The Great Wall of China is crowded with tourists during the Golden Week holiday. Photo: Xinhua
The Great Wall of China is crowded with tourists during the Golden Week holiday. Photo: Xinhua

Phew – you can almost sense the relief on the mainland after China’s ‘Golden Weekend’ officially ended on Sunday.

Over the eight-day-long holiday China enjoyed a tourism boom with an incredible 705 million tourists traveling. That means one in 10 people in the world were on the move over the past week.

Most of the travel was within the country. The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) says the travelers spent some 583.6 billion yuan (US$88 billion).

And about 6 million people travelled abroad – to 1,155 cities in 88 countries, up nearly 30%, the CNTA said.

The number of mainland Chinese who went overseas was equivalent to the entire population leaving Miami in United States, or Berlin in Germany.

Russia was top destination, followed by Thailand

Where did the Chinese tourists go? Russia was the country most visited, followed by Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.

Japan did not make to the top list – which surprised me, because Kyoto and Osaka, where I traveled, had some tourist sites packed with Chinese tourists, lugging their luggage the way they do in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, my home city.

But one thing I noticed was the popularity of Wechat Pay and Alipay. Signs for these new payment gateways are seen in many retail stores welcoming Chinese tourists.

Debit payment cards popular – and VPNs

Credit cards are not the usual payment method in China. Credit is not a popular concept, and most payment cards are debit cards. But the mobile payment technology has put China ahead of most countries because of its convenience, especially in a vast country where 100 yuan (about $15) is the largest banknote.

The new somewhat cashless travel pattern means that people need to take special care of their mobile phone – to at least make sure that it has enough power for making payments, aside from taking photos and videos and conversing with friends on WhatsApp or Wechat.

Also of interest is that many Chinese tourists take back phone-cards that can bypass internet restrictions at home – as gifts. That includes cards that allow them to download a virtual private network (VPN) or buy similar software that will allow them to access international websites.

Ahead of the Communist Party’s 19th Congress, numerous cases of disrupted services such as WhatsApp were reported on the mainland, where the “Great Firewall of China” is blocking popular apps such as Google and Facebook.

The opportunity for Chinese netizens or expatriates to go “over the wall” via a VPN has narrowed now that China is clamping down on most VPNs during this politically sensitive period.

That may also explain why more Chinese would want to go abroad during the holiday – and breathe some fresh air outside the Middle Kingdom.

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