People's Republic of China
♦Currency: Yuan ¥ (CNY)
♦Zone: +8 GMT
♦Phone Code: +86
♦Best time to visit: Sept-Nov
♦Must eat: Peking duck
♦Must drink: Tsingtao (beer)
♦Don't miss: The Great wall of China!
♦Number of times visited: 1
Getting there and transportation: China's size is the first thing to look out when you are travelling as hoping from one city to another can take several hours by plane, not along by road! The obvious way to arrive in the country is by plane with many airlines providing frequent links to China. Now the nation has one of the biggest growth rates in the world, meaning that businesses and people are travelling away from home and this has meant an increase in the air services provided. Air China is the lead international airline of the Republic, but other airlines are becoming major players, since the liberation of the air space making for more competition. Other airlines to look out for are China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines and Xiamenair.
As for other carriers, every major European or American airline has a presence in China, specially if flying to Beijing or Shanghai.
Not to forget about Hong Kong, since it's part of China but still enjoy's special travel freedom between the rest of the world even it has a separate border. Flying there is also simple, the host airline is Cathay Paficic. Also many European, Asian and American operators fly to the one and only hub, Hong Kong.
Attention!: When flying to mainland China (not Hong Kong or Macau) you will need a Visa before travelling, as China is very strict on entry to their country. A single entry visa can cost €60 and two entry €100 aprox. Refer to the Embassy in your country for more info on fees. However if you have a confirmed return/outward ticket it's possible to obtain a Free Transit visa in Beijing and other major cities within 72 hours only and departing the same airport.
When in China, travelling around is possible by a multitude of options. High speed trains, commuter rail, inter-city busses, metro, trams, local busses etc. The transport infrastructure is rapidly growing and developing every year as new routes are launched.
Tip: When travelling in China it's a good idea to stick to metro in the cities and high speed rail when visiting other cities as they are more user friendly and have English writing to help you navigate your way around. However the whole English language knowledge is quite limited and it can be frustrating trying to communicate your queries in the transport network so try to keep it simple, do some research online and give time when travelling as it can be confusing as where to go, specially at big stations.
Weather and temperature: Depending where you visit in China it can vary from one extreme to the other. It's continental weather in northern China, including Beijing, but as you head south it gets warm and humid year round, like Hong Kong. Obtain information of the precise city you want to visit and prepare accordingly. Generally it's good to visit China, and many of it's cities during September to November, where it's Autumn in the north and the cooler season in the south.
Food and drink: First things first, if you’re expecting the kind of food served in your average European or American Chinese restaurants, think again! The national cuisine is extraordinarily broad, complex and flavourful, with the use of very different ingredients used back at home. It might surprise you what can people eat in China and some of the food shops and stalls might not look very appetising at first but if you are brave enough to go for it and try them, there will be sure some really tasty dishes and foods you wish your local takeaway restaurant would prepare!
However it's common to find dishes with rice and noodles. While dairy products are very rare. In the better restaurants, real importance is given to how dishes look when presented. Also street food is very common in China.
Out of the most traditional dishes we can highlight: Peking duck, roasted and eaten in a thin pancake with cucumber and a sweet plum sauce. Mongolian hot pot, a Chinese version of fondue, usually eaten communally. It consists of simmering soup in a large round pot, into which is dipped a variety of uncooked meats and vegetables. Jiaozi, steamed dumplings, typically filled with pork or other meat, and chopped vegetables. Kung po chicken, a classic Sichuan dish, marinated with chillies. Dim sum, small portions of food served in steamer baskets, usually involving dumplings and rice noodle rolls. Stinky tofu, fermented tofu, often sold as a snack.Shanghai hairy crab, considered a delicacy in eastern China. Oyster omelette, speciality of the Fujian region. Hainanese chicken rice, a Hainan dish also popular in Southeast Asia.
As for drinks, Baijiu is a strong alcoholic spirit, also known as sorghum wine. Tsingtao, the most common of China’s beers, similar to German lager.
Attention!: Beijing is one of the most polluted cities, traffic levels are very high and together with factories make a dirt smug like cloud over the city colouring the cities sky's in a creamy and grey colour. Not only this can be hard to breath but the city also suffers from a dry climate making it very dusty. It's for this reason it's recommended that if you suffer from respiratory problems or asthma to wear a mask and take care when travelling to Beijing. People often wonder why Chinese have the dirty habit to constantly spit to the floor, now you know the answer, due to the dirt, dust and pollution in the air!
Transportation: Travelling within Beijing is not as complicated as it may seem. First of all, when arriving to the main airport (PEK) you will have a direct airport rail link which is express. It costs CNY 25 (€3.50) and it will take you to Dongzhimen station,from there you can connect to the rest of the subway to your nearest station. it operates daily from 6.30am to 23pm aprox.
If you arrive later there are night busses which travel to the suburbs of the city, but unfortunately don't reach the city centre. Therefore if you're staying central you will need to take a taxi. (make sure to get official certification taxis only).
