On my trip to China this summer, I did bring insect repellent. However, the first day I slept in my new Beijing apartment, I didn’t use it. I was bitten over ten times. I later made a trip to Tianjin, to be cloistered in The Renaissance Hotel. Surely a high-class hotel wouldn’t have mosquitoes? I left my spray at home. I was wrong– they swarmed all over the lobby and meeting rooms. One of my coworkers had actually brought bug spray, yet it was Chinese herbal medicine that smells quite strongly (if you’re not Chinese, that is). Despite slathering myself with the herbal spray, I still was bitten six times.
Do yourself a favor. Bring a “Deep Woods” insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET, preferably 25-50%.
In my experience, if you are moving around, mosquitoes cannot land on you easily and you will generally not be bitten (however, this rule is broken in deeply wooded areas). However, once you sit down for a while or go to bed, it’s the prime time for the mosquitoes to strike. During these situations, wear the maximum amount of clothing that you can. For example, when I go to sleep, I turn on the air conditioning and wear long tights, t-shirt, sweater, and socks. If any of your clothes are particularly thin, make sure you spray over them with insect repellent because some mosquitoes will take the time to pierce the clothes. Then, for the parts of your body that aren’t covered, make sure to spray them thoroughly with insect repellent. For sensitive parts– like face, neck, ears– spray into your hands first and pat the repellent gently on. It’s vital that you take care of your ears, because the other night I did put insect repellent on my face and neck, but guess what? I got bitten on the ear.
Make sure you close the windows, even those that have netting, for there are mosquitoes small enough to go through the holes. Also, close your door. In China, most air conditioning is per room and not centrally controlled, so you want to conserve energy by trapping the AC in your room. It’s also a good idea to spray the borders of your door and windows with insect repellent as well.
You may buy insect repellent in the Chinese supermarkets, but there is only the herbal kind, which I’ve had a mixed track record with. You may also buy the repellent that you plug into the wall, but again, I’ve also had a mixed track record with that too– it failed to prevent the mosquito from biting my ear, despite being located around two feet away from my ear. Far and away, the best solution is DEET.