During the Chinese New Year of 2016, I had the chance to be invited (or rather, to be tagged along) to a humble Chinese home in Jinzhong, Shanxi.
1 month from the intended date, train tickets from Nanjing to Taiyuan were sold out! We had to pass by another city to finally reach Taiyuan.
A friend and I decided to pass by Beijing instead en route to Taiyuan. Then from Taiyuan to Jinzhong.
Here are some things that you should not do when you plan on traveling on budget in at least 3 places in China, especially on holidays:
1. DO NOT make the mistake of putting in an incorrect passport number when buying a ticket on Alipay/Wechat/123605 or else…
Be prepared to refund the ticket and buy a new one. And possibly a much much more expensive one if there are no more of the same tickets available (which is very common during the holidays).
Their record looks like this:
Even if you have inputted your name incorrectly, if your passport number is correct, you will be cleared easy. But even if you perfectly spelled out your name down to the last period in “Jr.” or roman numeral “III”, if your passport number is incorrect, then be prepared to start again from the back of the great queue of China to first, refund your ticket, then to buy a new one. Your passport number is one of the most important numbers you will ever have in china, in addition to your mobile number.
2. DO NOT wear uncomfortable footwear just because they look good.
On the outside, my docs looked superb. But man, inside my toenails were dying one by one from all the walking, lining up, walking, lining up. After the trip, I have a pair of dead feet. Trust me, it’s just not worth it. Traveling to several cities in China on a budget is not the time to be a fashion icon.
3. DO NOT bring a 20+ kg bag when you already have some big backpack.
This I should have already known as I have traveled solo and accompanied before. Talk about not learning from experience. But well, I have thought China was different and as there were trains, plus we will be away for more than 2 weeks, bringing a big bag can’t be too bad, right? But no, my friend, a humongous bag is your foe with all the carrying you have to do through all the stairs and through numerous people. It gets worse when you’re in a hurry.
Rule of thumb for any travel (no matter how long it is): always, always, pack light.
Imagine carrying 2 huge bags through all those myriad of stairs!!
4. DO NOT easily believe in the pictures in Airbnb China.
We tried booking a room through Airbnb as we wanted to get our accommodation cheaper in Beijing. And we also thought it would be a good experience as it was our first time. We thought we would be staying in a room in a person’s apartment, in the 3rd or 4th floor. Instead, we were lead into a basement of an apartment that was turned into a hostel. The ceilings were low, the room looked a lot smaller than the one posted in Airbnb, and to our shock, there was a shared toilet for all of the rooms in that floor!
5. DO NOT even try the no seat train ticket when your trip is more than 8 hours long.
Especially the overnight trains. I cannot overemphasize this one. You simply shouldn’t do it.
6. DO NOT use Wechat in buying train tickets.
They charge you 5 yuan for service for the tickets and they return only a small part of the whole amount when you refund the ticket. Use Alipay and 123605 instead as they do not charge any booking fund! Plus, you can change the date of the ticket more than 1 day before departure!
7. DO NOT give money that needs to be changed in sketchy cheap hostels and night markets.
Been there twice. First, gave the seller 200 yuan for a room that costs 150 yuan and she almost did not give us change. The second one was with an old man in the night market. First he told me the candied hawthorns were 10 yuan. When I gave him 20 yuan, he said it was it was 20 yuan. Unbelievable!
8. DO NOT go to the train station without any battery.
My context is that we went to the train station 3 hours before intended departure (because it was my first time, I didn’t know any better, and thought train stations are like airports). I didn’t charge my phone to full battery and neither did my friend because I though it’d be more important to not miss the train (haha). We were waiting for a train at 10:30pm, it was 5 degree celsius cold (and the train station for whatever reason, doesn’t have/turn on its heater), our phones are dead and the charging station is only open till 9.
9. DO NOT attempt to watch Jingju on holidays or when Xin JinPing is at the forbidden palace leading some military exercise.
The only thing I wanted so much to do in Beijing is to see an authentic Beijing Opera live. Apparently I did not do my research well and just thought that it is standard for a Beijing-ren to watch a jingju. It was not. Especially on holidays, the few popular theaters that run Traditional Beijing Opera are mostly closed or running not so authentic shows.
10. DO NOT travel to any city in China during the holidays, especially on the Spring festival.
Chances are, (1) there will be no people or (2) way too much people! So please save yourself the trouble and just stay in a certain Chinese family’s home during these days and fully experience the true meaning of Spring Festival — and that is, to treasure the few days vacations that the Chinese have by spending quality time with loved ones — nibbling pumpkin, watermelon or some other seeds, watching CCTV, or playing Mah-jang!