When you go on tour with us through China, you will most certainly collect many interesting stories to tell your loved ones at home and take great pictures worth sharing with your colleagues and friends. However, these things can be a bit tricky in China, where the Internet is protected by a “great firewall” and many online services we usually rely on don’t work the same as at home.
In this blog post, we will put together all the information you need to keep in touch with the world outside while cycling through the Middle Kingdom.
Step one: Setting up an Internet Connection
This step should be an easy one! While being on tour in China, all it needs is to take your smart phone along, and once we’ve checked in at a hotel or guest house, connect to the free WiFi. In terms of internet infrastructure China is highly developed. Every tiny guest house, even in the remotest area, will offer free WiFi to their customers. Data speed may vary but is usually fast enough to send pictures or call someone at home via VoIP services. Maybe for good reception you will have to go to the lobby, and maybe access to the network will require some fiddling, but don’t worry, our guide is there to assist you.
If you should want to stay connected during the day, you can buy a local SIM for mobile data. We can take you to a China Unicom or China Mobile store and help you purchase one. Make sure to bring you passport along! The registration will require some time and patience and you will be presented a choice of different bundles and tarrifs. Once the SIM is purchased, you will be able to connect to the world wide web. Reception for mobile data is generally excellent, so while cycling, you won’t have to worry about missing any important email from home (of course, your holiday is an excellent chance to get some digital detox time, so maybe you want to think twice about getting that SIM).
Step two: Use online services to surf the net, send pictures and call your loved ones
This is where things get tricky. China blocks access to many internet services we are used to in our daily lives. Unfortunately, the list gets longer every year – as of spring 2018, this is what it looks like (this list represents a selection of the biggest services only):
- Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Picasa, WordPress.com, Blogspot, Blogger, Flickr, SoundCloud, Hootsuite.
- Apps: Google Play, Whatsapp, Telegram, Line, Periscope, KaKao Talk.
- Search engines: Google (both Google.com and the majority of local versions like Google.com.hk, Google.fr, etcetera), Duck Duck Go, various foreign versions of Baidu and Yahoo.
- Video Sharing: Youtube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, Nico Video
- Media: The New York Times, Finacial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist Bloomberg, Reuters, The Independent, LeMonde, L’Equipe, Netflix, Google News, many pages of Wikipedia, Wikileaks.
- Work tools: Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar (generally all Google services), Dropbox, ShutterStock, Slideshare, Slack, iStockPhotos, WayBackMachine, Scribd, Xing, Android, and many VPN sites.
Of course, this list will look shocking to someone who uses many of these sites on a weekly or daily basis. But remember – 1.4 billion people in China are surfing the internet every day – searching, chatting, sharing, posting, commenting and shopping just the same or even more than we do.
Therefore, this one is our first and easiest advice: When in China, do as the Chinese do!
You can probably do without many of the mentioned services for the three weeks you will spend on tour with us. Most important will be sharing your discoveries and experiences with friends and relatives at home. Here is how this works: BEFORE entering China, make sure that your phone or tablet is equipped with the apps and software that will work in China (remember: once in China, you cannot use Google play to install new apps):
To call people at home or send pictures and messages, use Skype or Wechat. Although Skype is no longer available on Chinese App-Stores it is one of the last remaining western services that still work in China. If you have it installed on your device you should be able to use it. However, it looks as if the Chinese Government has begun phasing out Skype and it might stop working altogether very soon.
The backup solution that will definitely function is Wechat. This messaging app is used by virtually every Chinese. It has all the features a messaging service needs: You can chat, send pictures and voice messages, organise people in groups, as well as voice- and video- call anyone who has the app. This means that as long as there is only a limited amount of people you wish to contact on your journey, you could ask them to install the app before you leave and then comfortably stay in touch during the trip.
For surfing and searching the net, use the Chinese search engine Baidu. Navigate to www.baidu.com to type in anything you might want to look up.
For emails, Yahoo and the Outlook webmail work well. If Google mail should be your usual webmail provider, you could consider setting up a temporary account with one of the mentioned providers and redirect your Google mails to that account.
These three solutions should make sure that you will be able to surf, mail and chat while being on the road.
If the thought of being three weeks without facebook or any other of the blocked services mentioned above should be unbearable to you, you can try your luck using a paid or free VPN. Setting up a connection via VPN will allow you to surf the internet and use any service freely. The problem here is, however, that not all VPNs actually work in China. So before you leave your country, search the net for VPN providers that are not currently blocked in China, pick one and install. There is always a little risk that the VPN will not work or be very unstable, but this is the only option you have if you are looking to have unrestricted internet access.
That all said – to us at China By Bike, experiencing the culture and scenery of China is what it’s all about! We want to talk to people face to face, dive into real adventures and get a real taste of life in the Middle Kingdom – be assured that this will all work without internet access! No matter what happens, you can take pictures, collect memories and tell your loved ones all your stories and adventures once you’re back home.
For more useful information on how to prepare for your next trip to China, check out our Travel Information page!