>10 day trip

Travel tips : For the first time China traveler

Continued from here

General tips

  • We decided to take a Chinese-speaking group tour to save money- the one we found online with an English guide would have cost us 4 times as much. There may be other options but we found none easily online. The downside was that we didn’t understand a word of what the very enthusiastic and seemingly funny guide was saying. We were extremely fortunate that my friend decided to accompany us so the essentials were translated thanks to her. The group itself was very friendly and kind but our lack of Chinese language skills was a downer to more conversation.
  • Carry a toilet paper roll everywhere – while the restroom stops are much more frequent than on Indian package tours, the restrooms often did not have toilet paper. Locals know it and carry tissues and so should you. Some restrooms are quite dodgy but honestly, we were grateful to be able to be well hydrated knowing there were sufficient restroom breaks.
  • More often than not, you have hot water available to drink/take with you at restaurants and not room temperature water unless you purchase bottled water. Since we had a wish to purchase less bottled water it meant that we had to borrow a flask so we could fill it up with the hot water vs the water bag that we usually carry on trips that’s not meant for boiling water.
  • Learn to eat with chopsticks or alternately carry preferred cutlery wherever you go. It will save you the hassle of asking for spoons at every single eatery – spoons are not served by default.
  • If you’re vegetarian, you may have limited options but there will most likely be at least 1 option for you 🙂 See our food post for details. However, if you don’t eat mushrooms- you may need to explicitly mention it in addition to the other things you choose not to eat since mushrooms are very often on the menu. Take a print out of this on paper since it will be something you often translate. If you eat eggs, the most common dish is eggs with tomatoes (not my favourite) but if you can learn the words for that you will be well fed.
  • ATMs are not very commonly found in the rural areas just like in many countries. Take cash along with you stored in each of your luggage items.
  • The visa process to China is a little confusing. As of today, you can only apply for it from Mumbai and Kolkata so if you, like us, don’t live in these locations you will have to go via a travel agent. An online search yielded exactly one result and we went with that since there were no recommended agents on the visa site. It cost us Rs.7500 per person. The government site asks for a lot of documents (account statements, hotel bookings, ID proofs etc) but the visa agent required just our passports. So not sure how that works.
  • Carry good walking shoes you can rely on- there is a lot of walking – even if you choose to not go on a “trek”. We walked an average of 15 km per day. Also, a jacket that is both sufficiently warm and is good for light rains will help rather than multiple ones. We purchased one in Huanglong since we didn’t want to carry 2 separate ones during the trek.
  • Like all international trips carry copies of your passport, hotel address, local contacts (if any) and tickets in all your luggage items. You will have to keep your original passport close at hand since its required for getting entry tickets at many places.
  • In some areas during your travel, people may ask to take pictures with you, it’s easy to mistake it for them wanting you to take their picture. If you don’t mind getting your picture taken with them, give it your best smile 🙂

 

App Review: 

We were lucky enough to have my friend Summer along for most of our trip in China, but it’s good to be prepared.

  • Hexatech: Many apps – Google, Instagram, Gmail, Facebook- do not work in China. The only way to get them to work is via VPN. We used Hexatech and it worked seamlessly.
  • Google translate – Download the offline translation for Chinese so that it’s available to you. Install a Chinese keypad to allow for Chinese people to type back responses to you. It also allows you to focus on some text and translates it. It is hugely helpful with food menus (despite funny literal translations occasionally) and signboards towards the exit/restrooms. However do not expect people in rural areas/older people to be comfortable with typing on your phone that they may not be familiar with.
  • Bing search: Google search does not work in China. But Bing does. It is a good option when you can search for images and point at them to people instead of word translation.
  • Didi: This app company has bought over the Uber business in China, so other than the green taxis that you can hail on the street, this is the primary option for taxis. While the app is available in English, the problem still holds that the driver will call to confirm your exact location – and then your inability to speak Chinese will impede further communication. So we didn’t end up using this app.
  • ChengDu Metro map: We did plan to take the metro as often as we could and it was very convenient since you have an English option to purchase your ticket. Do note that liquids will have to be given to the security personnel to scan separately in addition to scanning your baggage. Also, you cannot take knives and sprays in the metro. (We purchased kitchen knives and on a previous trip I’ve lost a bottle of perfume to the metro :()
  • iPhone maps : While the all-too-familiar Google maps doesn’t work, the iPhone maps did. Incidentally, both of us currently own iPhones so we didn’t try other options. Bing Maps just may work. Other map applications locals use are only in Chinese.
  • Wechat : This app is the most commonly used one that doubles up as both a social network, payment gateway and a text message alternative – This would be the useful to communicate with local friends and contacts.

What to buy on your trip to take back home (personal pick)

  • Tea: Not the green tea (which is also great) but the flower teas. They look stunning and taste fantastic. Which tea? I’d say a little bit of everything. Anand liked the barley tea too.IMG_1003
  • Sunflower seeds: Yes, sunflower seeds are available in India too- however, there are a lot of flavours to choose from- both sweet and savoury. We recommend going to the local vegetable market to purchase them so you can try one of each before deciding on which one to buy.

