Be prepared for a new world beyonds the firewall
W’e’ve just done Beijing!
It was a wonderful experience from historical ruins to gourmet spots. We loved it so much!
However, I understood why it may be quite a challenge to foreigners, especially those who don’t know Chinese.
Since my love is just a beginner learning Chinese, most of the time I had to take the responsibility. So I would like to share with you the tips and how do I prepare the trip to China. This post will be focused on Alipay and the websites and apps that help on booking tickets, chauffeurs for major attraction, taxi, security check. Part II is about Eating, tipping, accommodations, public transportation and basic Chinese to help with the trip.
Alipay 支付宝, Wechat pay 微信支付 is a thing
I’ve been hearing from all my friends who recently visited China all talking about Alipay. Digital currency is a real thing and the main form of pay in the coastal cities, we found a hard time without it.
Why do you need an Alipay or Wechat pay?
- If you would like to book a ticket or buy anything on a website before the trip, you will find the payment methods are these two payment ways unless you have Chinese bank account.
- Every store, restaurant, taxi or bus has an Alipay QR code and it is expected that you will pay quickly by scanning it. This is really the default way, more than cash itself. Some of the stores or taxi drivers may not have small cash change either, and they will ask you if you have Alipay to do it instead.
I dived into the research and was glad to find it was just open to foreigners this November. We are early adopters who tried on this service and I will share with you the experience.
Firstly, you may find it clunky… after you download the app, it required you to do an identity register. You will need to apply it with your passport number, passport picture, real name, ID picture, phone number, and bank account. Be sure to register it when you have phone service on your phone (not just internet) because they will send the verification code by text message first.
I tried it several times with my CapitalOne account bank card and it finally worked, the bank card selection is very finicky and unstable somehow, I kept trying it for three days to register it, so just a reminder if you found your bank card was declined first, you can keep trying it.
But there is a major tip we learned a big lesson on this trip-
Foreigners are only allowed to top up maximum of 5000 CNY, beyond this amount, you will need to do a further verification of Identity, which is a mission impossible because the first step is required your Chinese bank account number!
My Wechat Pay was even worse, the first step registration was run at an unbearable circle of asking to bond my bank account and verified it, but all I received is the service is busy at no end. However, I still recommend downloading the Wechat app, it’s like their What’s app for communication in China.
So I still recommend having at least one digital currency app just in case you run out of cash, or find a time where they don’t accept anything else, but use it carefully and try to pay with cash first. To sum up about Alipay 支付宝：
- Foreigners are only allowed to top up a total maximum of 5000 CNY, so use it wisely!
- Every time you are allowed to do a top-up maximum is 2000 CNY, which is about 285 USD.
- Be sure to register it when you have internet and phone call service.
- DO NOT fully rely on Alipay or Wechat pay! we did encounter the receiver’s Alipay has a problem that declined the transaction. Cash still is useful, just be always prepare to have small and big changes.
- Alipay required you to have a stable internet service or at least a wifi connection when you making a transaction. Because of the verification of confirming payment. so make sure when and where to use it as an internet connection can be unstable.
These two websites allow you to buy tickets for things like trains and attractions in places where you don’t know they local language and book all-day drivers. I can’t say enough good things about them for a Chinese trip. Why?
- It is designed for foreigners so you can do it as a normal online shopping service, which allowed you to make the transaction with your credit cards.
- Have multiple languages you can choose.
- Have a fast and clear customer service you can ask questions or requests.
- Clear instructions for using the tickets.
- No fuzzy booking a chauffeur service or tour guides at a reasonable price.
- They sell sim cards or wifi router service in certain regions, you can have it before your trip to China.
- KLOOK also provides some train tickets on major cities’ routes, it is great to book through it than the official Train service website (only in Chinese).
I booked mostly the attraction tickets on both websites, such as the Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven and Terracotta warriors…etc. and the service of private chauffeurs to Great Wall and the Terracotta warriors. It was super easy to book and clear communication of pick up address (usually is your hotel address)
If you want to do other attractions you can also mention it in the comments, they will help you contact the assigned drivers. Both times turned out to be good. and there are some tips to note:
- Highly recommend downloading the apps on the phone to get the booking tickets.
- Even if you booked the tickets on the websites, be sure to bring your passports since the major attraction required to check the ID.
- Be sure to put the right pick up address, and always work better to put the Chinese one, the hotel name and address must be correct. I had booked one hotel on booking.com but they list the English and Chinese address turned out to be different! Since Beijing is a big city, the big roads got segments that must be very specific.
- Download Wechat app in case you want to contact the Chauffeur service people, I got the contact one day before the trip, make sure the time and place you would like to have. But if you don’t speak Chinese, it’s better to contact through customer service earlier to arrange it.
3. Useful APPS: CTRIP 攜程, Baidu 百度, Baidu map, Gaode map高德地圖, 大眾Dianping 點評, Didi 滴滴打車, Alipay支付寶
okay… those apps can be useful to English users who have at least some basic Chinese skills. Only Baidu百度 can be used without any Chinese.
The Chinese version of Google is Baidu, it worked well in China for basic searches but I rather have google (more on how to get google later). I noticed the distance and expectation time on Maps are off, so I recommend to give yourself more time for transportation, better give some wiggle room with less scheduled things in one day, believe me, China is huge, either by taxi or metro moving takes lots of time. Therefore, you can download Baidu Map or Gaode Map高德地圖 to help navigation, the apps are pretty useful can show different methods of transportation time and cost just as Google map does (but again, they do need Chinese)
Ctrip攜程 is another important travel planning app that is widely used in China, you can book train or flight tickets and hotel all within the app. and even you try to book a train ticket on their official website, they will direct you to Ctrip, unless you have an account on railroad website, they will ask you to pay via Alipay, so all in all Alipay is tied up with a lot of services.
