Yunnan - language barrier?
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Mar 1, 2013 3:41 PM Last Post By: meczko
Feb 28, 2013 4:02 AM
Yunnan - language barrier?Hi,
My boyfriend and I plan to travel to Yunnan in October/November and will pretty much be doing the usual tourist trail - Kunming/Dali/Lijiang/Tiger Leaping Gorge/Shangri La.
We dont plan on hiring a tour or guide and wish to use public transport whenever possible. Is it difficult to communicate in English in Yunnan? Would we manage to communicate in hotels/guest houses and make our way through by using public transport (we don't speak any Chinese)?
Feb 28, 2013 4:14 AM
1Many people successfully do what you are planning to do without any Chinese language skills. They do encounter problems - in many train and bus stations you will only see Chinese characters, and there might just be one ticket seller with some limited English. Most restaurants, especially cheaper ones will not have any English menu. But, you will find younger people increasingly able to communicate in at least some basic English. If you write your destination in English it will be easier for people to understand you; if you can get someone to write your destination in Chinese characters it is easier still.
The backpacker friendly guesthouses have good English speakers working at reception. Make good use of them to help you to plan the following day's travels.
Feb 28, 2013 10:39 AM
Feb 28, 2013 11:14 AM
Feb 28, 2013 1:06 PM
Feb 28, 2013 4:09 PM
5As the others say it is doable but you have to have a lot of patience as it isn't always easy. I am a tour operator to China and have travelled all over the country for 25 years and 50+ trips. Been to the area you want to go to many times myself. In LiJiang be sure to get a local map of the Old Town as I have tried to help countless people try to find how to get back to their hotel. You will see what I mean when you get there. It is very complex but a wonderful place to spend a few days which I like to do myself there. I see you want to go in October. Shangrila is at 12,000 feet and many of the back packer hotels as well as larger hotels do not always have the heat on. They have electric pads on the beds. It can get very cold at night. Been there; done that. Otherwise it is a great place to visit. I love having guides however as I think people miss some things or walk right by them without knowing they are there as sites are seldom marked well. Enjoy yourselves and have fun.
Feb 28, 2013 4:23 PM
6My travels in Yunnan are (so far) limited to Kunming and the south of the provinces.
Kunming would, I imagine, be pretty easy for a non-Chinese speaker to deal with. As Drumbrake says, make use of backpacker hostels as they have good English speakers that can help you out in numerous ways. I stayed at "The Hump" hostel in Kunming and they had thoughtfully provided wallcharts in English containing clear instructions on how to get from Kunming to pretty much anywhere any visitor may want to go via public transport (Vietnam and Laos included).
Moreover, most train/bus stations these days have electronic boards that show ticket information alternately in both English and Chinese which will make things easier for you.
Mar 1, 2013 12:22 AM
Mar 1, 2013 2:26 AM
8as i know, a few guest houses in shangri-la have the heat on.example 517 guest house. If you go to shangri-la in october. i am gonna suggest you to go to Meiri Snow Mount, where is worth to visit. And i donnot think it will be difficult in communication. You will meet all young travellers who can speak english. and they are usually willing to help you.
Mar 1, 2013 3:53 AM
9Thank you all for your responses and tips - that is very helpful, looks like communication will be fun :)
I was under the impression that the weather would be quite moderate most of the time in Yunnan? Though I realise that Shangri-La is high up. Will it get very cold (as cold as in Tibet? When I was there, there was no heating anywhere either so taking warm clothes was obviously essential).
I wasnt planning on taking many warm layers to Yunnan. Are the other places on my route (Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, TLG) warmer than Shangri-la?
Mar 1, 2013 4:21 AM
10Another question...we are limited with time and I have planned the itinerary below.
I realise there's quite a bit of travelling involved so is there anything you think we should miss out on?
Alternatively, should we forgo the towns and go on a 2 day trek in TLG and then to Meili Snow Mountain instead, both of which seem to full of stunning scenery? Unfortunately we cannot afford to spend more time in Yunnan since we are flying to Myanmar on day 9.
Day 1 - Arrive Kunming
Day 2 - Trip from Kunming to Stone forest and Jiuxiang. Night train to Dali
Day 3 - Dali
Day 4 - Morning train Dali to Lijiang. Day in Lijiang.
Day 5 - Jade Dragon Stone Mountain
Day 6 - Morning: Lijiang to TLG by bus. Short hike around TLG. Evening: TLG - Shangri-La by bus.
Day 7 - Shangri-La
Day 8 - Shangri-La to Kunming evening flight.
Mar 1, 2013 4:41 AM
Mar 1, 2013 1:49 PM
12i'd skip the stone forest, which i personally consider boring and pretty much a tourist trap, and see some temples in kunming. i also think that the problem with an itinerary like yours is out of 8 days, you are travelling 5 of them, which means you will hardly have time to appreciate a place or take a first look around and then, whoops, it's time to go. also you will be so tired all the time, unless you're totally energised by train and bus trips (i don't know anyone like that, but i suppose it's possible!). if this were all the time i had, i would choose kunming (just because you arrive there), lijiang or dali, and tiger leaping gorge. and that's it.
Mar 1, 2013 3:41 PM
13I did a trip across Yunnan and Sichuan in 2007 and again in 2012 speaking no Chinese at all except "nihao", "xiexie", "pijiu" and some numbers. It is perfectly possible to get around by yourself, but take a phrasebook with sentences written in Chinese characters and be prepared for some creativity using sign language, recognising Chinese characters etc.
In some places we were actually surprised how good English was spoken by locals e.g. at bus stations, but do not count on that. In other places there were no English speakers at all.
You can have a look at my trip reports at http://meczko.wordpress.com/china/ for some practical details.
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