Tipd for your first China Vacation

I’m pretty well-travelled but the only interesting facts about China I heard before I visited were half-baked horror stories from expat colleagues. Almost all of these story-tellers had “done” China (aka posted there for a couple of years) before scuttling back to the London suburbs, delighted to have ticked “international role” off on their cv.)

Discover interesting facts about China  - Summer Palace, Beijing, China
Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Many Interesting Facts About China Are Just Myths

So, when I told people where I was going for a trip, I found that I wasn’t the only one who had amassed a stock of interesting facts about China that were rather dubious.

It’s true that China has challenges, but it’s a truly amazing country with so much to offer every kind of traveller, from adventure seekers to foodies to culture vultures.

Little did I know that I was about to fall in love with China and that it would become one of my favourite countries of all time.

Everything from the people to the history, the natural beauty and the fabulous food totally blew me away. By the time our trip was over, we were already hatching plans for the next trip. After all, you really can’t “do” a massive country like China in just one trip.

If you still have doubts, here are seven of the most common misconceptions about China, plus why they’re about as true as one of Pinocchio’s tales.

Myth 1: China is a Dangerous Communist State

Like millions around the world, I watched the 1989 student uprising in Beijing (known in China as the ‘June the Fourth incident’). With absolute clarity, I remember the brave student standing in front of the tanks sent to crush the protests. I also remember the horrifying bloodshed as troops opened fire on the assembled crowds, killing and injuring thousands.

For years after this, China was more closed than ever and difficult for foreigners to visit. Times have changed dramatically though, and modern China is different. It’s still an assault on all the senses but in a good way.

While you’ll see police everywhere in China, you’ll feel safe walking around, even at night and in street markets. You just need to have your wits about you, exactly as you would anywhere else in the world.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China - learn interesting facts about China here

Myth 2: If you don’t Speak Chinese it’s Impossible to Get Around

This was one of my biggest reservations going into my trip. As a polyglot, I’m used to travelling in countries where I can at least read the alphabet! We’d chosen the luxury of a private tour guide; however, we explored independently too and never had any problems.

China is incredibly easy to get around. On the bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an, the station announcements are in Chinese and English, and the subway in Shanghai is very straightforward to use (and so clean!)

Bullet train from Beijing to Xi'an
On the platform – ready to board the bullet train

Take something with you with the name and address of your accommodation on it so you can show a taxi driver the address if you’re lost. This worked perfectly for us after a long ramble through the winding streets of the night market in Xi’an!

If all else fails, use a translation app

But remember that you can’t access Google in China. Try Waygo which allows you up to 10 free translations per day.

Chinese mooncakes for sale at the Muslim market, Xi'an, China
Mooncakes in the Muslim market, Xi’an were so delicious

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Myth 3: The air pollution is dreadful

You will see plenty of people in China wearing masks – even in hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. We bought masks as soon as we arrived (ask your guide/driver to stop at a pharmacy, as they are so much cheaper to buy in China than at home!!). Despite being a pair of wheezy asthmatics, we never used the masks. We simply didn’t need them. I might save them for my next trip to London though…

Beautician with tattoos wearing a face mask indoors in Beijing, China
Our darling little beautician at the Four Seasons in Beijing (best manicure EVER!!) wore a face mask INDOORS!

Myth 4: China is Disgustingly Dirty

On the whole, in the big cities, this is so far from the truth it’s laughable. I can’t stress enough how clean every single place we visited was. There were hordes of janitors, road sweepers and park-keepers everywhere we turned.

The streets were spotless everywhere from the awesome historical sites to the bustling street markets. We didn’t see any specks of litter anywhere. It made me rather sad that we don’t still have the same civic pride here in the UK. Even the public toilets were perfectly clean, including the squat toilets. (Once you’re off the beaten track, you will encounter some squalor though.)

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Pro Tip: If you’re a smoker, don’t drop cigarette butts in China as it’s a serious offence! A portable ashtray will keep you legal.

Everywhere we visited was asspotlessly clean as this – at the Terracotta Warriors site
Not a speck of litter at the Terracotta Warriors museum site

Myth 5: You’ll End Up Eating Dog Meat and Get a Gastro Upset

A few cautious friends were keen to re-hash 3rd hand horror stories about eating bugs, intestines and dogs, but I’m a pretty experimental foodie. I was thrilled at the prospect of eating ‘real’ Chinese food, not something in a tray from the local takeaway! Trying out a new cuisine is one of the best aspects of travelling to a new country for me.