DianPing 大眾點評 is like the Yelp and TripAdvisor, people love to share their opinions on food, hotels and attractions’ reviews, so it’s kinda good to have it to help you find a cool place to have fun.
DIDI 滴滴打車 is the taxi service app, however, it will require you to have a local phone number to register it. we tried a few times ordering a taxi, however, my experience is, it needs a little bit of improvement. because once you ordering a taxi, often the driver will contact you by a phone call to check with you the pickup point. if you do not speak Chinese, it will be pretty stressful, also, they don’t pick up the order unless it’s a decent income for them, and the APP has an option of higher a booking fee to make its more apparel to the potential drivers… so much so, I still recommend this APP just in case, and there are tips, to sum up:
- You will need a local phone number to register on DIDI taxi service APP.
- Must make sure the pickup point is at a big street, or a clear location, since Beijing has a lot of small alleys, some drivers refuse to pick up at a small alley.
- Drivers usually don’t speak English, so please prepare to have a Chinese translation app or the address in Chinese and show them directly.
How to take a Taxi 出租車
Since my last tips mentioned taxi, don’t be afraid without DIDI and just call a taxi on the streets. Here are a few points can help you to prevent to have a bad experience. we encountered several drivers and sometimes paid way too much as tourists just fresh off the boat, but I wish you do better!
- Taxi in China is called 出租車 (Chūzū chē), and the driver is called 師傅(Shīfù)
- Taxi in Beijing is crazy! most of them are following regularisation and the meter is the law, but some of them go without it. Especially those who are way too friendly and wait at the gate of major tourist attractions or train stations. Usually, you will have to negotiate the price, they will charge you about 3-20 times more than the one who does meter.
- In Beijing, the official regular Taxi’s color is yellow and has red, blue or green line decoration on the car doors. but you will also see the white one in which we had encountered a bad experience that charged us 20 times the price. so better avoid it!
- Always make sure the driver uses the meter first then take the deal, you can ask first by saying: 是打表的嗎？(Shì dǎ biǎo de ma?) do you meter? or more ideally see if there is a meter at front.
- The sign on the Taxi is divided by green light 空車, which means available, yellow and red light 有客 means not available.
- Always prepare some change or have an Alipay to pay it.
- Drivers usually don’t speak English, so please prepare to have a Chinese translation app or the address in Chinese and show them directly.
Sim card and Phone number
I believe a sim card is always the first thing we fixed on a trip, the internet is so essential, isn’t? In China, the firewall is not allowed to use Google, youtube…etc. I did a little bit of work, and serious admit here “I don’t want to change any settings on my phone expect Sim card”, hehe, the great thing is I found the sim cards sells on Amazon worked out well! here is the link .
This is a sim card sold by CMHK (China Mobile Hong Kong) which Hong Kong is allowed to use google and anything else without a VPN. The speed is decent, and only for data use. Although I like it so much, there is something I need to note:
- It’s a 10-day sim card, 3GB in total.
- After the 3GB is running out, the speed will be down to 128MB, pretty slow, so use it wisely or buy more sim cards depending on how much you will use the internet.
- It’s not rechargeable, I tried the method recharged, but the only thing changed is your expiration day will be extended to 1 month, the data still is slow.
- I had not found this carrier in Beijing selling this type of sim card, so I highly recommend you buy it on Amazon.
I wish I had bought at least two of this sim card for this trip, but since this is only providing data, I went to a local store to buy a sim card that has a phone number. But, the thing turned out quite a scam, we paid 300 CNY to brought 100 mins phone calls and no limited data sim card, for the whole time we didn’t even call anyone, but on the third day after the sim card installed, it said we already run out the usage… later I found out the package does show it was expired for a month! ahhh, played by the shady seller.
it was not a pleasant experience at all, so I will share with you tips to avoid here:
- If you can find a phone carrier store located at less tourist neighborhood is better, and find a bigger store the better.
- Tourist needs to show their passport to buy/register a phone sim card, they will take a picture of it.
- Check the expiration date when you got the new sim card then install and active it at the store before you leave.
- I know there are some other sim card options on Amazon including phone calls, but you will need to register it by sending your passport information before your arrival in China according to their instructions. If you chose this way, you have to plan it earlier.
I know that is not comfortable to carry around a passport during a trip, but the passport is very essential to go see tourist attractions in Beijing. Most of the time when you purchase a ticket, you will have to show your passport. The ticket usually will have your name or passport number on it. some of the small museums/galleries inside the big tourist attractions are free admission, but you will need to register a ticket with a passport.
Also, you will need a passport to buy a train ticket as I mentioned in the tips of the Ctrip app. it’s so important to have a passport, they do not accept any other ID for foreigners.
Every train, metro stations, museums, and historic attraction all have a security check. the longest line we have ever wait is at Beijing train station, tips:
- Highly suggest at least take 1-1.5 hrs earlier upon your departure time to Beijing train station to pass through the security, it will take a long time, especially on Weekends.
- At historic attraction, they will ask you to take out anything flammable, so no lighters or cigarettes.
- Airport’s security check is no less demanding than the American one, very serious body searching and will ask you for passport and flight pass for at least three times, so it would be better to store the pass in an easily accessible place. Also, they are not allowed to put any battery and battery chargers in the checking bag, so be sure to pack it in your carry ons.
I wish you enjoyed tips for traveling to China Part I, there will be more about Eating, tipping etiquette, accommodations, public transportation and basic Chinese on Part II, you can see it now.
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