By Agness Walewinder
China is a beautiful country full of rich culture, amazing food, and friendly people. You truly never feel alone when traveling through the Land of Dragons, including solo female travel to China.
I spent my first year of solo travel in Asia, and I felt so comfortable and welcome in China that I hardly noticed that I was on my own. This country is very diverse, full of fascinating history and wonderful landscapes, along with bustling cities and modern metropolises. You really get a taste of all types of travel.
Is China safe for solo women travellers?
Violent crimes are extremely rare in China, and generally it is a very safe country for solo female travelers. In fact, solo female travelers are treated with a lot of respect and dignity. Chinese people admire them for being so independent, brave and fearless to travel on their own. There is no discrimination. Just the opposite, they will take better care of a female solo traveler than a male because they find women more vulnerable. Going out at night is totally fine. I often go outside to run at 9-10 pm and I feel safe.
However, thievery and scams are common, especially in known tourist areas. Basically, my advice is to use common sense. Don’t wave around large bills, be firm when saying no, always keep an eye on your drink if in a bar at night, and don’t be gullible. Read up on travel forums about popular scams in the areas you’re traveling to so you’re prepared in advance.
A word of caution: do not pull out your wallet or purse in a busy area. Instead, keep some smaller bills in your pockets when shopping for easy payments. Better yet, carry an anti-theft purse to keep your cash safe.
5 Top sights for solo female travel to China
If I had to choose the top sights in this incredibly diverse country, I would recommend the following:
1. Experience Xi’an
This ancient city located in central China is full of history, including the beautiful and intimidating Terracotta Army, the Wolong Temple, the Grand Mosque, and more. It’s the capital of Shaanxi Province and over the course of history served as a home to many powerful ruling dynasties.
2. See The Great Wall
You can’t come to China without seeing this ancient wonder of the world. It is truly an indescribable experience visiting the Wall, and you can a be near Beijing, so don’t miss the opportunity to visit this extraordinary city and its beautiful relics of imperial China.
3. Visit Tibet if you can
Admittedly putting Tibet into the same story as China is complicated, but once you’ve made it to this part of the world, you should try to tour Tibet – the ‘roof of the world’. A visit there will be a memory for a lifetime – at least it was for me when I spent a week there a few years ago.
4. Wander through Avatar’s real-world counterpart
The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the inspiration for the Hallelujah Mountains in the popular movie Avatar, and you will easily see why. These majestic stone mountains rise like pillars into the sky, and are often blanketed by a mysterious-looking mist. This is a must-do in Hunan Province.
About 180 km down the road is the fantasy-like ancient town of Fenghuang, definitely worth a visit if you’d like to soak in its 300-year history and fantastical scenery.
5. Watch history being made in Hong Kong
This modern city is a mixture of many different cultures so its attractions and sights are diverse and fascinating. It is a huge and crowded city, of course, but it also has beautiful natural sights on nearby islands such as Lantau.
Two other sights worth visiting are Wuzhen Water Town, a peaceful escape from the madness of Shanghai, and Guilin, one of the most beautiful cities in China.
China is home to over 50 ethnic minorities, each with its own particular culture, style and food, and so on. Getting to know these minorities is a great way to really dig deeper into the culture of China.
One of my favorite places is the beautiful province of Xinjiang, home of the Uyghur people. Located in far West China, this largely rural area is full of fascinating culture and stunning landscapes. Here you’ll find vast deserts, Muslim culture and red rock cliffs. You can visit the beautiful cities of Kashgar or Dunhuang or travel into the vast wild hinterland by bicycle or with a tour company to see its incredible landscapes. (Ed. Note: Xinjiang has also been the site of extreme human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and much as I would love to visit, I don’t feel this is the time.)
Another favorite is Yunnan, with more than 25 ethnic groups within its borders. It is a land of ancient but preserved villages and unique festivals – like the Torch Festival of the Yi people or the Spring Festival of the Dai.
Clothing and things – What to pack for China
China’s climate is radically different depending on the area. The South tends to be hot and humid while the North tends to be cold and dry, so dress according to the temperature and the season.
Typically the Chinese dress more conservatively than do people in western countries. To avoid offending anyone, consider staying away from revealing clothing such as tank tops, blouses with low necklines or very short skirts or shorts. Long pants, long skirts, and short sleeve blouses are all perfectly acceptable.
Jeans are not commonly worn, so they will make you stand out as a tourist, but don’t worry, your face will make you stand out even more.
And here are a few things you should bring with you…
- Cash – many restaurants or stores do not accept credit cards (especially the foreign ones).
- Toiletries such as deodorant, hand sanitizer and earplugs for use while sleeping. These are sometimes hard to come by in China.
- Small gifts such as stickers or postcards are great ways to start conversations and make friends with local people (especially the young ones). People in rural areas are especially hospitable, so you might want to have some gifts from your home country to thank them for their help, or a dinner (it’s very common to get invited).
Above all, I recommend packing as lightly as possible! Especially since you may decide to do a bit of shopping… because you’ll find everything from street markets to department stores.
What to buy in China
You’ll find ‘brand name’ clothing is cheaper than in western countries, but don’t be surprised if the items are knock-offs.
If you’re looking for an authentic Chinese purchase, search for things like jade or porcelain pieces, or the lovely fabrics in local markets. Each area of China has its own local ethnic culture and handicrafts, so do some research beforehand on the area you’re planning to visit to see what is typical there. Also, keep in mind that some relics or antiques cannot be legally exported from the country.
A word about food
While food is an integral part of Chinese culture, there is no such thing as Chinese food: it’s Cantonese, Yunnan, Hunan and so on. Each province has its own specialities and some are as different as one national cuisine from another.
One thing that I really love is Baozi, or Chinese dumplings. They are normally steamed or fried, and filled with meat and vegetables. This typical breakfast food is one of my favorite ways to start the day.
A final word about visiting China…
The language barrier in China
I wish I’d known how few people speak English. You can get by in the bigger cities, but once you move away from Shanghai or Beijing you’ll find it difficult to communicate unless you try to learn at least a little Chinese.
Knowing this beforehand is good because it gives you the opportunity to start learning Chinese before you get to China, or at the very least to purchase a reliable phrasebook.
China travel resources
- The book Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang is a beautiful memoir that chronicles the real life experiences of three generations of women. Follow them along China’s 20th century history and through the Cultural Revolution.
- Not enough for you? Have a look at China’s biggest cities.
- Here’s a quick roundup of China’s eight regional cuisines.
- To find a hotel in China, compare prices on booking.com.
This guest post is by Agness Walewinder, a world traveler and blogger without a permanent home. Her blog, eTramping.com, has taken her throughout China and the rest of Asia. She taught English in China for two-and-a-half years and still visits regularly. All photos by eTramping.com unless otherwise noted.
— Originally published on 25 November 2016