China Summer Holiday Trip Preparation Tips3 September, 2013
Travelling in China can be quite an experience and culture shock for some – we made a few pre-trip preparations for our recent trip to China with Shangri-La to manage some expected inconveniences while travelling.
Managing Internet Connectivity within China
One of the major online inconvenience you can expect while travelling in China is the Great Firewall of China – no, not the Great Wall tourist attraction near Beijing. This is a virtual wall that blocks internet access to Facebook, Twitter, some parts of Wikipedia and Dropbox and many other sites. 1 day without Facebook is unimaginable – let alone a long trip like ours (i.e. 2 weeks!). Thankfully, there are Virtual Private Networks (VPN) services that allow you to bypass the Great Firewall of China! Before the trip, we did some quick research on VPNs, specifically on which VPN services will work in China. I am not going to go into how VPNs work – something I still have not figured out yet.
We tried the VPN services of Breakwall.net during our trip – what I like about Breakwall VPN is that it allows simultaneous connection by multiple devices with just one plan (starting from 2.63 USD per month with 10 GB limit – based on a 1-year plan) i.e. I can connect to VPN on my Samsung S III and another person can also connect to VPN on her iPhone and at the same time, my laptop can also be connected to the same VPN – this would be ideal if you are travelling with a group of friends where you can share the plan (but you will have to watch the data cap).
We found the VPN service very useful even back in Singapore as we can catch online streaming United States of America TV shows on sites like Hulu (which had restricted access to its content to within the United States. Again you will have to watch the data cap.
Connecting to VPN on Android and laptops was easy – download an app or an application and install it; save your username and password and just click connect each time and you are online and over the Great Firewall! Connecting on an iPhone will require configuration of iPhone VPN settings – just follow the online instructions and in 3-4 simple steps, you are connected.
One of the most common issues with VPN usage is dropped/blocked connections – Breakwall VPN has a number of backup connection methods. For the more technically-inclined, Breakwall VPN offers 7 VPN connection methods e.g. PPTP, Cisco IPsec. Breakwall.net is run by 2 guys in China and I would expect that they know the local Chinese network better than some of US-based VPN services so that is another layer of assurance for me when selecting Breakwall.net.
Connecting to Breakwall VPN during our 2 weeks in China was smooth. The connection settings for my Samsung S III and laptop is set and forget – no need to do any further configurations; for iPhone, I only had to switch VPN settings once during the trip. The only downside I see with Breakwall VPN is the data cap and you cannot do Peer to Peer sharing (P2P) i.e. torrent downloading but if you just need to surf Facebook and Twitter, the basic plan will do. If you need to stream TV shows, can consider getting the larger plans (up to 200 GB per month).
Please note that you will have to enter https instead of http to access Breakwall.net in China i.e. use https://breakwall.net
Having VPN by itself is of course not enough – you will still require internet access and if your hotel does not provide free in-room Wi-Fi (anyway Shangri-La does provide complimentary in-room Wi-Fi) and you need internet on the go to share pictures and updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, then you should consider renting Telecom Square International Mobile Wi-Fi Services (at 15 SGD/day). You can read more on our review of Telecom Square Mobile Wi-Fi service (in China) here: http://www.passportchop.com/reviews/travel-gear/telecom-square-mobile-internet-wifi/
Managing the Summer Heat in China
China can get really really hot during summer – when we were in Beijing in August, daily temperatures reach a high of 42 degree celsius! So bring along your fan – electric or manual ones – you can find lots of fans at various shops in Beijing too! Umbrella and sunblock are necessities if you don’t want to get sunburn.
Tap water in China is not potable (i.e. not drinkable) so you will have to buy bottled water. I suggest you bring a bottle of water in your checked-in luggage so you can still have some drinking water upon arrival (if you can’t find any supermarkets or shops that sell bottled water). Before buying any bottled water, check that the seal on the bottled water is not broken.
Managing Hygiene in China
The toilets in China is perhaps one of the greatest culture shock for travellers. While toilet infrastructure had improved a lot over the years, there are still some places where some rather interesting toilet cubicles can be found – for example, those you see in the picture below can be found in shopping centres in Qipu Road in Shanghai (where you can find clothes and accessories at wholesale prices). There is practically no privacy – when you stand up, you see what everyone else is doing in their cubicles!
Hygiene is also a major issue in toilets here – I shall not describe further – just bring (or buy in China supermarkets) lots of tissue papers, wet tissue/napkins and hand sanitisers (and be prepared for the worst!).