It may seem like a no-brainer to bring along a water bottle when traveling, but when traveling in China, you should make that a thermos. You know, the hot water container. It’s not that China doesn’t have cool water (that would be pretty weird, huh?) but that the culture is accustomed to drinking hot water. “You mean tea?” you might say. No, I’m talking about plain hot water. Tea is an entirely different matter altogether.
Why bring this up? Because if you’re from outside of China, you might be expecting to find drinking fountains everywhere. You won’t find them in China, and if you do, I wouldn’t recommend drinking the water. That’s where a thermos comes in handy! See, in lieu of drinking fountains, there are hot water machines. EVERYWHERE. All trains, major transportation hubs, hotels, schools, and other places have them. Some are pretty basic, and some look like rejected robots from the Jetsons. The point is: if you bring a thermos with, you can drink lots of free water (and pop in some tea bags or instant coffee, too!)
What about hot summer days? Or, what if I just don’t want to drink a bunch of hot water? Well, the other alternative is honestly just buying water bottles from convenienve stores (usually 2 rmb, depending on the brand, but personally I can’t taste much of a difference so…no need to get super fancy). If you don’t like the idea of buying water bottles, then you can consider boiling water in your hotel, putting it in the fridge, and then drinking it. Or, best case scenario: if you’re staying in a nice-ish hotel, they often supply free water bottles in each room. You can just take them! But…make sure they’re actually free first.
If you’re going on a longer trip, and especially for train rides, though, I definitely recommend the handy dandy thermos. It doubles as a hand-warmer for cold weather, and it’s just an all-around staple in China.
Some useful Chinese:
保温杯 (bao wen bei) = Thermos (hot water bottle)
白开水 OR 热水 (bai kai shui OR re shui) = Boiled/hot water
矿泉水 (kuang quan shui) = Mineral spring water
我还是要喝冰水 (wo hai shi yao he bing shui) = I still want to drink cold water.