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    Sunflower seeds still on the flower-we bought the toasted ones
  • Clothes: Clothes while fantastic are not inexpensive. The lower end shops cost as much as many branded clothes in India. Do purchase a style you may not get in India but the cost may not be too low.
  • Snacks: They have a glorious amount of vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks that we almost always loved. From wasabi flavoured peanuts to rice crispies with the lightest hint of salt, to ready to eat seafood. For this, you’d have to purchase small amounts during your trip and decide which ones you like to take back home.
  • Anything cute: The products there are unapologetically cute- for kids and adults, stationery, clothing, accessories – if cute is your style you’ll be in shopping heaven.

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    Yes, a panda shaped rice cake
  • Umbrellas: We did not purchase this ourselves, but if you’re in the market for beautiful sun umbrellas in everything from lace to bursting flower patterns – you’d be in the right place there.
  • Chopsticks: Needless to say it should be your go-to place for chopsticks. You have less expensive ones in all kinds of pretty prints, child sized ones with handles, elegant ones in gold, ones in steel and silver, wooden ones with carved designs- you name it and you’ll probably find some here. They make great souvenirs to take back to friends too.

 

Up next : A fort tale: Penukonda and Gudibande

 

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20 Road trip tips

From our road trips in the last several years, this is a distilled list of tips that have helped make our journeys so much more pleasant. Do comment if you have more things you do that you’d like to share too!

Take from Home

  1. Water is your friend. Stay hydrated and carry at least 3 bottles of water from home for 2 people. To avoid increasing your carbon footprint and if you have decent immunity, do request restaurants to refill your bottles with drinking water. After you have paid for your meal there, they are usually very willing. Carry a 2 lt bottle(at least) of tap water to wash fruits you may purchase on your way from the farmers and to wash your hands after you eat them. Also, carry baby wipes/wet wipes for the latter use.
  2. Carry old newspapers. They are marvellous to use in lieu of tissues, wipes, and just to spread on the ground for an impromptu picnic if that’s what you feel like.
  3. Carry non-perishable snacks from home if feasible. In some tourist places, you may not find food till the neighbouring town and the only options may be deep fried stuff in packaging more filled with air than food. Anand finds chewing gum helps him from feeling drowsy while driving on endless highways. (Note: Get rest and sleep if you’re actually exhausted. Do not push yourself then. It’s a safe road-trip, not an endurance test risking your own lives and that of others on the road.)
  4. Use one cover/basket just for garbage inside the car. You can empty it when you see a garbage bin.
  5. Do buy from farmers by the highway, especially fruits, palm jaggery and even honey combs! We’ve rarely been disappointed. They make significantly healthier snacks too. Needless to say get some tender coconut water when you pass by it. It’s refreshing, delicious and naturally free from contamination 🙂
  6. Carry a small pouch with change. It helps at toll booths and paying vendors for small items without searching all over the place and multiple purses.
  7. Carry one set of cutlery- a small knife (to cut fruits), a spoon (to eat unhealthy snacks with without getting them all over your hands), and a fork.

 

Technology

  1. Before your trip, download offline maps on your phone if you have the option.
  2. Even if you don’t want to book your hotels in advance, be aware of the closest towns/cities so you know which direction to head to once it’s later in the day.
  3. Get a good playlist of upbeat songs.(some of which you can sing along with while being severely off-tune). Slower songs though lovely for a relaxed evening at home are sleep-accelerators after a delicious local meal you’ve indulged in on your trip.
  4. Carry a power bank and have a charger you can plug into your car. Clicking pictures, looking up details of places and using maps drains battery faster than you realise.
  5. If feasible, download content related to the history of the place or the monuments you are going to visit. It seems most interesting just before and just after getting there and a random interesting tit-bit makes it that much more fun.
  6. Try some random games in the car- we’ve found 20 questions to be both aggravating and entertaining (depending on which side you’re on). It’s also an excellent undisturbed time to trade childhood stories and often detailed stories of your favourite movie that your fellow travellers haven’t watched yet. Or maybe that’s just us. Try different ones and see what you enjoy.

 

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Madagadakere : The lake that never dries up. Also, has a lot of skeletons at its bottom.

 

Car Love

  1. Fuel up as soon as your indicator goes off. Being stuck without fuel on a lonely highway in the dark is not safe at all.
  2. Do these checks before you leave
    • Headlamps, taillamps and indicators. You don’t want to be driving blind at night.
    • Water-level in the wiper – Helps to get rid of unwanted dust and bird droppings on your windshield (they happen more often than you’d like)
    • Tyre pressure on all tyres including the standby one.
    • That you have the car tools in the car at all times.

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      Our trusty car enjoying a break 

 

On the way

  1. Take breaks to stretch your limbs or take a short stroll, especially for the driver. Neck, feet, arms, legs and back could all use a good stretch. The fellow passenger could enforce the break taking 🙂
  2. Ask locals (and sometimes petrol station staff) for food recommendations – they often know of the only modest but good restaurant in a small dusty town.
  3. Seems silly but check different seat alignments to see what treats your backbone the best. Something as simple as that removes the strain from a long trip on the road. Carrying small cushions also helps and a neck pillow if you plan to take a nap.
  4. Inform someone at home of where you’re going and where you’d be staying the night. It reduces their anxiety and helps in case of emergencies.
  5. Stop and stare– there’s often beauty all along the way – whether in an unnamed lake with migratory birds, a field of marigolds in bright orange or a sky filled with stars like you’ve never seen before.

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    Our reward for an unplanned pitstop at an un-named lake on the way back from Bidar