Mobile applications (apps), from communication apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, to transportation ones like Google Maps and Grab, have become an integral part of our daily life. Even in China, where internet regulations may result in some of the apps you are familiar with having limited or no functions, the use of digital technology is nonetheless highly pervasive.

So don’t fret just yet. The country is no enemy to technology, with plenty of well-developed apps with functions similar (if not better) than what you are used to  at home. Here are seven must-have apps to explore China with ease!

The following mobile applications are available in English.

Didi (滴滴) – Getting you to where you need to be

Didi ride interface

Select your pick-up and drop-off locations, and indicate other service preferences

Didi payment option interface

Register your credit card or activate other payment methods for hassle-free payment

This is your Chinese version of Grab or Uber. Didi is especially handy for places public transport cannot access (read: many tourist attractions in China).

Other than basic functions like selecting pick-up and drop-off points, you can also choose between the different tiers of vehicles, and select service options – for example, if you wish to share the ride.

When using the in-app messaging function, the app also automatically translates English text into Chinese (and vice versa), so it makes it easy for you to communicate with your driver. Register your credit card on the app for hassle-free payment.

Available for both Android and iOS.

Mobike (摩拜单车) – To explore the cities like a local

Parked Mobike

Photo of a Mobike by Alvan Nee on www.unsplash.com

Mobike interface

Locate Mobikes in your vicinity and “unlock” one to start your adventure

Mobike is a bike-sharing application – also available in Singapore – so you may be familiar with this one. If you’re up for “walking” along the footsteps of locals and taking in the sights and sounds of the city, cycling is your answer. The mobile app identifies bicycles in your vicinity and serves as a “key” to unlock bicycles via QR code.

The Mobike mobile app is similar to the one you use in Singapore, so there is no need to download another app. However, the price is dramatically lower in China. While it would cost you S$1 for half-an-hour in Singapore, it costs only RMB$1 (about S$0.20) for the same duration in China.

Available for both Android and iOS.

WeChat (微信) – The ultimate app for communication… and more

WeChat interface

Access all your conversations and subscriptions in “Chats”

WeChat text interface

Liven up your exchanges with adorable stickers

WeChat is the ultimate instant messaging app in China. Other than basic text and voice message exchanges (similar to Whatsapp and Telegram), WeChat has a host of other functions. Share photos and takeaways from your journey via WeChat Moments or dive into local life by following Subscription Accounts (Sixth Tone is a good source of English-written news coverage in China).

Unfortunately, WeChat Pay – a convenient form of mobile payment via the scanning of Quick Response (QR) Codes, is only available to people who have bank accounts in China. Nevertheless, WeChat promises to bring great convenience to your adventures in China.

Available for both Android and iOS.

Pleco Chinese Dictionary – For easier communication

Pleco Chinese Dictionary Definition interface

Pleco’s basic English-Chinese translation function

Pleco Chinese Dictionary text interface

Activate Pleco’s “Clipboard Monitor” for seamless translation while accessing Chinese text

The Pleco Chinese Dictionary app allows you to translate text from English to Chinese, and vice versa. One of its many functions includes the ability to detect when the user might require assistance in translation via a “Clipboard Monitor”. When browsing content online, once the user copies text, Pleco automatically brings you to the app and provides translation of the text copied.

Pleco takes translation a step further by enhancing the educational experience. You can better understand individual characters in a phrase, find out the exact strokes to write individual characters, or even explore phrases similar to the character(s) translated.

Available for both Android and iOS.

Airbnb (爱彼迎) – For the best homestay experience

Chinese Airbnb listing interface

An Airbnb listing in China

Chinese Airbnb Location interface

Search for Airbnb listings that are situated in an ideal area that fits your budget

You may also be familiar with Airbnb. Hotels can either be too costly, or too disconnected from local culture for your liking. Ranging from intricately-designed private units to homestays in the middle of paddy fields, Airbnb gives you a chance to stay in a local’s home at relatively affordable pricing.  

If listings seem too-good-to-be-true, ratings and reviews serve as a gauge of credibility. The Airbnb mobile app is the same as the one you can download in Singapore. Payment is accepted in SGD, with conversions from RMB handled by the app. However, do note that China has its own laws and regulations which Airbnb must abide by.

Available for both Android and iOS. 

The next few apps are only available in Chinese.

 

 

Amap (高德地图) - Navigating your way around the streets

Amap location interface

Search for locations to visit and get related recommendations

Amap route planner interface

Get a comprehensive list of detailed directions to and from points

You might find that Google Maps doesn’t quite work in China.

Amap is an alternative, and offers all map functions you might be familiar with – including searching for a specific location and plotting a route between start and end points. Amap offers plenty of added information as well, such as listing down entry fees for tourist attractions.

Available for both Android and iOS.

Dianping (大众点评) – The go-to app for food

Dianping homepage interface

Indicate the city you are located in to receive public-reviewed recommendations ranging from food to entertainment

Dianping review interface

Find out more about recommendations and embrace the next unique experience

This app is your HungryGoWhere, Chope, and Burpple all rolled up in one.

The range of dining and retail options in China can be intimidating. With the limited time that you might have in China, Dianping will be able to help narrow down your choices!

Dianping consolidates public-generated reviews and lists out top picks in your vicinity. If you are feeling adventurous, just input your city in the app’s homepage. This will produce a list of public-reviewed eateries and services, ranging from entertainment to beauty options. Alternatively, you can search for a desired service or activity and be ready to try something new.

Available for both Android and iOS.

You might need some time and effort getting used to these mobile applications unique to China, but they will certainly help you have a more fulfilling trip for your next visit to the country!

About Arthur: A proud Singaporean with a passion for exploration, Arthur dared himself to go on a month-long solo trip to China from June to July 2018. Arthur is pursuing Bachelors of Social Science and Business Management at the Singapore Management University (SMU). Studies are well-balanced by whimsies he engages in, sometimes viewable on Instagram @artc95, in his quest for a holistic and meaningful life.

Best Time to Visit

China is a huge place and thus local climates vary between provinces. Do identify cities or provinces well in advance to visit during ideal weather.

Transportation

Metros and buses are often abundant, affordable and accessible in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Where public transportation is not as convenient, consider using private-hire services such as Didi.

Consider domestic flights or highly-efficient High Speed Rail (HSR) rides to zip between cities and make the most out of a trip to China.

Currency

China’s local currency is the Chinese Yuan, or Renminbi (RMB).

Despite the ubiquity of cashless payments in China, rest assured that cash is still widely accepted. 

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Flights are available from Changi Airport to over 30 cities in China. Book your trip now.