China is a huge country with a mix of cultures with very complex customs and traditions – things vary among various regions, cities and towns. Though China is a Communist country but it also had an impact of globalization and now slowly and gradually, Chinese have started practicing their faith and philosophy.
China is world fastest developing nation and it is exporting low-cost products to almost every country in the world. Due to heavy industrialization of cities and towns, there is a frequent smog that is seen low in the atmosphere, which at times hamper the clarity of a distant view. A lot of reforms have come into effect in China due to Beijing Olympics but we still have to see its long term impact on the atmosphere. Upsurge in the economy has seen multitude of millionaires in China is the last 10-odd years and the general standard of living has gone up drastically. A lot of Chinese can now afford to go on holidays, which seemed like a distant dream two decades back. Large groups of Chinese can be seen at monuments during peak times or during local holidays.
Chinese do not like to discuss sensitive issues like politics or democracy or China’s one-child policy or China’s neighbours, though your guide will be quite open to talk about it. Chinese are very punctual people and prefer others to be on time otherwise they feel quite offended. Please expect to see a lot of smokers as China is the biggest consumer of tobacco in the world.
China is a shopper’s paradise. Usual business hours are from 9.00 am till 5.30 pm and offices generally close for lunch between 12.30 pm till 1.30 pm. Shops usually open till late even on public holidays. All cities have huge shopping malls, departmental stores, hypermarkets and local markets, where almost everything is available at one place. Your local guides will be able to direct you to convenient places for shopping. China is particular famous for its traditional handicrafts like silk clothes, ceramics, home decoration items, stone carvings and antiques…the list goes on (you will need to carry an empty bag to bring back the stuff!!). You can bargain on the prices only at the shops on streets but prices are firm at bigger stores. Please carefully check Customs website on the list of prohibited items to bring in, before you buy anything overseas.
Trains in China are some of the best and fastest ones in Asia and if possible, you should experience at least one train journey in China during your trip. Chinese people are rightfully proud of their train system. The new luxurious train between Beijing and Lhasa is one experience of a lifetime and is a highly recommended.
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc. as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.
Best time to go: Plains in China has four seasons – spring in April & May, summer from June to August, autumn in September & October and winter from November till March. Best time to visit China would be Spring and Autumn as the weather is very pleasant during these months but at the same time, these are the most popular tourist seasons and there could be a situation with availability and high rates. Summers are warm and humid with occasional showers towards the end of summer. Winter can be bitterly cold with occasional snow.
Visa: New Zealand passport holders need a Visa to visit China. Single Entry Visa costs NZD140 pp and Double Entry costs NZD210 pp. Visa can be obtained prior to your departure from New Zealand. Please check with the Chinese Consulate with regard to the updated requirements to apply for Visa. If you are visiting Tibet from China, our operators can arrange Tibet Permit for you in advance. If you are visiting Tibet from Nepal, please check with us before you apply for a Visa since Tibet Permit is granted along with Chinese Visa in Kathmandu. This normally takes two working days and our Nepal operators can assist you in applying for Chinese Visa along with Tibet Permit. Since regulations keep changing, it is most important that you check with on Visa & Tibet Permit at least 4 weeks in advance.
Currency: Currency of China is Renminbi or Yuan and bank notes come in denomination of 2, 5, 10, 50, 100 yuan’s. You may have difficulty in changing New Zealand Dollars into Yuan’s; hence it is recommended to take US Dollars with you. You can change your US Dollars in Yuan’s at the Hotels or money changers but please keep the official receipt as you will be required to produce it to change your leftover Yuan’s into US Dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted in big cities by Hotels, big stores and most restaurants frequented by tourists. ATMs are available in big cities only.
Health: China does not have any particular health risk but since conditions in China are a little different from here and you need to be prepared in advance for a comfortable trip. It is advisable to consult your doctor well in advance as you may experience major change in climate, environment, food and water and general hygienic conditions. Your doctor will be able to help you prepare better.
Food and drinks: Chinese cuisine is famous the world over, mastered and perfected over centuries. Each region of China has some famous delicacies but westerners are more acquainted with Cantonese cuisine though food available in China is quite unlike what we get overseas. Chinese cuisine has a huge variety and most restaurant menus have pictures of the dishes. This makes it easier to choose a dish for order. Seasonal vegetables form the most integral part of all dishes. If you are not used to chopsticks, it is advisable to carry a knife and fork from home as some restaurants only keep chopsticks. Green tea, beer, local rice wine and soft drinks are usual beverages along with food and you might find mineral water to be more expensive than beer in a few restaurants.
