Travel in China – Part 1: Communications
This is the first part of my post series on travel (especially self travel 自由行) in China aiming to share my recent travel experience there. I’d blog about transport, sightseeing, etc in future parts. In Part 1, I’d focus on communications, i.e. maintaining contact using internet- such as via emails and WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. I’d provide solutions for using Google products and Facebook in China which are usually blocked….
Like me, you may be frustrated by not being able to access Gmail, Chrome browser, Google map, Play Store (for installation of Android apps), Facebook, etc in China as these are blocked in most WiFi access provided in hotels, restaurants, etc. I’ve offered a solution in a previous post using VPN (Virtual Private Network) to ” jump over the wall- 翻墙” or “tunnel under” accessing and using overseas servers. Using VPN coupled with most WiFi would enable you to access all the above blocked sites. Most of these require payment (like US10 per month), e.g. these top few sites in October 2015. Free, useable and reliable VPN’s in China are few and far between and you need to install them before going to China, I recommended a few in my previous post. My latest experience shows that Tunnel Bear is still good and easy to use (seeing the bear emerging overseas in the cartoon is fun too – my favourite overseas VPN is Canada).
Other easier solutions (payable but cheaper than others) include getting a SIM or rent a WiFi router which provide access to the blocked sites. Below are some providers in Hong Kong:-
- SIM – e.g. a China Mobile CMHK1-Card-2-Number Prepaid SIM Card. It gives you 2 mobile nos. (a HK no. and a Mainland mobile No.) and hence you can forward your normal HK mobile no. to it to enjoy much lower call charges (HK$0.6/min) while in Mainland. At the same time, it allows data roaming access (including to the above blocked sites) within Mainland at a daily cap of HK$38/day. The recommended sale price is HK$120 (which includes $60 stored value), and you can easily top up to retain the 2 mobile nos. (a top up of HK$50 can get you going for 6 months for low usage). This is what I recommend (and hassle-free if you choose to auto-pay- CM would auto-debit a minimum fixed amount – e.g. HK$50 every time the stored value drops below $50) as then you’d have a ‘permanent’ Mainland mobile no. which can be quite useful (almost essential if you use many of the useful Mainland online services/apps). There are shops like the Ap Liu Street stalls I mentioned in this previous post where you can get the above CM card for less than HK$80, some of these shops allow you to choose the mobile nos. too, but the package would cost a bit more – e.g. I got mine at $98. Using this is not difficult, but be sure you ask the sales to explain to you when you buy (saving you much time to read the lengthly instructions), or go to any China Mobile shop in HK for after sales service. If you got a dual-SIM phone, that’s even more handy as you don’t have to switch SIM whenever going into Mainland.
- WiFi router – there are many shops which rent such routers for overseas use (virtually all popular travel/touring countries) and there are keen competition, e.g. prices starts from HK$20/d in Japan. For Mainland with access for the above blocked sites, the typical price in October 2015 was H$60/d.- e.g. this company which you can pick up/return their routers from the airport or their Mongkok/Causeway Bay shops. Note that such routers do not provide you with voice call access like SIM- although you can Skype, WhatsApp call, WeChat call, ….. using the WiFi access they provide. I’ve blogged about the pros and cons comparing the above 2 options here too.