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China Quick Guide
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- Etiquette/Dress Code
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All foreign nationals require a visa to enter China and this can be obtained prior to departure through your nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate or from a local branch of CITS. Alternatively, if spending time in Hong Kong before visiting Mainland China, a visa can be arranged quickly and easily from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, CTS, CITS or from one of the many travel agents specialising in Chinese visas.
Different types of visa are available depending on length and purpose of stay and these are valid from the date of issue, therefore do not apply for the visa too far in advance. The visa takes up an entire page and will not be issued if one clean page is not available in your passport. Once in the country, an extension for a period of up to 30 days can be applied for at the Foreign Affairs section of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) - a branch of the police force that can be found in most towns.
Once in China, personal identification must be carried at all times.
Unlimited foreign currency may be imported but must be declared on arrival. The export of foreign currency is limited to the amount that was imported and declared on arrival.
Visitors may take the following into China duty free:
- Alcohol - 2 litres of alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco - 400 cigarettes
Prohibited items: Arms, ammunition, radio transmitters/receivers, exposed but undeveloped film, fruit and certain vegetables.
Penalties for carrying or trafficking illegal drugs are extremely severe, ranging from long prison sentences to the death penalty.
A form must be completed declaring valuables such as jewellery, electronic goods, cameras etc. on arrival to ensure that they can be taken out of the country when you leave. Receipts for items purchased in the country such as jewellery, handicrafts and paintings must be kept as you may be asked to show these on departure.
The whole of China is in the same time zone: GMT + 8 hours
- Renminbi (RMB), also known as Yuan (Y) or Kwai - Check current exchange rates
- 10 jiao = 1RMB, 10 fen = 1 jiao
- Notes issued: 500RMB, 100RMB, 50RMB, 10RMB, 5RMB, 2RMB, 1RMB 5 jiao, 2 jiao, 1 jiao
- Coins issued: 1RMB, 1.5 jiao, 5 fen, 3 fen, 1 fen
Tipping is not standard practice in China and is actually discouraged, although it is becoming more acceptable within international tourist hotels and restaurants. Tip porters and hotel staff 5-10RMB.
Monday to Friday 9.00am to 12.00pm and 2.00pm to 5.00pm.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua), however numerous dialects are also spoken throughout the mainland. Among these dialects, large groups speak Cantonese, Fukienese, Xiamenhua and Hakka. Cantonese is the main language of the Hong Kong and Macau SARs; whereas Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang (autonomous regions) have their own languages.
English is not widely spoken, therefore a phrase book would be extremely useful to point to key phrases written in Chinese characters. Another useful item would be a map with place names written in both English and Chinese.
The international dialling code for China is 86.
When making international telephone calls from China first dial 00 + country code + area code + telephone number.
Local Telephone Codes
- 220/240 V AC, 50Hz
- Either flat or square, two-pin and three-pin plugs are used. It is advisable to take a universal adapter, as these are difficult to find in China.
Tap water is considered unsafe to drink so stick to boiled and bottled water. Most hotels provide distilled water or flasks of hot water in rooms on request.
Make sure that you have adequate health insurance that covers evacuation, as although medical care is available, it is not always of the highest standard. Consider inoculations against typhoid, cholera, polio, hepatitis A, Japanese encephalitis and take advice regarding anti-malarials. It is always best to check the current situation and any vaccination requirements with your doctor when planning your trip.
In restaurants, avoid cracked crockery and rinse chopsticks, bowls and cups with hot tea before use, as they may have only been washed in cold water.
- Beijing - Capital International Central
- Dalian - Zhoushuizi
- Fuzhou - Yixu
- Gaoqi - Xiamen
- Qingdao - Liuting
- Shanghai - Hongqiao
- Tianjin - Zhangguizhuang
International Airport Departure Tax
There are numerous domestic airports throughout China, which include those mentioned above.
Domestic Airport Departure Tax
Casual clothes are acceptable everywhere, although smarter clothes can gain more respect. Revealing clothes should be avoided.
Problems that arise in China through cultural differences can often be put down to simple misunderstandings. In general, Chinese people are not forthcoming with information unless they are specifically asked for it, so be prepared to ask direct questions to get the information you need. Locals may not even speak honestly but will try to say what they think you want to hear. This is not done maliciously and an element of patience and understanding will ease the situation. Chinese people are courteous but reserved and politeness is appreciated at all times. Don't always be fooled by a smile as this can mean that the person is upset or embarrassed and try to avoid confrontational situations that may cause a loss of "face". Confrontation is not appreciated and will only worsen rather than resolve any situation.
