Anything Sold Anywhere is Cheaper on Taobao – How to Find the Best Price!

Did you know that anything sold anywhere, even if it claims to be one-of-a-kind, is available for much cheaper in China? You know those cute $1 world map necklaces that pop up in Facebook advertisements? I bought one for $0.36 with free delivery on Taobao…

I didn’t fully realize Taobao’s potentual until I decided to buy two beautiful dresses on a random US website. They were being sold for $17 each and were so unique. One of them was peacock feather themed and the other was covered in strawberries. Cute, right?

Although $17 was a completely reasonable price to pay for them, I knew that they must have been made in China so they had to be cheaper here. First, I decided to search for them on Aliexpress and there they were. My dream dresses being sold by dozens of different sellers for just $8 each with even more cute choices!

Aliexpress might not officially deliver to China, but as I mention in a different blog post, it’s possible. You just message the vendor and ask if they’d let you order to an address abroad but send them to China anyway.

Before I ordered some of these dresses on Aliexpress, I spent several hours desperately trying to find them on Taobao (I’m unemployed until August so I have a lot of free time to find great deals online). Once I finally found one of them, I just added it to my cart which let me search for similar products. The very same $17 dresses were now available to me for $3-$5. Needless to say, I shamelessly ordered 20 *blush*.

I still ended up ordering a few dresses on Aliexpress because I simply couldn’t find them on Taobao… but this was before I discovered the photo search function. This is only available in the Chinese Taobao, not Tmall or World Taobao which it automatically switches to sometimes.

To get to it, you need to be logged in and change location in the top left corner, which will take you to the Chinese Taobao home screen with the URL www.taobao.com.

Once you’re on there, you just need to click inside the search bar and hover over the right side it until a little camera symbol shows up. When you click on it, you’ll be able to upload a photo and Taobao will show you all of the results for “similar” products.

When we were drone shopping, for example, we used this function to find specific models. You can also use it to find a style of clothing, a food product or literally anything!

This part is probably obvious, but before you buy something it’s always a good idea to check out several sellers to compare delivery prices and discounts. Keep in mind that some of the cheapest products might have hidden notes explaining that you need to order at least 3, a minimum of 2 kilos, etc. If you don’t notice this, they’ll end up messaging you and you’ll have to refund your order or change it which is a pain.

Other than fresh fruits and vegetables, anything you could possible think of is sold on Taobao and it’s likely cheaper than anywhere else. So far, the only product that I discovered wasn’t cheaper on Taobao was large amounts of diet Sprite cans. The actual cost per can is great but they all have high delivery fees that only make the purchase worth it if you’re stocking up for a zombie apocalypse.

Basically, if you have the time and motivation, you can save lots of money on Taobao. Just remember to check reviews and be careful when buying medication. Enjoy your shopping!

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Planning a Trip to Vietnam

Most foreign teachers in China get the entire month of July off to go on holiday. We’re spending most of this time in Vietnam! I have become somewhat of an expert at trip planning and I’m also obsessed at trying to see a little bit of everything in a short amount of time. While this was easy in Thailand – we saw Phuket, Bangkok, Krabi and several islands leisurely in just 10 days – Vietnam is not as simple.

When we first bought tickets to spend 19 days in Vietnam, I thought that it would give us enough time to see Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos too! I was hoping to take a 6-hour bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, then another 6-hour bus to Siem Reap. From there I hoped to fly to Luang Prabang in Laos and then take an overnight bus or another plane to Hanoi.

Although this sounds great on paper, the reality is that we’d be spending precious hours on inconveniently timed buses that wasted entire days of exploration. Then there’s the visa costs… $20 per person to Cambodia and $15 – $40 depending on nationality to Laos. Then there’s the fact that Vietnam is huge and we’d barely be seeing any of it in exchange for spending a day or two in the neighboring countries.

I spent hours trying to find a way to manage to see everything that wouldn’t bankrupt us, have us spending days on buses and still giving us enough time to see everything. It wasn’t possible. Plan B was to plan a trip that skipped Laos and had us spend just 2 days in Cambodia. But even this wasn’t worth it because it turned out that 19 days is barely enough time to just see Vietnam.