Chinese Food is Awesome!

China is vast, boasting many different cooking styles and regional specialities, so I was in serious foodie heaven. With one notable exception (the Hot Pot Horror) we ate like royalty throughout our stay.

From our 50th birthday celebration, blow-the-budget champagne brunch to awesome crab dumplings in Shanghai, beer fish in Yangshuo and our favourite seafood kebabs from a stall in the Muslim market in Xi’an, we loved all the food that China had to offer.

Crab dumplings in Shanghai.
Awesome crab dumplings made to order in Shanghai. We were in food heaven with these little bites.

Try out the street food – you won’t be disappointed

Do your taste buds a favour and step outside your hotel restaurant to go and experience the delicious variety of real local food. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll save £££s!

Beerfish at Yangshuo, China
We had to try the local speciality in Yangshuo – Beer Fish. It didn’t disappoint….

Pro Tip: Lots of eateries have pictoral menus. You can order food even if the staff don’t speak a word of English! You might get mystery dinner, but it’s (almost) always delicious…

 We had no idea what Guo Kui was before we tried it, but it was totally delicious and ridiculously cheap
We had no idea what Guo Kui was before we tried it, but it was totally delicious and ridiculously cheap

Myth 6: China is Overcrowded. You’ll Feel Claustrophobic Everywhere

China is huge and Shanghai and Beijing are two of the ‘megacities’, with populations in the tens of millions. Prepare yourself for crowding and queuing as part of your trip, just as you would for Disney or for attractions in London during peak holiday periods. As you’d expect, some times of the year are much busier than others. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid weekends, school holidays and Chinese National Holidays. .

Crowds of people at Beijing's Forbidden City, China
There were crowds at the Forbidden City but the vastness of it meant it didn’t feel overcrowded

Most sites are massive and if you’re patient, you can get awesome photos just by waiting a few moments for gaps in the crowds.

One of the interesting facts about China that's not true is that everywhere is crowded - just like the Great Mosque, Xian,
I only needed 2 minutes for the crowds to clear so I could capture this sot

Myth 7: The ‘Inscrutable’ Chinese Are Not Very Friendly

This was the complete opposite of true! In every single place we visited, lovely people greeted us with the widest of smiles. Even where there was a language barrier, people practically tripped over themselves trying to help us. Without exception, we met the most delightful, kind people. We swapped stories, laughed a lot, used sign language and had great conversations with everyone. Local families even invited us to join them for dinner.

One of the interesting facts about China you may hear is that Chinese people are not friendly. It couldn't be more untrue.
We met and dined with this lovely, friendly local couple!

We found it hilarious that so many locals wanted to have their photo taken with us, but we said ‘yes’ to everyone who asked us. Posing for selfies with locals felt like being z-list celebrities but we got into it and had such a laugh. Chinese people are anything but unfriendly. Another of those interesting facts about China proved to be completely untrue!

Can you see why I love China so much? It’s sad to hear people spouting old myths about this amazing country. We only had positive experiences during our trip and left loving both the country and the people.

Have these interesting facts about China convinced you to check China out for yourself?

Drop a comment below to let me know! We love to hear what interesting facts about China you’ve heard and whether they coloured your travel experiences.

View of Karst mountains from the Li River, with lush green foliage and a small traditional white house near the water
Nightime street scene in China, overlaid with text "discover the real facts about China"

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About Author

Coralie is a Brit living in North Yorkshire. When she's not writing, she's either out exploring, planning a new trip, tasting street food or relaxing with a cold G&T. With 40+ years of adventurous travel to almost 40 countries (so far), she knows there's still much to see and remains an adventure-seeker at heart. Follow her on social media and keep up with her adventures and awesome travel tips.

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2 Comments

  1. We did love our trip to China. We too were surprised at how much we loved it. And we did not go armed with a lot of myths to prove or disprove. While we were on a tour for much of our visit, we had no trouble getting around when we were out on our own. We would definitely go back without a tour group. We brought masks with us for air pollution but never used them. India was far worse! The food was probably our biggest concern because we are spice wimps. But we had no problem finding a wide variety of foods that worked for even us! We have strongly recommended China to our friends. But it may be awhile before that makes sense.

    1. Thanks Linda, I loved China so much too and think we benefitted from going with a private guide rather than on a group tour. Next time though, I’ll go solo, although it won’t be for a long while yet! I’m glad you had a great experience in China too!

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