Useful tips for Shanghai & Beijing

Apps:

  • To book trains you can use Ctrip. The booking with them went smoothly and fast. (see section "trains")
  • If you booked your stay through booking.com their app is helpful as well since it displays the hotel addresses in local language.
  • VPN services to access e.g. your instagram account: ExpressVPN offers a 7 day free trial and works well. SurfEasy VPN also just needs a small fee.
  • One of the (if not the) best Chinese language app is Pleco. You can even make your mobile use your handwriting, which Pleco can identify!

Food – to list Chinese food would be endless. Here some inputs:

  • Chinese people do not eat very late so check if your restaurant might close at 10pm.
  • Normally you order some small cold dishes as a starter and then the warm dishes. Rice is served later than the dishes if you do not ask for it.
  • What some people do not know is that you can order a great variety of green vegetables sautéed – and they taste just great (pure or with a little bit of garlic). Try for example DouMiau (pea shoots), Kongxincai (hollow hearted water spinach), Jielan/Gailan (Chinese broccoli), Chinese spinach/amaranth (red juice). Here are more listed.

Teas – Here some of the most common teas you will find:

  • Green Tea, often Dragon Well Tea or Longjing Cha 龙井茶,  non-fermented tea, is said to de-stress taxi-drivers
  • Red Tea or Hong Cha 红茶, commonly known as Western black tea
  • Chrysanthemum Tea or Juhua Cha 菊花茶
  • Gunpowder Tea or Zhu Cha 珠茶 "Pearl Tea" with rolled leaves
  • Pu‘er Cha 普洱茶 , the raw version is called Sheng Cha (生茶), it is often pressed in shapes like disks or bricks, helps to detox.
  • Oolong Tea or Wulong Cha 乌龙茶, partly fermented, good when you eat oily food
  • Tieguanyin 铁观音 Iron Buddha tea, kind of Oolong tea, partly fermented
  • Jasmine Tea or Muo Li Hua Cha 茉莉花茶, mild tea that can be drunk before going to bed as well

It is uncommon for Chinese tea to be brewed only once like Western tea bags. Normally when you order tea in a restaurant, you get a pot with loose leaves that they repeatedly refill with hot water, some leaves can be used around 20 times. In tea houses the tea leaves are "washed" first, so the first brew is not to be drunk. After that, just enjoy the taste of tea and snacks.

Transport:

  • Taxi: Always use official taxis with taximeters. The fares are pretty good in Shanghai (base fair around 16 kuai) / Beijing (14 kuai) and then they count by kilometers and also time (e.g. in a traffic jam). In Shanghai it is easier to wave a Taxi for yourself than in Beijing but in both cities it is said to have become harder. You will notice green-lighted taxis ignoring you. Often this happens because they are already reserved by the Chinese Uber, DiDi Dache. Unfortunately, you need a Chinese Phone Number(?) to use this app. What helps are official taxi stands and hotels that get you a taxi with their app and you pay the driver yourself. Anyways, keep track of where the next subway station might be. A taxi from Shanghai Airport Pudong to the Bund (~40 km) cost around 190 kuai in June 2017. A taxi from downtown Beijing to the airport (~30km) cost around 90 kuai in June 2017.
  • Train: The high-speed Gaotie G-train from Shanghai to Beijing takes around 5 hrs. It is easiest to pre-book tickets online (e.g. via Ctrip) and collect them at a station or ticket office with (passport needed). The high-speed station in Shanghai is a little further from the center, it is called Hongqiao Railway Station. It looks a bit like a modern airport. First you go through a security check to enter the station. Then you look up your train on the big LED screens and go to the respective gate number, where you can queue and check-in around 20minutes before the train leaves. There are a lot of restaurants in the station hall, where you can either sit and eat or get something on the go. Trains are modern, comfortable and have different price classes: Second class has 5 seats in a row, First 4 in a row, Business 3 in a row. You can normally exchange tickets until around 1-2hrs before departure (for free if you only change time and keep the same class, same itinerary).
  • Subway: Metro in Shanghai and Subway in Beijing are great. Use the apps listed above for the maps. They have a good color coding system in the stations. When changing trains also look on the floor, as big colored arrows show you the way.