We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
Supervisors, chefs, and other staff must all adhere to a strict list of disciplinary rules
The list of staff requirements appears to be a violation of Hong Kong labor laws.
At Lei Garden, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong, the guidelines for proper staff etiquette are more stringent than others. Offenses like yawning, cursing, and serving oversized portions are all subject to fines up to 100 HKD (approximately $13) per infraction, according to the South China Morning Post.
In total, there are 23 punishable offenses, according to a photo of the list posted to a Facebook group for restaurant employees. The photo was dated May 2013, so it’s not clear whether the rules still stand, though it’s a little hard to imagine when the restaurant would have reversed course.
Other infractions include stretching, using toothpicks, and other “indecent” behaviors. Chefs who exceed the portion size indicated on the menu are also fined, for causing the restaurant to lose money. The system also includes a “demerit” system, for any employee whose service is criticized by a customer.
According to the South China Morning Post, the penalty list is a breach of the Employment Ordinance, and the restaurant could face fines up to 100,000 HKD (approximately $13,000), plus jail time for those responsible.
Staff at Lei Garden told the publication that they were not aware of the list, and the restaurant has not provided a comment.
Over the years, we have been fortunate to travel the world over which has deeply inﬂuenced our lives and fueled our careers as artists and restaurateurs. For almost 20 years, we have successfully drawn from these travels, inspiring us to create unique and dynamic Nobu restaurant experiences around the globe. The theatrical allure of the restaurants has built a strong following of vibrant international customers, celebrities, tastemakers and powerbrokers.
Our vision fully extends to Nobu Hotels and Residences that are built on the same key principles as our restaurants encompassing the unique chemistry and perfect balance of luxury, fun, craft and theater. This new luxury collection will span across the same geographic footprint as our restaurants have done providing the ultimate in style and entertainment.
Nobu Hotels offer a sensual, sultry, fusion of laid-back luxury, high-energy nightlife, exclusive guest room retreats and spa services. It is the ultimate playground for our international client base and will be like no other.
NOBU HOTELS – By “wrapping” the concept of a luxurious boutique hotel around energized public spaces, Nobu Hotels creates powerful stages for shared experiences of excitement and escapism. Featuring the best of everything with imaginative new restaurants, high-energy bars, relaxing ejuvenation, distinctive service, remarkable retail and an air of celebrity, Nobu Hotels will afford guests and privileged owners the most exclusive entry into unparalleled experiences that lay at the crossroads of innovation and imagination.
THE NOBU COLLECTION – Individual and exclusive retreats located in exotic destinations and gateway cities, where our guests seek luxurious sanctuaries in discerning environments. The hideaway retreats offer distinctive service and luxury products each set with an individual style.
The Rough Guide to China (Travel Guide eBook)
The new, fully updated The Rough Guide to China is the definitive guide to this enchanting country, one of the world's oldest civilisations. From the high-tech cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai to minority villages in Yunnan and Buddhist temples of Tibet, China's mixture of modernity and ancient traditions never fails to impress. With stunning new photography and all the best places to eat, sleep, party and shop, The Rough Guide to China has everything need to ensure you don't miss a thing in this fast-changing nation.
Detailed, full-colour maps help you find the best spot for Peking duck or navigate Beijing's backstreets. Itineraries make planning easy, and a Contexts section gives in-depth background on China's history and culture, as well language tips, with handy words and phrases to ease your journey.
All this, combined with detailed coverage of the country's best attractions, from voyages down the Yangzi River to hiking the infamous Great Wall, makes The Rough Guide to China the essential companion to delve into China's greatest treasures.
Loisirs et hobbies
Voyages - guides
|Publié par||Apa Publications|
|Date de parution||01 juin 2017|
|Nombre de lectures||0|
|Poids de l'ouvrage||90 Mo|
Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0047€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.
CONTENTS HOW TO USE INTRODUCTION Where to go When to go Author picks Things not to miss Itineraries BASICS Getting there Getting around Accommodation Eating and drinking Health Culture and etiquette The media Festivals Shopping Sports and outdoor activities Travelling with children Travel essentials THE GUIDE Beijing and around Hebei and Tianjin Dongbei The Yellow River The eastern seaboard Shanghai and around The Yangzi basin Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan Island Hong Kong and Macau Guangxi and Guizhou Yunnan Sichuan and Chongqing The Northwest Tibet CONTEXTS History Chinese beliefs Traditional Chinese Medicine Art Music Film Books Chinese Glossary MAPS AND SMALL PRINT Introduction Introduction Cover Table of Contents
HOW TO USE THIS ROUGH GUIDE EBOOK
This Rough Guide is one of a new generation of informative and easy-to-use travel-guide ebooks that guarantees you make the most of your trip. An essential tool for pre-trip planning, it also makes a great travel companion when you re on the road.
From the table of contents , you can click straight to the main sections of the ebook. Start with the Introduction , which gives you a flavour of China, with details of what to see, what not to miss, itineraries and more - everything you need to get started. This is followed by Basics , with pre-departure tips and practical information, such as flight details and health advice. The guide chapters offer comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the whole of China, including area highlights and full-colour maps featuring all the sights and listings. Finally, Contexts fills you in on history, Chinese beliefs, traditional Chinese medicine, art, music, film and books, and includes a handy Language section.
Detailed area maps feature in the guide chapters and are also listed in the dedicated map section , accessible from the table of contents. Depending on your hardware, you can double-tap on the maps to see larger-scale versions, or select different scales. There are also thumbnails below more detailed maps - in these cases, you can opt to zoom left/top or zoom right/bottom or view the full map. The screen-lock function on your device is recommended when viewing enlarged maps. Make sure you have the latest software updates, too.
Throughout the guide, we ve flagged up our favourite places - a perfectly sited hotel, an atmospheric caf , a special restaurant - with the author pick icon . You can select your own favourites and create a personalized itinerary by bookmarking the sights, venues and activities that are of interest, giving you the quickest possible access to everything you ll need for your time away.
INTRODUCTION TO CHINA
China is a nation on the march. As it accelerates away from its preindustrial cocoon at a rate unmatched in human history, huge new cities with cutting-edge architecture continue to spring up, connected by an ever-expanding high-speed rail network. But look closer and you’ll see China’s splendidly diverse geographic, ethnic, culinary and social make-up is not lost modernity conceals a civilization that has remained intact, continually recycling itself, for over four millennia. Chinese script was perfected during the Han dynasty (220 BC AD), and the stone lions that stand sentinel outside skyscrapers first appeared as temple guardians over three thousand years ago. Indeed, it is the contrast between change and continuity that make modern China so fascinating.
FACT FILE With an area of 9.6 million square kilometres, China is the fourth-largest country in the world and the most populous nation on Earth, with around 1.38 billion people. Of these, 92 percent are of the Han ethnic group, with the remainder comprising 55 officially recognized minorities such as Mongols, Uyghurs and Tibetans. The main religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity, though the country is officially atheist. China’s longest river is the Yangzi (6275km) and the highest peak is Chomolungma – Mount Everest (8850m) – on the Nepalese border. The Chinese Communist Party is the sole political organization, and is divided into Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. The chief of state (President) and the head of government (Premier) are elected for five-year terms at the National People’s Congress. Though few industries are state owned nowadays, the uncontrolled free-market economy of recent times is being reigned in by the current administration.
The first thing that strikes visitors to this country is the extraordinary density of its population. In much of eastern, central and southern China, villages, towns and cities seem to sprawl endlessly into one another along the grey arteries of busy expressways. Move to the far south or west, however, and the population thins out as it begins to vary large areas are inhabited not by the “Chinese”, but by scores of distinct ethnic minorities, ranging from animist hill tribes to urban Muslims. Here, the landscape begins to dominate: green paddy fields and misty hilltops in the southwest, the scorched, epic vistas of the old Silk Road in the northwest, and the magisterial mountains of Tibet.
Although abundant buses, flights and high-speed trains have made getting around China the easiest it has ever been, to get under the skin of this country is still no simple matter. The main tourist highlights – the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army and the Yangzi gorges – are relatively few considering the vast size of the country, and much of China’s historic architecture has been deliberately destroyed in the rush to modernize. Added to this are the frustrations of travelling in a land where few people speak English, the writing system is alien and foreigners are sometimes viewed as exotic objects of intense curiosity – though overall you’ll find that Chinese people, despite a reputation for curtness, are generally hospitable and friendly.
FROM TOP GIANT PANDAS, SICHUAN HONG KONG BY NIGHT
Where to go
As China has opened up in recent years, so the emphasis on tourism has changed. Many well-known cities and sights have become so developed that their charm has vanished, while in remoter regions – particularly Tibet, Yunnan and the Northwest – previously restricted or “undiscovered” places have become newly accessible. The following outline is a selection of both “classic” China sights and less-known attractions, which should come in handy when planning a schedule.
Inevitably, Beijing is on everyone’s itinerary, and the Great Wall and the splendour of the Forbidden City are certainly not to be missed the capital also offers some of the country’s best food and nightlife. Chengde , too, just north of Beijing, has some stunning imperial buildings, constructed by emperors when this was their favoured retreat for the summer.
South of the capital, the Yellow River valley is the cradle of Chinese civilization, where remnants of the dynastic age lie scattered in a unique landscape of loess terraces. The cave temples at Datong and Luoyang are magnificent, with huge Buddhist sculptures staring out impassively across their now industrialized settings. Of the historic capitals, Xi’an is the most obvious destination, where the celebrated Terracotta Army still stands guard over the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Other ancient towns include sleepy Kaifeng in Henan, and Qufu , the birthplace of Confucius, in Shandong, both offering architectural treasures and an intimate, human scale that’s hard to find in the large cities. The area is also well supplied with holy mountains , providing both beautiful scenery and a rare continuity with the past: Tai Shan is perhaps the grandest and most imperial of the country’s pilgrimage sites Song Shan in Henan sees followers of the contemporary kung fu craze making the trek to the Shaolin Temple, where the art originated and Wutai Shan in Shanxi features some of the best-preserved religious sites in the country.
Dominating China’s east coast near the mouth of the Yangzi, Shanghai is the mainland’s most Westernized city, a booming port where the Art Deco monuments of the old European-built Bund – the riverside business centre – rub shoulders with a hypermodern metropolis, crowned with some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Shanghai’s modernity and profit-driven population finds a natural rival in the international commercial hub of Hong Kong , off China’s south coast. With its colonial heritage and refreshingly cosmopolitan outlook, there’s almost nothing Hong Kong cannot offer in the way of tourist facilities, from fine beaches to great eating, drinking and nightlife. Nearby Macau is also worth a visit, if not for its casinos then for its Baroque churches and Portuguese cuisine.
In the southwest of the country, Sichuan’s Chengdu and Yunnan’s Kunming remain two of China’s most easy-going provincial capitals, and the entire region is, by any standards, exceptionally diverse, with landscapes encompassing everything from snowbound summits and alpine lakes to steamy tropical jungles. The karst (limestone peak) scenery is particularly renowned, especially along the Li River between Yangshuo and Guilin in Guangxi. In Sichuan, pilgrims flock to see the colossal Great Buddha at Leshan , and to ascend the holy mountain of Emei Shan to the east, the city of Chongqing marks the start of river trips down the Yangzi , Asia’s longest river, through the Three Gorges . As Yunnan and Guangxi share borders with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma), and Sichuan rubs up against Tibet, it’s not surprising to find that the area is home to dozens of ethnic autonomous regions. The attractions of the latter range from the traditional Bai town of Dali , the wild splendor of Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Dai villages of Xishuangbanna in Yunnan, to the Khampa heartlands of western Sichuan, the exuberant festivals and textiles of Guizhou’s Miao and the wooden architecture of Dong settlements in Guangxi’s north.
The huge area of China referred to as the Northwest is where the people thin out and real wilderness begins. Inner Mongolia , just hours from Beijing, is already at the frontiers of Central Asia here you can follow in the footsteps of Genghis Khan by horseriding on the endless grasslands of the steppe. To the south and west, the old Silk Road heads out of Xi’an right to and through China’s western borders, via Jiayuguan , terminus of the Great Wall of China, and the lavish Buddhist cave art in the sandy deserts of Dunhuang .
West of here lie the mountains and deserts of vast Xinjiang, where China blends into old Turkestan and where simple journeys between towns become modern travel epics. The oasis cities of Turpan and Kashgar , with their bazaars and Muslim heritage, are the main attractions, though the blue waters of Tian Chi , offering alpine scenery in the midst of searing desert, are deservedly popular. Beyond Kashgar, travellers face some of the most adventurous routes of all, over the Khunjerab and Torugart passes to Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan respectively.
Tibet remains an exotic destination. Despite 65 years of Chinese rule, coupled with a mass migration of Han Chinese into the region, the manifestations of Tibetan culture are perceptibly intact – the Potala Palace in Lhasa , red-robed monks, lines of pilgrims turning prayer wheels, butter sculptures and gory frescoes decorating monastery halls. And Tibet’s mountain scenery, which includes Mount Everest and Mount Kailash is worth the trip in itself, even if opportunities for independent travel are very limited.
Thousands of martial arts have evolved in China, usually in isolated communities that had to defend themsevles, such as temples and clan villages. All, though, can be classed into two basic types: external (“hard”) styles concentrate on building up physical strength to overpower opponents the trickier internal (“soft”) styles concentrate on developing and focusing the internal energy known as qi . Both styles use forms – prearranged sets of movements – to develop the necessary speed, power and timing as well as kicks, punches and open palm strikes, they also incorporate movements inspired by animals.
The most famous external style is Shaolin kung fu , developed in the Shaolin Temple in Henan province and known for powerful kicks and animal styles – notably eagle, mantis and monkey. The classic Shaolin weapon is the staff, and there’s even a drunken form, where the practitioner sways and lurches as if inebriated.
But the style that you’re most likely to see – it’s practised in the open all over the country – is the internal tai ji quan . The body is held in a state of minimal tension to create the art’s characteristic “soft” appearance. Its emphasis on slow movements and increasing qi flow means it is excellent for health, and it’s a popular workout for the elderly.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP HIGH-SPEED TRAIN NANJING MONG KOK FOOD STALL, HONG KONG HAND-PRINTING CHINESE SCRIPT
When to go
China’s climate is extremely diverse. The south is subtropical, with wet, humid summers (April–Sept), when temperatures can approach 40°C, and a typhoon season on the southeast coast between July and September. Though it is often still hot enough to swim in the sea in December, the short winters (Jan–March) can be surprisingly chilly.
Central China has brief, cold winters, with temperatures dipping below zero, and long, hot, humid summers: the three Yangzi cities – Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing – are proverbially referred to as China’s three “furnaces”. Rainfall here is high all year round. The Yellow River basin marks a rough boundary beyond which central heating is fitted as standard in buildings, helping to make the region’s harsh winters a little more tolerable. Winter temperatures in Beijing rarely rise above freezing from December to March, and biting winds off the Mongolian plains add a vicious wind-chill factor, yet summers can be well over 30°C. In Inner Mongolia and Dongbei , winters are at least clear and dry, but temperatures remain way below zero, while summers can be uncomfortably warm. Xinjiang gets fiercely hot in summer, though without the humidity of the rest of the country, and winters are as bitter as anywhere else in northern China. Tibet is ideal in midsummer, when its mountain plateaus are pleasantly warm and dry in winter, however, temperatures in the capital, Lhasa, frequently fall below freezing.
Overall, the best time to visit China is spring or autumn, when the weather is at its most temperate.
FROM TOP LONGJI TITIAN, “DRAGON’S SPINE TERRACES” TAI JI ON THE BUND, SHANGHAI
FROM LEFT LAKE KARAKUL THE JOKHANG, LHASA DONG DRUM TOWER, ZHAOXING
Our authors spent several months researching every corner of China, from sprawling Mongolian grasslands to city nightclubs, Tibet’s awe-inspiring mountains and Beijing’s maze of hutongs . These destinations are some of their personal favourites.
High-tech cityscapes For superlative views of glittering urban architecture, head to the Shanghai Tower or the Peak in Hong Kong – preferably at night – and gaze down across forests of luminous, futuristic towers.
Ethnic minorities Experience China’s cultural diversity in Tibetan monastery towns , Dai and Bai villages , Uyghur mosques and Mongolian nomad tents .
