China. A country many of us long to visit but never do. There’s just something about China that intrigues us, but it’s the dozen-hour flight that puts most of us off. Nonetheless, plenty of people from all over the world flock to China, regardless of the long flight, to experience this unique country and its culture.

But China is not like what most people expect. The vast majority of tourists who arrive in China are pretty surprised by how different China is to their expectations. By the time they catch their return flight, their initial picture of China is totally changed. Do we mean that in a good way or in a bad way? Frankly, that’s down to the individual. But it isn’t always a bad thing, it’s just different to what they expected.

When we leave our home country, we often notice the differences that set our new destination and our home country apart. Why would it be any different in China? The only difference is that it’s slightly more exotic than an average vacation in Canada or Mexico, which really isn’t so far away.

Let’s hear the 20 thoughts every foreigner has when they visit China for the first time and see how different China really is.

20 English is everywhere but nobody speaks it

The road signs, shop signs, and even transportation announcements are all in English in China. But the local people themselves don’t speak any English or at least, the vast majority of them don’t. It seems that in China, we won’t meet so many people who speak English.

It’s not as common in this country as in others for the students to learn English as a second language. However, thanks to the English road signs, it shouldn’t be a problem navigating around the country. It’s just if we ask for directions, we might have a problem. So maybe it’s worth investing in a phrase book before we go.

19 The world’s fastest trains are here – and they’re really fast

Some people think Japan is the futuristic country with all the super fast amenities. This time, it’s China. As far as trains go anyway. The world’s fastest trains run on the Beijing – Shanghai High-Speed Railway. Though they normally travel at 300kph, they have reached speeds of 487kph in trials.

Equally as impressive is the Magnetic Maglev that runs between Shanghai’s Pudong Airport and the city. It travels at 430kph. In other words, we’ll never have to be late again when we travel on transportation in China. This stuff is really impressive. We think most tourists are blown away by China’s technology.

18 These dumplings are the best things we’ve ever had

One of the best parts of travelling is the food. Tasting local cuisine never fails to get our heart racing. With its large variety of ingredients, Chinese food is one of the most unique cuisines in the world. Rice, noodles and tofu are its staples, but it’s the vegetables like soybean sprouts, bamboo shoots, string beans and eggplants that make it all the more unusual.

As for a special dish, dumplings are regarded as one of the best among tourists. They can’t get enough of these tasty little treats. They’re basically dough filled with minced meat or vegetables that are either steamed or fried. Divine!

17 We just wish there wasn’t so much smoke everywhere

Smokers are nearly everywhere we turn in China. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were just smoking while walking, outside on the streets, but it’s happening in taxis, restaurants and pretty much anywhere else we can think of too. It’s not a big deal for smokers visiting China, but for non-smokers, it can be pretty repugnant.

Then again, we guess it’s just a big part of the local culture and as tourists, so it’s just something we’ve got to get used to. That’s the thing about travel. There are going to be things we like and don’t like about a country.

16 The hostels are better than some expensive hotels

Sometimes, staying in hostels instead of hotels can be the best way to meet other English-speaking people on our travelling journey. It’s also one of the best ways to connect with the real culture of a country. In China, some of the hostels are way better than their expensive hotels.

According to one couple, hostels in China offer great value for money. They say they’ve always had well-positioned hostels with private rooms and bathrooms, as well as all the amenities like kettles, TV, wifi and air-conditioning. And they got all this for just over $20 a night. Not bad, huh?

15 China is not cheap, unless we’re backpacking

Some people come to China thinking it’s super cheap. Wrong!

While it is cheap if we’re a backpacker lodging in hostels and finding the cheapest local restaurants and cafes, it’s not so cheap if we’re a general tourist staying in China.

For instance, if we want to stay at a decent hotel and dine on a western meal, we need to be prepared for some steep prices. The only way we can have a cheap vacation in China is if we travel like a backpacker. It’s worth looking into it before we book, so we find the best deals in the country.

14 The nature is amazing

From the news and documentaries we’ve seen on TV, we get this impression that China’s all cities. That’s why most people who head to China head to the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, don’t let the TV lead you into thinking China offers only city breaks and no opportunities for nature exploration.

China actually boasts some stunning landscapes. From the steamy rainforest in Yunnan Province to the hot desert in Xinjiang to the towering mountains in Tibet, there is much to see in terms of Nature. The Yangtze Gorges and mountainous Huangshan are breathtakingly beautiful. You have to see it to believe it.

13 Hang on a minute, FB is…banned here?

Even though more people use social media than anywhere else in the world in China, the social platforms we know like Facebook and Twitter are banned here. They have their own social media platforms in China such as Tudou and Weibo.

So those teenagers you see glued to their phones are not actually checking their Facebook home feed. They’re probably checking their Weibo feed. Use your vacation in China as a chance to disconnect from social media for a while. You shouldn’t be able to use Facebook anyway so why not use the time as a chance to detox from social media?

12 Teenagers are no different here

Cultural differences might be evident in some cases, but one thing that’s certainly the same is the teens. Just like in other countries such as the US, we’ll see teenage girls and boys glued to their cell phones on the streets of China.

Actually, it’s not just the teenagers who are similar to the teenagers in the US. The people in general aren’t all that different. We’ll also see here men in a hurry for work, old couples sitting on benches, and people grabbing food on the go.

Some tourists are surprised by how normal it is in China. In spite of the cultural differences, it’s not actually all that different.

