Simple Guide to China and Shanghai

In The Art of Travel, Shanghai, 14. Tips by Ivette1 Comment


If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming you’ll be venturing to China, specifically Shanghai, very soon. China is rich in culture and history, and is highly recommended place to visit for history fanatics or those who want to venture out of their comfort zone. Each province has their flavors unique to them in multiple aspects: clothing, lifestyle, food, activities etc. Here’s a small description of the places I’ve visited:

  • Shanghai is known for its fast-pace urban lifestyle with skyscrapers decorating its skyline. Shanghainese food is characterized as sweet, and includes things like the famous xiaolongbao and shaomao.
  • Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province and the panda capital of China. Chengdu is known for it’s leisure lifestyle with tantalizing, spicy Sichuan cuisines throughout. UNESCO declared it a city of gastronomy in 2011, so Chengdu is a must go for foodies.
  • Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province and is known for its Chinese-Muslim culture as has a significant Hui population.Due to geographical locations of the Shaanxi province and the Sichuan province, their cuisines have similar overtones. However, Xi’an food is unique and tasty due to the Hui influence.
  • Guangzhou is known for its lively and energetic atmosphere and is the capital of the Guangdong province, which is the home to Cantonese food. Cantonese food is savory, well-balanced, and not to greasy. Only a modest amount of spice is used to avoid overwhelming the flavors of the primary ingredients.

For the history fanatics and those interested in Chinese culture, the further west you venture into the deeper the history and culture.. According to one of my tour guides, you go to Shanghai to see modern China, you go to Beijing to see history from the last 200 years, you go to Xi’an and Chengdu to see history that’s at least 500 years old. So if you’re interested in history, culture, food, and new experiences, China is the place for you.

Tips and Helpful Advice

  • know some basic Chinese to get by, have a little pocket travel dictionary, or have translation apps (i.e. Google translate)
  • if you don’t look Asian, be prepared to be stared
    • on rare occasions, some people may ask to touch your hair and take a photo with you
  • download a VPN to access sites like Google and Facebook, or to access apps like Google maps, Google translate
  • Google maps GPS location isn’t accurate in China so it might be nice to download Baidu
    • for Baidu to work, you may need to know the Chinese name of the destination (i.e. NYU Shanghai = 上海纽约大学) although abbreviations and English names of Chinese places should work
  • setting up a Chinese sim card and Chinese bank account is not mandatory, but is needed for survival because they’re both needed to set up WeChat payment or Alipay
    • NYU has events to help you set both these up, so make sure to do so
  • set up WeChat payment or Alipay: a lot of restaurants will take them as payment methods
  • foreign credit-cards (i.e. Visa, Masters) will not work unless it is Unionpay so have cash until you’ve set a Chinese bank account
    • Discover cards should work because it has a partnership with Unionpay
  • only for ICBC debit card, in case you lose your Chinese debit card and do not want to get a new card, you’re able to withdraw money from your ICBC app
    • just go to the bank and tell them you “forgot” your card, they’ll guide you through how to withdraw money without your card
  • set up a Swapsy account to exchange currencies
  • avoid traveling during Chinese holidays, tourist attractions will be swarming with Chinese tourists, and the crowd can be extremely uncomfortable
  • buy airplane, train tickets, etc. a month before any Chinese holiday if you plan to travel then

Recommended Living Location


  • Puxi because that’s where all the action is happening. The difference between Puxi and Pudong is like Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively.
    • Jing-an area, People’s Park Area, Xuhui area
  • Pudong
    • Jinqiao Dorms: small rooms; large expat community; more popping location
    • Pudong Dorms: bigger rooms; has a gym; more Chinese local area

Chengdu:stay around Tianmen Square.

Xi’an: stay around the Drum Tower or around the south City Wall


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(Image: China; Source: New York Times)


  1. Wow! This is a ton of useful information. I’d love to see China someday. It seems like it’d be better to learn some Mandarin/Cantonese first, especially if it’s difficult to access google-related websites while there. I forget sometimes how massive the country is, and how different it must be from region to region. I also always forget to take care of money-related issues with American banks, so these are some very helpful tips!

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