15 Essential Apps for Traveling in China: Your Ultimate Guide

China has a vast territory, abundant tourism resources, majestic mountains and rivers, folk customs that have lasted for thousands of years, peculiar animals and plants, and countless places of interest.

In spring, you can enjoy flowers and greenery. In summer, you can enjoy waterfall and surf. In autumn, you can climb mountains and bike riding. And in winter you can go skiing and eat hot pot.

If you don’t know where to go, then you are in the right place, let’s take a look at some of the most beautiful tourist attractions in China.

In Lugu Lake, Lijiang, there is a small island extending out with some Chinese-style buildings on it

Welcome to our ultimate guide on the 15 essential apps you need while traveling in China! Navigating a foreign country can be challenging, but with the right apps, your journey becomes a breeze. Whether you’re looking for translation assistance, navigation tools, online payment options, or local recommendations, we’ve got you covered. From VPNs to language translators, popular payment platforms to travel and food apps, this comprehensive list will ensure a smooth and enjoyable travel experience in China. Let’s dive in and discover the must-have apps that will enhance your adventures in this fascinating country.

VPN APP

Use VPN software to access FB, Youtube, tiktok and other software in China

The Chinese government has blocked access to many popular foreign websites and apps, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, and more. If you want to use these apps normally while traveling in China, you will need a VPN app that allows you to bypass these restrictions and freely navigate the online world. Commonly used VPN apps include ExpressVPN and NordVPN, and you can choose the appropriate package based on your needs.

Google Translate

Traveling abroad requires the translation software as a communication aid

When traveling to foreign countries, one of the biggest challenges you may face is the language barrier. Although English is taught in primary, middle, and high schools in China, most people don’t have many opportunities to practice speaking, making it difficult for them to have fluent conversations with foreign friends in English. If you’re not particularly fluent in Chinese, it is recommended to download Google Translate (which requires a VPN connection to access online features, or you can download offline dictionaries) to assist you.

WeChat

WeChat's Discover and available Services

WeChat is the most popular social media app in China, but it’s more than just a social app—it’s also a popular payment app (WeChat Pay).

Most Chinese people communicate through WeChat. For example, if you book a hotel or guesthouse in China, the staff may add you on WeChat to stay in touch with you for timely communication, such as airport pickup and providing accommodation services.

WeChat features many mini-programs that you can use to book flights, hotels, and more. Additionally, many tourist attractions require you to follow their WeChat official accounts, make a reservation for tickets in advance, and then enter the scenic area.

During your travels, you’ll notice that most vendors have QR codes for WeChat Pay and Alipay at their storefronts. If you want to make a purchase, you’ll need to scan the QR code to complete the payment. Cash is rarely used in China.

Alipay

use Alipay to pay vendor

In most countries, cash, credit cards, and debit cards are common payment methods. However, these methods are not widely used in China. The most popular payment methods in China are Alipay and WeChat Pay, both of which are scan-to-pay systems. Alipay is a reputable financial app, while WeChat is a multi-functional app that combines social, entertainment, and financial features.

Alipay now allows verification with overseas credit cards, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to use it. It is highly recommended to open an Alipay account, as it will be convenient for various scenarios such as hotel bookings, train and flight ticket reservations, purchasing tickets, dining, and shopping.

AMap/Baidu Map

You can use Baidu map to find the destination route

Like most social media apps, Google Maps is also unavailable in China. Therefore, you need to download Chinese map apps. The most popular ones are AMap and Baidu Map, both of which offer similar functionalities. You can freely choose either one to download. With these maps, you can search for the most suitable travel routes, including options for buses, subways, cycling, and driving. You can also find nearby attractions, hotels, parking lots, public toilets, and more.

Mafengwo

Mafengwo has various travel guides of different cities and attractions

Mafengwo is a well-known travel guide app where many travel enthusiasts share their experiences and provide destination introductions, photos, travel journals, transportation information, food recommendations, shopping tips, and other travel-related information.

The recommended travel information on Mafengwo comes from real travel users who share practical and up-to-date information. Simply input the place you want to visit, and it will provide you with suggestions on worthwhile places to explore. The platform also offers detailed descriptions and authentic user reviews for each location, allowing you to make informed decisions. If it resonates with you, what are you waiting for? Start your journey now!

Ctrip Travel/Trip.com

Ctrip Travel app (携程旅行) primarily targets the domestic market in China and offers a wide range of travel accommodations, from hostels to five-star hotels, catering to different types of travelers, ranging from budget travel to luxury travel. Additionally, the app supports the purchase of various attractions tickets, flights, train tickets, and more. Many Chinese-developed apps aim to provide an all-in-one solution, offering multiple services within a single application.

