Is China a good destination for travelling with small children?
Before our trip to China, there were few people who were enthusiastic or supportive about the choice of the destination of our first trip as a family of four. They were at best surprised, or said we were 'brave', sometimes openly or not-that-subtly expressing criticism over our irresponsible decisions about the well-being of our 2 small children - we were traveling with a 2.5 year old and a 5 month old at the time. We had our concerns - after all China is FAR and our children are small, and we did not plan to take a pram with us. But we did want to use the time when I am on maternity leave to take a longer vacation and China was on our list ever since the Covid pandemic restrained us from fulfilling our plans. We also wanted to go BEFORE Ninok is 6 months old (but as close to that mark as possible) as relying solely on breastfeeding when traveling made things much easier - this made July/August the only possible time frame for the holiday.
Now after we did it, do I still think China is a good place to travel with a baby or toddler? It can be, but you have to be mindful of certain pitfalls.
The reasons why it is worth to pick China as a travel destination for children are plenty. For us, the draw towards China was that it was diverse, with many different landscapes and cultures, with excellent food variety (but also with plenty of rice, plain noodles and breads for the picky toddler, so there is always a backup). We knew that Baba would be marvelling at everything she sees. And people in China love babies and small children, especially with blue eyes like Ninok and curly hair like Baba, so they also got a lot of attention.
From the practical side, travelling China is really easy. Although it is considered a developing country, it is developed exactly in the areas you want to work smoothly. There is a reliable high speed train network that allows you to travel easily to almost every corner of the country. Healthcare system works well (we had a chance to see for ourselves, unfortunately) - no queueing, good quality service, and people willing to help when you are a foreigner. Big cities have extensive and modern metro (in Beijing you can choose if you want to be in a 'cold' or 'cool' carriage - compare that to London with public announcements about hydration and helping people who are unable to cope with the heat in the summer). The country is also very safe, which is always a concern for the parents.
If you want to make your experience of China the best possible, you need to be aware of few things.
First of all, what makes travelling easy for you, makes it also easy for 1.4billion people, many of whom have now the will and means to explore their own country. And the way Chinese do tourism is very peculliar and slightly annoying, to say the least. They do a lot of tour bus holiday, love taking photos dressed up in 'local clothing' (apparently a new trend) etc. So travelling in a summer holiday season is an absolute no-go. We weren't able to find a single quiet spot during our trip - overdeveloped tourism definitely ruins the experience of visiting a small village or a monastery. Every nature wonder will be ruined by parking lots, food stands and other tourist necessities. There is no big camping/hiking culture in China so everything is rather prepared for 'seeing things' rather than experiencing them in our own pace.
Another reason to avoid summer is the heat - it is absolutely unbearable in most of the country. Especially if you have to wear a baby carrier at all times.
I think our experience of China would have been totally different if we managed to do the trip in any other quiet season - although tourist destinations tend to look also a bit creepy when empty.
Our main takeaway from the trip was that 'wild China' is pretty much gone. You can still look for this one last village where people live like the time stopped, but that is not China.
However there is still plenty to see We loved walking around all the cities we visited - they are lively, diverse, with friendly people who always want to talk to you, there is great food and parks. Even though I rarely enjoy big cities, in China they all seem to be liveable, especially the ones thaf have metro system.
So is China worth visiting with a family? My answer remains yes - it gives your children plenty of things to be bewildered by, plenty new flavours to experience too.