China has so much to offer for travellers, and not just the clichéd Great Wall which, by the way, is no more visible from the moon than any 6-lane highway (myth busted).
You can explore history, embrace modernity, eat some crazy delicacies and come face to terracotta face with ancient warrior statues. But as with any tourist destination, travel insurance is the one thing you should consider packing in your carry-on (or store the details of your policy on your smartphone).
As Confucius say: “The cautious seldom err”.
Here are some ways you can stay safe when visiting, and how you can be ready with your China travel insurance if the need does arise.
Given that the Chinese language – well, Mandarin for mainland China and Cantonese for Hong Kong – is so different from English, it’s unlikely the average traveller will know more than a handful of words in the local language. That means it can be incredibly difficult to make your needs known if you experience problems.
Yes, you’ll have your travel insurance, but if you don’t have a major problem, but are just a little lost, you’ll need to be able to count on your wits.
- Ask your hotel concierge or receptionist to give you a business card with the hotel’s address so you can show it to your taxi driver when you need to return.
- Seek out English language maps and brochures where possible and carry them with you.
- Make good use of Google Translate to go back and forth between ‘Simplified Chinese’ and English. Not only will it instantly translate one language to another in the respective characters, but you can click on the speaker button and have it ‘say’ what you want to say. Brilliant!
- Having travel insurance for China will be of enormous help! Make sure you have your insurer’s contact details saved in your phone contacts before you leave Australia. That way, if you encounter any difficulties with health, injuries, accidents, losses or unforeseen delays or cancelled travel plans, you can call them up 24 hours a day for assistance.
- Avoid trusting ‘just anyone’ to help you. Try to seek assistance from authorities such as police or health workers, or people who are going about their daily business such as shopkeepers, public transport workers, clerks and delivery drivers. These people are in their occupations and have no ulterior motive for being where they are. They are also likely to know the local area very well.
- Smile and be warm when asking for help. Behaving as though the locals are in the wrong for not understanding you will only bring ill feeling between you.
Being in a foreign country where the language is difficult for you is no time to be impetuous about your travel plans. Try to stick to your itinerary, unless missing flights is not a problem on your travel timeline. Arrive at airports, train stations and other journey origins way ahead of time so that if your transportation is delayed or cancelled, you’ll have plenty of forward warning so you can make alternative arrangements.
In China, the currency is the Renminbi (RMB) or Chinese Yuan (CNY). You may want to save in your phone a currency converter app so that if you’re in doubt about how much something costs, you can instantly look it up. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the currency and how much things cost before going off the beaten track.
That way, if you’re visiting a local market in a regional area and have no access to Wi-Fi, then you will know if the jade pendant you want to buy is over-priced or reasonable.
Whenever language is an issue, shopping can be more expensive than necessary. Canny marketers and shopkeepers in any country can spot inexperienced tourists a mile away and if their day is not going profitably, they can potentially increase their revenue by convincing a customer that their goods are authentic antiques, locally handmade or made from expensive ingredients or materials.
Give yourself a ‘cooling off period’ before buying something about which you’re not sure. Walk away, look around, investigate what other peddlers are offering and return if you still want to buy. If you do end up being taken advantage of, unfortunately your travel insurance will not cover this so it’s definitely a case of ‘buyer beware’ when shopping for goods.
Remember, haggling is encouraged when purchasing from street vendors, in open markets and at independent retailers. Trying to achieve a lower price in a department store or supermarket however will only earn you scorn. When you do haggle (in an appropriate venue), consider walking away too. Not always as a cooling off period but sometimes, when you go to walk away, the offer instantly becomes more enticing.
In addition to the sometimes crazy traffic, the streets are home to some crazy food as well. Many westerners are told not to indulge because our delicate constitutions are incapable of coping with the ‘selective hygiene’ aspects of food prep in heavily populated and developing countries. If you absolutely must try the deep fried spiders in Hangzhou or the large skewered barbecued scorpions in Beijing, be aware that they could be more than a little risky.
Just a few of the hazards when travelling in China are the in-ground toilets over which you have to keep your balance and squat, extreme pollution that can cause respiratory challenges and the unsafe drinking water from the tap.
Any of these elements can health problems so be aware. Always carry bottled water with you and use it to brush your teeth, make your coffee and wash your fruit as well.
China is a fascinating land and can be the complete opposite of what you’re used to at home. Equipped with an open mind to the different ways of the world, your trip will be enlightening, memorable and fun.