Bringing a first aid kit with you to China will save you 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 ER when all you need is some diarrhea medication to help you with that spicy Sichuan food you ate yesterday.
Drugstores and Pharmacies in China
Note, over the years I've been here in China, the types of Western-style drugstores (American's, think Walgreens or CVS) are 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
Here's a list of things I keep with me while traveling within China. If you're traveling with kids, I think it's essential. And now I even get my kids to help me remember to pack this up. They love helping to administer to the other when one of them falls and scrapes her or his knee.
- 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 in case you are questioned (highly doubtful) 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 - I recommend bringing along your favorite headache medication. Ibuprofen is pretty available in China in a brand called Fenbid in Chinese. But if you prefer paracetamol, then you may want your Tylenol along, especially if you end up with a fever.
- Diarrhea/nausea medication is essential. Even if the food you eat is fine (and it most likely will be) - it could still upset your stomach because you aren't used to it. For bad cases of diarrhea, it's great to have Cypro along with you. Ask your physician about prescribing it for you.
- Diamox or other altitude sickness medication 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, I recommend bringing it from home. There is a TCM 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 for the occasional blister from long walks. You can find normal 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 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're not used to the germs in China, it's an even better idea.
- A small kit for light wounds - this sounds more serious than it is. Think about kids running along the Great Wall or jumping from the stone fences surrounding a temple. Now imagine them falling and scraping their knees (a daily occurrence in my household). You'll want something along to clean them up.
- Alcohol swabs - You probably won't be needing to clean any serious wounds, but these are nice to have, just in case.
- Hydrogen peroxide or other cleaning agent for small cuts.
- Cotton swabs
- Cotton bandages
- Bandage tape
- Ace bandage for the twisted ankle that might occur on the Great Wall or other hikes.
- Nail scissors - perfect for cutting bandages and other essentials.