There are also busses which connect to other cities, so there is no need to travel into Beijing to transfer again. You can go from the Airport direct to cities like Tianjin, Tanggu, Qinhuangdao, Langfang, Baoding, Tangshan or Cangzhou. Check at the airports arrival level for tickets.
The subway is cheap, clean and effective, it would be your main way of transportation within the city as the local busses can be harder to interpret where they go unless you get good info beforehand or travel with locals. Check the subway map of Beijing with the below link:
What to see and do? Beijing is one of the most visited cities in the world for it's ancient culture, renowned historical buildings, the famous Great Wall of China, massive parks and gardens and more recently the Olympics venues.
The following highlights are the most important sites when visiting Beijing: Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty, from 1420 to 1912. It is located in the centre of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum. Worth visiting and going inside to admire the size and it's parks. Going in the morning is better as the place will get very busy with thousands of tourists visiting at the same time. Tiananmen Square, within the 10 largest squares in the world, is best known for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, an armed suppression of a pro-democracy movement in June 1989. It's named after the Tiananmen ("Gate of Heavenly Peace") located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. Inside it contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Temple of Heaven, is an imperial complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of the city. Summer Palace, a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing. It serves as a popular tourist destination and recreational park. The Yonghe Temple, also known, as the Lama Temple, is a monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism located in Dongcheng District. Beihai Park, former imperial garden located to the northwest of the Forbidden City. The Tiananmen, famous monument in Beijing, widely used as a national symbol. Qianmen street, a pedestrian street short walk from the Tiananmen aquere where you will find, souvenir shops, local tea houses, restaurants and retail shops. At the entrance is the gate, part of Beijing's historic city wall.
Also highly recommended is the Beijing National Stadium and tower. Also known as the Bird's Nest, the stadium was designed for use throughout the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics and will be used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The stadium is currently mostly unused but during the evening it's lights up in a very colourful display.
The Great Wall of China: Is the must see destination when travelling to Beijing. Probably even the highlight of any trip. To get there you must organise a tour from Beijing city, within the tour it may include other visits. The wall itself is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe. Especially famous is the wall built 220–206 BCE by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced; the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty(1368–1644).
Other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signalling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.
The Great Wall stretches from Dandong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, estimates that the Ming walls measures 8,850 km.
When visiting the wall most tours will take you to the Badaling section of the wall, When arriving you can walk yourself to the wall near tower 8 or 10 or go up in a cable car to tower 14. The two sections of the wall go in either direction, left or right, from the main entrance. Walk as far as you can in either direction and you will be rewarded by seeing the impressive sights. There will be a section which you will arrive at tower 20 where it is cut off and not able to walk any further as this part has not be restored yet. The duration from tower 10 to 20 is an easy 90 minutes one way. This Ming fortification section of the wall is heavily renovated. The scenery is impressive with the wall winding off over the hills in the distance. As you return from the tour, most will stop at the Ming tombs, a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty of China. Finally at the end of the tour they will drop you off to a Tea Show, popular in China for the tourists where you can buy souvenirs and taste traditional Chinese tea.
Great Wall of China Photoshow:
Accommodation: When staying in Beijing and within China overall the accommodation ratings are often less than what you would expect in Europe or America. Therefore two and three star Hotels can be quite basic and modest establishments. For a budget traveller it's not a major problem finding accommodation, but be aware of booking really cheap places as they can be badly run. (no real beds, lack of security, located in poorer neighbourhoods, insects and rats can be common..) There are hostels in Beijing, but they are poor quality and they are not recommended for foreigners as per security and health concerns. Normal hotels can cost between €25 per night and up.
Tip: When booking in China, always compare the comments and reviews from previous travellers. Select hotels which are near by a metro station so the distances you will have to walk a minimised as the city is huge.
Recommended duration: Beijing is a huge city and exploring it's many neighbourhoods is tiring by the distance involved and the amount of walking. However the city centre and the renowned tourist areas are well within reach of major metro stations. It takes time to adapt to the city and the distances needed to get to every place. A minimum of 3 nights to 5 nights would be recommended including the tour of the famous Great Wall of China.
Hu for short, Shanghai is a renowned international metropolis, situated on the estuary of Yangtze River, it serves as the most influential economic, financial, international trade, and cultural centre in East China. Also it is a popular travel destination for it's culture interest and development of the country. In addition to its modernisation, the city's multicultural flair mixes the modern and the traditional Chinese with the western and the oriental. New skyscrapers and the old Shikumen together draw the skyline of the city.
Transportation: Arriving in Shanghai airport (PVG) is straight forward and economical thanks to the link of the subway. When arriving take line 2 from the airport (green line) and it will take you to the city centre.
Within the city, you can take the subway when travelling around. For more info look up Shanghai Subway.
Within the city it's also possible to use public local trains, busses, trams and trolley-busses (being of the few countries which still does). Busses are normally numbered but some are not, this making it quite difficult to understand the route.From Shanghai it's also possible to travel to other major cities by train (Beijing or Hong Kong for example). Be sure to give yourself plenty of time at the station as the main Shanghai railway station is huge and there are many different platforms and locations for the train to depart.
