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It’s summer, and for a lot of people that means it’s time to travel. With kids out of school for the summer, many families plan their vacations for these warmer months. In China, beachside cities such as Qingdao and Xiamen are packed this time of year, as are scenic towns like Yangshuo or Lijiang. It’s also a very popular time of the year for tourists to visit China. If you’re planning an adventure to the Middle Kingdom, you’ll want to make sure you pack some Chinese skills with you. Here are some survival phrases in Chinese for travelers.
Let’s start off with one of the most important things you’ll be dealing with every day of your trip – money. From the moment you arrive until that last cab ride back to the airport, you’ll need to be asking for the price. It’s easy! Just say this:
When traveling in China, and anywhere else for that matter, this is incredibly useful. You could also add the word for this (这个 – zhè ge) or that (那个 – nà gè) to be a bit more specific:
When shopping in China, bargaining is a must. Use this phrase to your advantage so you don’t get ripped off:
If you need to learn how to count in Chinese, we’ve got you covered in this guide to counting in Chinese. We’ve also got a post all about money, where you can learn the different denominations of Chinese RMB and how to talk about them.
Chances are you’ll want to take a cab at some point in your trip. While most Chinese cities have great public transportation, you might be a bit tired after exploring the Forbidden City or Terracotta Warriors and won’t feel like pushing through the crowds. When you get in a taxi, say this and fill in the blank with your preferred destination:
If you don’t have confidence in your ability to pronounce the name correctly, print out the address and say:
When cab drivers hear you speak Chinese, they are less likely to rip you off.
Speaking of cab drivers, if you are traveling outside of Beijing, Shanghai, or other big tourist-friendly cities, be prepared with this phrase:
This phrase has proven to be useful on many occasions for me, as drivers in smaller cities tend to try to take advantage of oblivious 老外. Learn more by reading all about taking a Chinese taxi. There’s a sample conversation in that post that you can study to get ready for your trip.
A fair word of warning when it comes to directions – many people in China will tell you where to go even if they have no idea. That being said, it’s still worth it to learn how to ask for directions. In Chinese, you put the name of the place first, and then ask “at where?”:
This goes along with asking for directions, and can be helpful in determining whether to walk, run, bike, swim, or taxi it to your desired destination:
Of course, you’ll also want to brush up on your Chinese for directions. We’ve got a post all about asking for and giving directions in the works, so be sure up to sign up at the bottom of this one so you don’t miss it.
Eating out is always an adventure in China. Unless you can read Chinese characters, the menu might as well by hieroglyphics. If you can’t read the menu, use this as your go-to phrase:
Sometimes you’ll end up with something you love, and sometimes you’ll end up with something really funky. If you’re in China and you can’t really speak Chinese, you are just going to have to deal with this. Don’t be a lame foreigner and eat McDonald’s every day.
Rather than rely on boring comfort food, why not try the local specialty? If you’re OK with eating just about everything (which most people in China are), just utter this phrase and take what you are given:
In my experience, the specialty dishes in local restaurants are usually amazing. Whether it’s yang rou pao mo in Xi’an or Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodles in Yunnan, the local specialties are where it’s at. Of course, if you are a pickier eater, you may need to equip yourself with a few more phrases, such as…
I hang out with a lot of vegetarian hippies wherever I go, so I think this one is useful as well. If you tell this to your waiter, they will understand and will bring you only veggie dishes. We have a post on vegetarian food in China so you can learn more about your options.
As a lot of Chinese food is really spicy, this next one is pretty important:
If you can’t take the heat, well, you don’t need to get out of the kitchen… Just say this and they will cool it down a bit for you.
Those phrases should at least make your life a bit easier when traveling in China. If you aren’t doing so already, make sure you’re learning a new Chinese word every day before you go.