Epic scenery Drink in dramatic landscapes at Lake Karakul , its fridgid shores grazed by bactrian camels Zhangjiajie’s spectacular forest of splintered stone pinnacles, wreathed in cloud and the grandeur of Meili Xue Shan’s frosted summit.
Chinese cuisine Indulge yourself with a crispy, calorie-laden Peking duck in Beijing, a simple bowl of beef noodles in Lanzhou, a bright and noisy dim sum breakfast in Hong Kong, or one of Sichuan’s scorching, chilli-laden hotpots .
Top hikes Wear out your hiking shoes on a two-day trail through Tiger Leaping Gorge , the 65km-long staircase to the summit of Emei Shan or a two-hour leg stretch along Hong Kong’s Dragon’s Back path.
Traditional architecture Explore the medieval walled town of Pingyao , Jokhang Tibetan temple , domestic buildings at Yixian , the Dong drum towers and bridges at the Guangxi–Guizhou border and Zigong’s merchant guildhalls.
Vanished cultures The country’s inhospitable, far western fringes hide remains of long-forgotten civilizations. Try Tibet’s all-but-unheard-of Guge Kingdom or the haystack-shaped mausoleums of Ningxia’s Western Xia rulers.
Our author recommendations don’t end here. We’ve flagged up our favourite places – a perfectly sited hotel, an atmospheric café, a special restaurant – throughout the Guide, highlighted with the symbol.
< Back to Introduction
31 THINGS NOT TO MISS
It’s not possible to see everything that China has to offer in one trip – and we don’t suggest you try. What follows is a selective taste of the highlights: natural wonders and outstanding sights, plus the best activities and experiences. All highlights have a reference to take you straight into the Guide, where you can find out more.
1 Terracotta Army, Xi’an These 2200-year-old, life-sized warriors protect the tomb of China’s first emperor.
2 Jiayuguan Fort, Gansu Famously lonely desert outpost, guarding the remote western tail end of the Great Wall.
3 Hong Kong harbour views Take the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui to admire one of the world’s most spectacular cityscapes.
4 Labrang Monastery, Xiahe Rub shoulders with pilgrims and red-robed clergy at this enormous complex, one of the pivots of Tibetan Lamaism.
5 The Yellow River at Shapotou Witness how “China’s Sorrow”, the mighty Yellow River, is being used to revegetate desert dunes.
6 Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan One of China’s great hikes, along a steep-sided canyon, with attractive homestays along the way.
7 Kashgar’s Sunday market Central Asian crowds trade sheep, horses, cattle, camels and more at Xinjiang’s premier frontier bazaar.
8 The Jokhang, Lhasa Stuffed with gorgeous statuary and wreathed in juniper smoke, this is Tibet’s holiest temple.
9 Taking tea, Sichuan Offering unlimited refills, Sichuanese teahouses make relaxed places to drink, socialize, read or gossip.
10 Cruising the Yangzi River Enjoy awesome scenery and intriguing history in a journey through China’s dramatic Three Gorges.
11 Silk Road sand dunes Ride camels across vast dunes at Dunhuang, and explore the nearby ancient Mogao Buddhist grottoes.
12 Minority Villages, Yunnan Bordering Laos, Burma and Vietnam, Yunnan’s 28 recognized ethnic groups enjoy distinct cultures and lifestyles.
13 Chengde The former imperial retreat from the heat of summer holds a string of pretty temples.
14 Mount Kailash, Tibet Make a tough pilgrimage circuit around this striking mountain, considered holy by four different religions.
15 Tai Shan, Shandong A taxing ascent up endless stone staircases is rewarded with some immaculate temples and pavilions.
16 Sisters’ meal festival Join thousands of locals at Taijiang, Guizhou, during a wild three-day showcase of ethnic Miao culture.
17 Hanging Temple, Heng Shan Rickety wooden shrines to China’s three core faiths, suspended on a cliff-face by flimsy-looking scaffolding.
18 Mogao Caves, Gansu Roam millennia-old grottoes, packed with beautiful Buddhist sculptures, at this former Silk Road pilgrimage site.
19 Pingyao, Shaanxi With an old town encircled by massive stone walls, Pingyao is a splendid time capsule of Qing-dynasty architecture.
20 The Great Wall Hike along unrestored sections of this monumental barrier, which once protected China from the outside world.
21 Harbin Ice festival Enjoy a fantastical array of hand-carved tableaux – including full-sized castles – all luridly illuminated from within.
22 Changbai Shan Nature Reserve Remote wilderness whose stunning highlight is the view over Tian Chi, “Heaven’s Lake”, into North Korea.
23 Quanzhou, Fujian Attractive old port, featuring the iconic Kaiyuan Temple and Qingjing Mosque, plus a fascinating maritime museum and the sculpture of Laozi.
24 Caohai Lake Spend a relaxing day being punted around this shallow lake in search of rare black-necked cranes.
25 Forbidden City, Beijing Once only accessible to emperors, the centre of the Chinese imperial universe is now open to all.
26 Peking Duck Tuck into this delicious northern Chinese speciality – all crispy skin and juicy meat, eaten in a pancake.
27 Meili Xue Shan A wilderness area in northwestern Yunnan, holy to Tibetans, which offers superlative hiking and staggering scenery.
28 Li River Ride a boat or a bamboo raft through the heart of this weird, poetical landscape, past a host of contorted limestone pinnacles.
29 Dim sum The classic Cantonese breakfast there’s no better place to try it than in Guangzhou.
30 The Bund, Shanghai Watch Chinese holidaymakers queuing up to have their photos taken against Shanghai’s luminous, futuristi c skyline.
31 Big Buddha, Leshan Marvel at the world’s largest carved Buddha, hewn into a riverside cliff way back during the Tang dynasty.
< Back to Introduction
THE LI RIVER
China is vast, and you’ll barely be able to scratch the surface on a single trip. The following itineraries will, however, give you an in-depth look at some of the country’s most fascinating areas – the Grand Tour covers the essentials, while the other suggested routes cover the trip to the deserts of the west, and China’s tropical southwestern corner.
This tour ticks the major boxes – historical sights, gorgeous countryside and sizzling cities. Allow two weeks in a hurry, or three at a more leisurely pace.
1 Beijing The Chinese capital is packed with essential sights, including the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall.
2 Pingyao Step back in time inside the walls of this charming, traffic-free Ming-dynasty town, spending the night at a traditional courtyard inn.
3 Xi’an Dynastic capital for a millennium, Xi’an is filled with treasures, including the enigmatic Terracotta Army, built to guard the tomb of China’s despotic first emperor.
4 Chengdu The Sichuanese capital features traditional teahouses, fire-breathing opera, lively temples and locally bred pandas.
5 Three Gorges Take a three-day cruise down this impressive stretch of the mighty Yangtze River, between Chongqing and the massive Three Gorges Dam.
6 Yangshuo Cycle between jagged limestone peaks and brilliant green paddy fields surrounding Yangshuo village, which looks like something straight off a Chinese scroll painting.
7 Hong Kong Stunning cityscapes, modern conveniences, serious shopping, glorious beaches, wonderful mountain trails and superb cuisine – this bustling territory has it all.
This three-week-long trip takes you from Beijing to China’s Wild West, where you can ride horses across Mongolian grasslands, or soak up Uyghur culture in Xinjiang.
1 Beijing Before setting out, get a taster of northwestern China in Beijing’s Muslim quarter, where street hawkers sell delicious skewers of barbecued lamb.
2 Datong Cycle around Datong’s rebuilt city walls, then bus out to giant Buddhist sculptures at the Yungang caves, and the gravity-defying Hanging Temple.
3 Grasslands Use pleasant Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, to explore the never-ending grasslands to the north, preferably on horseback.
4 Shapotou See the mighty Yellow River flowing smoothly between desert dunes at this tiny, remote resort town in upcountry rural Ningxia – a spellbinding sight.
5 Lanzhou Slurp down outstanding beef noodles at this former garrison town along the fabled Silk Road, the gateway to China’s Muslim Northwest.
6 Jiayuguan The fortress at the Great Wall’s western extremity, over 2000km from Beijing, is impressive for its mighty defences, yet dwarfed by the stark desert scenery.
7 Dunhuang Ride a camel across 300m-high dunes outside this small city, then explore the marvellous galleries of ancient Buddhist sculptures at the Mogao caves.
8 Turpan Small, relaxed oasis town, with a main street shaded by grape trellises and a surrounding desert packed with historical relics from its former Silk Road heyday.
9 Kashgar Frontier city where Chinese, Uyghur and Central Asian cultures mix: don’t miss the astonishing Sunday Bazaar, crammed with metalwork, spices and livestock traders.
SIGHTS OF THE SOUTHWEST
The southwestern provinces offer spellbinding mountain vistas, karst-dotted rivers and rushing waterfalls, alongside fascinating minority villages and laidback cities.
1 Emei Shan Join Buddhist pilgrims ascending this forested, temple-studded mountain up seemingly endless flights of stone steps.
2 Dafo This gigantic Buddha statue was completed in 803 AD and remains one of the world’s biggest religious sculptures.
3 Jiuzhaigou Enchanting alpine valley of calcified waterfalls and lovely blue lakes, all surrounded by magestically forested peaks – get in early to beat the crowds.
4 Tiger Leaping Gorge Starting from the old Naxi town of Lijiang, make the two-day hike through a stunning landscape of fractured granite mountains and deep river canyons.
5 Dali Dali’s laidback street life and outlying minority villages encourage unplanned long stays.
6 Kunming The cheery, pleasantly warm Yunnanese capital retains considerable charm despite its modernity. Don’t forget to try the famous “Crossing-the-Bridge” noodles.
7 Kaili Jumping-off point for visiting villages of the Miao minority, famed for their festivals and spectacular embroideries.
8 Li River Take a cruise down this magical river, lined with karst pinnacles, between Guilin and Yangshuo.
< Back to Introduction
Eating and drinking
Culture and etiquette
Sports and outdoor activities
Travelling with children
China’s most important long-haul international gateways are Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai, though many other Chinese cities are served by international flights, operated mainly by airlines based in East Asia. There are also well-established overland routes into China – including road and rail links from its Southeast Asian neighbours, as well as the alluring Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow.
Fares to Hong Kong are at their highest during the fortnight before Christmas, the fortnight before Chinese New Year and from June to early October. The cheapest time to fly there is in February (after Chinese New Year), May and November. For Beijing and Shanghai, peak season is generally in the summer. Flying on weekends is slightly more expensive price ranges quoted below are for midweek travel.
A BETTER KIND OF TRAVEL
At Rough Guides we are passionately committed to travel. We believe it helps us understand the world we live in and the people we share it with – and of course tourism is vital to many developing economies. But the scale of modern tourism has also damaged some places irreparably, and climate change is accelerated by most forms of transport, especially flying. All Rough Guides’ flights are carbon-offset, and every year we donate money to a variety of environmental charities.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
You can fly direct from London Heathrow to Beijing (10hr) with Air China or British Airways to Hong Kong (12hr) with British Airways, Cathay Pacific or Virgin Atlantic to Guangzhou with China Southern (12hr) or to Shanghai (17hr) with British Airways, China Eastern or Virgin Atlantic. Other airlines that fly via a change of planes in a hub city include Aeroflot, Air France, KLM, Qatar, Singapore and Thai.
You can also fly direct from London Gatwick to Tianjin with Tianjin Airlines (13hr) and from Manchester to Hong Kong (with Cathay Pacific 11hr) or Beijing (with Hainan Air 11hr) a Manchester–Shanghai route might also be in the pipeline. Flying to China from other UK airports or from the Republic of Ireland involves either catching a connecting flight to London or Manchester, or flying via the airline’s hub city.
From the UK, the lowest available fares to Beijing, Hong Kong or Shanghai start from around 𧸴 in low season, rising to above 𨀼 in high season. Under a deal struck in 2016, it’s possible that the number of direct UK-to-China flights will double in the near future.
Flights from the US and Canada
From North America, there are more flights to Hong Kong than to other Chinese destinations, though there’s no shortage of flights to Beijing and Shanghai, and there are some direct services to Guangzhou. Airlines flying direct include Air Canada, Air China, Cathay Pacific, United and China Eastern. You can also choose to fly to a Chinese provincial city – Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hong Kong airlines offer services to cities throughout China via their respective hubs. It takes around thirteen hours to reach Beijing from the West Coast add seven hours or more to this if you start from the East Coast (including a stopover on the West Coast en route). Routes over the North Pole shave off a couple of hours’ flying time these include Air Canada’s routes from Toronto, Air China’s from New York, United’s from Chicago and Continental’s flights from Newark to Beijing.
Round-trip fares to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai are broadly comparable: in low season, expect to pay US$750 from the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver), or US$900 from the East Coast (New York, Montréal, Toronto). To get a good fare during high season, buy your ticket as early as possible.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
The closest entry point into China from Australia and New Zealand is Hong Kong, though from Australia it’s also possible to fly direct to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. It’s not a problem to fly elsewhere in China from either country if you catch a connecting flight along the way, though this can involve a layover in the airline’s hub city.
From eastern Australia , expect to pay AU$750 to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Air Asia or Virgin Australia/Singapore Airlines AU$600 to Shanghai with China Eastern, Xiamen Air, Qantas, Air China or China Southern and AU$600 to Beijing with Xiamen Air, Air China or China Eastern. Cathay, Qantas, Air China and China Eastern fly direct other trips require a stopover in the airline’s hub city. From Perth , fares to the above destinations are around AU$100 more expensive.
Flights from New Zealand are limited the only direct flights are with Hong Kong Airlines, China Southern, Air China or Cathay Pacific/Air New Zealand from Auckland to Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong (NZ$800). You might find cheaper deals if you’re prepared to stop off en route try Air Asia (for Beijing or Hong Kong), or China Southern (for Shanghai).
From South Africa , South African Airways have direct flights from Johannesburg to Hong Kong (14hr from ZAR4500) for Beijing, Shanghai or anywhere else on the mainland you’re looking at upwards of ZAR7500 and will have to change planes along the way.
If China is only one stop on a much longer journey, you might want to consider buying a Round-the-World ( RTW ) ticket (from around /US$1800). Some travel agents can sell you an “off-the-shelf” RTW ticket that will have you touching down in about half a dozen cities (Beijing and Hong Kong are on many itineraries) others will have to assemble one for you, which can be tailored to your needs but is often more expensive.
Airlines, agents and operators
When booking airfares, the cheapest online deals are often with stock operators such as STA, Trailfinders and Flight Centres, though it’s always worth checking airline websites themselves for specials – and, often, a lot more flexibility with refunds and changing dates.
Air China www.airchina.com.cn/en
Air New Zealand airnz.co.nz
All Nippon Airways www.anaskyweb.com
Asiana Airlines flyasiana.com
Austrian Airlines austrian.com
Cathay Pacific cathaypacific.com
China Airlines china-airlines.com
China Eastern Airlines ceair.com
China Southern Airlines csair.com
Hainan Airlines hainanairlines.com
Hong Kong Airlines hongkongairlines.com
Malaysia Airlines malaysiaairlines.com
Nepal Airlines nepalairlines.com.np
Qatar Airways qatarairways.com
Royal Brunei flyroyalbrunei.com
Singapore Airlines singaporeair.com
South African Airways flysaa.com
Thai Airways www.thaiair.com
Tianjin Airlines tianjinairlines.co.uk/
Turkish Airlines turkishairlines.com
United Airlines united.com
Vietnam Airlines vietnamairlines.com
Virgin Atlantic virgin-atlantic.com
Virgin Australia virginaustralia.com
Absolute Asia Can 1 212 627 1950, absolutetravel.com . Numerous tours, all in first-class accommodation, from six-day tasters to the sixteen-day “Silk Road” expedition.
Adventures Abroad US 1 800 665 3998, adventures-abroad.com . Small-group specialists with two-week tours from Beijing and Shanghai to Hong Kong, plus interesting Silk Road trips from Uzbekistan to Beijing, and Yunnan/Tibet adventures.
Asian Pacific Adventures US 1 800 825 1680, asianpacificadventures.com . Numerous tours of China, the most interesting of which focus on southwestern ethnic groups and overlooked rural corners.
Bamboo Trails Taiwan 886 07 7354945, bambootrails.com . A small travel company specializing in the Chinese world, offering some unique group itineraries (including Movie China and The Bamboo Trail), as well as high-end, tailor-made trips.
