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10 Things you definitely must do when you are in China

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The title of this blog could have been ‘10 reasons to visit China’ as well. Don’t wait to follow-up on this top 10 until you accidentally end up in China. Consider this top 10 a big motivation to visit this interesting country. Traveling in China is great! In this blog we tell you our top 10 of things to do in China. We traveled in China for two months. The first month we visited some major cities, and the second month we have spent in rural China. We did almost everything by train and highly recommend this way of transport on your trip through China.

Here is our top 10 of things to do in China. Let’s go!  

Things to do in China #1 – Lost in Translation

Things to do in China
These friendly students spotted us and saved us in our Lost in Translation adventure. Their English was great and they invited us for lunch. So friendly!

China is huge. China is the country with the most inhabitants. Chinese culture is strong and English is very different from Mandarin – the main language spoken. The true Lost in Translation experience is complete with these ingredients. Don’t miss out on this chance to get lost. 

Ours took place in a small village in the province Kunming. We were on our way to the ‘Red Land’ but discovered that nobody had ever heard of this place. And that the bus wouldn’t leave until tomorrow, that nobody spoke a word English and that the hotels wouldn’t take us without our passports which were still at the Vietnamese embassy. In the evening we did a little dance at the main market square and within seconds a crowd of four rows thick had formed around us.  

Immerse, let go, have faith everything will fall right into place, and try to enjoy this unique experience.  

Things to do in China #2 – Join the dancing ladies around sunset

Things to do in China
We were impressed by the synchronicity of the group and the fire of the leader

One of the typical sights of China are the dancing ladies on the squares every morning and evening. When you travel around in China it will be impossible to miss them. The group mostly consists of elder women and retirees and they gather every day to dance fixed routines. To stay healthy, for nostalgic reasons and for social joy. The official name for this phenomena is square dancing, a whole Wikipedia page is dedicated to the topic. 

We were welcomed very enthusiastic when we joined them for a few dances. And started to recognize the dance moves after being in China for a while. We danced after dinner but in case you are an early riser you can also pick a dance exercise in the early morning, they start as early as 5.30, to join the dancing ladies (and men).

 Things to do in China #3 – Play table tennis with the locals

Things to do in China
Playing ping pong in Xi’an with a very good player

Chinese athletes dominate the world wide top of table tennis for years. Ping pong is the most popular amateur recreational sport in China. Walking around the city walls of Xian – and at many other spots in the country – you see Chinese play ping pong fanatically. I suggest you play a set of two with one of them. They will probably kick your ass! JD played against an elderly man in Xian and had a tough time. The man had great technical skills and it was a lot of fun to play among the locals.  

The board game Mahjong is very popular as well. You could join the locals for a Mahjong game when you fancy that more than ping pong.

Things to do in China #4 –  Get invited by a hospitable Chinese family

Things to do in China
We ran into an awesome family while getting back to get my warm beanie

We were so lucky to run in a big Chinese family celebrating the 80th birthday of their father and grand father. It was in the historical city Pingyao. The family members were so friendly to invite us to join them when we came back to our hotel to get a warm beanie. They phone called their younger sons and daughters to help translate. The language barrier didn’t hinder us from having a great time. As intense as they were celebrating, eating and drinking, the party was over all of a sudden. The family got up and left for their cars. Leaving us happy after this great encounter.

I realize you can’t book this experience, neither force it. But what you can do is be open and curious, and try to connect with Chinese. Someone might invite you.

This #4 of things to do in China automatically leads to number #5, namely ..

Things to do in China #5 – Drinking Chinese wine

Things to do in China
Welcome lunch with ‘Mark Darcy’ and his employee, business partner of one of our good friends

Forget that smooth subtle 12% alcohol drink you know. Chinese wine is strong and brought down lots of brave men and women already. It will bring you down too when you become haughty. Our first lunch with Chinese at the fourth day of our stay in China was drenched in the consumption of this white strong liquor. We call it Chinese wine, but the drink is also known as Chinese vodka and the official name is Baijiu. It’s the world most consumed alcohol so you better try it once. Especially when you are in China anyway.      