Photography is not restricted around tourist areas but it is worth noting that taking photographs is not allowed in airports and permission should be gained before snapping away at any government or military bases.
Many countries have representative offices and consulates in China.
Useful Sources of Information
Further information on Chinese culture and tourist attractions:
- Travel Guide - China
- Tour in China
China's colossal landmass experiences a wide variety of climatic conditions.
Northern China exhibits diverse climatic changes; icy cold winters give way to blisteringly hot and humid summers with heavy rainfall.
Central China experiences a similar climate to the north, although temperatures are not as extreme.
Southern China is warmer, with slightly cooler temperatures along the coast. The summer months bring hot/humid weather and the possibility of typhoons in coastal areas between July and September. Winters can be cold but nowhere near the freezing temperatures found further north - a few warm layers of clothes are recommended.
Carry a lightweight jumper as it can be chillingly cold inside air-conditioned buildings during hot weather.
|Season||Average temperature||Average rainfall|
|Spring (April - May)||10 - 24°C||26mm|
|Summer (June - August)||20 - 31°C||154mm|
|Autumn (September - November)||6 - 18°C||28mm|
|Winter (December - March)||-7 - 5°C||5mm|
Beijing, Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Hebei
Spring pays a fleeting visit with dusty winds carrying the sands of the Gobi desert south across the area. These "yellow winds" can be unpleasant at times but as they dispel, the sky has a quality of light that is quite unique. Dusty winds still blow in summer and autumn, although not as frequently as during spring.
July and August become increasingly hot, humid and wet with temperatures soaring above average.
November sees the temperature start to plummet as winter begins in earnest. Winter in the north can be long and bitter with temperatures occasionally reaching a very chilly -10C.
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn are pleasantly warm with very little rain and low humidity - although temperatures can drop away at night.
|Season||Average temperature||Average rainfall|
|Spring (April - May)||13 - 20°C||100mm|
|Summer (June - August)||24 - 32°C||152mm|
|Autumn (September - November)||13 - 23°C||83mm|
|Winter (December - March)||2 - 7°C||52mm|
Shanghai, Jiangsu, Henan, Anhui, Hubei
Summer gets very wet, hot and humid. In fact, temperatures can remain quite high from April onwards. An umbrella is a must for those frequent rain showers, although it should be noted that downpours are not solely restricted to the summer months.
Winters tend to be cold but not as bleak as further north. Temperatures can fall drastically below average, so be prepared for bitterly cold weather.
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn, when temperatures are bearable and humidity is low.
|Season||Average temperature||Average rainfall|
|Spring (April - May)||20 - 27°C||225mm|
|Summer (June - August)||24 - 32°C||263mm|
|Autumn (September - November)||20 - 28°C||42mm|
|Winter (December - March)||12 - 20°C||54mm|
Guangdong, Hunan, Guanxi, Yunnan
Spring can be very similar to summer, however temperatures and humidity are slightly lower on average.
Summer experiences the most rainfall and typhoons are likely to hit the southeast coast between July and September. Humidity becomes really oppressive at this time.
Winter months can be cold but nowhere near the freezing temperatures of the north. Visitors should be prepared for temperatures to fall below the noted average.
Apart from winter (which is quite dry), rainfall can be frequent at any time of the year. Lightweight clothes are vital in the summer and a mix of warm and cold weather clothes are advisable during spring and autumn.
Due to higher elevation, temperatures in Sichuan and Yunnan can fall slightly below average. Usually, the climate in these areas is much milder with warm summers and cool winters. Extra layers are required throughout the year as evening temperatures can fall dramatically.
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn when temperatures are at their best, although rain is still commonplace.
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China Travellers Tales
We visited the wall twice first, visit was at Mutianyu which I would recommend, there were very few people on the wall and it was nice and peaceful, whereas when we visited Badaling, it was the exact opposite, you could not get moving for the amount of people there. We were dissapointed when we visisted the Forbidden City parts of it were closed off, the same when we visited the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace is a must to see. I recommend the Outback Steakhouse in the Beijing Hotel at the bottom of Wangfujing Street for a meal.
