Top 5 most useful mobile apps for a holiday in China

Smartphones are a great help in our everyday lives and your holiday in China will be no exception. There are many apps we use daily to help us work more efficiently, communicate easily, and record our memories and social events. Travel in China will enrich your understanding of the world, expand your horizons, and highlight the differences in the way the internet is used here. To help you make the transition as smooth as possible, and to have the best possible China experience, I have compiled a list of the top 5 most useful apps for a holiday in China. In fact, if you’re planning to stay here for much longer, it will be even more useful for you to use these apps. Let’s get started!

#1 VPN

Chinese internet is used by more than one fourth of the world’s population (speakers of Mandarin language), and most of them coming from one single country – China. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the internet differs slightly from the rest of the world and is regulated differently. While you will struggle to access some of the Chinese websites abroad, being in China you may have trouble opening pages of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google, etc. VPN will allow you to access the internet as if you were in another country. It is important that you take action before you arrive and install a VPN app before you arrive. It is very difficult to do that once you are here.

There are many VPNs available on the market and over the years I have used and tested several of them. You can find some free ones, like OpenGate, which may or may not work well, depending on how important accessing Facebook or Google is for you. If it is crucial for you to have access to these services, then invest a bit of money in the paid VPNs like Astrill or VyprVPN.

#2 WeChat

WeChat is one of the most widely and frequently used apps in China. It is very similar to Watsapp (coincidence? I think not). WeChat is basically an app used to communicate with friends, share moments like photos or short videos publicly, and more recently can be used to book hotels, trains, flights, taxis and do some shopping. The most useful feature for the holiday makers in China is the instant translations of the chats you have with the locals you meet during your stay.

WeChat is available in most major languages and is more widely used worldwide than one would think. I know for a fact because I met a few people from Europe using this app when I was travelling outside of China. I have also convinced a few of my friends and family members to use it to get in touch with me and they use WeChat to talk among themselves too. Wait for it, the new WeChat trend may knock on your door at some point anyway, so you might want to download it while it’s still a hipster thing abroad.

#3 Translator

The function and necessity of this app for a holiday maker in China doesn’t have to be explained in much depth. Let me just say that meeting someone who can say anything more than “hello” and “thank you” is as rare as meeting a blonde-haired person speaking fluent Mandarin. Very rare. Therefore, you will need to find ways to communicate your basic needs. You can have a handy little book with important phrases, someone showing you around, or an app that will translate for you offline.

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The two major and probably best developed translation apps are Google Translate and Baidu Fanyi. If you download the offline English and Chinese translation packs for the Google Translate App it will work very well. Remember that you have to do it prior to your arrival in China. If you find yourself in here already and without VPN, go and download Baidu Fanyi which work very similarly to Google Translate (coincidence? I think not).

#4 Baidu Maps

Getting around foreign territories may have been a big problem years ago, but with the era of smartphones came maps that use GPS navigation systems which can show you exactly where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. By default, most foreigners would want to use Google maps with which they are familiar, but that may prove difficult in China. Not only connection to Google servers is severely restricted, the maps themselves are usually outdated.

For the most accurate directions you should use Chinese Baidu Maps available on Android and iOS. They are up-to-date and easily accessible in China. However, the interface comes in Chinese only, so in most of cases you will still need the help of a local to find your way around. Some of the tourist attractions can be found by searching in English, and if you don’t have Chinese language installed on your phone you can type in Pinyin (alphabetical version of Chinese).

#5 Skype

If you’re not using Skype yet, your trip to China will show you how useful it can be. This app allows you to call home for free if your friends or family also use Skype, or at very low rates if you’re calling phones. It will allow you to stay in touch with the important people in your life who didn’t come with you.


What’s your favourite app for a holiday in China?

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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