For every popular mobile app that is used in English-speaking countries, there’s most likely a Chinese equivalent to it. If you’re a traveler in China, you will find that some of your favorite apps are either blocked (Facebook, Instagram), or offer limited information (Google Maps). However, with the right apps China travel is a breeze.
To maximize your local experience, we’ve compiled a list of the most useful apps you’ll need while traveling around mainland China. Some of these apps do not offer English versions, but we outlined some key terms that you will need to know so that you can use them regardless of your level of proficiency. You can either bookmark this page as a reference or study these terms on Quizlet or Anki.
Top Travel Apps for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan
#1 Baidu Maps (百度地图) – Best navigation app
百度地图 is by far the best map app to use, as it offers all the up-to-date information and directions that is not available on Google Maps in China. You can search in English on the app, but the results will appear in Chinese. Here are some terms that can help you navigate the app:
- 我的位置 = wǒ de wèi zhì – my location
- 终点 = zhōngdiǎn – destination
- 公里 = gōnglǐ – kilometers
- 分钟 = fēnzhōng – minutes
- 打车 = dǎchē – by taxi/DiDi
- 驾车 = jiàchē – by driving
- 公交 = gōngjiāo – by public transit
- 步行 = bùxíng – by walking
- 骑行 = qí xíng – by biking
- 地铁站 = dìtiě zhàn – metro station
- 旅游景点 = lǚyóu jǐngdiǎn – tourist attractions
- 公园 = gōngyuán – park
- 路 = lù – road
- 酒店 = jiǔdiàn – hotel
- 餐厅 = cāntīng – restaurant
- 饭馆 = fànguǎn – restaurant
- 咖啡厅 = kāfēi tīng – cafe/coffee shop
- 百货公司 = bǎihuò gōngsī – department store
#2 RED (小红书) – Best food review app
小红书 translates into little red book. It’s a combination of Instagram and Pinterest, but we recommend using 小红书 in place of Yelp, to search for the local favorites of food, restaurants, and Instagrammable spots in the area. Although DianPing / 点评 (dian ping) is probably the best known Chinese version of Yelp, we find that 小红书 gives better recommendations overall. Here are some terms to help you search for the best recs:
- 美食 = měishí – food
- 攻略 = gōnglüè – guide
- 好吃的 = hào chī de – food
- 热门 = rèmén – hottest/trending
- 一日游 = yī rì yóu – day trip
- 排队 = páiduì – queue / there’s a line to enter
#3 Wechat (微信) – Mega-app for messaging, booking and going cash-free
微信 is more than just a social networking app, it is a mega-app combining Facebook, Instagram, and more. The app offers almost anything functionality you would want in one platform, but the mobile wallet WeChatPay / 微信支付 (Wēi xìn zhī fù) and booking functions are our favorite. In 2019, WeChat opened their payment function to foreigners for the first time. Just link your international credit card and you’re good to scan your QR code to pay in almost any location (street stalls included). Two years ago, I wanted to purchase a trinket in a gift shop in a coastal town, but ran out of cash. The shop didn’t accept any credit/debit cards, but luckily they took 微信支付 – most stores do nowadays.
P.S. Instead of asking for phone numbers, most people opt for “可以加个微信吗?” which translates to can i add you on WeChat?
#4 Alipay (支付宝) – Go cash-free
支付宝 (Alipay) and 微信支付 (WeChat) offer very similar mobile wallet functions using QR codes, it just depends on which interface you prefer. If you are traveling to Taiwan, 支付宝 (Alipay) coverage may be broader across the island, but both options are widely adopted in city centers.
#5 DiDi (滴滴) – China’s Uber
DiDi is the equivalent of Uber or Lyft in China. Fares are similar to that of local taxis, which are very affordable to begin with. You can rate your ride when you’ve arrived, but keep in mind that tips are uncommon in China so give your drivers a good rating! The app even translates messages between you and your driver. The translations aren’t always perfect, but it’s good enough to communicate with your driver.
#6 ExpressVPN – Best VPN
The great firewall of China will block your access to Google apps, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and Pinterest, but fortunately, there are many VPNs to choose from. From our experience ExpressVPN is the fastest and most reliable VPN on the market. If you’re staying for a short trip, the 7-day free trial may be enough to cover the entirety of your trip. The full subscription will only cost you $12.95 for one month, and less if you subscribe for 6 months or 1 year.
These apps are all available in the Apple App and GooglePlay stores. Let us know in the comments below what type of travel advice you’d like next. If you liked this post please make sure to share it, pin it, or tweet it!
Jamie is an avid food lover and coffee enthusiast. She believes the best way to travel is to eat your way through a country and pick up bits of the language as you go. She’s a New Yorker at heart, but has spent the last four year studying at Northeastern in Massachusetts. She’s also lived abroad in Seoul while studying at Yonsei University and has worked in San Francisco and San Diego. Jamie speaks Mandarin fluently, and hopes to pick up another language during quarantine.