Trip.com is the overseas version of Ctrip (携程旅行) and allows users to book hotels and tickets worldwide, including attractions tickets within mainland China. It also features authentic user reviews. However, one notable difference is that most of the reviews on Trip.com come from international users, while Ctrip reviews are predominantly from local Chinese users. Trip.com offers a more user-friendly interface and payment options, making it a suitable choice for travelers coming to China based on their specific needs.

Note: If you choose to use the Ctrip travel app to book hotels, please select the “Foreigner-Friendly” option in the filters, as many hotels in China are not able to accommodate foreign guests.

DiDi

DiDi is the equivalent of the popular Uber service in China. Although China has a well-developed subway and bus system that can take you to almost anywhere you want to go, there may be instances where your destination is a bit far from the nearest station, requiring you to walk a few hundred meters or a couple of kilometers. If you prefer to reach your destination directly, you can choose the DiDi app, which can take you to any place you want to go.

You can set the app’s language to English, enter your destination, select “Ride-hailing,” and a driver will quickly accept your request. However, if the driver is unsure about your pickup location, they may contact you for confirmation, so it can be helpful to have some knowledge of Chinese for better communication.

Dianping

Dianping is a leading local life information and e-commerce platform

Dianping is a leading local life information and e-commerce platform in China. It helps people explore and discover wonderful places both inside and outside the city, enriching their leisure time.

When you arrive in a city or at a tourist destination and want to try local specialty food but don’t know where to start, that’s when you should open Dianping. The app will display a list of nearby businesses, featuring their signature dishes, user reviews, and real photos.

It’s also a great place to search for popular tourist attractions. You can see the recommended ratings from users for a particular attraction, along with corresponding reviews. If a certain attraction captures your interest, then it’s time to begin your journey.

Meituan/Ele.me

Meituan can not only order takeout, but also buy movie tickets

If you’re tired from traveling and want to return to your hotel early to rest, but suddenly find yourself hungry, what do you do? There’s no need to worry because China has a highly efficient food delivery system. You just need to open the Meituan and Ele.me apps, where you’ll find a wide variety of food options to choose from. Whether it’s Sichuan cuisine, Hunan cuisine, or Cantonese cuisine, you can find it all on these platforms. Moreover, the delivery time is fast, typically within half an hour (although it may be delayed during peak hours).

In addition to food delivery, the Meituan app also provides many convenient services. You can book hotels and homestays, find various leisure activities, purchase movie tickets, train tickets, flight tickets, and attraction tickets. You can even buy medicine on the app. If you can’t find a specific product, you can use the “errand” service and have a delivery driver bring it to you. You just need to pay a small fee for the errand service.

Taobao/JD.com

You can buy all kinds of good and cheap things on Taobao

These platforms are equivalent to Amazon overseas. If you want to buy something during your journey, you can choose these two platforms. Thanks to China’s robust logistics system, you can generally receive your purchases within three days. If the shipping and delivery addresses are within the same province, it can be even faster, with the goods arriving the next day.

In China, when it comes to purchasing electronic products, appliances, and other items that require strict quality control, people usually choose JD.com. For clothing, accessories, and all kinds of unique and peculiar items, people prefer Taobao. There is a popular saying that describes Taobao: “If you can think of it, you can buy it.”

Tips for Using Chinese Apps and Payments

  • Many of the listed apps above are available only in Chinese and do not have an English interface, so it is recommended to download a translation app that can translate the interface into English or other languages.
  • Many Chinese apps require registration with a Chinese mobile phone number. You can obtain a Chinese phone number at the airport upon your arrival.
  • When booking hotels, purchasing train tickets, dining, and in many other situations, you will need to use WeChat Pay and Alipay for payment. It is advisable to have these two payment methods set up beforehand.
  • Consider downloading a reliable VPN (Virtual Private Network) app before your trip to bypass internet restrictions and access blocked websites and services.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these 15 essential apps are your key to unlocking a seamless and unforgettable travel experience in China. From overcoming language barriers to navigating unfamiliar streets, making secure payments to discovering hidden gems, these apps will be your trusted companions every step of the way. Embrace the convenience and efficiency they offer, and immerse yourself in the rich culture, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cities of China. With these apps at your fingertips, your journey will be filled with memorable moments and incredible discoveries. So, download them, embark on your adventure, and let technology enhance your travel experience in this remarkable country. Happy travels!

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