Where did you go?
China, primarily to Beijing and Xi’an.
Were there any language barriers?
It is recommended to learn a few basic phrases, such as ‘xie xie’ (thank you) and ‘cesuo’ (toilet), as English language is limited. In tourist focused areas such as markets and at attractions like the Forbidden City (pictured above) or the Great Wall of China, there are more people with basic English skills. Signs around tourist areas often have English translations.
What tourist attractions did you visit?
As part of a tour group, I visited the Great Wall of China at Badaling, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the 798 Art District, and also the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.
Did you do any prior research before the trip?
I was in China for a three week university course on Chinese politics, so was well prepared for what to expect. I was only diagnosed about four months prior to the trip, so my medication was still ‘settling in’.
If you get sick (whether from your IBD or otherwise), it would be better to find a hospital that caters to Westerners, as public Chinese hospitals can be quite intense and difficult if you do not speak Mandarin. Some private or embassy hospitals may require a small bribe for you to gain entry.
Did your IBD cause you any issues on this trip?
Not significantly, but do ensure you bring all your medication with you for the full duration of the trip.
Was there anything out of the ordinary that stressed you out, or could potentially stress out someone with IBD?
The Chinese plumbing systems are not particularly strong, and you will need to discard your toilet paper in bins to the side of the toilets. This can be a mental adjustment for Westerners, but is actually quite common around the world. Similarly, learning to use a squat toilet is a strange adjustment, but they are common – even in the occasional restaurant or bar – so you will need to learn to live with this.
We took an overnight train to Xi’an, which had limited toilet facilities and cramped sleeping conditions. If this would be an issue for you due to IBD, it would be better to fly.
Can you recommend how many days/weeks is a good time to visit this location?
I spent 3 weeks, and wouldn’t personally recommend more.
Can you recommend any specific providers that can cater for people with IBD?
China is quite affordable, so if you are more comfortable in a hotel this would be recommended.
There are large numbers of tour companies who can do day trips to the Great Wall, or the Terracotta Warriors. This would ensure you have a group leader with English language skills and they can direct you towards suitable restaurants or bathroom facilities.
Can you tell us what the food is like?
I steered clear of street food due to the risk of food poisoning, and took recommendations from people who had visited previously. There are still plenty of fantastic restaurants where you can experience traditional Chinese dishes, but if you are concerned about getting an upset stomach it would be recommended to keep to (admittedly more expensive) tourist areas.
Chinese public toilets are often hit or miss, with a visit to a toilet in the main Chinese train station a particularly horrid memory. Be prepared that you may need to use a squat toilet, and always carry your own toilet paper.
Make use of Westernised chain restaurants such as McDonald’s and KFC, which are plentiful across China – including at the Great Wall! These restaurants cater to tourists, so ensure their bathrooms are clean (enough) and would not usually be squat toilets.
On a scale of 1-5 how much does your IBD affect you?
(1 being in remission and 5 being in a flare)
On a scale of 1-5, how difficult was it to manage your IBD while on this trip?
(1 being no issues and 5 being very difficult to manage)
Were there any activities which challenged your IBD management?
I was concerned about the overnight train to Xi’an, but as I was on Prednisone at the time and had Immodium if necessary, it was alright in the end. The Great Wall at Badaling is very touristy and has bathroom facilities quite easily accessible. I did not travel to other parts of the Great Wall, but there are towns in between each section where you could sleep comfortably and use the facilities.
Would you recommend this place for people who have IBD?
Yes, but ensure you have thorough travel insurance that will allow you to visit private hospitals, and take all the medication you will need for the trip.