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Travel Tips

5 Must Have Apps to Download Before Leaving for China

So you've just had your Chinese visa stamped into your passport, your flights are booked, you have your farewell party sorted and it’s just a matter of days before the adventure begins.

While a game of charades with your local waitress might be fun the first couple of times, getting chicken claw and duck tongue for the fourth night in a row might not be what you were hoping for. Getting lost down the back alleys can also be a lot of fun, but when you have a class starting in 10 minutes it’s probably not the best time.

Fear not, with these 5 must have apps, for both iPhone and Android, your life in China will be supremely improved.

1. Pleco

Pleco is considered as one of the most preferred Chinese-English dictionaries out there. Chinese characters are not made up of letters like the English words, where you can just type them into Google or look them up in a pocket dictionary. Searching a Chinese dictionary for the meaning of a character is not an easy task, you have to identify the radical, then the number of strokes and then track down the meaning. Each character can take a few minutes to get a translation for using a paper dictionary.

With Pleco’s OCR feature, you just hold your phone’s camera over the Chinese character and it will recognize it, translate it into English and even tell you how it is said in Chinese using pinyin, all live right there in front of your eyes. It is not a free app but definitely worth it.

2. Baidu Maps

Most smart phones already have Google Maps pre-installed on the phone but as Google only recently acquired its online mapping license in China, Baidu Maps is the best option to navigate maps in China. Its features are basically similar to that of Google Maps, also listing hotel and restaurants. You also have the option to download offline maps so you can still navigate when internet is not available. As the app continues to develop, it is also featuring indoor maps and satellite view.

3. Google Translate

We’ve all seen how much this app has improved through the years. But like any other tools for translation, it still has limitations and is still not entirely accurate. It is still very useful for looking up simple phrases and sentences and it does not only translate the words to their Chinese characters, it also has Pinyin, the Romanized spelling for transliterating Chinese as well as a decent voice recognition function.

Greg, an English teacher in China, made good use of this app during his first trip to a Chinese hairdresser. http://goldstarteachers.com/my-first-trip-to-a-chinese-hairdresser/

4. WeChat

WeChat was developed by China’s internet giant, Tencent, the same company that developed QQ, China’s most well-known instant messaging company. Although it’s a little behind its number one competitor, WhatsApp, it is still the most popular messaging service in China, and a must have app for both locals and foreigners alike. If you are interested in making friends with local Chinese people, it would be a very handy app to have. It also lets you search the area for nearby users and you can get in touch and befriend new people.

5. China Metro

According to its users, this is the only app you need for all the subway maps in China. This app supports 15 cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Nanjing, Xi'an, Chongqing, Chengdu, Shenyang, Changchun, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Taipei and Kaohsiung. It has HD route maps for metro and light rail with information on station and maps. Select your current location and destination and the app will choose the optimal route for you so you can get there as quickly as possible with minimal fuss. Great for getting around easily.


6. Chinese Food Menu

One of the best things about living in China is to be able to try a variety of local food that is both delicious and cheap. However, since small restaurant owners usually don’t speak English, their menus are only available in Chinese. Some restaurants have pictures on their menu but how can you really tell pork from intestines? Are you really ordering chicken or could it be snake?

We don’t want you to miss out on anything so we created a Chinese food menu which includes English, pinyin and the Chinese characters to help you order all that yummy food. It’s not an app, rather a pocket food menu that you can print out, fold up and carry in your pocket.

So now you've got some of the best apps in the palm of your hand, China and its adventures await you!

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