My Top Tips for Travelling Asia
This week’s blog comes from Mahalia Peake, University of Nottingham graduate currently teaching in Foshan as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program. In this post, Mahalia gives us her top tips for travelling Asia.
Many expats would agree that one of the biggest appeals to teaching in China is the opportunity to travel, both in and outside of the country. China, being in the heart of Asia, allows those working in China to travel to other countries that, beforehand, would’ve left you with a hole in your pocket; especially for young people just graduating university. When working in China, suddenly travelling to countries such as Singapore, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand are no longer a pipe dream, and can be attained for a fraction of the price. Just a few weeks ago I travelled to Singapore for a weekend of fun, something I never would’ve contemplated doing while living in London!
Similarly, the opportunity to travel within China is something most teacher choose not to pass up. With over 1 billion people inhabiting the third largest country in the world, China has much to offer with regards to travelling and discovering different cultures and customs. From the beautiful rural scenery of Guilin and Zhangjiajie, where you can take a traditional boat ride on a gondola or visit the ‘Avatar Mountains’, to the hustle and bustle of major cities such as Hong Kong and Macau, there is always something new to discover when travelling in China.
However, the idea of travelling can be daunting for some people, and even for me it took a few months to feel settled in enough to venture out into the unknown. Below I have listed some tips and tricks my friends and I have discovered when travelling both in and outside of China.
Tip 1: Know when to travel in China, and when to travel outside of China
Knowing when the best times to travel can play an important role when travelling in China. With such a large population, often famous Chinese tourist attractions such as the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden Palace can become over-packed. One way of avoiding this situation is by choosing to travel within China during a normal working week, i.e. when there’s no national holiday and most Chinese locals are busy with their usual jobs. While this usually means that you will need to take time off work, it will ensure that you get the most out of your travels within China stress-free.
When contemplating where to go during the two-week national Chinese New Year holiday, one piece of advice an experienced expat once told me was to ‘get out of China’. One side effect of national holidays in China, especially lengthy ones such as Chinese New Year and Golden week, is that many Chinese people choose to close businesses for the holidays and travel back to their hometown to spend time with their family. Banks close for the duration which can cause ATM machines to run out of money, as there is no one working to re-fill them. This can result in previously bustling cities to turn into ghost towns, a situation which can lead to unforeseen problems for an unexperienced traveller in China. It also means that trains and flights can be packed, and booked well in advance.
After a lunch break and time used for preparing lessons, I have my homeroom class for an hour and clock out is at 5pm. Monday to Friday generally follow this routine, with a couple of exceptions such as cover classes and field trips.
Tip 2: Essential apps for travelling within China
Other than WeChat, one of my essential apps to use while travelling within China is ‘China metro’. China has a very proficient and easy to use underground system. However, as with most underground stations around the world, it can become very fast paced and slightly overwhelming, especially during rush hour. One way to tackle this is to plan your travel route beforehand, and China metro makes this very easy. The app has a map of all the different major metro stations in China that can easily be downloaded with internet.
Maps are colour coded in acordance to the actual colour of the metro lines, and you can input a start and end metro stop to find out the easiest route to your destination, as well as the first and last train you can take. One of my favourite features about this app is that it is linked to your phone’s location services, meaning an icon will travel along the digital map as you complete your journey. This was an unexpectedly needed feature as some of the older underground lines rely soley on chinese speaker announcements to signal what the next stop is.
Tip 3: Essential Apps for travelling outside China
Travelling when abroad is often the biggest chore for most holiday goers, but there is one app that can make life a little easier. The app is called ‘Grab’, and is essentially a more global version of Didi or Uber. It works just like uber but can be used across asia in countries such as Singapore and Thailand (though it is advised to double check that it is usd in the country your travelling to beforehand).
This app is very handy as it means that you can avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers looking to take advantage of ignorant travellers. Furthermore, you can order a taxi from the comfort of your hotel or hostel, and best of all you can pay witheither cash or card.
To conclude, travelling while working abroad is definitely a must do for all teachers in China, with such a rich and vast array of cultures both inside and outside of China, it is something that cant be passed up. As long as you are smart and prepare in whatever way you can beforehand to make the experience as easy as possible, it will easily be one of the highlights of your time in China.
Mahalia is currently teaching in an International Kindergarten in South China, as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program.