Who speaks English?
A vast majority of Chinese people will not speak any English. Why not? The same reason so few non-Chinese can speak good Chinese - its hard to learn and not widely taught by experts.
In four and five star hotels you will find receptionists, managers, head concierge and some waitstaff can speak English. Less expensive hotels might have few or no staff who speak English. Not to put you off lower budget hotels, because for many itineraries these save a lot on the cost. However you can usually manage to get things done if you are patient and they want to help.
When someone wants to communicate with you its amazing how much can be said without words. Language can be a major roadblock in China, but it can also lead to some interesting encounters and momentary friendships. I'll explain how to cope in some situations without speaking a word of Chinese.
Landing in Beijing with my family, I book an airport transfer even though I speak Chinese and a taxi is cheaper. For one thing, I would need 2 taxis as my family and luggage won't fit into one. So ordering a van works well. I don't have to wait for a taxi in line and entertain my kids when we're all tired after an international flight. An English speaking guide outside the customs exit in a forest of people and signs holds a up my name. He takes my luggage trolly, packs the van and we're under way. Going back to the airport is the same in reverse.
That said taxis are a good option still. There is a limit of 4 people per taxi in the one size fits all sedan style cars. Its likely only two or three people will fit in a taxi with bags as the trunk is not big. If you have a carry on and a checked bag for each passenger, some bags will have to be put in the front seat or hold bags on your lap.
Have your hotel name, address and phone number printed in Chinese to show the driver. If he just doesn't get it then change to another taxi driver who seems confident when he reads your paper. Or phone the hotel on your cell phone (or his) and they can direct him. Make sure you get a printed receipt when you get out of the car, then if you forgot something you have a chance of tracking it back.
Sometimes the taxi queues at arrivals can be long, even an hour or more if its rush hour or bad weather. In less major cities drivers may refuse to use meters and charge high fixed rates. When taking a flight it can take time or be stressful to get a taxi to the airport when you need it.
Unless you are really up for the taxi experience I suggest you include airport transfers in your itinerary as its worth not having the hassle. And half the price of my last airport taxi ride in New York!
Getting Meals on you Own
When you're on tour for a while, you might get tired of having every meal catered for you. Its nice to go out on your own, without a guide and be free to eat where you want and order whatever you like. This can take place in a hotel restaurant, where language will not be a problem. Western chains offer a distraction from Chinese food so a latte at Starbucks, a burger at McDonalds or a dose of Pizza Hut are easy options in major cities.
But if you're feeling like checking things out on your own a bit, then walk out of your hotel (remember how to get back and take a hotel card...) then turn left or right. Find a restaurant you like the looks of (often the busy ones are best). Staff outside may be already trying to convince you to go in and sit down. You can inquire for an English menu, especially around hotels catering to foreigners they might have one. You can photograph the strange English words on the menu while waiting for your food. In a local restaurant its not rude to point out dishes neighboring tables are eating to order it as well if it looks good.
Another option in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are fine or trendy dining. There are areas of town aimed at westerners and trendy Chinese who want to go out, shop and dine. This can be a fun evening out on your own. Beijing being a capital city with diplomatic staff from all over the world has great cuisine.
In tourist parts of town you will find restaurants with English menus so it is possible to go out and enjoy dinner.
Taxi about Town
When you leave your hotel the doorman often can advise your taxi driver of your destination. Having your destination written in Chinese, whether in a guidebook, magazine, business card or scrap of paper, then many a driver can get you there. Also a phone number can help. When you finally want to come back to your hotel, just be sure you grabbed a card from the front desk with your hotel name, address and phone number in Chinese. You can get in a taxi after dinner and drinks, hand them the card and be escorted home.
Another tact is to get in a taxi and call someone on your mobile, even the hotel/restaurant you are going and ask them to direct the driver. A GPS can be useful, help you see how far you are from your hotel and that your driver is headed in the right direction. You can mix taxi with subway, as the signs are in English and the subway safe and quick. It can also be another experience on your China tour.
People who want to take your money (selling you things) will find a way! Calculators are a popular method Chinese sales people use with foreigners. They will punch in the price and if you're negotiating then you can punch in your reply. What else is there to talk about?
How a good Guide helps
A good guide makes a lot of difference since they are essentially your personal assistant and translator. From getting picked up at the airport, checking into your hotel, ordering dishes according to your tastes, acting as a shopping consultant and being a friend a guide can completely change the experience for you. Teamed with a driver your guide will whisk you around efficiently from place to place, sort out tickets and take care of your problems. Not to mention they will teach you about Chinese history, culture and the sights. We select our guides very carefully to make sure they can do all these things well.
1 Day • CNY 350
This one day tour is ideal for those who have just one day and want to see the major sights. This is a lot of monuments in one day, and I only recommend it if you only have this one day to see the sights. Otherwise a more leisurely two day itinerary is better. We can customize this tour with airport transfers, hotel or other activities to suit your needs.
3 Days • CNY 1,150
Ask about child discounts, it depends on their age and height. This is an example of a Beijing family tour which can be further modified to suite your needs. We can add airport transfers and family friendly hotels. Our guides are experienced at working with families and will be flexible and helpful. Other interesting attractions for families include the Railway Museum, Kungfu Show, Chaoyang Park,...
6 Days • CNY 2,170
This is an itinerary only parents with young children will understand. If you have children who have a nap as part of their daily routine, then this itinerary might be the right fit. We pick you up in the morning according to your schedule, have a morning activity and then return you to your hotel for a nap. Then in mid-afternoon we will pick you up again for another outing on most days. This...
1 Day • CNY 620
The buried army of Qin Shihuangdi is one of the largest and most stunning archaeological finds of the 20th century. Discovered in 1974 at Lintong, 35 kilometres east of Xi'an, the warriors and horses have deservedly become known as a Wonder of the World. This site is an archaeological find on a monumental scale. Literally an army of sculptured warriors, it is a stunning display that every...
11 Days • CNY 10,450
This tour takes in China's most common route delivered with quality in a no commission shopping format. You will spend your time seeing the best sights with a carefully selected guide and indulging in good local cuisine. You will not being taken to "factories" every day to make up for a low tour price. You won't be asked to reach in your pocket every day and buy overpriced...
Beijing → Xi'an → Guilin → Li River Cruise → Yangshuo
9 Days • CNY 8,230
This classic and popular China tour can be a great experience when well done. We give you our guides who are vetted by our American staff and don't surprise you with unscheduled shopping stops taking time out of your day and expecting to make an extra buck in commissions. If you are asking why our price is not the lowest then you should consider the extra expenses you might find in our...
Beijing → Xi'an → Shanghai
For those who need a serious break from the city, this hiking and hot spring tour is just what the doctor ordered. Spend the day hiking at Jinshanling Great Wall, followed by an relaxing evening at Jiuhua Hot Spring Resort & Spa. Sample the diverse array of pools at Jiuhua late into the night before returning to the city the next morning.
3 Days • CNY 1,450
This tour allows visitors to experience the highlights of Hangzhou. Featuring prominently in this trip is Hangzhou's West Lake, which has inspired painters and poets from all over China for centuries. Boating and cycling around the lake, as well as witnessing the spectacular Impressions West Lake show, are some of China's most magical experiences. In addition, visitors will see some of...
Travel from Beijing to Luoyang and back in first class on the new high speed train line, surpassing 300 kph. Much more fun, spacious and reliable than flying. On arrival we take you straight to check into your theme suite at Christian's hotel. We can discuss the options for your itinerary, hotel and meals. Have a look at some of the hotel room photos by clicking on the hotel name.
Beijing → Luoyang → Beijing