Preparation

Travel Preparation

Maps and Navigation

If you are traveling on one of our tours, you don't need to worry about maps — your guide and driver will handle all the directions. However, if you are traveling by yourself, it is a good idea to install a map or navigation app on your smartphone.

Be aware that roaming data charges will add up fast if you are using maps on your phone. We suggest that you use your hotel's free Wi-Fi to find destinations and plan routes before heading out.

Alternatively, you can get a Chinese SIM card during your stay, which will allow you to use your apps on the go. Be sure to download a VPN if you wish to continue using apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Gmail. You can read more about how to use your smartphone while traveling in China here.

Google in China

The first thing that any traveler should know is that there is no Google in China. This means that Google services aren’t available in China either. Neither Google Mail nor Google Maps work in China, so although you can download your maps before coming to the country, there’s no guarantee that your Google Maps will be current or even show the right directions, so be careful. Google Play won’t work either once you start using the Chinese internet. Downloading a VPN is necessary if you wish to continue using Google apps during your stay in China. Even with a VPN, however, Google Maps may be inaccurate at times.

Navigating China’s big cities is relatively easy, as their subway systems have English signs. However, once you step outside it’s a different story. You should always carry your hotel’s address, and any other addresses you might need, written down in Chinese. Very few Chinese cab drivers, if any, speak English, and even fewer can read it. Even if the characters say nothing to you, you will still need them when trying to find an address. This is especially important since some places have different names in English and in Chinese.

For example, you may think that “McDonald’s” is an easily recognizable name and anyone in China can point you in the right direction to the famous American burger chain. But you may be in for a surprise, since McDonald’s in China is called Maidanglao or Jingongmen and its English name won’t ring any bells with most people.

Other Alternatives

Apple’s maps do work in China, but they might be slightly off.

Some of your best options for navigating in China are maps.me, which offers offline maps, Baidu maps, and WeChat.

Maps.me works with your phone’s GPS, and allows you to download maps for large areas. If you wish to download all of the available maps for a certain country, you can do it with maps.me.

Baidu is China’s biggest search engine and is in many ways similar to Google. The only downside is that it’s all in Chinese, including the maps service. If you don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of Chinese characters, you can try Baidu, as it’s a reliable resource.

WeChat is China’s super app and offers countless different services, including a “location” option. To use their maps, you’ll need another WeChat user to send you their location. WeChat’s location service is especially helpful when you’re trying to meet with friends who are already at a certain place. While it’s all in Chinese, the “real-time location” feature shows how far apart the other person is, and how to get to where they are. They can also send you voice messages to guide you.

Tour Map of China

We have customized this Google map and we use it throughout the website to show you the location of different venues. Here the view is zoomed out on all of China. You may zoom in on different locations to see our custom annotations. Note that this map will not display properly if you are accessing it without a VPN in China.

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