China Travel FAQ

What to expect when traveling to China with Rustic Pathways.

Your most frequently asked questions regarding travel in China, food, accommodations, and more answered by Kevin, China Country Manager.

Where does the name China come from?
China is “Zhongguo” in Chinese Pingyin, it means the Middle Kingdom, as our ancestors believed that China is located in the center of the Earth.

What languages are spoken in China?
The official language is Mandarin in China. Besides Mandarin, Chinese speaks more than 300 minority languages spoken by the remaining 8% of the population of China, such as Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur and Zhuang.

English is not a common second language in China. English learning occupies a very important place on all levels of education in China.

What are people in China like? How do people here see themselves?
Chinese people are very hospitable, but their self-esteem is very strong and they pay very much attention to how other people view them and their attitude towards them.

Why should I travel to China?
China, renowned as Four Ancient Civilizations, boasts a history of 5,000 years, and has created a wide variety of human-made wonders and glorious culture, which gives you an opportunity to get close to China and Chinese people fast.

China has decades of ethnic groups living together, which has made a brilliant and unique culture, and they have their own language, ethnic clothes, buildings, customs, etc. Having a tour to ethnic areas will be eye-opening to you.

How much do you know Chinese cuisine? You must know Chinese Tea, and I bet you know some Chinese restaurants in your country and have heard of some Chinese food, like Chinese chili sauce, Chinese hot pot, Beijing roast duck, dumpling…If you come to visit China, you will be captivated by its deliciousness and special flavor.

China is the home of Giant Panda. Sichuan China is where those pandas live, and it has three panda bases, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Dujiagyan Panda Base, and Bifenxia Panda Base. In those panda bases, you can see cute pandas, their living environment, how they are bred, and how they live their day. You will have a chance for close contact with pandas and see what it’s like being a Giant Panda breeder.

Chinese Kung fu is fantastic and outstanding martial art that has impressed the whole world. I believe that almost everyone has watched Jackie Chan’s performance of Kung fu, and would like to see a Kung fu show with your own eyes.

China is the second largest economy in the world, and has developed several big cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. In these big cities, you can see what modern cities look like, with a high skyline, skyscrapers, modern city infrastructure, busy transport, exquisite shopping malls, clean and neat streets. Hang out in the streets, go shopping in shopping malls and enjoy Chinese cuisine.

What are the most amazing travel experiences in China?
The most amazing travel experiences in China is hiking on the Great Wall and sitting on the top of a watch tower along the Great Wall. It is a breathtaking experience for all of our Rustic Pathways’ students.

What are one or two experiences that might surprise travelers?

  1. You might know that there will be a lot of people in China before your trip, but you will still be shocked when you take the metro or bus in big cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai.
  2. Food. It seems that Chinese eat everything beside the tables and chairs….

What is the food like?
Generally, staple food in China includes rice, wheat, buckwheat, corn, potato, sweet potato and beans. Besides wheaten food such as Mantou (steamed bun), noodle, Youtiao (deep-fried dough stick), Xiaolongbao (steamed pork-stuffed dumpling in bamboo basket), and many other local snacks, are commonly seen on the table in China.

Regionally, there are general flavors that can be summarized as; spicy eastern food, sweet southern food, sour western food and salty northern food. However, flavors of food in these areas still differ from each other.

Peking duck is must-try food when you are in Beijing.
Spicy hotpot is always people’s favorite across China.

What is the weather like?
China lies mainly in the north temperate zone. Weather in China is characterized by a warm climate and distinctive seasons, with a climate well suited for habitation. It has a primarily temperate climate and obvious four seasons. Due to its vast territories, local conditions vary widely from region to region.

North-Central China (such as Beijing, Xian):

Weather in this region is similar to Nebraska and Kansas in the U.S., less snow and rain during the winter. Later winter and early spring bring regular dust storms and haze.

South-Central China (such as Shanghai, Guangzhou):

Climate in this region is comparable to the Gulf Coast states, though winter storms do not occur as often. Summer is humid and hot with frequent rain. Winter is shorter, cooler, and often overcast with drizzle.

Northeast China (such as Shenyang, Harbin):

Climate in this region is similar to Minnesota. Summer is dry and hot, and winter is long and very cold.

