China is generally very safe, and per capita, one of the safest places in the world, however, westerners are often preyed upon by cheats and touts. Be especially cautious in the inner city and on the tourist-crowded routes.
Always ask for a receipt from a taxi driver so that you can complain if you have been cheated or for tracing purposes if you happen to leave your phone or camera behind in the taxi.
Make friends with the Chinese whenever you can. They love to meet foreigners and will make good tour guides. Just buy a small present as a small token of appreciation. They will be available 24/7 to help you when you get in trouble.
Sneaky tip: When visiting tourist attractions, hang around a group that has an English speaking guide if you cannot afford one!
Take care about meeting “students” who direct you to tea sampling shops. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists… you should ask. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two “students”, a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for RMB 1,260 (126 Euro). They even produced an English Menu with the extortionate prices for sampling.
Bars, KTV and some beauty salons are largely places for prostitution (male or female) and often, paid through “bar bills” or “beauty treatments” that can easily top several hundred dollars if you let it.
The rule of thumb I use is the price is too good to be true, it’s generally fake. If the product (particularly food and drink) is popular in China, it’s generally fake.
Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100’s and 50’s.
Most “well” drinks, wine, beer and soft drink can be fake in China – be warned. All Corona beer prior to 2012 in China was fake. Coca Cola in the north east of China had more fake coke sold on the streets than real.
The lovely little old ladies you see “recycling” plastic bottles, are often only returning them to a private “factory” nearby, where drinks are refilled, resealed and re-sold… all within minutes. Crush a plastic bottle or can before throwing it away to guarantee it cannot be refilled (easily).
When in a bar, order bottled beer, bottle of wine, or cans of soda, and watch them open it, and only drink from the bottle or can. Further, generally only those consumable items that sell in the millions are usually faked – so when it’s a really common item, anticipate some are fakes. Best way to minimize fakes, is select something not so common.
Chinese who live their life in China have built up immunities, but most foreigners will get sick at very basic things. Health needs to be a focus. Either pollution levels affecting dizziness and eyesight and throat, fake food and drink, or even more basic, brushing teeth or having a shower with your eyes open. Water quality in China is very poor and you may develop slight intestinal problems if you use tap water to brush your teeth, or if you eat vegetables which have not been cooked after having been rinsed in tap water. Bring Pepto Bismol help prevent intestinal troubles and Imodium for when it’s too late.
Be careful not to get any water in your mouth or eye sockets when you shower. It tastes normal, but could easily make you sick. Always brush your teeth with bottled water. Cheap bottled water that was filtered with nylon filters is still commonly sold. Buy name brand bottled water in big supermarkets.
Drugs of all kinds are just starting to filter their way into China (usually via Vietnam or Russia) – be warned, mere association with them (like in Thailand and Indonesia) are capital punishment offenses, and apparently often far more dangerous than similar known drugs from North America.
Never, EVER go to a bar alone – go with a known buddy or friend, and stick together.
Legally, pedestrians have the right of way on zebra crossing, although just a few drivers will actually go the mile and stop for them. It is better to cross via an underpass or an overpass. There are now several self-service traffic lights; pedestrians wishing to cross the road push a green button, wait for the words 等待 (please wait) to appear on the traffic light (for pedestrians), and cross when the lights turn green. However, it is not rare to see reckless drivers drive through when vehicles get a red light, especially at night and on roads with relatively sparse traffic. Care must still be taken.
You will often see traffic lights and stop signs and pedestrian crossings completely ignored, often by public buses who must make a specific schedule, or by inexperienced drivers. Always use extreme caution crossing any street.
If at a pedestrian crossing, it is safer to cross the street without changing your walking pace. Do not pause in the middle of the street. Many vehicles will pre-judge your walking speed to avoid hitting you, so if you change your speed, there may be no time for the driver to avert.
General rule of thumb, the larger and more expensive the vehicle has the right of way.
NOTE: Vehicles with government or military plates (typically identified with a red WJ on their license plate) are not subject to the Road Traffic Safety Law of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国道路交通安全法); they may run red lights, drive in the wrong direction, drive on sidewalks to cut through traffic, or weave in and out of traffic. Communist party officials and People’s Liberation Army members are also exempt from paying road tolls and adhering to parking regulations.
Common sense is key to your safety – deploying a buddy system is strongly recommended – being aware of your surroundings at all times is essential – opening your eyes and camera phones to witness amazing sights and sounds (and smells) is a must – but most importantly – maintain a friendly outlook of enjoying the unexpected adventure – the enigma wrapped in pretty silk, where NOTHING is as it seems will all contribute to memories and stories for life.