it was at the Turkmenistan border (more about that later!).

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    Crowds in China

  • Children with Split Pants – while traveling in China you will see a lot of little kids bottoms thanks to them wearing split pants which makes it easier for them to pee or poo wherever and whenever they want. Watch where you step!
  • The Toilets – more often than not the toilets were filthy, smelly and squat style (and sometimes communal) and as a result the toilets while traveling in China were usually pretty grim. Remember to carry your own toilet paper and/or tissues! Hand sanitiser too.
  • The Environment/Pollution – anyone who remotely cares about the environment, global warming, etc will be deeply concerned by to things they see traveling in China – vast out of control development, crazy numbers of air conditioning units and terrible pollution just to name a few.
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    Typical development in China

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    Pollution in Beijing

Have you traveled to China? What were your thoughts and observations on traveling in this huge, ancient and culturally different land?

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3 comments on “Traveling in China: ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’”

  1. Roslyn Creighton Reply

    Totally agree with your sentiments! However, you missed a couple of things that annoy Ted and I.
    1) Tour groups of mainland Chinese with their tour leader screaming through a microphone – encountered everywhere they travel, even in Europe! The people in the tour groups are extremely noisy and conduct “long distance” conversations where they shout to each other over sometimes relatively short distances. (Especially terrible when they are near your ears!!) Sometimes the tour groups behave like stampeding animals, and you have to literally move fast to get out of their way!
    2) Litter – they just throw anything and everything wherever they like!
    3) Taxi drivers that want to rip you off because you are a “westerner”.

    That said, there are some truly lovely and interesting individuals amongst the Chinese population. I guess, like everywhere, it is always best to look at the individuals rather than the collective group.
    By the way they call caucasians “guilos” (white ghosts) and they spit to get rid of the ghost/spirit. Very superstitious people!

    If you ever get the chance I would recommend going to Guilin, and more specifically Yangshao. It is like an inland Halong Bay, and the scenery is stunning! There are rice terraces nearby which are amazing as well!

    • Carly Reply

      How could I have forgotten the tour leaders with the megaphones!! It’s crazy.
      Hope you’re still enjoying your time in Hong Kong.

  2. Tim UrbanDuniya Reply

    Oh God the toilets – I had forgotten about them!! I hate being photographed all the time too – it’s really tiresome and creepy (I get that in Pakistan all the time).

    I had major issues with the way that some of the historic sites are “Disney-fied”. Places like Kashgar are being demolished and rebuilt, because it seems people think that the “new” version is nicer than the real thing. It’s such a shame.

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