Xinjiang (such as Urumqi, Turpan):

In this region, severe climate conditions with dramatic daily temperature swings are common. Summer can be very hot during the day, but generally cools off at night. Winter temperatures also warm up during the day but plummet at night.

Tibet (such as Lhasa, Shigatse):

When the sun shines, temperatures in Tibet reach the mid-80s in the summer and the mid-60s in the winter. At night or when it rains or snows, temperatures drop significantly. Precipitation is minimal in the winter: summer showers are more common and occur mainly at night.

What is money like in China?
The official currency in China is the Renminbi(RMB or CNY) or in Chinese “Ren-min-bi”. Which translates as “the people’s money’ and is generally used in the same way you use the word ‘ currency’- the Renmibi exchange rate, for instance.

The basic unit is the yuan, (also known as “Kuai”), which is used to express all quantities including prices in shops etc. The yuan comes in paper notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100 yuan notes, and 1 yuan coins. 1 yuan equals 10 jiao (or Mao). Always check your change to be sure that you have not confused jiao and yuan.

Foreign currency may be exchanged for Chinese currency at licensed exchange facilities of the Bank of China and authorized banks.Money exchange facilities are available at major airports, hotels and banks.

Major credit cards (American Express, MasterCard and Visa) are accepted by most major hotels and in many well-known restaurants. ATMs compatible with US bank cards are also available throughout big cities in China.

How much money should I bring?
It depends on how long your program is in China. We suggest you bring $10-$20 per day for additional purchases, such as snacks and local gifts you may buy for your family and friends.

Is it safe to travel in China?
Yes, it is safe to travel in China.

China is a safe country to travel. China is regarded as one of the safest countries, with a low capital crime rate in the world, since China has done tremendous work to guarantee people’s safety.

Guns are strictly prohibited anywhere. Carrying, making, and smuggling guns are a big crime in China. No one except police are allowed to use guns, and police use of guns is under strict control.

A strict security system is unfolded nation-widely: identify cards are needed in buying tickets for train, flight, cruise, and attractions, and in hotel accommodation. No one is allowed to bring knives to take a train, a flight and metro. Hundreds of millions of security surveillance cameras are installed in streets, residential areas, work areas, schools, markets, and shopping malls.

Chinese people are friendly to foreigners, whether you are overseas students in China, work in China or have a China tour. Chinese would like to say hi to you, have a talk with foreigners telling them Chinese stories, and help them if they are in trouble.

What are one or two of the most popular activities or pastimes in China?

1. Kung fu class
2. Dumpling making class
3. Square dancing

What is one favorite memory of a Rustic Pathways program experience?
Having a Rustic tie on the Great Wall of China.

What advice do you have for first-time visitors to China?

1. Learn some simple Chinese phrases

Though Chinese children are learning English for primary school onwards today, the language barrier reminds them of the number one hurdle to overcome. You are suggested to learn some simple Chinese words and phrases before departure, or prepare an English -to-Chinese pocket dictionary.

2. Take care of your passport

Carry your passport at all times, you will need it to check into hotels, for security check at airport and train station. Take care of it and know where it is at all times to prevent losing it.

3. Food safety

Chinese cuisine is world-famous, you are encouraged to try everything. But be careful of the unusual foods. And some street foods, usually regarded as the best part of a city’s culinary experience, may be “dangerous” too, if you happen to have a weak stomach.

4. Bargaining

Bargain in small shops and markets. It is common and interesting to bargain. Don’t be shy, start by offering one-third of the asking price. However, for luxury brands, bargaining is useless.

What are some tips for cultural etiquette?
If you are visiting someone in China, bring your hosts a gift, such as a food basket, and always present your gift with both hands. Avoid white wrapping paper or gift bags, and do not give gifts of white or yellow flowers, or clocks — as the Chinese associate those items with funerals. Also, avoid giving gifts of four, as it’s seen as unlucky; eight, however, is a lucky number. Don’t be offended if the recipient doesn’t open the gift in your presence, as gifts traditionally aren’t opened the moment received.

When dining, you will likely be in a restaurant; dining as a guest in someone’s home is regarded as an honor in Chinese culture. If dining in a home, remove your shoes. In any setting, sit only after being told where to do so. The dinner host typically begins eating first, so wait for him to start the meal. Signs of being happy with a meal in Chinese culture include the slurping of food, and belching – keep this in mind to avoid any misunderstandings or offense.

