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Some Useful Travel Phrases Posted by on Aug 27, 2010 in travel, Uncategorized, Vocabulary

As is required by my year long, multiple entry, 90 days at a time visa (签证 – qiān zhèng) for China (I know, it seems complicated, doesn’t it?), I have to vacate the premises every three months and head out of the country.  This time around, I managed to find a great deal on flights to Seoul (首尔 – shǒu ěr), so I opted for the quick two-hour flight to South Korea (韩国 – hán guó) in favor of the 24 hour train ride to Hong Kong (香港 – xiāng gǎng).  Seeing as how my students are all Koreans (我的学生都是韩国人 – wǒ de xué shēng dōu shì hán guó rén), it only seemed fitting that I finally take a trip to the ROK (Republic of Korea).

Despite the fact that I can’t speak any Korean (韩语- hán yǔ), it’s been quite easy to get by here.  In contrast to Beijing, most people can speak English here.  Plus, there are taxis that are actually designated as “foreigner only” with English speaking drivers, and free interpretation services are available in other cabs.  That being said, in my week here, I have had my fair share of language barrier moments.  Traveling in Korea as a complete newbie brings me back to my first few weeks in China – the hand gestures, the frustrations, and the “excuse me, do you speak English?” moments.

Due to the fact that I am very sleepy (我很困 – wǒ hěn kùn) and I have a flight (航班 – háng bān) to catch in a matter of hours, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet and offer up a few useful travel phrases for you if you happen to find yourself traveling in China.  In my experiences traveling this great country, I find these phrases to be the most useful:


How much (does it cost)?  – 多少钱 – duō shǎo qián : When traveling in China, and anywhere else for that matter, this is incredibly useful.

Can it be cheaper? – 便宜点吧 - pián yi diǎn ba : When shopping in China, bargaining is a must.  Use this phrase to your advantage so you don’t get ripped off.


Please take me to ____ – 请带我去 ____ – qǐng dài wǒ qù _____ : 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 “请带我到这个地址 – qǐng dài wǒ dào zhè ge dì zhǐ”, which means “Please take me to this address.”  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…

Please turn the meter on – 请打表 – qǐng dǎ biǎo : This phrase has proven to be useful on many occassions here for me, as drivers in smaller cities tend to try to take advantage of oblivious 老外.


Where is ____?  – ____ 在哪里 – ____ zài nǎ lǐ : In Chinese, you put the name of the place first, and then ask “at where?”.

How do I get to ____? – _____ 怎么去 – ____ zěn me qù : 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.


What do you recommend? – 你推荐什么菜 – nǐ tuī jiàn shén me cài : 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 Mc Donald’s every day…

What specialties do you have? – 你们有什么特色菜 – nǐ men yǒu shén me tè sè cài : If you are OK with eating just about everything (like I am), just utter this phrase and take what you are given.  In my experience, the specialty dishes in local restaurants are usually amazing.  Of course, if you are a pickier eater, you may need to equip yourself with a few more phrases, such as…

I don’t eat meat – 我不吃肉 – wǒ bù chī ròu : I hang out with a lot of vegetarian hippies at home, 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.

I like/don’t like spicy food – 我喜欢吃辣/我不喜欢吃辣 : wǒ xǐ huan chī là/wǒ bù xǐh uan chī là – As a lot of Chinese food is really spicy, this 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.

After one week in Korea, these are the phrases I wish I knew how to say in Korean.  Memorize them in Chinese, and you won’t have the same problem when you pay a visit to the Middle Country.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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