Bike Asia China 0773 8826521, bikeasia.com . Guided bicycle tours ranging from day-long pedals around rural Guangxi to two-week epic rides across southwestern China.
Birdfinders UK 01258 839066, birdfinders.co.uk . Several trips per year to find rare and endemic species in Sichuan and northeast China.
China Direct UK 020 7538 2840, chinadirect-travel.co.uk . Reliable British agency with more than two decades of experience in China, specializing in small-group and tailor-made tours. Their nine-day “Pandas and Palaces” tour is great for the big draws of Beijing, Xi’an and Chengdu.
China Holidays UK 020 7487 2999, chinaholidays.co.uk . Aside from mainstream packages to the Three Gorges, Shanghai and Guilin, they also run themed tours, including cooking and birdwatching specials.
CTS Horizons UK 020 7868 5590, ctshorizons.com . The China Travel Service’s UK branch, offering an extensive range of tours including some cheap off-season hotel-and-flight packages to Beijing, and tailor-made private tours.
Exodus UK 020 3603 9372, www.exodus.co.uk US 1844 227 9087, exodustravels.com . Some interesting and unusual overland itineraries around China and in the wilds of Tibet, Inner Mongolia and the Northwest, from a week-long whizz around the highlights to a month of walking, hiking and biking expeditions.
Explore Worldwide UK 01252 760000, explore.co.uk . Big range of small-group tours and treks, including Tibet and trips along the Yangzi. Their 21-day “shoestring” tour is particularly popular.
Geographic Expeditions US 1 888 570 7108, geoex.com . Travel among the ethnic groups of Guizhou, Tibet, Yunnan and western Sichuan, as well as more straightforward trips around Shanghai and Beijing.
Insider Journey Aus 1300 138 755, insiderjourneys.com.au . Covers the obvious China sights and a bit more also arranges visas for Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Intrepid Travel UK 0800 781 1660, Aus 03 9473 2673 intrepidtravel.com . Excellent small-group tours with the emphasis on cross-cultural contact and low-impact tourism visits some fairly out-of-the-way corners of China.
Mir Corp US 206 624 7289, mircorp.com . Specialists in Trans-Siberian rail travel, for small groups as well as individual travellers.
Mountain Travel Sobek US 1 888 831 7526, mtsobek.com . Adventure tours to Tibet, northern Yunnan and along the Silk Road.
North South Travel UK 01245 608291, northsouthtravel.co.uk . Friendly, competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide, including to Beijing. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.
On the Go Tours UK 020 7371 1113, Aus 07 3358 3385 onthegotours.com . Runs group and tailor-made tours, many tying in with China’s most interesting festivals.
Pacific Delight Tours US 1 800 221 7179, pacificdelighttours.com . City breaks, cruises along the Li and Yangzi rivers, plus a range of tours to Tibet, the Silk Road and western Yunnan.
Peregrine Aus 1300 854 445, peregrineadventures.com . Tours to the Silk Road, the Yangzi, Tibet and a complete “China Highlights” package, from two to four weeks.
Regent Holidays UK 020 7666 1244, regent-holidays.co.uk . Offers Trans-Siberian packages for individual travellers in either direction and with different possible stopover permutations, as well as interesting China tours.
The Russia Experience UK 0845 521 2910, Aus 1300 654 861 trans-siberian.co.uk . Besides detailing their excellent Trans-Siberian packages, their website is a veritable mine of information about the railway.
STA Travel UK 033 321 0099, US 800 781 4040, Aus 134 782, NZ 0800 474 400, SA 0861 781 781 statravel.co.uk . Worldwide specialists in independent travel also student IDs, travel insurance, rail passes, and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s. China options include tours from 8 to 21 days, covering Beijing, Shanghai and the Yangzi and Li rivers, among others.
Sundowners UK 020 8877 7657, Aus 03 9672 5386, NZ 0800 770 156 sundownersoverland.com . Tours of the Silk Road also does Trans-Siberian rail bookings.
Trailfinders UK 020 7368 1200, Ireland 01 677 7888, Aus 1300 780 212 trailfinders.com . One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers. Numerous China options on offer.
Travel CUTS Canada 1 866 246 9762, US 1 800 592 2887 travelcuts.com . Canadian youth and student travel firm.
Wendy Wu Tours UK 0800 1445 282, wendywutours.co.uk . Long-running operator specializing in China and Southeast Asia focuses on taking groups to main sights, but also offers less-mainstream packages to Yunnan, Sichuan and the Northwest.
Wild China Beijing 010 6465 6602, wildchina.com . Small group tours to out-of-the-way places, such as minority villages in Guizhou, as well as Tibet tours and tracking pandas in Sichuan.
World Expeditions UK 0800 074 4135, worldexpeditions.co.uk Aus 1300 720 000, worldexpeditions.com.au NZ 0800 350 354, worldexpeditions.co.nz . Offers cycling and hiking tours in rural areas, including a Great Wall trek.
China has a number of land borders open to foreign travellers, though you’ll need to research the current paperwork situation for each (and possibly obtain relevant visas) before leaving home. Remember too that Chinese visas must be used within three months of their date of issue, meaning that on a longer trip, you may have to apply for one en route – something that’s becoming increasingly difficult.
Via Russia and Mongolia
One of the classic overland routes to China is through Russia by train to Beijing. As a one-off trip, the rail journey is a memorable way to begin or end a stay in China views of stately birch forests, misty lakes and arid plateaus help time pass much faster than you’d think, and there are frequent stops during which you can wander the station platform, purchasing food and knick-knacks – package trips include more lengthy stopovers. The trains are comfortable and clean: second-class compartments contain four berths, while first-class have two and even boast a private shower.
There are actually two rail lines from Moscow to Beijing: the Trans-Manchurian , which runs almost as far as the Sea of Japan before turning south through Dongbei (Manchuria) to Beijing and the Trans-Mongolian , which cuts through Mongolia from Siberia. The Manchurian train takes about six days, the Mongolian train about five. The latter is more popular with foreigners, a scenic route that rumbles past Lake Baikal and Siberia, the grasslands of Mongolia, and the desert of northwest China, skirting the Great Wall along the way. At the Mongolia/China border, you can watch as the undercarriage is switched to a different gauge.
Meals are geared to which country you’re passing through it’s best in China and possibly worst in Russia. In Mongolia, the dining car accepts payment in US dollars, Chinese or Mongolian currency while in Russia, US dollars or Russian roubles can be used. It’s worth having small denominations of US dollars as you can change these on the train throughout the journey, or use them to buy food from station vendors along the way – though experiencing the cuisine and people in the dining cars is part of the fun. Bring some treats and snacks as a backup, and that great long novel you’ve always wanted to read.
TRANS-SIBERIAN AND TRANS-MONGOLIAN TRAINS
The easiest way to book international train tickets to Ulaan Bataar and Moscow and have them delivered to your hotel in China is online through chinahighlights.com . Alternatively, Beijing’s International Train Booking Office (Mon–Fri 8.30am–noon & 1.30pm 010 6512 0507) is at the CITS office of the International Hotel , 9 Jianguomenwai Dajie, just south of Chuanban restaurant (see map ). Out of season, few people make the journey (you may get a cabin to yourself), but in summer there may well not be a seat for months.
Getting visas for Russia and/or Mongolia in China can be tricky, since regulations change all the time it’s always best (and, sometimes, essential) to organize them in your own country. If you want to apply in Beijing, check first whether it will be possible you may need to show proof of inward and onward travel, and possibly hotel bookings and an official invitation too. See Beijing embassy websites and seat61.com for the latest advice. Trans-Siberian tours and packages cost more than doing it yourself, but will save a world of hassle.
Train #K3, which follows the Trans-Mongolian route , leaves every Wednesday from Beijing station and takes five-and-a-half days. A bunk in a second-class cabin with four beds – which is perfectly comfortable – costs around US$770. Trains leave Moscow for Beijing every Tuesday, though in this direction you’ll likely have to buy tickets through an agency.
Train #K19, which follows the Trans-Siberian route , leaves every Saturday from Beijing Station, takes six days and costs upwards of US$590. Train #K23 to Ulaan Baatur in Mongolia departs every Tuesday and Saturday, takes 27hr and costs around US$260 for one bed in a four-bed berth.
Tickets and packages
Booking tickets needs some advance planning, especially during the popular summer months. Sorting out travel arrangements from abroad is also complex – you’ll need a visa for Russia, as well as for Mongolia if you intend to pass through there. It’s therefore advisable to use an experienced travel agent who can organize all tickets, visas and stopovers (if required), in advance. Visa processing is an especially helpful time-saver, given the queues and paperwork required for visas along the route. You’ll find the best source of current information at seat61.com .
You can cut complications and keep your costs down by using the online ticket booking system offered by Real Russia ( realrussia.co.uk ) they mark up prices by about twenty percent, but save you a lot of hassle. A second-class Moscow–Beijing ticket booked with Real Russia costs 𧺬 depending on the time of year they will then help you sort out your visas for a small fee (as will all other agencies). Note that tours with Russian agencies offer good value for money try All Russia Travel Service ( rusrailtravel.ru ) or Ost West ( ostwest.com ). Tailor-made tours from Western companies will be much more expensive, but offer the minimum hassle: the Russia Experience ( trans-siberian.co.uk ) has a good reputation. For details of companies at home that can sort out Trans-Siberian travel, check the lists of specialist travel agents.
Via the Central Asian republics
You can reach China through several Central Asian countries, though the obstacles can occasionally be insurmountable contact an in-country agent or Trans-Siberian operator for up-to-date practicalities. Once in the region, crossing into China from Kazakhstan is straightforward – there are comfortable trains from Almaty (Tues & Sun) and Astana (Sat) to Ürümqi, which take two nights and cost about US$170 for a berth in a four-berth compartment. Kashgar in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang is an eleven-hour drive from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan , and the two cities are linked by buses in summer months. Foreigners, however, have had difficulties in trying to use these and have usually had to resort to expensive private transport, run by local tour operators, to help them across. You may well be expected to bribe the border guards (a bottle of spirit will often suffice).
From Pakistan and Nepal
The routes across the Himalayas to China are among the toughest in Asia. The first is from Pakistan into Xinjiang province via the Karakoram Highway , along one of the branches of the ancient Silk Road. You need a Chinese visa, but otherwise this route requires no pre-planning, except for the fact that it is open only May–October, and closes periodically due to landslides at the time of writing, however, most Western governments were advising against travel to Pakistan, due to fundamentalist militants and attacks on Westerners .
Another possible route is from Nepal into Tibet , but the border is often closed, and, as travel restrictions to Tibet are tight and subject to change, you should check thelandofsnows.com for current information. We cover this in more detail in the Tibet chapter.
From India , for political reasons, there are no border crossings to China. For years, authorities have discussed opening a bus route from Sikkim to Tibet, north from Darjeeling, but despite both sides working on the road, the border remains closed.
Vietnam has three border crossings with China – Dong Dang , 60km northeast of Hanoi Lao Cai , 150km northwest and the little-used Mong Cai , 200km south of Nanning. All three are open daily 8.30ampm. Officious Chinese customs officials at these crossings occasionally confiscate guidebooks bury this one at the bottom of your bag.
A direct train from Hanoi is advertised as running all the way to Beijing (60hr), passing through Nanning and Guilin . In practice, though, you’ll probably have to change trains in Nanning. Alternatively, there are daily trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai, eleven hours away in Vietnam’s mountainous and undeveloped northwest (near the pleasant minority hill-resort of Sa Pa), from where you can cross into Yunnan province at Hekou, and catch regular buses to Kunming. From Mong Cai, there are also regular buses to Nanning.
From Laos and Myanmar (Burma)
Crossing into China from Laos also lands you in Yunnan, this time at Bian Mao Zhan in the Xishuangbanna region. Formalities are very relaxed and unlikely to cause any problems. It’s 220km on local buses north from here to the regional capital, Jinghong. Alternatively, there are also direct daily buses between Luang Namtha in Laos and Jinghong (8hr), and Luang Prabang to Kunming (24hr).
Entering China from Myanmar (Burma) is a possibility, too, with the old Burma Road cutting northeast from Rangoon (Yangon) to Lashio and the crossing at Ruili in Yunnan. At present, this border is open only to groups travelling with a tour agency, which will sort out all the necessary paperwork in Yangon. Be aware that border regulations here are subject to change.
By ferry from Korea and Japan
There are a number of ferry routes linking China with Korea and Japan. Those from Korea take one night, and most depart from Inchon, a coastal city connected to Seoul by subway train services to Tanggu, near Tianjin, land you closest to Beijing, though there are other useful services to Dalian, Dandong, Qingdao and Yantai. Trips take 16 hours, services usually run twice a week, and fares and standards are similar across the board the cheapest tickets (KRW115,000) will get you a berth in a common room (though often closed off with a curtain, and therefore surprisingly private), while paying a little more (from KRW165,000) will get you a bed in a private, en-suite room.
From Japan , there are weekly ferries from Osaka to Shanghai, but these are usually more expensive than flying with budget airlines. The ferry takes a whopping 46 hours, compared with three hours to fly.
< Back to Basics
China’s public transport is comprehensive and good value: you can fly to all regional capitals and many cities, the rail network extends to every region, and you can reach China’s remotest corners on local buses. It might also be useful to rent a car and driver – you can only drive a vehicle here with a Chinese driving license. Tibet is the one area where there are widespread restrictions on independent travel.
However, getting around such a large, crowded country requires planning, patience and stamina, especially if you plan to do everything independently. This is especially true for long-distance journeys, where you’ll find that travelling in as much comfort as you can afford saves a lot of undue stress. Tours are one way of taking the pressure off, and may be the only practical way of getting out to certain sights.
Public holidays – especially the May, October and Spring Festival breaks – are bad times to travel, as half of China is on the move between family and workplace: ticket prices rise (legally by no more than fifteen percent, though often by up to double), bus- and train-station crowds swell insanely, and even flights might become scarce.
China’s rail network is vast, efficient and reliable. The country invests billions of yuan annually on the network, as the government considers a healthy transport infrastructure essential to economic growth – and political cohesion. The twenty-first century has seen some impressive developments: a rail line over the mountains between eastern China and Tibet completed in 2005 the country’s first ultra-fast bullet trains, which began operation in eastern China in 2007 and an expanding web of high-speed networks between major cities .
Food on trains, though expensive and ordinary, is always available, either from trolleys serving snacks and microwaved boxes of rice and stir-fries or in a dedicated restaurant car. You can also buy snacks from vendors at train stations during the longer station stops.
Timetables and tickets
It’s easiest to check train schedules online.
Note that you’ll need your passport when booking tickets , whether in person or online. Tickets – always one-way – are available sixty days before travel and show the date of departure and destination, along with the train number, carriage, and seat or berth number. Station ticket offices are all computerized, and while queues can tie you up for an hour or more of jostling, you’ll generally get what you’re after if you have some flexibility. At the counter, state your destination, the train number if possible, the day you’d like to travel, and the class you want – have some alternatives handy. If you can’t speak Chinese, get someone to write things down for you before setting out, as staff rarely speak English.
In all cities, you might also find downtown advance purchase offices – though these seem to be being phased out – where you pay a small commission (ٷ/ticket). It makes sense to try these places first, as train stations – especially for high-speed services – are often located far from city centres. Agents , such as hotel travel services, can also book on your behalf for a commission of 䂒 or more per ticket.
The best way to book tickets online and then either collect them from the station or, in major cities, have them delivered to your hotel door, is through travelchinaguide.com , for a US$5 fee. You can also reserve tickets through other websites such as ctrip.com , but these cannot be picked up by foreigners at in-town railway booking offices, or from the automatic machines at the station (which require a Chinese ID card to use). Instead, you have to queue at a dedicated window at the station, which has been known to take over an hour – so make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare.
If you’ve bought a ticket but decide not to travel, you can get most of the fare refunded by returning the ticket to a ticket office. The process is called tuipiao (退票, tuìpiào), and there’s usually a separate window for this at stations.
CHINESE BOOKING SITES
Anyone looking to book their own transport and accommodation in China should check out travelchinaguide.com , which is best for train bookings their dedicated train timetable app is the most comprehensive available. Another site with an integrated app is ctrip.com , which also gives better prices on airfares and accommodation.
