5 Tips for Spending Chinese New Year in China
Although Chinese New Year is over a month away, it’s never too early to begin preparing for this busy holiday –especially if you’re planning on traveling to China during this time of year.
Chinese New Year is by far China’s busiest season, and if you don’t know what to expect from your experience you may end up experiencing a bit of culture shock week. Before you start making plans on how you’d like to spend this wonderful holiday, brush up on proper etiquette for your time in China and check out these five little rhymes to help you remember how to make your Chinese New Year experience a great one.
1. By plane, rail, or bus, expect a lot of fuss.
During Chinese New Year, most locals vacate the big metropolises and head back to their hometowns to spend the holiday with family. While there are pros to having fewer people in some of China’s major cities, the cons are that traveling around China becomes a bit more difficult. It’s recommended to avoid public transportation like trains or buses as these are the modes of transport most Chinese use when headed back home. Although airfare rises significantly during this period and airports are massively crowded, you’ll have a lot more luck (and a more comfortable experience) if you just book a flight instead of braving the jam-packed chaos of the local train station.
2. Spring clothes to sightsee means miserable you will be.
Although Chinese New Year is often referred to as the Chinese Spring Festival, this does not mean that you should be packing all your spring clothes for your trip to China. This year, Chinese New Year falls in February which, for northern China, is one of the most frigid months of the year. In Beijing, you can experience temperatures as low as -11 degrees Celsius and highs of only 4 degrees. So, even if you’re packing light make sure you carry some sturdy warm clothes with you to protect against the cold. The good news is, if you travel to cities in south China like Guangzhou, you’ll see more reasonable temperatures of 20 degrees and up.
3. The busy times of CNY are not the times to travel blind.
There are many travelers who love taking a journey without a set plan in place. This way, they argue, the unexpected and wonderful is more bound to happen. Perhaps you are one of these, and if so, good for you. However, Chinese New Year is one of those holidays in which blind travel where you simply hope for the best is not going to work. Without a concrete plan (i.e. hotels, transportation, and itineraries booked way ahead of time) you may find yourself without a place to sleep or worse paying exorbitant prices for things you could have gotten for a reasonable amount had you just invested in a little planning. Don’t force yourself to choose between a night in the train station or paying hundreds for a roach infested room at a sleazy hotel!
4. Set aside your bread for the busy days ahead.
As Chinese New Year is a big family holiday, a lot of restaurants and supermarkets will either have restricted hours during this time or will close down completely. You may also experience trouble with the upscale restaurants which stay open during this time of year as many Chinese families reserve tables ahead of time in anticipation of dining out for the holidays. Getting a reservation (or a seat) can be nearly impossible so stocking up on food of your own to tide you through the busier days is always a good idea. You may be able to find the occasional restaurant to serve you, but be prepared in case eating out proves more difficult than you originally predicted.
5. To get away from all the fuss, tourist attractions are a must.
Believe it or not, the overly crowded buses, trains, and planes all have their upside when you’re visiting China during Chinese New Year. Because most Chinese are either staying home or headed out of town to be with family, visiting China’s main cities is ideal during this time of year. You can go to Beijing and Shanghai’s main attractions and find much smaller crowds and queues. Even traffic improves during CNY as more people stay off the roads and at home! Just be sure to check beforehand to make sure the touristy parts of the city are open during the primary two days of the holiday.
Traveling to China during Chinese New Year is sure to offer you a variety of cultural experiences that you’ll never forget. However, with Mandarin being the most spoken language in the world (and China’s primary tongue) and less than 1% of Chinese able to communicate effectively in English, now is the best time to plan ahead by brushing up on your language skills. Take a free online placement test to understand your language level, then sign up for some excellent language classes to keep your Mandarin progressing. With these tools in hand you’ll be more than prepared to tackle the fun, chaotic, and crowded time of year that is CNY in China!