Top Essential Mandarin Words and Phrases to Use When Traveling in China

First time in China and you want to travel around the country? In this article I will tackle a topic travelers deal with all the time, and will certainly do so if they plan to stay in China for a while: traveling (lü yóu, 旅游) and booking a room (dìng fáng, 订房) in Chinese language. I will help you with common situations such as booking a hotel, asking for a train ticket, inquiring for a tour guide in basic Chinese language.

From whichever country you come from, very likely, if you make it all the way to China, you will be planning to visit more than one place, more than one city, probably more than one of the 22 provinces (23 if you count Taiwan) that make the country so fascinating and diverse.

Chinese language for traveling
Great wall of China, Beijing

Tips to travel around China: phrases + Internet

Just like everywhere in the world, when traveling around China there are two things that become essential: the language and an Internet connection. While the language is not that straightforward to speak fluently, below you can find some useful words and sentences in Chinese that will help you in some pretty standard occasions such as booking a room or a train ticket.

As for the internet connection, you might already know that in China, a few websites and apps are filtered. Probably not the ones you need to book a hotel, but just to avoid slowing down the process or halting it altogether, it’s good to have a VPN service to be able to access all websites by connecting from foreign servers. I use ExpressVPN because it’s the most reliable among the ones I have tried, paid and free. ExpressVPN gives you a fast connection, a big choice of servers and you can install it on more than one device. You can do a monthly or annual subscription, obviously the annual is cheaper: the last time I bought it was one month at the cost of $12.95, while the annual package costs $8.32 per month.

Chinese language for traveling
Forbidden City, Beijing

Chinese words when traveling

A couple of words in Chinese language that might come useful when looking for a hotel room or a train are:

– Hotel: jiu diàn (酒店)

– Double room: shuang rén fáng (双人房)

– Single room: dan rén jian (单人间)

– Twin room: biao zhun jian (标准间)

– Suite: tào fáng (套房)

– Room card: fáng ka (房卡)

While when you are booking the journey such terms in basic Chinese language might come in handy:

– Tourist attraction: jing dian (景点)

– Check-in: tuo yùn (托运)

– Luggage: xíng li (行李)

– Fast train: dòng che (动车)

– High-speed train: gao tie (高铁)

– First class: tóu deng cang (头等舱)

– Business class: shang wù cang (商务舱)

– Economy class: jing jì cang (经济舱)

Chinese language for traveling
Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Book landmarks tickets and tours in Chinese

If you want to go for example to Beijing for a couple of days, by train and coming back by plane, to visit the Forbidden City (Gù gong, 故宫), the Great Wall (Cháng chéng, 长城), the Temple of Heaven (Tian tán, 天坛) and the Summer Palace (Yí hé yuán, 颐和园),  and want to book it through an agency, the kind of conversation in basic Chinese language you would have with the travel agent (luxíng shè, 旅行社) might sound like this:

You saying next week you want to travel to Beijing: Xià ge xingqi wo xiang qù Beijing luxing (下个星期二我想去北京旅行).

Travel agent asking you for how many days: Ni yào zài Beijing ji tian? (你要在北京几天?)

You, suggesting from three up to five days: San dào wu tian ba (三到五天吧).

Travel agent, asking if you want to go by train or plane: Zuò huo che háishi zuò fei ji? (坐火车还是坐飞机?)

You choose to go by train and come back by plane: Zuò huo che qù, zuò fei ji huí lai (坐火车去, 坐飞机回来).

At this point, the travel agent would probably outline the transport and itinerary as you chose, staying at a 3-star hotel: Hao, wo gei ni zhe yang anpai: zuò huo che qù Beijing, zài Beijing wán san tian, Gù gong, Cháng chéng, Tian tán, Yí hé yuán. Zhù san jing jí jiu diàn, bao zao can (好, 我给你这样安排: 坐火车去北京, 在北京玩三天, 故宫, 长城, 天坛, 颐和园. 住三星级酒店, 包早餐).

If you want a tour guide (dao yóu, 导游), you would ask: You méi you dao yóu? (有没有导游?)

The agent would very likely say that they will arrange a guide and if you have any question you can ask him, and it might sound and look like this: Women huì anpái yí gè dao yóu, ni you wèntí keyi wen ta (我们会安排一个导游, 你有问题可以问他).

Chinese language for traveling
At the Summer Palace, Beijing

Book a train/plane ticket in Chinese

A different matter is if you want to book only a ticket in Mandarin Chinese, be it by train or plane, single or return, for the morning, evening or afternoon. All these travel “characteristics” come all before the word “ticket” (piào, 票).

So, if you want to book a train ticket to Beijing for next Saturday, this is how you should put it: Wo yào dìng yizhang xià gè xingqi liù qù Beijing de huo che piào (我要订一张下个星期六去北京的火车票).

In this case, some useful words you will need to know in basic Chinese language are:

One-way ticket: danchéng piào (单程票)

Return ticket: láihuí piào (来回票)

Train ticket: huoche piào (火车票)

Plane ticket: jipiào (机票)

Booking ticket online: wangshàngdìng piào (网上订票)

It’s impossible to list all the types of trips or tickets you might want to book, so, again, if you feel I missed something important, you can ask me on the comment form.

Useful tools to master your Chinese when traveling

These are some of the tools I used when I was living in China and studying Chinese in Shanghai.

  • Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary. Very complete and useful once you learn to read and to look up in the dictionary itself!
  • Easy Chinese Glossary. If you are traveling to China and need a bit of quick help to get by in Mandarin Chinese, you will find a small vocabulary very helpful and easy to carry around. This is a guide divided into tables that show Chinese characters, the pinyin (transliteration of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet) and the English translation.
  • Mandarin Chinese Flash Cards. If you are on a business trip or are planning to stay in China a little longer, improve your Mandarin Chinese with these easy-to-use Flash Cards to learn the most frequently used Chinese characters quickly and easily.
  • Mandarin Blueprint Course. They promise to teach you how to read and understand basic Mandarin in 2 months, how to read (graded) books and stories in under 6 months and to have complete conversations in under a year. Ambitious? Very. Possible? Why not. They offer a 30-day trial so it’s worth trying!

Living in China? Other situations you need to speak Chinese:

17 Comments
  1. चाईना की दीवार देखने की बडी तमन्ना है,

  2. Nice pics…loved it…thanks for sharing

  3. J’ai vu tout ça rèellement et c’est presque plus beau sur les photos! Mystère….

  4. Bei ricordi!luoghi da rivedere senz’altro, con più calma però!

  5. Impressionnant!

  6. It’s really nice the way you’re highlighting the most important things that we’d need to know in China. Otherwise, learning the language can seem pretty scary! Hope I get a chance to put these lessons to work in China sometime! Always love seeing your photos, too.

  7. I am definitely bookmarking these — I WILL make it to China one of these days!

  8. Oh my gosh. Admittedly, when I spent a few weeks in China, I learned very little. I tried! Man, just getting around exhausted me. My brother lives outside of Hong Kong and is doing very well with his Mandarin. He’s working hard. Both of you are so impressive!

    • Chinese is not the kind of language you can learn in a couple of weeks, I’m still struggling after a year. I know I don’t have the patience and the time to learn it fluently, but I still like to be able to talk with locals as much as I can :)

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