Things to do in China #6 – Reading a book about China to create a better understanding of everything you see

Things to do in China
Domestic tourism in China has rapidly increased last years. You will be surrounded with big tourist groups at every highlight you visit. Here at the summer palace in Beijing.

Chinese culture and living in China is very different from living in Western countries like the USA, UK or countries in Europe for example. By traveling around and using your senses you won’t get the full understanding of what drives the people in the country, how and why things work, and with which forces they have to deal.

Reading an in depth book about the country will help you to interpret what you see, hear and feel. We red the award winning book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by the American journalist Evan Osnos when we traveled around. I highly recommend this book but of course there are more interesting books about China to read. Pick the book with the perspective that interests you the most.   

Things to do in China #7 – Traveling in a bullet train with 300 km per hour

Things to do in China
Our first bullet ride

And what better place to read an entertaining and informative book than a comfy train. See the landscape changing as you gradually come closer to your final destination. You will arrive quicker than you expect when the book you are reading is nice. Especially when you find yourself in a modern bullet train. The journey from Beijing to Shanghai – a distance of 1.300 km or 800 mile only takes you 4,5 hours to tackle. But the speed indicators above the compartment doors can be quite a distraction, I warn you beforehand.   

Extra tip – must do in China – always bring your passport

Always take your passport with you in China. The countries culture is known for a high level of bureaucracy, and we can tell you from our own experience it is true. We traveled a few days without our passports (they were waiting at the Vietnamese embassy for visa stamps), and that brought us to the police station, made us convince, plea and explain for hours, and almost led to sleeping on the streets. Chinese hotels like to see your passport before you check in. That is an understatement.

Things to do in China #8 – The classics: Terracotta army, the Great wall and admiring panda’s

Things to do in China
It was one of my dreams to see the Terracotta army in real life

They are famous. You will probably know these three sights. But it is impossible to compile a list of things to do in China and leave out the classics. And although your expectations might be pretty high, I don’t think the classics will disappoint. When you visit the Great Wall I suggest you pick a stretch of wall that is not too touristy and developed.

Did you know the terracotta army in Xi’an is an ongoing archaeological project? As we speak the archaeologists are busy uncovering new finds. Who knows how much more treasures are hidden under the ground? A good place to finally see giant panda’s in real life is Chengdu. So you can smoothly combine your panda visit with things to do in China #9. When you are lucky there are some cute cubs to admire in the Research Base of Panda Breeding in Chengdu.  

Things to do in China #9 – Eating HOT pot

Things to do in China

A visit to China should include indulging the Chinese cuisine. We loved the variety of noodle dishes, soups or fried, we could get everywhere. It goes best with a very tasty light beer (2% or so) by one of the Chinese beer brands I had never heard of before. Ordering food that is only listed on the menu in Mandarin characters feels adventurous.

Also when you are in China, eat your noodles with chopsticks!

Things to do in China
HOT!! Delicious!!

When you visit Chengdu or Chongqing please promise me you will have dinner at a typical hot pot restaurant. They put a simmering pot of soup on your table (you have some influence on the level of spiciness) and you can decide which meats, fish and vegetables you cook in it. Chengdu is a big student city and the hot pot restaurants close to the campus have a great atmosphere.    

Things to do in China #10 – Visit a street barber

Things to do in China
Smooth and bald again. Great barber fun in Beijing.

Many small entrepreneurs are active on the streets in China. Not having a property doesn’t mean you can’t have your own barber shop. Or lunch room. Or breakfast restaurant. The only thing it takes is some creativity and a lean business toolkit. This street barber gave JD a new smooth haircut. Make use of the services of the entrepreneurs on the streets. They give you a great experience and their products are of good quality since they are highly specialized. I still remember the traditional egg dish we used to eat for breakfast in the hutong streets in Beijing.


We wish you a great time in China. Please let me know your must things to do in China in the comments.

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