The hotel is located in the town centre which you do not notice when you are in the hotel or at the swimming pool. Close to the main shopping street and where you can rent bicycles. We went to Li River, Moon hill, and made a boat trip. You can hire a guide or make your own tour. Just turn right and left whenever you want, it is hard to get lost because you will always stay between two mountain ridges. Bring a map for global orientation.
For first timers, I found Beijing very manageable - and easy to get around. The Novotel has a postcard with top Beijing attractions in their stationary folder. Just take this with you, and use it to show the taxi drivers where you want to go. I found the taxis mostly reasonable . . . except one who rushed up and solicited my business at the Summer Palace. I should have known better . . . his meter was set on fast. The ride back cost 2x what the ride out had cost . . . and even then it was only $12. But, beware. Best day was Prince Gong Palace and the Lonely Planet recommended walk back along the lakes . . . a real delight. Don''t miss Mao. The line moves fast . . . and the bag checking across the street seems to be safe and quickly returns your possessions to you. Have fun.
While in Beijing I went to the Forbidden city (60Y), Temple of Heaven (35Y) & the wall at Badaling (300Y for a 9 hr tour, which included lunch and a trip a Jade and cloisonné factories which were interesting and no real pressure to but). The former two were being restored at present (August 2005) so there was scaffolding up but they were still both very impressive. The Wall at Badaling was also wonderful but very very busy and lots of tourist traps on the walk up to the wall! As it says in all the guide books if you can get a tour it might be quieter and better to go to another area unless you like crowds then choose Badaling!
Never take up the local day tour with many places to go. You will be exhausted! Select trip with just Terracotta, Ching-Hwa Lake and Da-Yan Temple!
You can not visit Xi''an with out going to the Terracotta Warriors. I took a local taxi there with an English speaking guide. For little over half a day it cost 400 RMB (ca £30). This included a trip to the Tomb of Qin Shihuang & the hot springs Huaquing Pool. The next day I used the same taxi to do the Western tour to Zhao & Qian Tombs both very impressive & the Famen Si temple. Its a long day 9.30 till about 5.00.
There is no taxi stand at the airport, instead, there are drivers at the arrival hall approaching the arriving passangers. They asked for RMB220 and that''s a high price, almost doubled. A taxi going from Shangri-La to the Airport would be about 100. Most of the taxis offer day tour service. You may check against the price of different drivers. I hired a taxi to Hwa Shan, only RMB550 a day. The hotel can also arrange transportation but the price is...1200! There are also public transportation at the train station. That''s a good time to experience the reality, no queue! People are squeezing in. That''s the fun part of this trip.
Seaport Restaurant at "JiaLingNa" shopping mall which is just behind the hotel (10min walk) is a must. Better food than any of those highly acclaimed restaurants in Hong Kong. Ambiance in Seaport is very good, staff is polite and helpful, price is very reasonable too.
Chengdu. Never heard of it? Well, it has two important attractions: Pandas and the Big Stone Buddha in Leshan, about 2 hours away. It''s a large but nondescript city, seemingly more under construction than even Beijing. The spicy Sechuan cooking delighted me, although my 11-year-old was a little overwhelmed by the heat. The pandas in the Panda Center (NOT the zoo, which at least one guidebook says) is worth the effort to visit. We did not go to Wolong, home of the Panda Research Center, but about 100 km away. Nevertheless, we saw pandas in action, and were utterly bewitched. Also, the Big Stone Buddha is all of those, and a wonder to behold. The climb is steep (and what goes down, on the narrow metal staircase, just go up again, on another narrow metal staircase). It''s also worth the trip. The heat in July in Chengdu was not quite as oppressive as it was everywhere else in China, but the pandas and the Buddha merit a (short) visit. We also saw a lovely bamboo park dedicated to a female poet and Du Fu''s home.
Xi''an is another large Chinese city (around 6 million, I think) but it''s a polluted, rather beat place. The air was translucent and very irritating. We saw more beggars there than anywhere else we visited. So why bother? Two words: Terra-Cotta Warriors. Yes, this is the place. The Terra-Cotta Warriors stand about an hour away, and make a visit to Xi''an absolutely necessary when visiting China. When you visit the T-C Warriors, you get a "tour," which includes Emperor Qinlong''s Mausoleum, the Huaping Hot Springs and site of the 1936 Incident (involving Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-Tung) and a very skippable gondola ride up a mountain with yet another temple on top. There are some interesting pagodas much closer as well. I hear the Shaanxi Museum is excellent, but my 11-year-old wouldn''t hear of it.