Ignoring my disappointment, I focused on planning a city hopping trip in Vietnam and in just a few hours I came up with a great route. Since we live in China, we’re not that excited about spending too much time in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. Instead we want to see all the natural wonders and spend time on the beach. This is the itinerary that I came up with:

Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh in the evening, check into hostel and sleep

Day 2: Explore Ho Chi Minh all day, visit markets and eat delicious Vietnamese food. If we find a cheap place, we’ll rent a motorcycle. We also want to see the colorful Hindu temple and mostly our plan is to just soak up Vietnamese culture.

Day 3: Take a bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne. We bought tickets on a comfortable and reliable bus that we booked on www.vietnambustickets.com. The tickets were cheap, I was able to pay with PayPal and I got the confirmation within 24 hours. It was a huge relief to find an alternative option to a public bus! The bus will take 6-7 hours and will drop us off close to our tent-hostel right on the beach.

We originally wanted to take the ferry down to Vung Tao and then a bus from Vung Tao to Mui Ne. Although Vung Tau isn’t of particular interest to us, the ferry ride would take us past floating villages and would be a great way to see a lot in just 90 minutes. After reading up on it, I discovered that a lot of ferry companies keep shutting down and early July is still dry season and there are only public buses that go from Vung Tao to Mui Ne. From what I read, public buses are cheap and crowded and extremely uncomfortable and unreliable…

Day 4: Wake up to the sound of crashing waves and the buzzing of mosquitoes and take a leisurely stroll/swim down to the Fairy Stream. Hike and enjoy the day.

Day 5: Have another relaxing day in Mui Ne, maybe explore Phan Thiet and spend one last night on the beach.

Day 6: Take a 3 hour bus (again with www.vietnambustickets.com) from Mui Ne to Dalat. Check into our cozy, cheap and wonderfully named: Yolo Camping Hostel.

Day 7: Go to the famous Elephant waterfalls and spend the day there.

Day 8: Explore the national park/rain forests in Dalat and spend one last night at Yolo Camping Hostel.

Day 9: Take a 7 hour bus (one last time with www.vietnambustickets.com) from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh and check into hostel.

Day 10: Spend the day in Ho Chi Minh and take a very late flight to Hanoi. Check into hostel at Hanoi.

Day 11: Spend the day exploring Hanoi, it’ll be our only full day here.

Day 12: Go on a two night trip to Sapa – booked through Viator.

Day 13: Sapa trip.

Day 14: Sapa trip and late return to Hanoi.

Day 15: Relax after trip and make our way to Halong Bay.

Day 16: Spend day exploring Halong Bay.

Day 17: Kayaking/island hopping in Halong Bay.

Day 18: Last full day in Halong Bay.

Day 19: Fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh on a super late flight that gets in at 2 AM the next day.

Day 20: Sleep in the airport, backpacker style, and fly home at 8 AM from Ho Chi Minh.

Voila! My ideal Vietnam trip with lots of traveling around but still enough time to relax and feel like we’re on holiday. Perhaps on the actual trip, I’ll find out that I could have done some things differently that would have been better… we’ll see! Feel free to share your tips or perfect Vietnam itineraries in the comments below 🙂

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Crayfish Season in China

Just as strawberry season comes to a sad end, crayfish take center stage on the menu. Once the weather starts looking up in April, buckets of live crayfish appear on every street. They are sold by weight, thrown into boiling water right in front of you and prepared in various styles including spicy, garlic-flavored or plain with sauces.

Restaurants will bring you gloves because eating crayfish can be extremely messy… The trick is to pull off the head, pull out the gross poopy intestine, dip in a sauce and munch away. Crayfish are incredibly popular and it’s impressive how many a single Chinese person can put away!

If you’ve never had crayfish before, expect them to taste like a cross between shrimp and lobster. Although I think they taste great, I get bored battling the outer layers pretty quickly. You only end up eating about 20% of the body and the rest becomes a mess of legs, intestines and brains. Why do people love crayfish but fear eating insects, I will never understand!

A popular side-dish to crayfish include rice, fish, giant peas, tofu and eggs. Crayfish season lasts through summer, with the poor creatures sizzling in the hot sun, and starts to end in September/October. There are no more crayfish just as strawberries begin to appear on the market.

It’s funny really, because China doesn’t really have spring or fall. There is only scorching summer and cold-to-the-bone winter. When it’s hot there’s crayfish. When it’s cold there’s strawberries.