Types of train
The different types of train each have their own code on timetables these can indicate the difference between a comfortable five-hour cruise and a nineteen-hour nightmare. China Rail High Speed ( CRH 高速, gāosù) services come with a C, D or G prefix , depending on whether they make long-distance or regional journeys. As they travel up to 350km/h, you can now get from Beijing to Guangzhou, for instance (around 2200km) in just eight hours. The aircraft-like carriages are kept in excellent condition, with surprisingly clean Western-style toilets, reclining seats, and a decent enough amount of legroom. CRH trains generally use dedicated high-speed stations, often on the periphery of the cities they serve.
Where there are no high-speed services, look for Z-, T- and K-class trains , which still travel at a respectable 120km/h and all have modern fittings. Z-class generally travel directly between two points T- and K-class stop at main stations along the route. Toilets are usually Western-style in soft sleeper carriages, and squat elsewhere the latter can be truly disgusting.
Ordinary trains (普通车, pŭtōng chē) have a four-digit number only and, though they often cruise at around 100km/h, stop pretty much everywhere en route. They range from those with clean carriages to ancient plodders destined for the scrapheap with cigarette-burned linoleum floors and grimy windows. A few busy, short-haul express services, such as the Shenzhen–Guangzhou train, have double-decker carriages .
No-smoking rules are vigorously enforced on high-speed trains, though on slower services it’s still common to see passengers puffing away between carriages.
SAMPLE TRAIN FARES
The fares below are for one-way travel on express and high-speed trains. Note that, especially if you book in advance through ctrip.com , airfares might only be only slightly more expensive than buying high-speed train tickets.
Guangzhou Hard seat 𨖂 hard sleeper 𨙔 soft sleeper 𨞔 high speed 𨟤
Hong Kong Hard sleeper 𨚋 soft sleeper 𨞨
Shanghai Hard seat 𨔀 hard sleeper 𨗍 soft sleeper 𨙼 high speed𨚳
Xi’an Hard seat 𨔣 hard sleeper 𨖪 soft sleeper 𨙀 high speed 𨚋
Guangzhou Hard seat 𨕸 hard sleeper 𨘶 soft sleeper 𨝬 high speed 𨞷
Turpan Hard seat 𨖑 hard sleeper 𨙣 soft sleeper 𨝧
Ürümqi Hard seat 𨖛 hard sleeper 𨙷 soft sleeper 𨞊
On high-speed (CRH) services there are two seat classes, the only real difference between them being a two-two seat arrangement in first, compared to the three-two arrangement in second.
On regular trains, there are four ticket classes : soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat and hard seat, not all necessarily available on each train. Soft sleeper (软卧, ruănwò) costs around the same as flying, and gets you a berth in a four-person compartment with a soft mattress, fan and optional radio. Hard sleeper (硬卧, yìngwò), about two-thirds the price of soft sleeper, is the best value. Carriages are divided into twenty sets of three-tiered bunks the lowest bunk is the largest, but costs more and gets used as communal seating during the day the upper bunk is cheapest but headroom is minimal. Each set of six bunks has its own vacuum flask of boiled water (topped up from the urn at the end of each carriage) – bring your own mugs and tea. There are fairly spacious luggage racks , though make sure you chain your bags securely while you sleep.
In either sleeper class, on boarding the carriage you will have your ticket exchanged for a metal tag by the attendant. The tag is swapped back for your ticket (so you’ll be able to get through the barrier at the station) about half an hour before you arrive at your destination, whatever hour of the day or night this happens to be.
Soft seat (软座, ruănzuò) is widespread on services whose complete route takes less than a day. Seats cost around the same as express-bus fare, have plenty of legroom and are well padded. More common is hard seat (硬座, yìngzuò), which costs around half the soft-seat fare but is only recommended for relatively short journeys, as you’ll be sitting on a padded three-person bench, with every available bit of floor space crammed with travellers who were unable to book a seat. In rural areas, you’ll be the focus of intense and unabashed speculation from farmers and labourers who can’t afford to travel in better style.
Finally, if there’s nothing else available, you can buy an unreserved ticket (无座, wúzuò literally “no seat”), which lets you board the hard-seat section of the train – though you might have to stand for the entire journey if you can’t upgrade on board.
Boarding the train
Turn up at the station with at least half an hour to spare before your train leaves – or at least an hour if you have to collect a pre-booked ticket from the ticket office. You’ll need to show your passport to be allowed into the station all luggage is then x-rayed to check for dangerous goods such as firecrackers. You next need to work out which platform your train leaves from – most stations have electronic departure boards in Chinese (high-speed stations have dual-language boards) show your ticket to station staff who will point you in the right direction. Passengers are not allowed onto the platform until the train is almost in, which can result in some mighty stampedes when the gates open. Carriages are numbered on the outside, and your ticket is checked by a guard as you board. Once on the train, you can try to upgrade any ticket at the controller’s booth, in the hard-seat carriage next to the restaurant car (usually #8), where you can sign up for beds or seats as they become available.
By bus and minibus
Buses go everywhere that trains go, and well beyond, usually more frequently but more slowly. Finding the departure point isn’t always easy even small hamlets can have multiple bus stations , generally located on the side of town in which traffic is heading.
Bus station timetables – except electronic ones – can be ignored ask station staff about schedules and frequencies, though they generally can’t speak English. Tickets are easy to buy: ticket offices at main stations are computerized, queues are seldom bad, and – with the exception of backroad routes, which might only run every other day – you don’t need to book in advance. Bring your passport when buying tickets. In country towns, you sometimes buy tickets on-board. Destinations are always displayed in Chinese characters on the front of the vehicle. Take some food along, although buses usually pull up at inexpensive roadhouses at mealtimes. Only the most upmarket coaches have toilets drivers stop every few hours or if asked to do so by passengers (though roadhouse toilets are some of the worst in the country).
Downsides to bus travel include drivers who spend the journey chatting on their mobile phone or coast downhill in neutral, with the engine off and the fact that vehicles are obliged to use the horn before overtaking anything – earplugs are recommended. Roadworks are a near-certainty too, as highways are continually being repaired, upgraded or replaced in 2010, a 100km-long jam on the Tibet–Beijing highway, blamed on roadworks, took nine days to clear. Appallingly graphic films are currently being played to passengers to encourage them to wear seat belts – after you’ve seen one, you’ll be only too glad to buckle up.
Types of buses
There are various types of buses , though there’s not always a choice available for particular routes, and, if there is, station staff will assume that as a foreigner you’ll want the fastest, most comfortable and most expensive service.
Ordinary buses (普通车, pŭtōng chē) are cheap and basic, with lightly padded seats they’re never heated or air-conditioned, so dress accordingly. Seats can be cramped and luggage racks tiny you’ll have to put anything bulkier than a satchel on the roof or your lap, or beside the driver. They tend to stop off frequently, so don’t count on an average speed of more than 30km/h. Express buses (快车, kuài chē) are the most expensive and have good legroom, comfy seats that may well recline, air-conditioning and video. Bulky luggage gets locked away in the belly of the bus, a fairly safe option. Sleeper buses (卧铺车, wòpù chē) have cramped, basic bunks instead of seats, minimal luggage space and a poor safety record, and are not recommended if there is any alternative. The final option is minibuses (小车, xiăochē or 包车, bāochē) seating up to twenty people, common on routes of less than 100km or so. They cost a little more than the same journey by ordinary bus, can be extremely cramped, and often circuit the departure point for ages until they have filled up.
China’s airlines link all major cities planes are modern and well maintained and service is fairly good, though delayed departures are common. The main operators are Air China ( www.airchina.com.cn/en ), China Southern ( csair.com ), China Eastern ( www.flychinaeastern.com ) and Hainan Airlines ( hainanairlines.com ). Flying is well worth considering for long distances, especially as prices compare favourably with the cost of upper-tier rail travel – though on shorter routes some services have been pretty much supplanted by high-speed trains (between Chengdu and Chongqing, for instance).
You can buy tickets online at competitive rates via the airline websites, elong.net or english.ctrip.com . You’ll need to provide your passport details (make sure you give names exactly as they appear in your passport) and might need to provide a phone number to confirm the booking – your hotel’s will do. Book more than 24 hours in advance if using an overseas credit card. Tickets can also be arranged through accommodation tour desks, at downtown airline offices or airport ticket desks.
Fares are based on one-way travel (so a return is the price of two one-way tickets) and include all taxes the best deals are on routes also covered by competitively priced high-speed trains. For example: from Beijing, expect to pay at least 𨚮 to Xi’an 𨛠 to Shanghai 𨠌 to Chengdu to Shenzhen to Kunming to Ürümqi and 𨠠 to Hong Kong.
Check-in time for all flights is ninety minutes before departure.
Though there are few public ferries in China, you can make one of the world’s great river journeys down the Yangzi between Chongqing and Yichang, via the mighty Three Gorges – though the spectacle has been lessened by the construction of the giant Three Gorges Dam. Another favourite is the day-cruise down the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo in southwestern Guangxi province, past a forest of pointy pinnacles looking just like a Chinese scroll painting. By sea , there are passenger ferries between Hong Kong and Macau, and between Guangxi and Hainan Island.
Conditions on board are greatly variable, but on overnight trips there’s always a choice of classes – sometimes as many as six – which can range from a bamboo mat on the floor right through to private cabins. Don’t expect anything too impressive, however many mainland services are cramped and overcrowded, and cabins, even in first-class, are grimly functional.
China has the highest number of bicycles (自行车, zìxíngchē) of any country in the world – about a quarter of the population owns one, despite a rising trend towards mopeds, motorbikes and cars. Few cities have any hills, and some have bike lanes , though many of the bigger cities are in the process of banning bicycles from main roads in order to free them up for cars.
Rental shops or booths are common around train stations (䁾/day). You will need to leave a deposit (𨕐) and/or some form of ID, and you’re fully responsible for anything that happens to the bike while it’s in your care, so check brakes, tyre pressure and gears before renting. Most rentals are bog-standard black rattletraps – the really deluxe models feature working bells and brakes. There are repair shops all over the place should you need a tyre patched or a chain fixed up (䁾). If the bike sustains any serious damage, it’s up to the parties involved to sort out responsibility and payment on the spot. Always use a bicycle chain or lock – they’re available everywhere – and in cities, leave your vehicle in one of the ubiquitous designated parking areas , where it will be guarded by an attendant for a small fee.
An alternative to renting is to buy a bike , a sensible option if you’re going to be based anywhere for a while. All department stores sell them: a heavy, unsophisticated machine will only set you back about 𨙼, whereas a mountain bike will be upwards of 𨠌. A folding bike (around 𨚮) is a great idea, as you can cycle around all day and, when you’re tired, put it in the boot of a taxi or take it on a bus. You can also bring your own bike into China international airlines usually insist that the front wheel is removed, deflated and strapped to the back, and that everything is thoroughly packaged. Inside China, airlines, trains and ferries all charge to carry bikes, and the ticketing and accompanying paperwork can be baffling. Another option is to see China on a specialized bike tour such as those offered by Bike China ( bikechina.com ), Bike Asia ( bikeasia.com ) or Cycle China ( cyclechina.com ).
On a tour
Local tour operators , who are listed throughout this guide, offer excursions ranging from city coach tours to river cruises and multiday cross-country hikes or horse treks. While you always pay for the privilege, sometimes these tours are good value: travel, accommodation and food – usually plentiful and excellent – are generally included, as might be the services of an interpreter and guide. And in some cases, tours are virtually the only way to see something really worthwhile, saving endless bother organizing local transport and accommodation. In general, foreign-owned operations tend to give better service – or at least to understand better what Westerners want when they take a tour.
On the downside, there are disreputable operators who’ll blatantly overcharge for mediocre services, foist unhelpful guides on you and spend three days on what could better be done in an afternoon. Bear in mind that many Chinese tour guides are badly paid, and supplement their income by taking tourists to souvenir shops where they’ll receive commissions. It always pays to make exhaustive enquiries about the exact nature of the tour, such as exactly what the price includes and the departure/return times, before handing any money over.
All Chinese cities have some form of public transit system . An increasing number have (or are building) light-rail systems and underground metros elsewhere, the city bus is the transport focus. These are cheap and run from 6ampm or later, but (Hong Kong’s apart) they’re usually slow and crowded. Pricier private minibuses often run the same routes in similar comfort but at greater speed they’re either numbered or have their destination written up at the front.
Taxis are always available in larger towns and cities main roads, transit points and tourist hotels are good places to find them. They cost a fixed rate of ٷ within certain limits, and then add from ٳ per kilometre. You’ll also find motorized or cycle-rickshaws known as “ Three Wheelers ” in many towns and cities, whose highly erratic rates are set by bargaining beforehand.
< Back to Basics
China’s accommodation scene continues to improve at pace, with most cities boasting a range of good options from budget to top-end. Luxury hotels (mostly international brands), domestic budget hotel chains and backpacker hostels are as good as similar places in the West, though mid-range hotels are often lacking in character, many of them former state-run behemoths.
Price is not a good indicator of quality. The Chinese hospitality industry remains on a steep learning curve, so new places are often vastly better than old ones.
Security in accommodation is reasonably good, with budget dosshouses and youth hostels the only places where you’ll really have to keep an eye on your stuff the latter usually have places in which you’ll be able to lock away valuables.
Finding a room
Booking online is a routine procedure at all but the cheapest local hotels, either direct or via an English-language accommodation-booking website such as elong ( elong.net ) or China Trip ( english.ctrip.com ). Those two sites don’t require pre-payment for rooms you simply reserve through the website and pay on arrival (though you might occasionally arrive to find they’ve given your room to somebody who paid up front). Budget travellers should check out hostel websites such as hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com .
In some places, however, the concept of booking ahead may be alien, and you won’t make much headway without spoken Chinese – though it’s a good idea to call (or to ask someone to call for you) to see if vacancies exist before lugging your bag across town. Be aware that room rates displayed at reception are almost always just the starting point in negotiations. Staff are generally amenable to bargaining and it’s normal to get thirty percent off the advertised price, even more in low season or where there’s plenty of competition. Always ask to see the room first . Rooms usually have either twin beds (双人房, shuāngrén fáng) or single beds (单人房, dānrén fáng), which often means “one double bed”, rather than a small bed some places also have triples or even quads.
New arrivals at city bus and train stations are often besieged by touts wanting to lead them to a hotel where they’ll receive a commission for bringing guests in. Chinese-speakers might strike a bargain this way, but you do need to be very clear about how much you’re willing to pay before being dragged all over town.
If in some places you find yourself being turned away by every hotel, it’s not that they don’t like you – they probably haven’t obtained police permission to take foreigners, and would face substantial fines for doing so. The situation is dependent on the local authorities, and can vary not just from province to province, but also from town to town. Nothing is ever certain in China, however: being able to speak Chinese greatly improves your chances of negotiating a way through these restrictions, as does being able to write your name in Chinese on the register (or having it printed out so the receptionist can do this for you) – in which case the authorities need never know that a foreigner stayed.
Checking in and out
If you’ve booked ahead – certainly in larger cities – checking in generally only involves having your passport photocopied and arranging payment. Otherwise, especially in places that see few foreigners, you’ll probably also have to fill in a form giving details of your name, age, date of birth, sex and address, where you are coming from and going to, and how many days you intend to stay. Some hotels might only have these forms in Chinese, and might never have seen a foreign passport before – which explains why hotel receptionists can panic when they see a foreigner walk in the door.
You always pay in advance , including a deposit which may amount to twice the price of the room. Assuming you haven’t broken anything – make sure everything works properly when you check in – deposits are refunded just don’t lose the receipt.
In cheaper places, disconnect your telephone to avoid being woken by prostitutes calling up through the night.
At most mid-range and high-end hotels, breakfast will come as part of your room rate you’ll usually get a coupon for this when you check in. Breakfast is served a little earlier than most foreign travellers would like – some places stop service at 8am, though 7am is by far the most common timeframe.
Check-out time is noon, though you can ask to keep the room until later for a proportion of the daily rate. Make sure you arrange this before check-out time, however, as staff may otherwise refuse to refund room deposits, claiming that you have overstayed. Conversely, if you have to leave very early in the morning (to catch transport, for instance), you may be unable to find staff to refund your deposit, and might also encounter locked front doors or compound gates.
