Bringing a first aid kit with you to China will save you from a headache—literally and figuratively. Many medications, or their equivalents, are available in China but you don't want to be navigating your way through a Chinese drugstore or sitting in the emergency room when all you need is some diarrhea medication to help you with that spicy Sichuan food you ate yesterday.
Drugstores and Pharmacies in China
Important to note is that the number of Western-style drugstores (such as Walgreens or CVS) is increasing. One that has branches throughout China is called Watson's and you'll be able to find a lot of the things you need in a somewhat familiar setting there. However, you won't find a lot of familiar brands.
If you ask your hotel concierge or your tour guide for a drugstore or pharmacy, you might very well be pointed to a Chinese one (where they sell Traditional Chinese Medicine or "TCM"). You might need to explain exactly what you're looking for in order to be pointed in the right direction.
First Aid Kit Packing List
This is a list of essential must-haves to bring from home while traveling within China, especially handy if you're traveling with children.
- Your prescription medication: You should bring an ample supply with you for the entire duration of your trip. You should also bring along the actual doctor's prescriptions if you can, just on the rare possibility you are questioned in customs. It's important to see your physician before you go to China to ensure you have all the prescriptions you need before you begin your travel.
- Headache medication: Bringing along your favorite headache or pain relief medication is essential. Ibuprofen is widely available in China (as a brand called Fenbid in Chinese). But if you prefer acetaminophen, then you'll want to pack some Tylenol.
- Diarrhea/nausea medication: Even if the food you eat is fine (and it most likely will be), it could still upset your stomach if you aren't used to it simply because the foods and spices are not familiar. For bad cases of diarrhea, it's great to have Cipro, an antibiotic, along with you. Ask your physician about a prescription.
- Diamox: This or another type of altitude sickness medication is necessary if you plan on going to Tibet or other high-altitude locations. You can't buy Diamox in China and you can't get it in Hong Kong without a prescription. So if you think you'll need it, bring it from home. There is a traditional Chinese medicine alternative for altitude sickness prevention, but you need to take it for weeks in advance of your trip (and frankly, it tastes terrible).
- Band-aids: These are nice to have the occasional blister from long walks. You can find band-aids even in the toiletry section of convenience stores but again, it's nice to have them already with you when you need them.
- Anti-bacterial ointment, sanitizer or other hand cleaners: It's always good to keep your hands clean, no matter where you are, but as you're coming from abroad and you won't be used to the germs in China, it's an even better idea.
- A small kit for light wounds: This is for the odd twisted ankle or knee scrape that might occur on the Great Wall or other hikes. Alcohol swabs, hydrogen peroxide, cotton swabs and bandages, bandage tape, Ace bandage and nail scissors are great to include.