apps for travelling in China

Smart phones have drastically changed the way we obtain information, almost rendering paperback dictionaries and travel books obsolete. This is great news for the non-Chinese speaking China traveler who no longer has to lug around heavy dictionaries and guide books, rely on charades to get by, or risk ordering dog meat or lamb intestine stew by mistake.  From incredibly smart translating tools to up-to-date transport maps, here’s our list of the best apps for travelling in China.

Food

1) Waygo Visual Translator
This clever iphone app allows you to scan menus and street signs and swiftly provides an English translation (provided you have a steady hand). While it doesn’t know every single dish, it does a good job translating the most well-known ones. It’s free to download and allows you to scan 100 phrases for free, after which users will be limited to 10 translations per day. Unlimited options are available for a fee.

Price: free
Link: iOS

2) China Menu
This simple, easy-to-navigate app is a comprehensive guide to eating out in almost any restaurant. It gives you vivid photos, descriptions and one-click order translations for over 260 Chinese dishes. It also allows you to learn about table etiquette and local eating customs by browsing over 70 translated situations you're likely to encounter while dining out in China. It’s a little pricey but incredibly useful if you’re travelling in China for the first time and don’t speak a word of Chinese.

Price: 30 RMB
Link: iOS

3) 大众点评 (Dazhong Dianping)
Dianping is one of China’s most popular restaurant listings website. Unfortunately, the app is only available in Chinese but if you can overcome the language barrier, Dianping will unveil an incredibly detailed list of restaurants and corresponding reviews in cities across China. Users can find restaurants by name, cuisine, price, location and user review.

Price: free
Link: iOS, Android

Weather

1) 旅游景点天气 (Lüyou Jingdian Tianqi)
Checking local weather reports is essential as a traveler, especially during the rain and typhoon seasons or when going to mountainous regions where weather conditions may change rapidly. That’s where Lüyou Jingdian Tianqi comes in handy. This app allows you to check weather conditions at 241 tourist spots across the country including Taiwan and Hong Kong. iPhones must be connected to the internet to use this app. Unfortunately for non-Chinese speakers, the app is entirely in Chinese.

Price: 12 RMB
Link: iOS

2) 全国空气污染指数PM2.5 (China Air Quality Index)
This app provides real-time info on China’s air quality index, providing PM2.5 statistics for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other major cities. Next time you look out the window and are greeted by the depressing sight of smog and grey skies, check these apps to see whether you need to wear a mask or stay indoors. The China Air Quality Index app for iPhone features a wide range of languages including English, Russian, French, Spanish, Danish and simplified Chinese.

Price: free
Link: iOS, Android

Getting around

1) 去哪儿 (Qunar)
This app, by one of China’s biggest travel booking sites, allows you to look for cheap domestic and international flight tickets and check the status of flights, book hotels and browse train timetables. It also allows you to cancel bookings, check the price of tourist attractions and call a cab for free. In Chinese only.

Price: free
Link: iOS, Android

2) Skyscanner
This app, named “Travel app of the week” by The Sunday Times, is really useful if you want to quickly search for cheap flights from China to other Asian destinations. It’s easy to navigate, in English and quotes prices in RMB.  If you’re a flexible traveler and are open to flying anywhere, this app allows you to explore all available flights – both direct and indirect – from the city of your choice. The app is not limited to China so users can search millions of flights from over 1000 airlines worldwide.

Price: free
Link: iOs, Android

3) Beijing Taxi Guide
Want to grab a cab in the capital but don’t speak a word of Chinese? This app has you covered. The app features taxi cards with big, bold addresses in Chinese to show the driver; suggestions of places to go by some of the capital’s most in-the-know people; offline maps, search options and much more. At almost 10 USD it’s not the cheapest app out there but it may well become your most reliable friend when navigating Beijing via cab. The Shanghai Taxi Guide is also available for iOS and Android users can avail of the very similar (and free) Shanghai Taxi app.

Price: 9.99 USD
Link: iOS, Android

4) 爱帮列车 (Aibang Trains)
Aibang Trains for iPhone is a useful little Chinese app that helps you check for train routes, departure and journey times and ticket prices. The app also lists all the stops along a route. This is only a reference app however and doesn’t support bookings. And it’s in Chinese so not that useful for people who can’t read Chinese.

Price: free
Link: iOS, Android

Language/Communication

1) Pleco Chinese Dictionary
Featuring over 20,000 example sentences with pinyin, this is one of the top English-Chinese/Chinese-English dictionary apps. It’s not only great for Mandarin learners but also for tourists who need to translate a word or phrase from English to Chinese. The basic free version is good enough to meet your daily needs, but additional paid add-ons are available such as full-screen handwriting, a flashcard system, audio pronunciation etc.  Don’t expect the app to know any slang, new internet jargon or regional phrases though.

Price: free
Link: iOS, Android

2) Taxi Book
This app talks in Chinese on your behalf and allows you to communicate with taxi drivers and locals in 30 Chinese cities. It features both audio and written phrases to thousands of locations, as well as useful phrases and answers in both English and Chinese. At present, the Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen versions are free of charge, while other cities cost between 25-30 RMB.

Link: iOS

The apps above are just the tip of the iceberg. Exciting new apps aimed at expats or tourists in China hit up the market every other month and there is a growing number of city guides for most major metropolises on the Mainland. While we can’t list them all in this article, we encourage you to share your favorite apps in the comment section below.