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How We Killed Our Drone & Drone Shopping in China

“Dronies” are the new “selfies” now that HD video drones become incredibly cheap, portable and accessible to anyone who wants one. China is a very difficult place to shop for drones because they sell all the popular Western brands, dozens of knockoffs and their own drones that have no English reviews on the internet.

We bought our first drone two months ago. After doing lots of research, we chose to buy an UpAir One Plus drone from Taobao. UpAir drones are considered top choices for their price and a genuine One Plus drone costs $100 less in China than it does in the US. We decided to buy it on Taobao instead of JD because it was cheaper, but at the risk of no warranty.

The drone arrived and was as awesome as advertised. It took me two flights to gain confidence and to manage a steady flight – any twitch or sudden turn looks horrible on camera. We even flew the drone 300 meters high on a very windy day and it was impressively steady and returned back safely once the connection to the remote was lost.

Then we got cocky… seeing as we are foreigners, we can get away with anything in China. So we decided to fly the drone off of our favorite rooftop. This place is covered in wires and scary machines that make weird noises. Not the ideal place to fly a device that depends on satellite signals.

First we played it safe. We flew the drone up about 100 meters and landed it back down again. Then we flew it up almost 600 meters! It was so high up that we couldn’t even see it. We kept going up until the connection broke and the drone came back safely, as always. Confidence booming, we decided to fly it over the side of the building to take a “dronie” of us next to the large supermarket sign.

I was nervous, knowing this was a bad idea, but I let my husband fly it over the edge of the building anyway. The street under us was busy with cars, ebikes, pedestrians with little children… we took a quick video and that’s when I made the worst decision ever. I decided to fly the drone along the sign and then turn and fly back towards us to make a really cool video.

The drone flew along the sign just fine, still receiving over 10 satellites. I turned the drone and let it hover while I turned on video. In the blink of an eye, the drone was falling. The motors just stopped. It landed 15 meters below in the middle of the busy intersection, we couldn’t see it but we heard honks and yells. We ran as fast as we could to see who we landed on.

We expected to be greeted by a gruesome car-crash, police officers waiting to arrest us and angry people who we injured, or worse… Instead, the drone lay in pieces, no camera in sight, and no one could care less that we almost caused a deadly accident by doing something incredibly stupid. That’s China for you!

Two guys did come over to see why two foreigners were running around a busy rode picking up trash. Using hand gestures, we explained that the drone fell, broke apart and that we can’t find the camera. They helped us look around, but I was the one who found the camera about 30 meters from the crash site under a parked e-bike. It was quite the fall.

We rushed home and discovered that all of the videos but the one that was filming during the fall were safe. We sent photos of the broken drone to the seller who asked us to send back the drone so they can check for damages and fix it. We didn’t send the drone back until two months later (today). We’re hoping to get it fixed for less than $100 (the drone cost about $270).

Since we are planning a lot of cool trips soon, we also ordered two more small drones. My husband got himself the Elphie (as in selfie elf because it’s small) and I got a brandless micro drone. Both claim to have a 720P camera and cost $80 together!

From now on, we’ll have strict flying rules that we recommend you follow too. Don’t fly our drones off of buildings, above roads and over cars or people!Once we get our UpAir back, we will only fly it in large open natural areas, preferably above water. We are excited to get it back to see if it can really fly 1 kilometer high, like some owners claim.

We won’t get the UpAir back for about a month but our new drones should arrive in the next few drones. The small ones will only go fly up to 100 meters (Elphie) and 50 meters (my “other” brand micro drone), but even 10 meters is high enough for a “dronie” right?

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Getting Aliexpress to Deliver to China!

Aliexpress has been growing in popularity all over the world. People are slowly getting over the misconception that “made in China” means bad quality. You can save so much by ordering clothes and electronics “wholesale”. Due to some confusing legal mumbo-jumbo, Aliexpress doesn’t deliver to China.

A lot of online stores in Europe and the US actually mass-buy cheap items on Aliexpress and sell them for twice the price to unknowing customers. I was about to buy 3 cute dresses for $15 each before Googling “wholesale strawberry skater dress” and finding it for significantly less.

Many people living in China don’t care about Aliexpress not delivering to China because it’s owned by the same company that runs Taobao. Almost all of the items sold on Aliexpress are available on Taobao for a much lower cost. With time and determination, you can find anything you want on Taobao. But there are exceptions…

I found around 20 of my dream dresses for just $8 each on Aliexpress. I searched and searched on Taobao for days and I only managed to find 18 of the desired designs for as little as $3 each! However, two of my favorite designs were nowhere to be found.