Safety & security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.
Clothing: You can dress up casually in China. Shorts, t-shirts and any light clothing are absolutely fine during warm summer months as China is very informal and people do not get upset with any overly casual dress. During winter months, it can get very cold and you should carry woollens and jacket (for morning and evening hours). Please prepare yourself as per the region you are going to visit. Please take good walking shoes with non-slip sole as you will be required to walk frequently during your sightseeing programs and sometimes on uneven surface.
Language: Though English is slowly becoming popular in China, majority of people do not understand English. You may feel a language barrier interacting with people in restaurants and shops etc. Most good Hotels have Reception staff fluent in English but there are exceptions. Your local guide is the most reliable person to ask for help in case you are unable to resolve anything with the Hotel or restaurant or even while shopping. It might be a good idea to learn a few important words of Chinese before leaving on holiday.
Gratuities: Tipping is not mandatory but it is highly appreciated by the people who serve you. Before you tip, please check if the service charge has been added in the bill. If not, we can recommend 8%-10% of the total bill as tip. For your local guide and the driver, we can recommend a tip of USD2.00 per person each per half day of service. To the Hotel Bell Boys, USD1.00 on arrival or departure is sufficient
Airport tax: Generally your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departure. Domestic taxes are also included in the air tickets issued by our China operators.
Internet: Internet is common in hotel rooms and a lot of hotels also have internet facilities at their Reception or Business Centre for use by guests at a small fee. Cyber cafes are popular and can be found near your Hotel but the internet speed is rather slow due to heavy usage. Only state-run ISPs provide the service and sometimes the internet speed is very slow due to heavy usage. Please use your laptop with caution as there are a quite a few harmful sites and pop-ups in China, which are capable of damaging the software.
Telephone: Mobile network cover the main cities and major towns but it is quite erratic in the country-side.. Calling from China is easy and cheap but Hotels generally charge 8-10 times the general call cost. Public Phones are available outside Hotels, in roadside kiosks and a few shops. Dialling code for China is +86 and if you are calling New Zealand from China, the code is +64. Telephone numbers of Hotels arranged by us will be supplied to you in your itinerary. It is recommended to buy a mobile SIM card on arrival if you need to be in touch with people back home.
Time Difference: China is 5 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 4 hours from October to March.
Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited – please check with your local guide if you are not clear about any particular building. If you are taking photos of local ladies, please politely ask for prior permission.
Electricity: Voltage supply in China is 220 volts and different variety of plugs are used in China (including New Zealand type pins plug). Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Please visit this website for more information on plugs: http://kropla.com/electric2.htm
Postage: Receiving ordinary post in China from overseas is not easy – you could rely on courier more than normal post. Postage from China is easy and cheap but it can take 2-4 weeks before it reaches its destination. Please ask for help from your local guide if you need to post something from or within China.
CITIES OF INTEREST
Rich in history and a city of impressive scale, Beijing offers a spectacular and fascinating introduction to China. King Wu was the first to declare Beijing the capital city of China in 1057 BC. Subsequently the city has gone by the names of Ji, Zhongdu, Dadu, and finally Beijing when the Ming Dynasty Emperor Cheng Zu chose the name in 1421. Also known by the western world as Peking in days gone by, it now serves as the hub of modern China, with an orderly array of long, straight boulevards and avenues, crisscrossed by a network of lanes. Between 1950-52 commemorative arches, historic buildings and the outer walls of the city were levelled in the interests of traffic circulation and today, the face of Beijing is continuing to change on a daily basis with rapid economic growth encouraging a booming construction industry. Within the city, however, you’ll still find some of China’s most stunning sights – the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven Park, the Lama Temple and the Great Wall, to name just a few.
The city of Shanghai, whose name literally means “on the sea”, is located on the East China coast. With a total population of around 15 million, of which around 8 million live in the city proper, it is China’s largest city, its largest port and its largest industrial base. It has the best shops and restaurants in the country and the most fashionable people. Called “the dragon head” of East China, Shanghai is the leading force driving the economy forward. Since market restrictions were lifted, it has embraced the forces of business and design, shaping a fresh, new city that is sophisticated, innovative and living a life it has never lived before. In many ways Shanghai is a Western invention. The Bund, its riverside area, and Frenchtown are the best places to see the remnants of its decadent colonial past. Then move on to the temples, gardens, bazaars and striking architecture of the new city.