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SinoBytes

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Keywords: best apps for travelling in China

22 Comments Add your comment

1

myplanitchina
comment|53404|311802

Check out MyPlanIt - China, a China-focused travel app featuring curated selection of the top sights, fantastic photos and planned itineraries and tours. Explore China using our dynamic & insightful travel guide app. Search "MyPlanIt" or click: http://goo.gl/iZRBh8 (iOS) http://goo.gl/kv0lSU (Android)

Dec 11, 2014 23:16 Report Abuse

2

Guest2781358
comment|61666|309039

Travel: Tell the taxi driver to take you to the train station. Food: cheap canteens, or if you're fussy the BK/Macdonalds near the train station.

Jun 19, 2015 05:54 Report Abuse

3

fada
comment|61701|99977

You have clearly never been to a mass transit station if you think it will be cheaper to eat there than away from it.

Jun 19, 2015 12:19 Report Abuse

4

Guest2781358
comment|61712|309039

what about the 10rmb canteens that are usually just outside? You know the type, they dish out two spoons of rice one spoon of veg and two spoons of meat n veg. Across the road from basically every old train station, including BJ, GZ, Hefei, Huhehaote

Jun 19, 2015 14:25 Report Abuse

5

fada
comment|61920|99977

They are every where, and you said it yourself, not inside the station, they are away from it.

Jun 24, 2015 20:57 Report Abuse

6

Guest388182
comment|61676|43131

battery powered functionality

Jun 19, 2015 08:07 Report Abuse

7

Guest2781358
comment|61782|309039

haha

Jun 21, 2015 05:06 Report Abuse

8

lovedonthate
comment|61696|1590338

去哪儿,大众点评,点评团购,飞常准,墨迹天气...,百度地图 is better than google map in some small town or island.

Jun 19, 2015 11:54 Report Abuse

9

fada
comment|61703|99977

Outside of china, nothing is better than google maps, when google maps was inside china, nothing was better than google maps. In short, google maps is best. Google maps has all the functions of those apps above. It is a defacto hitch hikers guide to the galaxy. And thats a fact my hairy friend!

Jun 19, 2015 12:22 Report Abuse

10

lovedonthate
comment|61711|1590338

LOL, yes, mostly true, but have u tried use google map in a village on an island in China, like WeiZhou Island, in GuangXi. Nice place, but only Buidu map can find the small country road. I just been there last month =]

Jun 19, 2015 14:07 Report Abuse

11

fada
comment|61736|99977

It could if the dirty commies stopped blocking it

Jun 19, 2015 20:54 Report Abuse

12

hi2u
comment|61903|306639

Did google maps have the names of everything in Chinese? English names have become almost useless for me now.

Jun 24, 2015 16:00 Report Abuse

13

fada
comment|61921|99977

Chinese and pinyin, only have an english name if it has an english name. it was amazing, a virtual personal assistant told you where to get the bus, how many stops away, showed the bus route of a particular bus overlayed on the map. Millions of points of interest and is way more detailed than competing map, baidu being a fine example, missing loads of roads that google has.

Jun 24, 2015 21:01 Report Abuse

14

petecowell
comment|61985|52501

Go to Ctrip, book a flight, take a taxi from the airport, done.

Jun 25, 2015 21:27 Report Abuse

15

mattyko40
comment|62082|299636

Yea go to ctrip book a hotel wait outside an hour with Chinese security guard yelling at you. Oh, turns out they don't "accept" foreign guests! Why advertise a hotel on the English website if it only accepts Chinese? I asked the customer service lady this one and she had no idea what to say, Unfortunately this has happened more than once....

Jun 28, 2015 02:33 Report Abuse

16

q8chine
comment|62861|1592426

  (3)(0) exploitation of desperation

Jul 12, 2015 03:22 Report Abuse

17

Guest388182
comment|71640|43131

soon everything will be done for, and nothing will be done by, humans, rendered absolutely useless

Jun 13, 2016 08:29 Report Abuse

18

nzteacher80
comment|71650|270608

The new Google Translate is essential. It has Word Lens which allows hover translation. Any Chinese sign or writing that you point your camera at gets automatically translated on your screen. It's amazing. The best app is a VPN that allows you to use Google Translate and Google maps. The apps mentioned above are useless. When is EChinaCities going to start writing original articles with useful information for expats? Every article has outdated information or is just useless fluff.

Jun 13, 2016 13:52 Report Abuse

19

Guest2527044
comment|71679|280782

美团 MeiTuan is a pretty useful app for getting take away food, and group coupons, movie tickets etc. You need to know some Chinese to use it though. I highly recommend it.

Jun 14, 2016 16:22 Report Abuse

20

alpha3305
comment|71710|67606

There's no doubt that these apps may be useful. But if the companies want more revenue, they could invest in a language conversion algorithm to assist non-Mandarin language users. I've been studying Chinese in my spare time outside 50 hour work schedule. Of course I'm no where near using local apps to my benefit. By the time I can I might be living somewhere else. Google has 40+ languages built into every venue of their business and that's why they make so much money through investment.

Jun 16, 2016 11:36 Report Abuse

21

PrincesB
comment|72044|1636124

Thanks for the article

Jul 06, 2016 15:02 Report Abuse

22

willieaames
comment|72344|1574043

Last year when i visited china, i had vpn and need to unblock social media, its pretty good app for travelers. Some vpn apps are listed here: http://www.bestvpnprovider.com/china-vpn

Jul 19, 2016 22:08 Report Abuse