The different Chinese words for hotel are vague indicators of the status of the place. Sure signs of upmarket pretensions are dajiudian (大酒店, dà jiŭdiàn), which translates as “big alcohol shop”, or, in the countryside, shan zhuang (山庄, shān zhuāng) or “mountain resort”. Binguan (宾馆, bīnguăn) and fandian (饭店, fàndiàn) are more general terms for hotel, covering everything from downmarket lodgings to smart new establishments reliably basic are guesthouse (客栈, kèzhàn), hostel (招待所, zhāodàisuŏ) and inn (旅馆, lǚguăn or 旅舍, lǚshè). Sometimes you’ll simply see a sign for “accommodation” (住宿, zhùsù).
Whatever type of hotel you are staying in, there are two things you can rely on: one is a pair of plastic or paper slippers , which you use for walking to the bathroom, and the other is a vacuum flask of drinkable hot water that can be refilled any time by the floor attendant – though upmarket places tend to provide electric kettles instead.
In the larger cities, you’ll find upmarket four- or five-star hotels. Conditions in such hotels are comparable to those anywhere in the world, with all the usual facilities on offer – such as swimming pools, gyms and business centres – though the finer nuances of service are sometimes lacking. Prices for standard doubles in these places are upwards of , with a fifteen percent service charge on top the use of credit cards is routine.
Even if you cannot afford to stay in the upmarket hotels, they can still be pleasant places to escape from the hubbub, and nobody in China blinks at the sight of a stray foreigner roaming around the foyer of a smart hotel. As well as air-conditioning and clean toilets, you’ll find cafés and bars (sometimes showing satellite TV), wi-fi and internet facilities, and often ATMs.
Many modern Chinese hotels are mid-range , and just about every town in China has at least one hotel of this sort. The quality of mid-range places is the hardest to predict from the price: an old hotel with cigarette-burned carpets, leaking bathrooms and grey bedsheets might charge the same as a sparkling new establishment next door newer places are generally better, as a rule. In remote places, you should get a twin in a mid-range place for 𨔞, but expect to pay at least 𨖴 in any sizeable city.
There’s been a recent explosion in urban budget hotels aimed at money-conscious businessmen, which offer small (but not cramped) clean double rooms with showers, phones, TV and internet portals right in city centres. Some places like Kunming, Chengdu and Shanghai have local brands, but nationwide chains include 7 Days Inn ( 7daysinn.cn ), Home Inn ( homeinns.com ) and Jinjiang Inn ( hotels.jinjiang.com ). At around 𨖴 a double, or even less, they’re a very good deal, especially if you’re able to take advantage of early-booking promotions (you’ll need to speak Chinese for this, and possibly to have a local credit card too).
Cheap hotels , where doubles cost less than 𨔞, vary in quality from the dilapidated to the perfectly comfortable. In many cities, they’re commonly located near the train or bus stations, though they may need some persuading to take foreigners. Where they do, you’ll notice that the Chinese routinely rent beds rather than rooms – doubling up with one or more strangers, and paying per bed – as a means of saving money. Foreigners are seldom allowed to share rooms with Chinese people, but if there are three or four foreigners together it’s often possible for them to share one big room otherwise single travellers might have to negotiate a price for the whole room.
Hostels and guesthouses
China has a rapidly expanding network of youth hostels (青年旅舍, qīngnián lǚshè), many affiliated with the International Youth Hostel Association (IYHA). Booking ahead is always advisable – usually easiest on sites such as hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com . At IYHA hostels, members get a small discount, usually 䁾, and you can join at any mainland hostel for 䂰.
Hong Kong, Macau and a few regions of China (mostly in southwestern provinces) also have a number of privately run guesthouses in everything from family mansions to Mongolian tents, whose variety comes as a relief after the dullness of mainland accommodation. Prices for double rooms in these guesthouses are generally lower than in hotels.
Camping is only feasible in Hong Kong – where there are free campsites scattered through the New Territories – and in wilderness areas of Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia, far away from the prying eyes of thousands of local villagers. Don’t bother trying to get permission for it: this is the kind of activity that the Chinese authorities do not have any clear idea about, so if asked they will certainly answer “no”.
< Back to Basics
EATING AND DRINKING
The Chinese love to eat, and from market-stall buns and soup, right through to the intricate variations of regional cookery, China boasts one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Meals are considered social events, and the process is accordingly geared to a group of diners sharing a variety of different dishes with their companions. Fresh ingredients are available from any market stall, though unless you’re living long term in the country there are few opportunities to cook for yourself.
In the south, rice as grain, noodles, or dumpling wrappers is the staple, replaced in the cooler north by wheat , formed into buns or noodles. Meat is held to be invigorating and, ideally, forms the backbone of any meal. Pork is the most common meat used, except in areas with a strong Muslim tradition where it’s replaced with mutton or beef. Fowl is considered especially good during old age or convalescence most rural people in central and southern China seem to own a couple of chickens, and the countryside is littered with duck and geese farms. Fish and seafood are highly regarded and can be expensive, as are rarer game meats.
Eggs – duck, chicken or quail – are a popular nationwide snack, often flavoured by hard-boiling in a mixture of tea, soy sauce and star anise. There’s also the so-called “thousand-year-old” variety, preserved for a few months in ash and straw – they look gruesome, with translucent brown albumen and green yolks, but actually have a delicate, brackish flavour. Dairy products serve limited purposes in China. Goat’s cheese and yoghurt are eaten in parts of Yunnan and the Northwest, but milk is considered fit only for children and the elderly and is not used in cooking.
Vegetables accompany nearly every Chinese meal, used in most cases to balance tastes and textures of meat, but also appearing as dishes in their own right. Though the selection can be very thin in some parts of the country, there’s usually a wide range on offer, from leafy greens to water chestnuts, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, seaweed and radish.
Soya beans are ubiquitous in Chinese cooking, being a good source of protein in a country where meat has often been a luxury. The small green beans are sometimes eaten straight in the south, but are more often salted and used to thicken sauces, fermented to produce soy sauce , or boiled and pressed to make white cakes of tofu (bean curd). Fresh tofu is flavourless and as soft as custard, though it can be pressed further to create a firmer texture, deep-fried until crisp, or cooked in stock and used as a meat substitute in vegetarian cooking. The skin that forms on top of the liquid while tofu is being made is itself skimmed off, dried, and used as a wrapping for spring rolls and the like.
Seasonal availability is smoothed over by a huge variety of dried , salted and pickled vegetables , meats and seafood, which often characterize local cooking styles. There’s also an enormous assortment of fresh regional fruit .
Breakfast, snacks and street food
Breakfast is not a big event by Chinese standards, more something to line the stomach for a few hours. Much of the country is content with a bowl of rice porridge flavoured with pickles and eaten with plain buns, or sweetened soya milk accompanied by a fried dough stick dumplings, sometimes in soup, are another favourite. Guangdong and Hong Kong are the exceptions, where the traditional breakfast of dim sum (also known as yum cha ) involves a selection of tiny buns, dumplings and dishes served with tea.
Other snacks and street food are served through the day from small, early-opening stalls located around markets, train and bus stations. These serve grilled chicken wings kebabs spiced noodles baked yams and potatoes boiled eggs various steamed or stewed dishes dished up in earthenware sandpots grilled corn and – in places such as Beijing and Sichuan – countless local treats. Also common are steamed buns , which are either stuffed with meat or vegetables ( baozi ) or plain ( mantou , literally “bald heads”). The buns originated in the north and are especially warming on a winter’s day a sweeter Cantonese variety is stuffed with barbecued pork. Another northern snack now found everywhere is the ravioli-like jiaozi , again with a meat or vegetable filling and either fried or steamed shuijiao are boiled jiaozi served in soup. Some small restaurants specialize in jiaozi , containing a bewildering range of fillings and always sold by weight.
Restaurants and eating out
The cheapest hole-in-the-wall canteens are necessarily basic, with simple food costing a few yuan and often much better than you’d expect from the furnishings. Proper restaurants are usually bright, busy places whose preferred atmosphere is renao , or “hot and noisy”, rather than the often quiet norm in the West. Prices at these places obviously vary a lot, but even expensive-looking establishments charge only 䂗 for a main dish, and servings tend to be generous.
While the cheaper places might have long hours, restaurant opening times are early and short: breakfast lasts from around 6am lunch 11ampm and dinner from around 5pm, after which the staff will be yawning and sweeping the debris off the tables around your ankles.
Ordering and dining
Pointing is all that’s required at street stalls and small restaurants they’ll usually have the fare laid out, ready for cooking or already done. In proper restaurants you’ll be given a menu – most likely Chinese-only, unless you’re in a tourist area, though many now have pictures, and some are on tablets (more fiddly than useful). Alternatively, have a look at what other diners are eating – the Chinese are often delighted that a foreigner wants to eat Chinese food, and will indicate the best options on their table.
When ordering , unless eating a one-dish meal like Peking duck or a hotpot, try to select items with a range of tastes and textures it’s also usual to include a soup. In cheap places, servings of noodles or rice are huge, but as they are considered basic stomach fillers, quantities decline the more upmarket you go.
Dishes are all served at once, placed in the middle of the table for diners to share. With some poultry dishes you can crunch up the smaller bones, but anything else is spat out on to the tablecloth or floor, more or less discreetly depending on the establishment – watch what others are doing. Soups tend to be bland and are consumed last (except in the south where they may be served first or as part of the main meal) to wash the meal down, the liquid slurped from a spoon or the bowl once the noodles, vegetables or meat in it have been picked out and eaten. Desserts aren’t a regular feature in China, though sweet soups and buns are eaten (the latter not confined to main meals) in the south, particularly at festive occasions.
Resting your chopsticks together across the top of your bowl means that you’ve finished eating. After a meal, the Chinese don’t hang around to talk over drinks as in the West, but get up straight away and leave. In canteens, you’ll pay up front, while at restaurants you ask for the bill and pay either the waiter or at the front till. Tipping is not expected in mainland China, though in Hong Kong you generally leave around ten percent.
Note that dishes such as jiaozi and some seafood, as well as fresh produce, are sold by weight: a liang (两, liǎng) is 50g, a banjin (半斤, bànjīn) 250g, a jin (斤, jīn) 500g, and a gongjin (公斤, gōngjīn) 1kg.
Western and international restaurants
There’s a fair amount of Western and international food available in China, though supply and quality vary. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing have the best range, with some excellent restaurants covering everything from Russian to Brazilian cuisine, and there are international food restaurants in every Chinese city of any size, with Korean and Japanese the best represented. Elsewhere, upmarket hotels may have Western restaurants, serving expensive but huge buffet breakfasts of scrambled egg, bacon, toast, cereal and coffee and there’s a growing number of cafés in many cities, especially ones with large foreign expat populations. Burger , fried chicken and pizza places are ubiquitous, including domestic chains such as Dicos alongside McDonald’s , KFC and Pizza Hut .
Self-catering for tourists is feasible to a point. Instant noodles are a favourite travel food with the Chinese, available anywhere – just add boiling water, leave for five minutes, then stir in the flavourings supplied. Fresh fruit and veg from markets needs to be washed and peeled before eating raw you can supplement things with dried fruit , nuts and seeds , roast and cured meats, biscuits and all manner of snacks. In cities, these things are also sold in more hygienic situations in supermarkets many provincial capitals also have branches of the international chain Carrefour (家乐福, jiālèfú), where you can generally find small caches of Western foods.
Water is easily available in China, but never drink what comes out of the tap. Boiled water is always on hand in hotels and trains, either provided in large vacuum flasks or an urn, and you can buy bottled spring water at station stalls and supermarkets in anything from small bottles to 5-litre containers. However, plastic pollution is a problem in China the best way to avoid contributing to plastic waste is to purify your own water. Chemical sterilization using chlorine is completely effective, fast and inexpensive, and you can remove the nasty taste it leaves with neutralizing tablets or lemon juice. Alternatively, you could invest in a purifying filter incorporating chemical sterilization to kill even the smallest viruses.
Tea has been known in China since antiquity and was originally drunk for medicinal reasons. Over the centuries a whole social culture has sprung up around this beverage, spawning teahouses that once held the same place in Chinese society that the local pub or bar does in the West. Plantations of neat rows of low tea bushes adorn hillsides across southern China, while the brew is enthusiastically consumed from the highlands of Tibet – where it’s mixed with barley meal and butter – to every restaurant and household between Hong Kong and Beijing. Unfortunately, in a land where a pot of tea used to be plonked in front of every restaurant-goer before they’d even sat down, you now usually have to pay for the privilege – and your tea can work out more expensive than the rest of your meal.
Chinese tea comes in red, green and flower-scented varieties , depending on how it’s processed only Hainan produces Indian-style black tea. Some regional kinds, such as pu’er from Yunnan, Fujian’s tie guanyin , Zhejiang’s longjing or Sichuan’s zhuye qing , are highly sought after indeed, after locals in Yunnan decided that banks weren’t paying enough interest, they started investing in pu’er tea stocks, causing prices to soar.
The manner in which it’s served also varies from place to place: sometimes it comes in huge mugs with a lid, elsewhere in dainty cups served from a miniature pot there are also formalized tea rituals in parts of Fujian and Guangdong. When drinking in company, it’s polite to top up others’ cups before your own, whenever they become empty if someone does this for you, lightly tap your first two fingers on the table to show your thanks. If you’ve had enough, leave your cup full, and in a restaurant take the lid off or turn it over if you want the pot refilled during the meal.
Chinese leaf tea is never drunk with milk or sugar, though recently Taiwanese bubble tea – Indian-style tea with milk, sugar and sago balls – has become popular in the south. It’s also worth trying some Muslim babao cha (Eight Treasures Tea), which involves dried fruit, nuts, seeds and crystallized sugar heaped into a cup with the remaining space filled with hot water, poured with panache from an immensely long-spouted copper kettle.
The popularity of beer in China rivals that of tea, and, for men, is the preferred mealtime beverage (drinking alcohol in public is considered improper for Chinese women, though not for foreigners). The first brewery was set up in the northeastern port of Qingdao by the Germans in the nineteenth century now, though the Tsingtao label is widely available, most provinces produce at least one brand of four percent Pilsner. Sold in 660ml bottles, it’s always drinkable, often pretty good, and is actually cheaper than bottled water. Craft beer has recently caught on too, and is becoming available in major cities across the country.
Watch out for the term “ wine ” on English menus, which usually denotes spirits , made from rice, sorghum or millet. Serving spirits to guests is a sign of hospitality, and they’re always used for toasting at banquets. Local home-made varieties can be quite good, while mainstream brands – especially the expensive, nationally famous Maotai and Wuliangye – are pretty vile to the Western palate. China does have several commercial wine labels , the best of which is Changyu from Yantai in Shandong province, and there are ongoing efforts to launch wine as a stylish niche product, with limited success so far.
Western-style bars are found in all major cities. These establishments serve both local and imported beers and spirits, and are popular with China’s middle class, as well as foreigners. Mostly, though, the Chinese drink alcohol only with their meals – all restaurants serve at least local brews and spirits. Imported beers and spirits are sold in large department stores and in city bars, but are always expensive.
Canned drinks , usually sold unchilled, include various lemonades and colas. Fruit juices can be unusual and refreshing, flavoured with chunks of lychee, lotus and water chestnuts. Milk is sold in powder form as baby food, and increasingly in bottles for adult consumption as its benefits for invalids and the elderly become accepted wisdom.
Coffee has long been grown and drunk in Yunnan and Hainan, and coffee culture has taken off across China, with cafés in every major city across the land. The quality varies widely it’s pretty good in the trendy brunch-houses of Beijing and Shanghai, for example, though pretty wretched in the generic (and huge) local chains.
< Back to Basics
No vaccinations are required to visit China, except for yellow fever if you’re arriving from an area where the disease is endemic. However, it’s recommended that you are up-to-date with routine inoculations (such as MMR and tetanus), and vaccinated against Hepatitis A and typhoid, both of which can be contracted through contaminated food or water. You should also consider getting rabies shots if you plan to visit Tibet.
It’s worth taking a first-aid kit with you, particularly if you will be travelling extensively outside the cities, where buying the appropriate medicines might be difficult. Include bandages, plasters, painkillers, oral rehydration salts, medication to counter diarrhoea and antiseptic cream. A sterile set of hypodermics may be advisable, as re-use of needles does occur in China. Note there is widespread ignorance of sexual health issues, and AIDS and STDs are widespread – always practise safe sex.