11 Visiting all the sights is impossible

If we’re only in China for the week, it’s impossible to see everything we want to see in such a short span of time. Therefore, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and choose exactly what we want to see. Beijing, Guilin and Shanghai are the recommended tourist destinations.

In Beijing, we can discover the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, an Imperial Palace and one of China’s Four Gardens. In Guilin, we can see one of the world’s most beautiful national parks, Li River Scenic Area. And in Shanghai, China’s largest city, we’ve got the historical sites like Jade Buddha Temple, architecture, and stunning water towns. Planning what we want to see ahead of time will make the trip a lot less stressful.

10 Some parts of China are totally empty

There may be over a billion people residing in China, but that doesn’t mean all parts of China are bursting with people. In fact, nearly half of China is practically empty. When we think of China, we think of the bustling cities that house populations bigger than Australia’s.

But if we head to regions like Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, we’ll find rugged landscapes and remote towns and villages. It’s a total misconception that the whole of China is overpopulated. If we visit its wild regions, we’ll discover only a scattering of people in them. These are also beautiful places.

9 China isn’t short of opinionated people

Anyone who thought China was a nation of repressed people is seriously mistaken. It’s not! They're not afraid to air their opinions at all. Opinions certainly flourish here, especially in the big cities where tempers flare at times. Many of the locals are always willing to discuss big topics and engage in debate.

As a matter of fact, the people of China are extremely well-educated in international affairs, so it won’t be hard to find someone with whom we can have an interesting conversation. We can ask as many questions as we like, but it’s important to be diplomatic when we do.

8 It’s hot and cold here

China is a country of extreme weathers. In the summer, it is stifling. Wuhan, Nanjing and Chongqing are actually nicknamed the Three Furnaces because of their heat and humidity. In other words, if you’re not a fan of the heat avoid those three places at all costs.

On the other hand, in the winter, the north is frigid. However, if you can bear the cold, you will discover an amazing ice festival in Harbin. If neither of these temperatures appeals to you, the best times to go to China are in spring and autumn. These are the seasons with the most bearable weather.

7 Cars are more common than bicycles

It’s a common belief that everybody goes everywhere via bicycle in China. However, it seems that’s not totally accurate. In 2005, there may very well have been nine million bicycles in Beijing. In 2018, cars are a lot more common than bicycles.

While there are still many cyclists on the streets of China, it is nowhere near as common as it used to be. Cities used to be so agreeable because of people opting to travel via bicycle rather than by car. Today, it is becoming more and more congested. Most cycling today is confined to car-free zones and back streets.

6 Airports and hotels are out of this world – some of them anyway

Big urban areas of China are highly developed, with some of the most impressive shopping malls, airports and hotels we’ve ever seen. China may be a Second World country, but it stands out for its opulent buildings and amenities. If we head to the big cities like Shanghai, we won’t be short of modern shopping complexes and hotels. In fact, many of them are better than anything we’ll find in the US.

Anyone who appreciates modern things will love it here in China because there is so much to explore and admire. Of course there are many run-down places, but it isn’t short of impressive amenities.

5 Tipping doesn’t exist in China

In mainland China, it is not common to leave tips in restaurants or taxis. That’s hard for a lot of Westerners to get their head around, because it’s something we do all the time back in our home country. It’s virtually second nature to tip at the end of a meal. It is sometimes common to tip the room service or porters at superior hotels, but on the whole, tipping in China isn’t a common thing.

You can leave a tip if you’re happy with the service, but it’s not a widely done thing in the country. Hong Kong and Macau are the only places where it’s more common to tip.

4 Is she wearing pajamas?

In most countries, people only wear their pajamas in the bedroom or in the comfort of their own home. Most people wouldn’t dream of leaving the house in their pajamas. In China, it’s pretty normal to see people running errands in their pajamas.

Some tourists are surprised when they see locals wandering around in their pajamas in the park or grocery store. We’re obviously not speaking for every local, but it’s certainly not uncommon to witness people in their bedroom clothes. There is no shame here. Comfort is key.

3 Quirky exercise equipment

China is pretty futuristic in terms of its amenities. For instance, many parks around the country are fully equipped with outdoor exercise equipment for locals to use to stay fit. These quirky contraptions are fun for all ages – both children and adults. Although they are open to all ages, senior citizens use them the most.

In China, a lot of the locals have strong ethics about health and exercise. Naturally, they are going to take advantage of the free workout facilities in their local parks. But it’s the quirky workout equipment that’s the most interesting and unusual sight to see.

2 It's a skier's haven here

Most of us wouldn’t consider China as a winter destination. However, it boasts some pretty impressive skiing opportunities. Currently, the country is developing around 70 ski resorts.

Kabuli is one of the most impressive of them all and also hosts international snowboarding sessions. In fact, this place is almost like an international resort thanks to its runs across three mountains, beautiful ski lodges and multilingual ski instructors.

Many skiers wouldn’t even think of China as a destination for the sport, but they’d be surprised how much they offer in terms of skiing - and it’s getting better all the time!

1 It’s an incredible place

Like every country, China does have its ups and downs. Ultimately, it is a fascinating country brimming with beautiful sights and attractions – and let’s not forget that enthralling culture! Visiting China will be an experience of a lifetime because it’s so different from our own country. We’re not saying everything is totally different. Like we said, teens are teens and busy people are busy people. We find them everywhere.

Overall, China is a country that offers an incredible and unforgettable experience. Forget what we see on the news about all the social issues, because even though it has those problems, it’s also a forward-thinking country full of cheerful people.