Smart phones have drastically changed the way we obtain information, almost rendering paperback dictionaries and travel books obsolete. This is great news for the non-Chinese speaking China traveler who no longer has to lug around heavy dictionaries and guide books, rely on charades to get by, or risk ordering dog meat or lamb intestine stew by mistake. From incredibly smart translating tools to up-to-date transport maps, here’s our list of the best apps for travelling in China.
1) Waygo Visual Translator
This clever iphone app allows you to scan menus and street signs and swiftly provides an English translation (provided you have a steady hand). While it doesn’t know every single dish, it does a good job translating the most well-known ones. It’s free to download and allows you to scan 100 phrases for free, after which users will be limited to 10 translations per day. Unlimited options are available for a fee.
2) China Menu
This simple, easy-to-navigate app is a comprehensive guide to eating out in almost any restaurant. It gives you vivid photos, descriptions and one-click order translations for over 260 Chinese dishes. It also allows you to learn about table etiquette and local eating customs by browsing over 70 translated situations you’re likely to encounter while dining out in China. It’s a little pricey but incredibly useful if you’re travelling in China for the first time and don’t speak a word of Chinese.
Price: 30 RMB
3) 大众点评 (Dazhong Dianping)
Dianping is one of China’s most popular restaurant listings website. Unfortunately, the app is only available in Chinese but if you can overcome the language barrier, Dianping will unveil an incredibly detailed list of restaurants and corresponding reviews in cities across China. Users can find restaurants by name, cuisine, price, location and user review.
1) 旅游景点天气 (Lüyou Jingdian Tianqi)
Checking local weather reports is essential as a traveler, especially during the rain and typhoon seasons or when going to mountainous regions where weather conditions may change rapidly. That’s where Lüyou Jingdian Tianqi comes in handy. This app allows you to check weather conditions at 241 tourist spots across the country including Taiwan and Hong Kong. iPhones must be connected to the internet to use this app. Unfortunately for non-Chinese speakers, the app is entirely in Chinese.
Price: 12 RMB
2) 全国空气污染指数PM2.5 (China Air Quality Index)
This app provides real-time info on China’s air quality index, providing PM2.5 statistics for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other major cities. Next time you look out the window and are greeted by the depressing sight of smog and grey skies, check these apps to see whether you need to wear a mask or stay indoors. The China Air Quality Index app for iPhone features a wide range of languages including English, Russian, French, Spanish, Danish and simplified Chinese.
1) 去哪儿 (Qunar)
This app, by one of China’s biggest travel booking sites, allows you to look for cheap domestic and international flight tickets and check the status of flights, book hotels and browse train timetables. It also allows you to cancel bookings, check the price of tourist attractions and call a cab for free. In Chinese only.
This app, named “Travel app of the week” by The Sunday Times, is really useful if you want to quickly search for cheap flights from China to other Asian destinations. It’s easy to navigate, in English and quotes prices in RMB. If you’re a flexible traveler and are open to flying anywhere, this app allows you to explore all available flights – both direct and indirect – from the city of your choice. The app is not limited to China so users can search millions of flights from over 1000 airlines worldwide.
3) Beijing Taxi Guide
Want to grab a cab in the capital but don’t speak a word of Chinese? This app has you covered. The app features taxi cards with big, bold addresses in Chinese to show the driver; suggestions of places to go by some of the capital’s most in-the-know people; offline maps, search options and much more. At almost 10 USD it’s not the cheapest app out there but it may well become your most reliable friend when navigating Beijing via cab. The Shanghai Taxi Guide is also available for iOS and Android users can avail of the very similar (and free) Shanghai Taxi app.
4) 爱帮列车 (Aibang Trains)
Aibang Trains for iPhone is a useful little Chinese app that helps you check for train routes, departure and journey times and ticket prices. The app also lists all the stops along a route. This is only a reference app however and doesn’t support bookings. And it’s in Chinese so not that useful for people who can’t read Chinese.
Link: iOS, Android
1) Pleco Chinese Dictionary
Featuring over 20,000 example sentences with pinyin, this is one of the top English-Chinese/Chinese-English dictionary apps. It’s not only great for Mandarin learners but also for tourists who need to translate a word or phrase from English to Chinese. The basic free version is good enough to meet your daily needs, but additional paid add-ons are available such as full-screen handwriting, a flashcard system, audio pronunciation etc. Don’t expect the app to know any slang, new internet jargon or regional phrases though.
2) Taxi Book
This app talks in Chinese on your behalf and allows you to communicate with taxi drivers and locals in 30 Chinese cities. It features both audio and written phrases to thousands of locations, as well as useful phrases and answers in both English and Chinese. At present, the Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen versions are free of charge, while other cities cost between 25-30 RMB.
The apps above are just the tip of the iceberg. Exciting new apps aimed at expats or tourists in China hit up the market every other month and there is a growing number of city guides for most major metropolises on the Mainland. While we can’t list them all in this article, we encourage you to share your favorite apps in the comment section below.