Singaporeans rely so much on technology for everything. From shopping online, to ordering from food delivery apps and booking a GrabCar to get to places. However, many of the apps we rely on, like Gmail, Google maps, WhatsApp, Instagram and so on, are blocked in China.
If you didn’t plan ahead for your trip to China beforehand, you are going to be at a total loss when you are there without the apps you are familiar with.
So what are some of the best apps for paying and getting around in China?
Best map app in China — Baidu Maps app
Many Singaporeans are rendered helpless without Google Maps. Now imagine being in a country 13,344 times larger than Singapore and having no Google Maps. That’s a horrible thought. Not to worry, if you find yourself lost in a ‘hutong’, the next most reliable alternative will be Baidu Maps.
Baidu Maps is the most up-to-date app for maps in China. It helps you plan your route on public transport systems, informs you of the traffic condition (both cars and humans), and provides 3D and street views too.
Baidu Maps also provides very detailed maps of monumental sites like Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. With it, you can even listen to audio guides about the place and navigate through the place of attraction – which are all humongous and you would be happy to have an interactive map with you. Plus, you can also get information about opening times and ticket prices on it.
Apart from being purely a map, you can also read movie reviews, find the nearest movie theatre, find movie timings and buy tickets on the app.
A downside is that Baidu Maps is only available in Chinese, the reason why many people are searching for “Baidu maps in English”. From research, it seems like there is a Baidu Maps in English (unofficial) android app available on Google Play.
Booking flights & accommodation — Ctrip app (Trip.com)
Ctrip is a Chinese tourism services provider which is helpful for booking plane and train tickets, accommodation, attraction tickets, car rentals, airport transfers and packaged tours. Essentially, everything you need for your trip can be found on this app.
This app is not only applicable to your trip to China; you can also book any flights and hotels from around the world. You can access the schedule and prices of domestic and international flights as well as train routes (in China, Taiwan, the UK, Korea and Germany) easily. If you need help, there’s 24/7 English customer service available.
The best thing about this app is that it is available in 19 languages and accepts international credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, etc.). A China app that denies international credit cards is often times the biggest barrier for foreigners who don’t have Alipay or WeChat Pay. It also allows you to pay in 25 different currencies, making it real easy to purchase anything you need for your trip.
Subway maps — Metro China Subway app
If you are visiting a large city in China, you can’t go without the Metro China Subway app, which covers all the major Chinese cities that have subways. Interestingly despite its name, it also covers the subway systems in 11 other cities outside of China including Singapore, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City and others. While the app is free to download, there is a subscription fee for use.
You can navigate the labyrinth of the China subway system easily by getting information on prices, timings and transfers on the app. All you have to do is to key in your Point A and Point B information and the app plans out the route for you. Kinda like Hyperdia, but the more powerful thing is that you don’t need Internet connection to use this app.
The app is available in 9 languages in addition to Chinese. Regardless of which language you choose, it shows the name of the station in Chinese characters and han yu pin yin so you can double check that you are at the right station.
Buying train tickets — China Train Booking app
You can check real-time train schedules and availability and book your train tickets online easily with the China Train Booking app. You can book tickets up to hour before the train’s departure. Purchased tickets will show as e-vouchers on the app and you can simply show them when collecting your actual tickets.
There’s English speaking customer service from 8am to 11pm daily and the app accepts payments from foreign credit cards, as well as PayPal, Alipay and WeChat Pay.
The app also provides a neat delivery service that delivers your train tickets to your doorstep at your hotel within two days of booking it.
Translation — Baidu Fanyi app
There are actually several other translation tools available but one that works quite accurately would be Baidu’s translation app, Baidu Fanyi. The app auto detects the language you put in and translates according to the language you select. If you need to translate entire large paragraphs, there’s no size limits. You can even translate entire websites into Chinese by copy and pasting their URL.
Payment apps — WeChat Pay
WeChat is the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp but with many more functions. It’s more like WhatsApp, PayNow and Facebook all in one. It’s a very useful app to have, especially if you plan to stay at an Airbnb and need to communicate with your hosts.
WeChat Pay is ubiquitous in China and you can use it for almost everything – from restaurants and supermarkets to online purchases. However, to use WeChat Pay, you need a Chinese bank account and a Chinese phone number, which is a bummer. Check out some WeChat workarounds for Singaporeans.
Use a VPN for social media postings
Many VPNs have been shut down but there remains to be two good and working ones, VYPR VPN and Express VPN. Both of them work on either your handset or laptop. While using, you should try not to alternate between local and foreign sites as that can dramatically slow down your loading speed.
Transportation app (Uber alternatives) — DiDi ChuXing
Ride-sharing is also available in China in the form of DiDi ChuXing. Their vehicles include public taxis (DiDi Taxi), private vehicles, shared vehicles (DiDi Express), buses (DiDi Bus), and even bikes. There are other services like chauffeur services, enterprise solution services for business travel services, food delivery service, financial services and many more. China apps are really great at achieving high efficiency, lumping as many services as possible all in one.
For other bike-sharing options, there’s also Mobike and Ofo. Mobike is well known, even in Singapore, and offers good quality bikes. Ofo is another big player with over 10 billions bikes available in 250 cities spanning 20 countries. You can simply download the app and use it to locate and unlock nearby bikes for both.
Have you tried some of these apps like WeChat Pay or Baidu Maps? Do you have any questions about using these apps in China? Share them in the comments below!