Taboo Topics
The general Western taboo regarding the discussion of religion and politics holds true in China as well. Avoid mentioning historical and modern disputes with Japan, Korea, Tibet and Taiwan, as well as China’s inner struggles. This includes Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 1070s and the later Tiananmen Square incident. If your host brings up a hot topic, carefully avoid speaking in an antagonistic manner.

What are the main points of interest and landmarks?

  1. Great Wall in Beijing
  2. Pandas in Sichuan province
  3. Skyline in Shanghai

What are the major holidays in China?
China has seven legal holidays in a year, including New Year’s Day, Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), Qingming Festival, May Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Day and National Day

Holiday Name 2020 Date 2020 Holiday
New Year’s Day Jan. 1 Jan. 1 2020
Chinese New Year Jan. 25 Jan. 24 – 30
Qingming Festival Apr. 4 Apr. 4 – 6
May Day May 1 May 1 – 5
Dragon Boat Festival Jun. 25 Jun. 25 – 27
Mid-Autumn Day Oct. 1 This occurs during the weeklong National Day holiday
National Day Oct. 1 Oct. 1 – 8

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China. It starts on the 1st day in 1st lunar month, the longest public holiday; Annual family reunion, eat dumplings, set off fireworks.

What kind of music is widely popular?
Familiar US radio names like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna. Although many Chinese do not speak English fluently, many can also sing you an entire English pop song with ease.

More pop-like hip-hop and R&B is also quickly gaining momentum and finding its way to the ears of millions of Chinese youths. But you can’t overlook Chinese homegrown pop music, it is extremely popular also. The genre of Chinese pop is jam packed with obvious influences from Western pop, as well as Korean and Japanese K-POP.

What documents are needed to enter China?
You will need your passport that is valid for at least six months prior to the date of entry into China to apply for an entry visa ahead of time to visit mainland China.
Depending on your country of citizenship, your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate General will require certain documentation from you in order to issue the visa.

When you apply for your visa, you will need to mail in or hand over your passport. Your passport has to be in the hands of the Chinese authorities for a period of time so they can approve your visa application and attach the visa documentation to your passport.

How do people dress in China?
Chinese are much more westernized now than used to be. So the way you dress at home should be ok in China.

What are bathrooms like in China?
Public bathrooms are almost definitely going to be a squatty potty. Always make sure to carry tissues with you, because you will not find toilet paper in a Chinese public bathrooms beside airports in China. Hotels have west style bathrooms in China.

Can I drink the water?
No, tap water is undrinkable, but it is safe to use it for washing and for brushing your teeth. You can drink boiled water or easily find bottled water in convenient stores everywhere.

Do I need a vaccine?
There are no required vaccinations for those traveling to China, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). The CDC recommends you stay up-to-date with routine vaccinations such as those for the flu and measles. Shots for hepatitis A and B are also recommended, as well as typhoid. If you’re planning to travel to rural farms in China, the CDC suggests you get a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis.

You may wish to take anti-malarial drugs if you’re traveling to rural areas in provinces like Yunnan and Anhui, where malaria is sometimes present.

What are the accommodations like?
We use hotels and guest houses in China as accommodation. It is clean with western style toilet.

Are there bugs?
There are no bugs at hotel rooms but there may be some bugs when we travel in rural areas in China.

What time of service project can I expect?
The service projects will be happening in the morning. The panda conservation takes all day long.

For village/homestays, where do students and teachers sleep?
We do not offer home-stays in China at this time.

Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?

Yes, we can accommodate dietary restrictions in China.

Will we have any free time?
No, you do not have any free time on your own. All activities are arranged by program leaders.

How do you all get around?
We will get around by private vans, bus or metro in the cities.

Can you manage large groups? How does that work for sustainable service?
Yes, we can manage large groups.

Kevin Wang

China Country Manager

Kevin is from the village of Minqin, Gansu, China. He has worked with Rustic Pathways China since 2012 running programs and is now our China Country Managers. Kevin is a China expert and loves to share his passion for China history with everyone. Kevin has been known to start a conga line during a traditional Chinese hot pot feast.

See Kevin’s Profile Page