Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Is travelling in China difficult? Setting the record straight

Before leaving on this trip many people told me that the answer to this question is “Yes”, because of a lack of English, difficult transportation, and that in general people aren’t overly willing to help out the culturally and linguistically challenged foriegners. Now that I’ve been in the mainland for almost 2 months I can answer this question for myself; and my answer is No! It is not difficult to travel in China. It’s no Thailand in terms of convenience and “ease of use” so to speak, but it is absolutely not hard. It is true that outside of urban areas few people speak English, but there are many things you can do to overcome this even if you don’t want to learn some chinese (although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to ;-).

I was prepared for unhelpful, intimidating people yelling at me in Chinese whenever I tried to get anything done like buy bus tickets. My experience has been the exact opposite of this. There have been so many times when Greg & I were lost, confused, on the wrong bus, etc. and someone went out of their way to help us. For example, in Lijiang we tried to buy tickets for a bus that left at a different station that the one we were in. A random lady waiting in the station talked to us, figured out what the problem was, walked oustide and hailed us a taxi, then explained to the driver where we needed to go. I’ve been amazed at how often this kind of situation has been repeated, and just how friendly, welcoming, and helpful people are everywhere we go.

Transportation all over China is easy. Domestic flights are inexpensive and you can book e-tickets online with your credit card. The trains are fast, efficient, on-time and comfortable. The soft sleeper cars are nicer than some of the guesthouses we’ve stayed in. And the buses… well, they are buses, but at least longer routes have the “sleeper” option where you get a bed instead of a seat. Which is better than all the cramped long bus rides we took in Myanmar and Laos.

So if you’re thinking of going to China but are intimidated by what you hear from other travellers, you should reconsider because it’s not nearly as hard as people make it out to be. 🙂


July 22, 2007 - Posted by | China, Travel


  1. The amount of difficulty you face traveling in China not only depends on you as an individual, but also the region you are traveling. China is a diverse country with countless dialects and minority cultures. Some places you will find people to be genuinely open and helpful. Traveling to Lijiang, you were obviously in Yunnan province. Yunnan has been by far the easiest place in China to travel for over a decade now. It has been a popular backpacker route for years and local people are used to dealing with foreigners trying to find their way around. Surprisingly, it is some of the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai that are hardest on travelers, especially those who don’t want to throw a lot of money around.

    Comment by Kyler | July 22, 2007 | Reply

  2. I agree, especially about what kind of person you are, i.e. how much innate patience and ability to tolerate ambiguity you have. It was harder in the big cities (Beijing more than Shanghai), but we still encountered many nice helpful folks, and I only got yelled at once 😉

    Comment by francie | July 23, 2007 | Reply

  3. Hello, I am a Chinese living in Shanghai. I have to admit I am not proactive to help foreigners. However, if you ask, I would be more than willing to assist. I guess there is a little self-respect playing behind this. 🙂

    Comment by philewar | July 23, 2007 | Reply

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