Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.
Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.
In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.
If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.
You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.
It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.