The most common health hazards in China are the cold and flu infections that strike down a large proportion of the population year-round. Diarrhoea is also common, usually in a mild form while your stomach gets used to unfamiliar food, but also sometimes with a sudden onset accompanied by stomach cramps and vomiting, which indicates food poisoning . In both instances, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and in serious cases replace lost salts with oral rehydration salts ( ORS ) this is especially important with young children. Take some sachets with you, or make your own by adding half a teaspoon of salt and six of sugar to a litre of cool, previously boiled water. While suffering from diarrhoea, avoid milk, greasy or spicy foods, coffee and most fruit, in favour of bland foodstuffs such as rice, plain noodles and soup. If symptoms persist, or if you notice blood or mucus in your stools, consult a doctor, as you may have dysentery .
To avoid stomach complaints, eat at places that look busy and clean, and stick to fresh, thoroughly cooked food. Shellfish is a potential hepatitis A risk, and best avoided. Fresh fruit you’ve peeled yourself is safe other uncooked foods may have been washed in unclean water. Don’t drink untreated tap water – only consume boiled or bottled water, or filter your own.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection spread by contaminated food and water, which causes an inflammation of the liver. The less common hepatitis B virus can be passed on through unprotected sexual contact, transfusions of unscreened blood, and dirty needles. Hepatitis symptoms include yellowing of the eyes and skin, preceded by lethargy, fever, and pains in the upper right abdomen.
Typhoid and cholera are spread by contaminated food or water, generally in localized epidemics both are serious conditions and require immediate medical help. Symptoms of typhoid include headaches, high fever and constipation, followed by diarrhoea in the later stages. The disease is infectious. Cholera begins with sudden but painless onset of watery diarrhoea, later combined with vomiting, nausea and muscle cramps. Rapid dehydration rather than the infection itself is the main danger, and cases should be treated immediately and continually with oral rehydration solutions.
Summer outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever occur across southern China, usually in localized areas. Symptoms are similar – severe headaches, joint pains, fever and shaking – though a rash might also appear with dengue. There’s no cure for dengue fever, whereas malaria can be prevented and controlled with medication both require immediate medical attention to ensure that there are no complications. You can minimize your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes in the first place by wearing light-coloured, full-length clothing and insect repellent in the evenings when mosquitoes are active.
In tropical China, the temperature and humidity can take a couple of weeks to adjust to. High humidity can cause heat rashes , prickly heat and fungal infections . Prevention and cure are the same: wear loose clothes made of natural fibres, wash frequently and dry-off thoroughly afterwards. Talcum or anti-fungal powder and the use of mild antiseptic soap help, too.
Don’t underestimate the strength of the sun in the tropics, desert regions such as Xinjiang, or high up on the Tibetan Plateau. Sunscreen is not always easily available in China, and local stuff isn’t always of sufficiently high quality anyway. Signs of dehydration and heatstroke include a high temperature, lack of sweating, a fast pulse and red skin. Reducing your body temperature with a lukewarm shower will provide initial relief.
Plenty of places in China – Tibet and the north in particular – also get very cold . Watch out here for hypothermia , where the core body temperature drops to a point that can be fatal. Symptoms are a weak pulse, disorientation, numbness, slurred speech and exhaustion. To prevent the condition, wear lots of layers and a hat, eat plenty of carbohydrates, and stay dry and out of the wind. To treat hypothermia, get the victim into shelter, away from wind and rain, give them hot drinks – but not alcohol – and easily digestible food, and keep them warm. Serious cases require immediate hospitalization.
High altitude , in regions such as Tibet and parts of Xinjiang, Sichuan and Yunnan, prevents the blood from absorbing oxygen efficiently, and can lead to altitude sickness , also known as AMS (acute mountain sickness). Most people feel some symptoms above 3500m, which include becoming easily exhausted, headaches, shortness of breath, sleeping disorders and nausea they’re intensified if you ascend to altitude rapidly, for instance by flying direct from coastal cities to Lhasa. Relaxing for the first few days, drinking plenty of water, and taking painkillers will ease symptoms. Having acclimatized at one altitude, you should still ascend slowly, or you can expect the symptoms to return.
If for any reason the body fails to acclimatize to altitude, serious conditions can develop including pulmonary oedema (characterized by severe breathing trouble, a cough and frothy white or pink sputum), and cerebral oedema (causing severe headaches, loss of balance, other neurological symptoms and eventually coma). The only treatment for these is rapid descent : in Tibet, this means flying out to Kathmandu or Chengdu without delay. You’ll also need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Getting medical help
Medical facilities in China are best in major cities with large expat populations, where there are often high-standard clinics, and the hotels may even have resident doctors. Elsewhere, larger cities and towns have hospitals, and for minor complaints there are plenty of pharmacies that can suggest remedies, though don’t expect English to be spoken.
Chinese hospitals use a mix of Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine approaches. They sometimes charge high prices for simple drugs, and use procedures that aren’t necessary, such as putting you on a drip just to administer antibiotics. Always ask for a second opinion from a Western–trained doctor if you’re worried (your embassy should be able to recommend one if none is suggested in this guide). In an emergency , you’re better off taking a cab than waiting for an ambulance – it’s quicker and will work out much cheaper. There’s virtually no free health care in China even for its citizens expect to pay around 𨙼 as a consultation fee.
Pharmacies are marked by a green cross, and if you can describe your ailment or required medication, you’ll find many drugs which would be restricted and expensive in the West are easily available over the counter at very low prices. Be wary of counterfeit drugs , however check for spelling mistakes in the packaging or instructions.
< Back to Basics
CULTURE AND ETIQUETTE
The Chinese are, on the whole, pragmatic, materialistic and garrulous. Many of the irritations experienced by foreigners – the occcasional sniggers and unhelpful service – can often be put down to nervousness and the language barrier, rather than hostility. Visitors who speak Chinese will encounter an endless series of delighted and amazed interlocutors wherever they go, invariably asking about their country of origin, their job and the reason they are in China.
If you’re invited to someone’s home, take along a gift – a bottle of spirits, some tea or an ornamental trinket are good choices (anything too utilitarian could be considered patronizing) – though your hosts won’t impolitely open this in front of you. Restaurant bills are not shared out between the guests instead, individuals will make great efforts to pay the whole amount themselves – even pretending to go to the toilet but actually paying, or resorting to fairly rough-and-tumble tactics at the till. Normally this honour will fall to the person perceived as the most senior, and as a foreigner dining with Chinese you should make some effort to stake your claim, though it is probable that someone else will grab the bill before you do. Attempting to pay a “share” of the bill will embarrass your hosts.
There’s almost no concept of privacy in mainland China – partitions in public toilets barely screen each cubicle, and in some places there are no partitions at all. All leisure activities are enjoyed in large, noisy groups, and the desire of some Western tourists to be “left alone” can be interpreted by locals as eccentric or arrogant.
Exotic foreigners inevitably become targets for blatant curiosity . People stare and point, voices on the street shout out “helloooo” twenty times a day, or – in rural areas – people even run up and jostle for a better look, exclaiming loudly to each other, laowai, laowai (“foreigner”). This is not usually intended to be aggressive or insulting, though the cumulative effects of such treatment can prove to be annoying, perhaps even alienating.
Spitting and smoking
Various other forms of behaviour perceived as antisocial in the West are considered perfectly normal in China. The widespread habit of spitting , for example, though slowly on the wane, can be observed in buses, trains, restaurants and even inside people’s homes. Outside the company of urban sophisticates, it would not occur to people that there was anything disrespectful in delivering a powerful spit while in conversation with a stranger. Smoking , likewise, is almost universal among men, and in most of the country any attempt to stop others from lighting up is met with incomprehension – though smoking in enclosed public places (including bars, restaurants and all transport) has been banned in Beijing and Shanghai since 2015.
Chinese clothing styles lean towards the casual, though surprisingly for such an apparently conservative-minded country, summertime skimpy clothing is common in all urban areas, particularly among women (less so in the countryside). Even in potentially sensitive Muslim areas, many Han Chinese girls insist on wearing miniskirts and see-through blouses. Although Chinese men commonly wear shorts and expose their midriffs in hot weather, Western men who do the same should note that the bizarre sight of hairy flesh in public – chest or legs – will instantly become the focus of giggly gossip. The generally relaxed approach to clothing applies equally when visiting temples, though in mosques men and women alike should cover their bodies above the wrists and ankles. As for beachwear , bikinis and briefs are in, but nudity has yet to become fashionable.
Casual clothing is one thing, but scruffy clothing quite another. If you want to earn the respect of the Chinese – useful for things like getting served in a restaurant or checking into a hotel – you should make some effort. While the average Chinese peasant might reasonably be expected to have wild hair and wear dirty clothes, a rich foreigner doing so will arouse a degree of contempt.
When meeting people it’s useful to have a business card to flash around – Chinese with business aspirations hand them out at every opportunity, and are a little crestfallen if you can’t produce one in return. It’s polite to take the proffered card with both hands and to have a good look at it before putting it away – though not in your back pocket. If you don’t speak Chinese but have your name in Chinese printed on them, they also become useful when checking in to hotels that are reluctant to take foreigners, as the staff can then copy your name into the register.
Nowadays, even more important than a business card is the smartphone app WeChat ( wechat.com ). As most foreign social media such as Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, WeChat is utterly ubiquitous. Texting is free (it can also handle video messaging and internet calls), and people will ask for your WeChat contact details instead of a phone number.
Shaking hands is not a Chinese tradition, though it is fairly common between men. Bodily contact in the form of embraces or back-slapping can be observed between same-sex friends, and these days, in cities, a boy and a girl can walk round arm in arm and even kiss without raising an eyebrow. Voice levels in China seem to be pitched several decibels louder than in most other countries, though this should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign of belligerence.
Sex and gender issues
Women travellers in China usually find sexual harassment less of a problem than in other Asian countries. Chinese men are, on the whole, deferential and respectful. A more likely complaint is being ignored, as the Chinese will generally assume that any man accompanying a woman will be doing all the talking, ordering and paying. Women on their own visiting remote temples or sights should be on their guard – don’t assume that all monks and caretakers have impeccable morals.
Prostitution , though illegal and officially denied, is everywhere in China. Single foreign men are likely to be approached inside hotels it’s common practice for prostitutes to phone around hotel rooms at all hours of the night. Bear in mind that the consequence of a Westerner being caught with a prostitute may be unpleasant.
Homosexuality is increasingly tolerated by the authorities and general public, though open displays may get you in trouble outside the more cosmopolitan cities. There are gay bars in most major cities, especially Beijing and Shanghai.
Dating a local won’t raise many eyebrows in these relaxed times, though displays of mixed-race public affection certainly will.
< Back to Basics
Xinhua is the state-run news agency, and it supplies most of the national print and TV media. All content is Party-controlled and censored, though there is a limited coverage of minor social issues and natural disasters as long as the government is portrayed as successfully combating the problem. However, gone are the days when surprisingly frank stories about corruption and riots occasionally slipped through the censorship net ever since President Xi Jinping made highly publicized visits to newspaper offices in 2015 to encourage “patriotism” in the press, any journalist or editor who tried to publish such things would find themselves disgraced, dismissed or even imprisoned for “revealing state secrets”.
Newspapers and magazines
The national Chinese-language newspaper is the People’s Daily (with an online English edition at english.peopledaily.com.cn ), though all provincial capitals and many major cities produce their own dailies with a local slant. The only national English-language newspaper is the China Daily ( chinadaily.com.cn ), which is scarce outside big cities. Hong Kong ’s English-language media includes the locally produced newspapers, the South China Morning Post and The Standard , published alongside regional editions of Time , Newsweek , the Asian Wall Street Journal and USA Today . All these have so far remained openly critical of Beijing on occasion, despite the former colony’s changeover to Chinese control.
Most big cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Chengdu and Chongqing, have free English-language magazines aimed at expats the publications contain listings of local venues and events, plus classifieds and feature articles they’re monitored by the authorities, so don’t expect anything too controversial.
Television and radio
Chinese television comprises a dozen or so channels run by the state television company, CCTV (China Central Television), plus a host of regional stations not all channels are available nationwide. Most of the content comprises news, flirty game shows, travel and wildlife documentaries, soaps, historical dramas and bizarre song-and-dance extravaganzas featuring performers in fetishistic, tight-fitting military outfits entertaining party officials with rigor-mortis faces. CCTV 17 shows international news in English. The regional stations are sometimes more adventurous, with a current trend for frank dating games, which draw much criticism from conservative-minded government factions for the rampant materialism displayed by the contestants.
On the radio you’re likely to hear the latest soft ballads, or versions of Western pop songs sung in Chinese. For news from home , listen via the websites of the BBC World Service ( bbc.co.uk/worldservice ), Radio Canada ( rcinet.ca ), the Voice of America ( voanews.com ) and Radio Australia ( abc.net.au/ra ).
< Back to Basics
China celebrates many secular and religious festivals, two of which – the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and National Day on October 1 – involve major nationwide holidays. Avoid travel during these times, as the country’s transport network becomes severely overloaded.
Most festivals take place according to dates in the Chinese lunar calendar , in which the first day of the month is the time when the moon is at its thinnest, with the full moon marking the middle of the month. By the Gregorian calendar used in the West, such festivals fall on a different day every year – check online for the latest dates. Most festivals celebrate the turning of the seasons or auspicious dates, such as the eighth day of the eighth month (eight is a lucky number in China). These are times for gifts, family reunions, feasts and setting off firecrackers. It’s always worth visiting temples on festival days, when the air is thick with incense, and people queue up to kowtow to altars and play games that bring good fortune, such as trying to hit the temple bell by throwing coins.
Aside from the following national festivals, China’s ethnic groups punctuate the year with their own ritual observances, which are described in the relevant chapters of the Guide. In Hong Kong, all the national Chinese festivals are celebrated.
SPRING FESTIVAL (CHINESE NEW YEAR)
The Spring Festival is two weeks of festivities marking the beginning of the lunar New Year , usually in late January or early February. In Chinese astrology, each year is associated with one of twelve animals, and the passing into a new phase is a momentous occasion. The festival sees China at its most colourful, with shops and houses decorated with good-luck messages. The first day of the festival is marked by a family feast at which jiaozi (dumplings) are eaten, sometimes with coins hidden inside. To ward off bad fortune, people dress in red clothes (red is a lucky colour) and eat fish, since the Chinese script for fish resembles the script for “surplus”, something everyone wishes to enjoy during the year. Firecrackers are let off almost constantly to scare ghosts away and, on the fifth day, to honour Cai Shen , god of wealth. Another ghost-scaring tradition is the pasting up of images of door gods at the threshold. Outside the home, New Year is celebrated at temple fairs , which feature acrobats and clouds of smoke as the Chinese light incense sticks to placate the gods. The celebrations end with the lantern festival , when the streets are filled with multicoloured paper lanterns. It’s customary at this time to eat tang yuan , glutinous rice balls stuffed with sweet sesame paste.
A holidays and festivals calendar
January/February Two-week-long Spring Festival. Everything shuts down for a national holiday during the first week.
February Tiancang Festival On the twentieth day of the first lunar month, Chinese peasants celebrate Tiancang, or Granary Filling Day, in the hope of ensuring a good harvest later in the year.
March Guanyin’s Birthday Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, and probably China’s most popular deity, is celebrated on the nineteenth day of the second lunar month.
April 4/5 Qingming Festival Also referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day, this is when people visit the graves of ancestors and burn ghost money in honour of the departed.
April 13 Dai Water Splashing Festival Anyone on the streets of Xishuangbanna, in Yunnan province, is fair game for a soaking.
May 1 Labour Day A three-day national holiday when everyone goes on the move.
May 4 Youth Day Commemorating the student demonstrators in Tian’anmen Square in 1919, which gave rise to the Nationalist “May Fourth Movement”. It’s marked in most cities with flower displays.
June 1 Children’s Day Most schools go on field trips, so if you’re visiting a popular tourist site, be prepared for mobs of kids in yellow baseball caps.
June/July Dragon-boat Festival On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, dragon-boat races are held in memory of the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in 280 BC. The traditional food to accompany the celebrations is zongzi (lotus-wrapped rice packets). Another three-day public holiday.