The Shanghai Maglev Train, first commercial Maglev railway in the world, was constructed by a German Company. The route runs from Shanghai's Longyang Road subway station in Pudong to Pudong International Airport. The 30 km trip takes 7 minutes and 21 seconds and reaches a maximum speed of 431 km/h.
What to see and do? Back in the 1920's the city was just a small commercial port but with time the The city flourished as a cosmopolitan and thriving commercial and financial center, named the "Pairs of the East" in the 1930s. The city has often been the inspiration for novels, films and cocktails. Now it's highlight, it's rich cosmopolitan life mixed with the traditional values. A city of immense attraction.
Main highlights to be found are: The Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai. It's an area along the river facing the modern skyscrapers of Pudong District. The Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas. It is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai. The Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower, located opposite The Bund, makes it a distinct landmark in the area and a popular place where to observe the city skyline. The Jin Mao Tower, is an 88-story landmark skyscraper in Pudong, It is 420.5 metres tall and is the 18th tallest building in the world. (also possible to up and see the views). The Shanghai Tower, at 632-metres, 127-story megatall skyscraper, it is the world's second-tallest building by height. The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, located on People's Square (large park area with numerous governmental buildings around it) The City God Temple, an area of true ancient history with temples and gardens. You will also find the Yuyuan Market, over a hundred stores and shops in this area, selling a mish-mash of items including Chinese medicine, bamboo and rattan furniture, goldfish, food stalls, hand craft and souvenirs. Nanjing Road is the main shopping street of Shanghai, China, and is one of the world's busiest shopping streets.
Attention!: When walking around The Bund and popular tourist attractions it's very often you get Chinese locals trying to engage into conversation with you and offer to take you to a tea-show. They work together with the shops to make you pay for a tea-show you didn't expect.Often they will act like tourists and seem to be really helpful and interested in your person, never far from reality, it's a scam.
Nightlife: Shanghai is fascinating for late-night lovers!. The Bund is an absolute must for visitors as the city turns into colour with all the buildings giving some impressive photo opportunities with the river acting as a reflect. A night cruise on the Huangpu River is highly recommended. For art lovers, the Grand Theater and Oriental Art Center will delight any visitor's taste. For those seeking nights out, the ideal choice should be Hengshan Road and Xin Tian Di which are filled with a variety of nightclubs, discos and bars.
Shopping: Another main reason why to go to Shangai is for it's commercial value. The commercial districts initially came out in streets, such as East Nanjing Road, Middle Huaihai Road, Tianshan Road, North Sichuan Road and etc. Be sure to find from the cheap stores and more local to a much more stylish and elegant mega department-store featuring all the latest fashion trends, world-wide renowned shops and boutiques.Be careful however in the street as many vendors will come out to you personally to sell counterfeit jewellery, clothes, perfume and practically anything you can think of!
Accommodation: As mentioned above in Beijing, when staying China overall the accommodation ratings are often less than what you would expect in Europe or America. Therefore two and three star Hotels can be quite basic and modest establishments. For a budget traveller it's not a major problem finding accommodation, but be aware of booking really cheap places as they can be badly run and have health hazards. Generally the quality in Shanghai is better than Beijing but still it's recommended you research before booking. Normal hotels can cost between €25 per night and up. Also it;s advised to stay within walking distance to metro stations and commercial areas better than side streets or far away neighbourhoods.
Recommended duration: Shanghai is another huge city and depends how much energy you have to see in detail all the attractions (and the money to spend it on!). At a basic glance visiting the major attractions, going up one tower building and the markets 3 nights would be enough. But consider close to a week if you are travelling to the districts to visit other areas out of the city centre or organise any tours.
Weather and temperature: It's location makes it ideal to visit anytime of the year, but temperatures are mild for more than half the year. There are warm, relatively dry winters, and hot, humid, and wet summers. But the best time to visit Hong Kong is from October to early December, when the weather is sunny, cool, and pleasant at about 25-30C. Spring is a cloudy season in Hong Kong
Transportation: Hong Kong only has one international airport which is very easy to commute from. You will find many options available, from high speed rail to local busses. An airport express trains connects to the main Hong Kong Station within 24 minutes and costs €12 one way. Busses are €5 and there are many routes which depending where you are going might be also worth considering.
Within the city, public transport is easy to use and user friendly for locals and visitors as everything is clearly marked and signed in English as well. The city has a good metro system, busses, ferries, trams and a peak tram also form part of the public system and give travellers good connectivity. The combined transport system is used under one card called the "Octopus card". For more information check: Hong Kong Metro Web
What to see and do? Hong Kong is a vibrant, densely populated urban centre, a major port and global financial hub with a skyscraper-studded skyline.Hong Kong is also a major shopping destination, famed for bespoke tailors and the street night market. It's the modern side of Hong Kong which visitors come to see most but it's also possible to see Temples and beautiful views from the nearby hills with cable-car style gondolas taking you up the peaks.
Highlights of the city are: The Clock Tower, located on the southern shore of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It is the only remnant of the original site of the former Kowloon Station. From here there are excellent views across the harbour to the financial skyline of Hong Kong (Specially at night time). