This is the first in an ongoing series of blog posts about traveling to Asia as a woman.
China can be a complex country to travel to, particularly if you’re a woman. To learn more about that, we had a quick email chat this week with Veronika Hradilikova, the founder of travelgeekery.com.
Hradilikova is a Czech native who has travelled, lived, studied and worked in China over the years. However, before going for the first time, she initially was worried she’d stand out as a clear foreigner among the locals and was concerned about safety issues such as pickpockets and kidnappers. After spending time in the country her fears were unfounded.
“It felt reasonably safe and not as wild as I had imagined it,” said Hradilikova, who added that she prepared for her China travels by learning basic phrases in Chinese, ensuring her passport and money were safe and letting her friends know where she was going.
There can be a drawback though – being as “safe” as possible can compromise your independence. But Hradilikova, who blogs regularly on travelgeekery.com, found a way to balance that.
“I wouldn’t walk dark streets at night, wouldn’t get drunk. Anything that could catch me off-guard,” she said. “I would often try to meet other travelers, especially when I’d occasionally feel strange at a place. I’m convinced it was all in my head but having a chat with a fellow traveler in English always helps.”
Engaging locals as well as fellow travelers can be a boon as well, she adds. “When taking a taxi, I would often try to start a conversation with the driver – it’s a good preventive measure against being cheated or being handed fake money.”
However, Hradilikova described her experience checking into a hotel on the outskirts of Guangzhou, an Indian businessman helped her with checking in as the receptionist only spoke Cantonese. Then, she adds, he kept checking to see if she had come alone, whether she was meeting someone, and even tried to find out what her room number was.
“In the end,” she said, “I had no trouble and enjoyed spending the days outside and coming back to the hotel just for the night.”
If you’re an obvious tourist, she says, you may attract beggars and pickpockets but at the same time that’s about the extent of danger you’ll face. In fact, being a foreigner makes a huge positive difference as well.
“People admire you just for your different looks. Especially Chinese women and young girls would compliment me on my hair, my fair skin, my blue eyes. For them, that’s what beauty looks like,” she says, adding that while she was often approached by women, most people—especially young men—were quite shy and reserved about talking to her.
“I got used to this higher level of attention and it wasn’t easy to come back to Europe.”
If you’re thinking of going to China—whether on your own or on one of Nezasa’s many China itineraries—Hradilikova has some advice for you:
- Meet other travelers
- Avoid general scams: in big cities, some young students can trick you into going to a teahouse with them for the sake of helping them practice English, and order expensive drinks and food and then disappear leaving you with an exorbitant bill – but don’t worry too much as this scam happens to more men than women.
- Be friendly to students on the street who ask you where you’re from. Just be alert and don’t go for a tea with them. A short chat on the street is enough.
- Smile a lot! A kind smile to an elderly goes a long way.
- And mainly, enjoy! China is mesmerizing and it takes time to explore it in-depth.