Frustrated, I decided to message the seller on Aliexpress to ask the illegal question: “Do you have a shop on Taobao?” The answer, which was likely a lie, was “no”.

I complained to the owner, explaining that I was in China and it was too bad that Aliexpress couldn’t deliver here. The owner replied in a giggling emoticon, told me to make the order with a random US address and then message him my Chinese address. Voila – he’ll be refunding the extra delivery fee via Alipay and I’ll have my two dream dresses.

Next time you want to buy something on Aliexpress and can’t find it on Taobao, try casually messaging the store owner. Just tell them you live in China and ask if they have a delivery solution. As long as you’re not trying to go around Aliexpress, it’s not even illegal.

Never forget – ANYTHING is possible in China!

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Don’t Fear Un-refrigerated Eggs!

There is a popular misconception in most Western countries that eggs need to be refrigerated. While there are many arguments for and against refrigerating eggs, it is a fact that it is not dangerous to eat eggs that have not been in a fridge.

The simple test to see if an egg is good to eat or not is placing the eggs in a bowl/pot of water and see if they sink or float. Floating eggs should be thrown away – they have gone bad and are not safe to eat. Any eggs that sink should be safe. Caution: this doesn’t test for diseases such as salmonella!

The floating vs. sinking test also works for slightly cracked eggs. I usually test any cracked eggs as soon as I get home and cook them immediately if they sink. Keep in mind that cooked eggs should be eaten the next day or the day after that. Cooked eggs don’t last forever and there’s no sink or float test for them.

Most Chinese super markets and many outdoor vendors sell eggs that have never been refrigerated. These eggs are completely safe to eat. I’ve been buying ridiculously cheap eggs bought on the street in the middle of boiling summer and eating them raw in smoothies without any complications.

Please keep in mind that if you buy eggs that have been in the fridge, they must be kept in a fridge. I once had a bunch of eggs sitting in a hot car and they went bad. However if you buy eggs that have never been in a fridge, you can either leave them out on your counter or refrigerate them. Just know that once eggs have been in a fridge, they must stay in one.

If you love eggs, make sure to try traditional Chinese Jian Bing!

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Tonsai Beach: The Best Beach in Thailand

We visited Thailand back in December, during the mourning period for the late king. During our two week trip we saw Phuket, Krabi and Bangkok. Phuket was beautiful but crawling with drunken tourists. Bangkok was exciting but really hot without a possibility to cool off in the ocean. Then there was Krabi, which was basically paradise on earth!

To get to our accommodation on Tonsai beach, we took a ferry from Phuket. It was inexpensive, quick and extremely scenic. They also sold cheap beers on the boat! We booked the Chillout Bungalows through Airbnb. The cozy wooden huts had no hot water, electricity for just half of the day and our bathroom was full of frogs. It was the perfect getaway!

Tonsai beach is a small beach with only a few hotels and shops. It’s located in between two of the most popular beaches in Krabi: Ao Nang and Railay. Both of these are easy to get to and Ao Nang even has a McDonald’s! Tonsai, on the other hand, can only be reached by boat or via a rocky rain forest path (sometimes requiring some swimming) from Railay beach.

Traveling by long-tail boat is a lot of fun if you don’t mind getting a little wet. The boats run from as early as 6 AM to as late as 10 PM. You either have to pay for the entire boat or wait for others to join you on the journey. We never waited more than 15 minutes.

Whether or not you’re staying on Tonsai beach, I recommend that you visit it. You will be greeted on the walkway by monkeys that will grab your bags in search for food. These monkeys will also wake you up by jumping on the roof of your bungalow and will ransack through anything you leave on the beach.

Tonsai is also one of the most popular destinations for rock-climbers. The beach doesn’t get professionally cleaned like Ao Nang and Railay, so you can spend hours shell-hunting. Just avoid collecting starfish, they are illegal to travel with!

Since the beach is so inaccessible, everything there is more expensive than it would be on the adjacent beaches. However even these inflated prices are cheap when compared to prices in Western countries. The only ridiculously priced item is anti-itch medicine. If you’re a mosquito magnet like I am, these pills are your dream come true!

Finally, it’s not just cool, isolated, full of monkeys, shells and everything that is cool and awesome about Thailand. It’s also the most beautiful beach in the world! See for yourself…

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