8 apps that are going to save your skin in China.

”Now Gary, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. Or the medium way. Or the semi-medium easy-hard way. Or the sorta-hard-with-a-touch-of-awkward difficult-challenging way.”
— - SpongeBob Squarepants

If you are a fan of doing things the easy way you need to get hip to these resources. I use all of them at least once a day, some are open on my phone all day long.  I highly recommend loading your phone up with these goodies before your trip!

1.  WeChat

This is a must download! WeChat is like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, phone, grocery delivery service, and your wallet (You need a local bank account to sign up for WeChat Pay) all in one.  This is a great app to have even if you are not in China as you can subscribe to different business accounts. If you are on my site right now you are probably interested in whats new in China so follow WeChat ID: SinoBytes for the latest news, trending stories from China.  

2.  TimeOut Shanghai

Before WeChat was around, this was my primary resource for finding the best things to do in Shanghai.  Grab the magazine (available at most hotels), the app, the website, or follow them on WeChat ID: timeoutshanghaieng (I told you, WeChat is amazing).

3.  Pleco Chinese Dictionary

Pleco is the one app that is ALWAYS running on my phone. This is a life saver. It is intuitive to use and packs all the power of a Chinese-English dictionary but with even more convenient features.  I've used these features the most...

  • Plain old dictionary - You can type both Chinese and English in the same space, just toggle the button to the right to change the entry language. I use the dictionary to check the tone of words I don't use frequently.

  • Screen Reader/Translator - I have a few Chinese only apps on my phone, this helps me figure out the characters I don't know quickly. Bonus points to Pleco because you can save any words you have looked up as flashcards to study later.

  • Character Stroke Videos - I practice writing as I find its the best way to help me remember characters for reading. This is the quickest way to get to this type of content. I used to go to Youtube, or to a different section in a Chinese language website, now I never have to go to multiple sights to find the video for the specific character I need to learn to write. This is a HUGE time saver.

  • Compound words - After looking up a word, I always click one little button to check out the compound words that are frequently used. Translating is easier when you know which words are frequently paired and what the new meaning is.

  • Example Sentences - Learn a new word but don't know how to use it yet? Here's the solution.

    The best part about all these features is that it takes just one click to get to. Surely its why this app tops all the Chinese dictionary lists.

4.  Express VPN






Ok, just because WeChat is the mother of all social media apps doesn't mean that you can just give up Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so a VPN is a must. It is rated highly among users, is simple to use, and the network reliability is good as well. Whatever VPN you get make sure it works in China. China is cracking down on VPN usage and these companies are disappearing fast.  Check out this article for guidelines. 

5.  MetroMan

I have used the MetroMan app primarily for planning purposes when I don't quite need detailed directions and want to avoid distractions of a full map app. If you just want to get to a certain area and wander around, this is your tool.  It has an easy to read, no frills, quick reference. If you are paranoid like me or you are prone to getting on the train going in the wrong direction, it's simple design will help you quickly get oriented. Get it on google play store, or on apple store.

6.  SayHi

The SayHi app is a popular Chinese translation app that gets high praises consistently from its users.  The intuitive interface allows you to quickly switch between typing text and talking by either tapping the speaker 1x to speak, or holding the microphone for a second or two to start typing. I prefer typing as the delay for the speaker (it's making sure you are done speaking  before it translates) is a little longer than I would like.  You can choose between a male or female voice and a record of your conversation is kept on the screen until you delete it.  There are going to be quite a few moments when you dont understand a single word that has just come out of someone's mouth and this app will cover your bum.   The downside? This is only available online.  If you have downloaded a VPN you can access the google translate app for use offline.  

(Note: If you do prefer to use Google translate with a VPN, i highly recommend you have an app that works without a VPN.  If your battery is low you may want to turn off your VPN and you dont want to be stuck without a translator.)

7. Baidu Map

If you feel confident enough to use an app in Chinese, this is one you will definitely want to get.  This app is from Baidu the first and in my opinion best search engine in China, think of it like the Chinese Google.  First let me share where the name Baidu came from (because its a beautiful story, and this is an awesome company): 

百度 Baidu, the famous Chinese internet company takes its name from this 12th century lyric and the poem is displayed on their website. Robin Li, the Founder and CEO of Baidu comments;

”Many people have asked about the meaning of our name. “Baidu” was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one’s dream while confronted by life’s many obstacles. “.hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood.” Baidu, whose literal meaning is hundreds of times, represents persistent search for the ideal.”
— http://www.mountainsongs.net/poem_.php?id=538

So what's great about Baidu? Everything. I have used a couple other maps (including Google) but Baidu tells you things you dont get in other apps like what exit to take to get out of the metro, the terminal station (for the directionally challenged), and the time for each leg of your trip on just one page. I know you are a bit worried about using a Chinese app but its key features are pretty intuitive and use similar conventions to google.  If that doesn't put your mind at ease look at it this way. 

- You need the address of your destination in Chinese anyway.  
- If you get lost its easier for someone to point you in the right direction.
-It's Baidu so there are a ton of tutorials out there. Here is a video tutorial, and a article for your reference.
- You will get to use the AR feature! You'll just love following the arrow like a zombie after a long day of using your noggin to bargain and convert currency. 

8.  Trip.com app (Ctrip)

Back in the day, if you wanted to book a flight or train anywhere from China, Ctrip.com was the way to go.  Ctrip has now rebranded into Trip.com and has the same great features only it is a much easier foreigner friendly website. Don't forget you will need to take your passport with you when you travel and you will need it when you pick up your rail tickets at the station ticket counters. 

This is the site I used to book a month long holiday in Thailand, and I can't wait to use it for my next trip to Hangzhou. Looks like I better book soon!

Bonus: Didi
I am a huge fan of public transportation and there are taxis in abundance almost everywhere, but when the train shuts down its time to call for Didi.  The Uber'ish app of the east. Even though you are likely to get a taxi, you get a bit of a discount with Didi. Interesting fact. Didi went head to head with Uber in China and it won, so keep your eye out for this app because Didi is coming to N. America in 2018. first stop Mexico!

Now that you are armed and ready to experience China the easy way, its time to get out there and start exploring!