Known as the “Eternal City”, Xi’an was one of the most important cradles of Chinese civilization. Called Chang’an in ancient times, it has been the capital of China under numerous dynasties spanning 2,000 years and now basks in equal fame alongside Athens, Cairo and Rome as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals. It also marked the beginning of the famous Silk Road that linked China with central Asia and the Roman Empire. Home to abundant relics and sites, Xi’an is often referred to as a “natural history museum”. The Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses is praised as the eighth major miracle of the world, the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang appears on the World Heritage List and the City Wall of the Ming Dynasty is the largest and most intact Ming Dynasty castle in the world. As well as showcasing numerous pagodas, mosques and towers, Xi’an’s surrounding landscape is also spectacular. Mt Huashan, one of the five best known mountains in China, is famous for its breath-taking cliffs and its unique form.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province (known as the “Heavenly state”) where giant pandas live. Here, you’ll find the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre – the world’s only giant panda breeding and research base. For centuries, the city of Chengdu has been famous for its brocades and embroideries – Shu embroideries are known for their bright colours and delicate designs, ranking among the four main embroideries in China. It was also the place where the ancient Chinese bronze culture originated, where the Southern Silk Road started and where the earliest paper currency (Jiaozi) was first printed. Historic places of interest include the Thatched Cottage of Du Fu, the Whuhou Memorial Temple and Wenshu Monastery. For natural scenic beauty, the surrounding areas such as the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area and Huang Long Valley (Yellow Dragon Valley) are also recommended. Take some time to explore the local culture – try the famous Sichuan cuisine, enjoy some shopping and maybe stop for a cup of tea at a traditional teahouse.
Guilin is one of China’s most attractive small cities thanks to its dramatic limestone karsts, the slow flow of the Li River, and the many osmanthus trees that line its streets and paths. A jumping-off point for cruising the Li River, Guilin also boasts its own attractions. Most spectacular of these is the Reed Flute Cave, where vast underground caverns are adorned with dramatic limestone formations, all a well-established part of Guilin folklore.
Guangzhou is an ancient city with a history dating back 2,800 years and is known as the “Spring City” due to its long summer which encourages the growth of greenery and flowers in bloom year-round. Legend tells of how Guangzhou was founded by five Immortals riding five rams, each ram planting a stalk of rice grain which symbolizes an abundant harvest or prosperity. This is how Guangzhou got its nickname, “Yang Cheng” which literally means “Goat City”. As the capital of the Guangdong Province since the Ming Dynasty, Guangzhou is an international hub for trade and transportation, but is also home to many picturesque spots that are worthy of a visit. The Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Yuexiu Park, Baiyun Shan (White Cloud Mountain) and the Pearl River waterfront can all be enjoyed in Guangzhou.
The Yangtze River (Changjiang in Chinese literally means the “long river”) is the longest river in China, running 6,380kms. Yangtze River is the cradle of one of the oldest civilizations. One the best and most convenient ways to see China is to take a cruise on Yangtze. This extensive waterway cuts through the heart of China, making the division of China into north and south, both geographically and culturally. Along the banks of Yangtze, you can see modern China still maintaining its century’s old heritage. Undoubtedly, the Three Gorges area is the most marvellous wonder along the Yangtze River as it offers endless beauty of nature with its breath-taking landscape and amazing historical site implying profound Chinese culture. It is such a spectacular view, providing an experience of a life time.
Let Lhasa transport you to another world. Lhasa is arguably one of the most dreamt-about cities in the world mainly due to the aura of mysticism and its impressive heritage of over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history. It is the centre of Tibet’s politics, economy and culture. The splendour and grandeur of the Potala Palace in Lhasa remains a world-famous symbol of amalgamation of amazing architecture, religion and politics in this often turbulent region. Often described as the heart and soul of Tibet, the capital of this province is a magnet for monks, nomads and now travellers have the opportunity to soak up the magical atmosphere. Explore the religious sites of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Drepung Monastery, seek out the Kyi-chu valley scenery and take your time to wander the Barkhor Circuit.
Lhasa is at a high altitude and proper preparation needs to be done prior to start of a trip in Tibet. March to October is generally a good time to visit but even then, warm clothes can be required during early and late hours. To visit Tibet, you need to have a Permit which can be sponsored and organized by our local operators and as per the government regulations, your entire stay has to be pre-booked and each day is filled with some pre-arranged activity.