August/September Ghost Festival The Chinese equivalent of Halloween, this is a time when ghosts from hell are supposed to walk the earth. It’s not celebrated so much as observed it’s regarded as an inauspicious time to travel, move house or get married.
September/October Moon Festival Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Moon cakes, containing a rich filling of sugar, lotus-seed paste and walnut, are eaten, and plenty of spirits consumed. The public get a further three days off.
September/October Double Ninth Festival Nine is a number associated with yang , or male energy, and on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month such qualities as assertiveness and strength are celebrated. It’s believed to be a good time for the distillation (and consumption) of spirits.
September 28 Confucius Festival The birthday of Confucius is marked by celebrations at all Confucian temples. It’s a good time to visit Qufu, in Shandong province, when elaborate ceremonies are held at the temple there.
October 1 National Day Another week-long holiday when everyone has time off to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic. TV is even more dire than usual, as it’s full of programmes celebrating Party achievements.
December 25 Christmas This is marked as a religious event only by the faithful, but for everyone else it’s an excuse for a feast and a party.
< Back to Basics
China is a good place to shop for tourist souvenirs, folk art, clothes, household goods and faked designer labels – but not for real designer brands or electronic goods (including mobile phones), which are all cheaper at home or online. Even small villages have markets, while larger cities will also have big department stores, shopping malls and even international supermarket chains.
Prices in stores are fixed, but discounts (折扣, zhékòu) are common: they’re marked by a number between one and nine and the character “折”, indicating the percentage of the original price you have to pay – 折”, for example, means that the item is on sale at eighty percent of its original price. At markets, you’re expected to bargain for goods unless prices are displayed. If you can speak Chinese, hang around for a while to get an idea what others are paying, or just ask at a few stalls selling the same things Chinese shoppers usually state the price they’re willing to pay, rather than beginning low and working up to it after haggling. Don’t become obsessed about saving every last yuan being charged more than locals and getting ripped off from time to time is inevitable.
Souvenirs popular with foreign tourists include “chops” (stone seals with your name engraved in characters on the base) all manner of reproduction antiques, from porcelain to furniture mementos of Mao and the Cultural Revolution T-shirts and “old-style” Chinese clothes scroll paintings and ethnic jewellery and textiles. Chinese tourists also look for things like local teas, “purple sand” teapots and bright tack. Pretty much the same selection is sold at all tourist sites, irrespective of relevancy. For real antiques , you need specialist stores or markets – some are listed in the Guide – where anything genuine is meant to be marked with a wax seal and requires an export licence to take out of the country. With world prices for Chinese art going through the roof, forgeries abound. Don’t expect to find any bargains for the real thing – many dealers are, in fact, beginning to buy their antiques overseas, where they cost less, for resale in China.
Clothes are good value in China, with brand stores such as Giordano, Baleno, Metersbonwe and Raidy Boer selling high-quality smart-casual wear. Fashion-conscious places such as Shanghai and Hong Kong also have factory outlet stores, selling last year’s designs at low prices, and all major cities have specialist stores stocking outdoor and hiking gear, though it often looks far better than it turns out to be for the price. Silk and other fabrics are also good value, if you’re into making your own clothes, while shoes are inexpensive too. With the Chinese youth racing up in height, finding clothing in large sizes is becoming less of an issue.
All bookshops and many market stalls in China sell CDs of everything from Beijing punk to Beethoven, plus DVDs of domestic and international movies (often subtitled – check on the back). While extremely cheap, many of these are pirated (the discs may be confiscated at customs when you get home). Genuine DVD films may be region-coded for Asia, so check the label and whether your player at home will handle them.
Hong Kong is the only place with a comprehensive range of international goods on the mainland, your best bet is to head to provincial capitals, many of which have a branch of Carrefour (家乐福, jiālèfú) or Wal-Mart (沃尔玛, wòěrmă), where you may find small caches of foreign goodies.
< Back to Basics
SPORTS AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
Since 2008, when China hosted the Olympics, athletic passion has become almost a patriotic duty. But the most visible forms of exercise are timeless head to any public space in the morning and you’ll see citizens going through martial-arts routines, playing ping pong and street badminton, even ballroom dancing. Sadly though, facilities for organized sport are fairly limited.
The Chinese are good at “small ball” games such as squash and badminton, and, of course, table tennis, at which (at the time of writing) they have been consecutive world champions since 2005 in the men’s and since 1995 in the women’s. Chinese teams aren’t known for excelling at “big ball” games, such as football . Nevertheless, Chinese men follow foreign football avidly, with games from the European leagues shown on CCTV 5. There’s also a national obsession among students for basketball , which predates the rise to international fame of NBA star Yao Ming , who played for the Houston Rockets.
If China has an indigenous “sport”, however, it’s the martial arts – not surprising, perhaps, in a country whose history is littered with long periods of civil conflict. Today, there are hundreds of Chinese martial-arts styles, often taught for exercise rather than for fighting.
As for outdoor activities , hiking for its own sake is slowly catching on, though tourists have plenty of opportunities for step-aerobic-type exercise up long, steep staircases ascending China’s many holy mountains . Snow sports have become popular in Dongbei, which has several ski resorts , while the wilds of Yunnan and Sichuan, along with Qinghai and Tibet, are drawing increasing numbers of adventurous young city-born Chinese – always dressed in the latest outdoor gear – to mountaineering and four-wheel-drive expeditions.
< Back to Basics
TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN
Children in China are, despite the recent abandonment of the one-child policy, usually indulged and pampered. Foreigners travelling with children can expect to receive lots of attention from curious locals – and the occasional admonition that the little one should be wrapped up warmer.
While formula and nappies might be available in modern, big city supermarkets, elsewhere you’ll need to bring a supply (and any medication if required) with you – local kids don’t use nappies, just pants with a slit at the back, and when baby wants to go, mummy points him at the gutter. Similarly, changing facilities and baby-minding services are virtually unknown on the mainland outside high-end international hotels.
Hong Kong is the only part of China where children are specifically catered to by attractions such as Ocean World and Disneyland elsewhere, the way most Chinese tourist sites are decked up like fairground rides makes them attractive for youngsters in any case. Things to watch for include China’s poor levels of hygiene (keeping infants’ and toddlers’ hands clean can be a full-time occupation), spicy or just unusual food, plus the stress levels caused by the ambient crowds, pollution and noise found in much of the country – though this often seems to affect parents more than children.
< Back to Basics
China is an expensive place to visit compared with the rest of Asia. Though food and transport are good value, accommodation can be pricey for what you get, and entry fees for temples, scenic areas and historic monuments are becoming high even on an international scale – so much so that the central government is trying to get local authorities to reduce them (with little effect so far). Actual prices vary considerably between regions : Hong Kong and Macau are as costly as Europe or the US the developed eastern provinces are expensive by Chinese standards and the further west you go, the more prices fall.
By doing everything cheaply and sticking mostly to the less expensive interior provinces, you can survive on 㿞/US$65/𨘘 a day travel a bit more widely and in better comfort and you’re looking at 㿼/US$105/𨝄 a day while travelling in style and visiting only key places along the east coast, you could run up daily expenses of 𧶲/US$330/ and above.
Discount rates for pensioners and students are available for many sights, though students may well be asked for a Chinese student card – the practice varies from place to place, even within the same city. Pensioners can often just use their passports to prove they are over 60 (women) or 65 (men).
Crime and personal safety
While the worst that happens to most visitors to China is being pickpocketed on a bus or getting scammed , you do need to take care. Carry passports and money (and your phone, if it fits) in a concealed money belt, and keep some foreign notes – perhaps around US$300 – separately from the rest of your cash, together with your insurance policy details and photocopies of your passport and visa. Be wary on buses , the favoured haunt of pickpockets , and trains , particularly in hard-seat class and on overnight journeys.
One of the most dangerous things you can do in China is cross a road : marked pedestrian crossings might as well not be there for all motorists pay attention to them and even when traffic lights flash green to show it’s safe to cross, vehicles are still permitted to turn into or out of the road. Hotel rooms are on the whole secure, dormitories much less so, though often it’s fellow travellers who are the problem here. Most hotels should have a safe, but it’s not unusual for things to go missing from these. Wandering around cities late at night is as risky in China as anywhere else walking alone across the countryside is ill-advised, particularly in remote regions. If anyone does try to rob you, run away, or, if this isn’t possible, stay calm and don’t resist.
You may see stress-induced street confrontations , though these rarely result in violence, just a lot of shouting. Another irritation, particularly in the southern cities, is gangs of child beggars , organized by a nearby adult. They target foreigners and can be very hard to shake off handing over money usually results in increased harassment.
Note that you are generally better off taking a taxi to the nearest hospital than calling for an ambulance.
The police , known as the Public Security Bureau or PSB , are recognizable by their dark blue uniforms and caps, though there are a lot more around than you might at first think, as plenty are undercover. They have much wider powers than most Western police forces, including establishing the guilt of criminals – trials are used only for deciding the sentence of the accused (though this is changing and China now has the beginnings of an independent judiciary). If the culprit is deemed to show proper remorse, this will result in a more lenient sentence.
The PSB also have the job of looking after foreigners, and you’ll most likely have to seek them out for visa extensions , reporting theft or losses, and obtaining permits for otherwise closed areas of the country (mostly in Tibet). On occasion, they might seek you out it’s common for the police to call round to your hotel room if you’re staying in a remote place – they usually just look at your passport and then move on.
While individual police often go out of their way to help foreigners, the PSB itself has all the problems of any police force in a country where corruption is widespread, and it’s best to minimize contact with them.
A good number of professional con artists target tourists – especially in places such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guilin – with variations on the following scam. A sweet-looking young couple, a pair of girls, or perhaps a kindly old man, will ask to practise their English or offer to show you round. Having befriended you – which may take hours – they will suggest some refreshment, and lead you to a teahouse, art gallery or restaurant. After eating or drinking, you will be presented with a bill for thousands of yuan, your new “friends” will vanish, and some large gentlemen will appear – who in some cases force people into handing over their card and PIN and raiding their bank account before letting them go. It’s hard to believe just how convincing these scam artists can be: never eat or drink with a stranger unless you have confirmed how much you’re expected to pay.
Offences to avoid
With adjacent opium-growing areas in Burma and Laos, and a major Southeast Asian distribution point in Hong Kong, China has a massive drug problem . Heroin use has become fairly widespread in the south, particularly in depressed rural areas, and ecstasy is used in clubs. In the past, the police have turned a blind eye to foreigners with drugs, as long as no Chinese are involved, but you don’t want to test this out. In 2009, China executed British national Akmal Shaikh for drug trafficking, and annually holds mass executions of convicted drug offenders on the UN anti-drugs day in June.
Visitors are not likely to be accused of political crimes , but foreign residents can be expelled from the country for talking about politics or religion. The Chinese people they talk to will be treated less leniently. In Tibet, and at sensitive border areas, censorship is taken extremely seriously photographing military installations (which can include major road bridges), instances of police brutality or gulags is not a good idea.
The electricity supply runs on 220 volts, with plugs either a triple flat pin or round double prong, except in Hong Kong, where they favour the UK-style square triple prong. Adaptors are widely available from neighbourhood hardware stores.
Unless you’re briefly transiting China via certain key cities, all foreign nationals require a visa to enter mainland China, available worldwide from Chinese embassies and consulates and through specialist tour operators and visa agents, and online. Bear in mind that application requirements have become fairly strict in recent times, and you need to check the latest rules at least three months before you travel the following information outlines the situation at the time this book went to print. Don’t count on being able to extend your visa once in China.
By far the most straightforward option is to apply in your home country – the country that issued your passport, regardless of your country of residence. You will need to fill out a form with a detailed itinerary of your proposed trip, along with proof of a return ticket and accommodation reservations for every night that you’re in China. To get around the last hurdle, find a hotel via ctrip.com that doesn’t require your credit card details to make a reservation, book it for the duration, and then cancel the booking once you have your visa. You’ll be asked your occupation, and it’s not wise to admit to being a journalist, photographer or writer in such instances, it’s best to say “consultant” or similar. Your passport must be valid for at least another six months from your planned date of entry into China, and have at least one blank page.
If you don’t apply in your home country, or you fall short of any of the requirements, you’ll probably also be asked to provide an official introductory letter from an organization inviting you to China, bank statements and possibly documents proving your annual income and employment record – things that might be impossible to produce if, for instance, you’re in the middle of a round-the-world trip. The only solution in this case might be to head to Hong Kong and apply through independent agents there, who charge steeply but can usually wrangle a one-month visa.
Visas must be used within three months of issue, and the cost varies considerably depending on the visa type, the length of stay, the number of entries allowed, and – especially – your nationality. For example, US nationals pay US$140 for a multi-entry tourist visa with up to ten years validity, whereas UK nationals pay 𧵎 for one lasting two years. Don’t overstay your visa: the fine is 𨙼 a day, along with the possibility that you may be deported and banned from entering China for five years.
Tourist visas (L) are valid for upwards of two months (maximum limits depend on nationality), and can be single- or multiple-entry. Business (M) and Research visas (F) are valid for upwards of three months to apply, you’ll need an official invitation from a government-recognized Chinese organization. Twelve-month work visas (Z) again require an invitation, plus a health certificate.
Students intending to study in China for less than six months need an invitation or letter of acceptance from a college there and will be given an F visa. If you’re intending study for longer than six months, there is an additional form, and you will also need a health certificate then you’ll be allowed to stay for up to a year (X visa).
You’re allowed to import into China up to four hundred cigarettes, plus 1.5l of alcohol and up to 䂈,000 cash. Foreign currency in excess of US$5000 or the equivalent must be declared. It’s illegal to import printed or filmed matter critical of the country, but this is currently only a problem with Chinese border guards at crossings from Vietnam, who have confiscated guidebooks to China that contain maps showing Taiwan as a separate country (such as this one) keep them buried in the bottom of your bags.
Currently, visitors from the US, Canada, UK and many European countries arriving on international flights at eighteen cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guilin, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Chengdu, can spend up to 72 hours in transit without a visa . To be eligible, you must have proof of onward travel to a third country (so you can’t, for instance, be on a round-trip from Hong Kong). You are also not allowed to leave the relevant city’s boundaries during your stay.
Chinese embassies and consulates
Australia 02 6273 4780, au.china-embassy.org/eng .
Canada 1 613 789 3434, ca.chineseembassy.org/eng .
Ireland 01 269 1707, ie.china-embassy.org/eng .
New Zealand 04 474 9631, chinaembassy.org.nz .
South Africa 012 431 6500, chinese-embassy.org.za .
UK 020 7299 4049, chinese-embassy.org.uk .
US 1 202 495 2266, www.china-embassy.org/eng .
You can apply for a visa extension through the nearest Public Security Bureau ( PSB ) – the department is normally labelled “Aliens’ Entry Exit Section” or similar. Be aware that if the office strictly follows the official rules, you’ll need to produce all the paperwork required for your original application. However, in reality, the amount of hassle varies greatly from place to place.
A first extension , valid for thirty days, costs 𨔨, depending on your nationality. You must apply at least seven days before your old visa expires, and provide your passport, passport photos and a receipt from your accommodation proving that you’re staying in the town in which you’re applying. Processing the application takes seven working days. The worst places to apply (bar Tibet) are Xinjiang, Beijing and Shanghai.
A second or third extension is harder to get, and impossible if your visa was originally issued outside your home country. In cities with large foreign populations, use a visa agent (advertised in expat magazines), as the PSB may well reject your application otherwise. However, in small towns you’d be unlucky not to be given some kind of extension. Don’t admit to being low on funds.
China is a relatively safe place to travel, though traffic accidents, respiratory infections, petty theft and transport delays are all fairly common – meaning that it’s sensible to ensure you’ve arranged some form of travel insurance before leaving home.
ROUGH GUIDES TRAVEL INSURANCE
Rough Guides has teamed up with WorldNomads.com to offer great travel insurance deals. Policies are available to residents of more than 150 countries, with cover for a wide range of adventure sports, 24hr emergency assistance, high levels of medical and evacuation cover and a stream of travel safety information. Roughguides.com users can take advantage of their policies online 24/7, from anywhere in the world – even if you’re already travelling. And since plans often change when you’re on the road, you can extend your policy and even claim online. Roughguides.com users who buy travel insurance with WorldNomads.com can also leave a positive footprint and donate to a community development project. For more information, go to roughguides.com/travel-insurance .
Almost every urban Chinese has a smartphone nowadays, and the best way to keep online is to carry one as well, or, failing that, a tablet or laptop. Free wi-fi is ubiquitous, from inner-city cafés and tourist areas to airport lounges and just about every form of accommodation (aside from back-country inns). There’s only one social media app you’ll need: WeChat.
Internet bars (网吧, wăngbā) are everywhere in China and charge ٷ per hour they’re invariably full of network-gaming teenagers. You’re officially required to show a Chinese ID card before being allowed to use one – obviously impossible for most tourists. In some places this rule is strictly enforced elsewhere nobody cares, or you’ll be handed a fake ID at the front counter which will allow you to sign on.
Censorship is a major headache for anyone wanting to access foreign websites, thanks to the dryly named “ Great Firewall ” or Net Nanny, which blocks sites deemed undesirable by the state. This currently includes anything connected to Google – so no Google Maps, Gmail or YouTube those with Gmail accounts might want to set up an email account for their trip with Hotmail, Yahoo or similar. All foreign social media is banned, including Twitter and Facebook. To get around the firewall, you need to install a web proxy or VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your phone or laptop. This has to be set up before you leave home and costs a few pounds/dollars a month check online to find the best current option for travelling to China, as they get disabled by Chinese censors fairly regularly. Using a VPN in China is illegal, but just about every foreign business runs one.
Big-city hotels and youth hostels everywhere offer a laundry service for anything between 䁾 and 𨓬 alternatively, some hostels have self-service facilities – every corner store in China sells washing powder (洗衣粉, xĭyīfĕn). Otherwise, ask for accommodation staff for the nearest laundry, where they usually charge by dry weight. Laundromats are virtually unknown in China.
Living in China
It is fairly easy for foreigners to live in China full time, whether as a student, a teacher or for work. Anyone planning to stay more than six months is required to pass a medical examination (from approved clinics) proving that they don’t have any venereal disease – if you do have a VD, expect to be deported and your passport endorsed with your ailment.
Many mainland cities – including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming and Chengdu – have no restrictions on where foreigners can reside , though either you or your landlord must register with the local PSB. Property rental is relatively inexpensive if you avoid purpose-built foreign enclaves. The easiest way to find accommodation is to go through an agent , who will generally charge one month’s rent as a fee find them online or in expat magazines.
There are schemes in operation to place foreign teachers in Chinese educational institutions – contact your nearest Chinese embassy for details. Some employers ask for a TEFL qualification, though a degree, or simply the ability to speak the language as a native, is usually enough. Most teachers find their students keen, hard working, curious and obedient, and report that it is the contact with them that makes the experience worthwhile. That said, avoid talking about religion or politics in the classroom as this can get the pupils into trouble.
The teaching salary for a foreigner – though this depends heavily on your location, and the workload you accept – is around per month for a bachelor’s degree, for a master’s degree and 䂄,000 for a doctorate. This isn’t enough to put much away, but you should also get subsidized on-campus accommodation, plus a fare to your home country – one-way for a single semester and a return for a year’s work. The workload is usually fourteen hours a week, and if you work a year you get paid through the winter holiday. You’ll earn more – say, 䂈,000 a month with a degree in teaching – in a private school , though be aware of the risk of being ripped off by a commercial agency (you might be given more classes to teach than you’d agreed to, for example). Research the institution thoroughly before committing.
Many universities in China now host substantial populations of international students , especially in Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an. Indeed, the numbers of foreigners at these places are so large that in some ways you’re shielded from much of a “China experience”, and you may find smaller centres offer both a mellower pace of life and more contact with Chinese people outside the campus.
Most foreign students come to China to study Mandarin , though there are many additional options available – from martial arts to traditional opera or classical literature – once you break the language barrier. Courses cost from the equivalent of US$2700 a year, or US$900 a semester. Hotel-style campus accommodation costs around US$20 a day most people move out as soon as they speak enough Chinese to rent a flat.
Your first resource is the nearest Chinese embassy, which can provide a list of contact details for Chinese universities offering the courses you are interested in most universities also have English-language websites. Be aware, however, that promotional material may have little bearing on what is actually provided. Though teaching standards themselves are high at Chinese universities, the administration departments are often confusing or misleading places. Ideally, visit the campus first and be wary of paying course fees up front until you’ve spoken to a few students.
Make your trip easier with some handy smartphone apps : all of the below are free.
Baidu maps map.baidu.com . Chinese-language take on Google Maps (which is blocked in China unless you’re running a VPN). Works in a limited way with pinyin , but you’ll need to input Chinese characters for best results.
Ctrip & Elong elong.net , english.ctrip.com . Useful for booking flights and accommodation use Travel China Guide for trains.
Didi xiaojukeji.com . Uber-like Chinese app for taxis in over 350 cities you offer a pick-up fee and wait for drivers to respond – in auction style. Drivers will take cash too, so there’s no need for a domestic bank card. Chinese-language only, but not too hard to get to grips with.
ExploreMetro exploremetro.com . Subway maps for Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Shanghai.
Pandabus pandabus.cn . Uses your phone’s GPS to show public bus timetables for your location. Works with English searches, though results are in Chinese.
Pleco & DianHua pleco.com , dianhuadictionary.com . Comprehensive English/ pinyin /Chinese dictionaries, with free and paid-for versions. Pleco has add-on optical character recognition too, for a fee.
Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com . The best way to book train tickets online and have them delivered to your hotel room.
Waygo waygoapp.com . Use your phone’s camera to scan a Chinese-language menu or transport timetable and get a basic translation. Limited, but surprisingly useful.
WeChat wechat.com . Social media app that’s essential for making friends in China.
There is plenty of work available for foreigners in mainland Chinese cities, where a whole section of expat society gets by as actors, cocktail barmen, Chinglish correctors, models, freelance writers and so on. To really make any money here, however, you need either to be employed by a foreign company or run your own business.
China’s vast markets and WTO membership present a wealth of commercial opportunities for foreigners. However, anyone wanting to do business here should do thorough research beforehand. The difficulties are formidable – red tape and shady business practices abound. Remember that the Chinese do business on the basis of mutual trust and pay much less attention to contractual terms or legislation. Copyright and trademark laws are often ignored, and any successful business model will be immediately copied. You’ll need to develop your guanxi (connections) assiduously, and cultivate the virtues of patience, propriety and bloody-mindedness.
Study and work programmes
AFS Intercultural Programs afs.org . Intercultural exchange organization whose China offerings include academic and cultural exchanges that are anywhere from one month to a year long.
Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) ciee.org . Leading NGO offering study programmes and volunteer projects around the world. China options include: an academic semester or year abroad a gap year (US students only) summer study and paid teaching for a semester or year.
Street maps for almost every town and city in China are available from kiosks, hotel shops and bookshops. Most are in Chinese only, showing bus routes, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions local bus, train and flight timetables are often printed on the back as well. The same vendors also sell pocket-sized provincial road atlases , again in Chinese only.
Some of the major cities and tourist destinations also produce English-language maps, available at upmarket hotels, principal tourist sights or tour operators’ offices. In Hong Kong and Macau, the local tourist offices provide free maps.
Countrywide maps , which you should buy before you leave home, include the excellent 1:4,000,000 map from GeoCenter, which shows relief and useful sections of all neighbouring countries, and the Collins 1:5,000,000 map. One of the best maps of Tibet is Stanfords Map of South-Central Tibet Kathmandu–Lhasa Route Map .
Also note that, as all Google services are blocked in China, you’ll need to install a VPN to access Google Maps or use a domestic alternative such as Baidu maps.
The mainland Chinese currency is formally called yuan (¥), more colloquially known as renminbi (RMB, literally “the people’s money”) or kuai . One yuan breaks down into ten jiao , also known as mao . Paper money was invented in China and is still the main form of exchange, available in 𨓬, 䂦, 䂈, 䁾, ٷ and ٳ notes, with a similar selection of mao. One mao, five mao, and ٳ coins are increasingly common, though less so in rural areas. China suffers regular outbreaks of counterfeiting – many people check their change for watermarks, metal threads, UV ink marks and – crucially – the feel of the paper.
The yuan floats within a narrow range set by a basket of currencies, keeping Chinese exports cheap (much to the annoyance of the US). At the time of writing, the exchange rate was approximately ٸ.9 to US$1, ٺ.7 to ٟ, ٹ.3 to , ٷ.2 to CAN$1, ٷ.1 to AU$1, ٶ.9 to NZ$1 and ٲ.5 to ZAR1. For exact rates, check xe.com .
Hong Kong’s currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$), divided into one hundred cents, while in Macau they use pataca (usually written MOP$), in turn broken down into a hundred avos. Both currencies are worth slightly less than the yuan, but while Hong Kong dollars are accepted in Macau and southern China’s Special Economic Zones, and they can be exchanged internationally, neither yuan nor pataca is any use outside the mainland or Macau respectively. Tourist hotels in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou also sometimes accept payment in Hong Kong or US dollars.
Banks and ATMs
Banks in major Chinese cities are sometimes open seven days a week, though foreign exchange is usually only available Monday to Friday, approximately 9am–noon and 2pm. All banks are closed for the first three days of the Chinese New Year, with reduced hours for the following eleven days, and at other holiday times. In Hong Kong, banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4.30pm, and 9am to 12.30pm on Saturday, while in Macau they close thirty minutes earlier.
Cirrus, Visa and Plus cards can be used to make cash withdrawals from ATMs operated by the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China, as long as the ATM displays the relevant logo. In major east-coast cities, almost every one of these banks’ ATMs will work with foreign cards, but elsewhere it’s likely that only the main branch of the Bank of China will have a suitable machine. Your bank back home will charge a fee on each withdrawal. You can change your yuan into dollars or sterling at any Bank of China branch.
Credit cards and wiring money
China is basically a cash economy, and credit cards , such as Visa, American Express and MasterCard, are only accepted at big tourist hotels and the fanciest restaurants, as well as some tourist-oriented shops there is usually a four percent handling charge. It’s straightforward to obtain cash advances on a Visa card at many Chinese banks, though the commission is a steep three percent. You can also use Visa cards to get cash advances using ATMs bearing the “Plus” logo, and book hotels and the like online.
It’s possible to wire money to China through Western Union ( www.westernunion.cn ) funds can be collected from one of their agencies or branches of the Postal Savings Bank of China.
China officially has a five-day week , though this only really applies to government offices, which open Monday to Friday approximately 8am–noon and again from 1pm. Generalization is difficult, though: post offices open daily, as do many shops, often keeping long, late hours, especially in big cities. Although banks usually close on Sundays – or for the whole weekend – even this is not always the case.
Tourist sights generally open every day, usually 8ampm and without a lunch break. Most public parks open from about 6am. Museums tend to have more restricted hours, often closing on Mondays. If you arrive at an out-of-the-way place that seems to be closed, however, don’t despair – knocking or poking around will often turn up a drowsy doorkeeper. Conversely, you may find some places locked and deserted when they are supposed to be open. Public holiday dates are covered earlier in this chapter.
Everywhere in China has an area code that must be used when phoning from outside that locality these are given for all telephone numbers throughout this guide. Local calls are free from landlines, and long-distance China-wide calls are ٲ.3 a minute. International calls cost from ٵ.5 a minute, though much cheaper if you use an IP internet phonecard.
Mobile coverage in China is excellent and comprehensive they use the GSM system. Assuming your phone is unlocked and compatible, the cheapest deal is to buy a Chinese SIM card (SIM卡, SIM kă or 手机卡, shǒujīkǎ) for your phone from street kiosks or any China Mobile, China Unicom or China Telecom shop. The regulations state that you have to show a Chinese ID card or foreign passport to buy a SIM card. Depending on where you are, however, you might be sold one without anyone checking, but it’s luck of the draw. We recommend downloading several useful apps.
Basic SIM cards cost 𨓬, which gets you 300MB download and 100 minutes of talk time you extend this with prepaid top-up cards (充值卡, chōngzhí kă) from the same outlets. Making and receiving domestic calls this way costs ٲ.2 per minute, and texts ٲ.1 each usually, you can’t call overseas, though you can text.
If your phone is locked, it could well be cheaper to buy a new handset rather than pay your provider’s roaming charges the cheapest (non-smart) phones cost around 𨕐. Make sure shop staff change the operating language into English for you.
The cheapest way to call overseas with any phone is to use an IP card , which comes in 𨓬 units. You dial a local number, then a PIN, then the number you’re calling. Rates are as low as ٴ.4 per minute to the US and Canada, ٵ.2 to Europe. IP cards are sold from corner stores, mobile-phone emporiums, and from street hawkers (usually outside the mobile-phone emporiums) all over the country. These cards can only be used in the places you buy them – move to another city and you’ll have to buy a new card.
Photography is a popular pastime among the Chinese, and all big towns and cities have photo stores selling the latest cameras (especially Hong Kong), where you can also download your digital images onto disc for around 䂒, though prints are expensive at ٳ each. Camera batteries, film and memory cards are fairly easy to obtain in city department stores.
Chinese people are often only too pleased to have their picture taken, though many temples prohibit photography inside buildings and you should avoid taking pictures of anything to do with the military, or that could be construed as having strategic value, including ordinary structures such as bridges in sensitive areas along borders, in Tibet, and so forth.
The Chinese postal service is fast and efficient, with letters taking a day to reach destinations in the same city, two or more days to other destinations in China, and up to several weeks to destinations abroad. Overseas postage rates are fairly expensive and vary depending on weight, destination and where you are in the country. The International Express Mail Service ( EMS ), however, is unreliable, with items often lost in transit or arriving broken, despite registered delivery and online tracking. DHL ( dhl.com ), available in a few major cities, is a safer bet.
Main post offices are open daily, usually from 8ampm smaller offices may keep shorter hours or close at weekends. As well as at post offices, you can post letters in green post boxes , though these are rare outside big cities.
To send parcels , turn up with the goods you want to send and the staff will sell you a box and pack them up for 䂃 or so. Once packed, but before the parcel is sealed, it must be checked at the customs window and you’ll have to complete masses of paperwork, so don’t be in a hurry. If you are sending valuable goods bought in China, put the receipt or a photocopy of it in with the parcel, as it may be opened for customs inspection further down the line.
Despite its huge east–west spread, the whole of China occupies a single time zone, 8hr ahead of GMT, 13hr ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, 16hr ahead of US Pacific Time and 2hr behind Australian Eastern Standard Time. There is no daylight saving.
The internet is your best source of information before you travel, as Chinese tourist offices overseas mostly sell packages and have little to offer individual travellers. Once you reach the mainland, you’ll find the CITS (China International Travel Service 中国国际旅行社, zhōngguó guójì lǚxíngshè) and alternatives such as the CTS (China Travel Service 中国旅行社, zhōngguó lǚxíngshè) everywhere from large cities to obscure hamlets. However, places with the CITS/CTS logo are individual businesses that have been granted license to use the name there is no interaction between separate branches. Though they book flight and train tickets, local tours and accommodation, their value to independent travellers is usually pretty low, even on the rare occasions that someone speaks English. Other sources of information on the ground include accommodation staff or tour desks – especially at youth hostels – and backpacker cafés in destinations such as Dali and Yangshuo.
Cities with large expat populations (including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou) have English-language magazines with bar, restaurant and other listings . These are usually distributed free in bars and upmarket hotels, and often have accompanying websites, listed throughout the Guide.
Hong Kong and Macau both have efficient and helpful tourist information offices, and several free listings magazines.
To call mainland China from abroad, dial your international access code ( 00 in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, 011 in the US and Canada, 0011 in Australia, 00 in New Zealand and 27 in South Africa), then 86 (China’s country code), then area code (minus initial zero) followed by the number.
To call Hong Kong , dial your international access code followed by 852, then the number and for Macau , dial your international access code, then 853 and then the number.
PHONING ABROAD FROM CHINA
To call abroad from mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau, dial 00, then the country code, then the area code minus initial zero (if any), followed by the number.
New Zealand 64
US & Canada 1
South Africa 27
Chinese tourist offices abroad
Australia and New Zealand 11th Floor, 234 George St, Sydney, NSW 2000 02 9252 9838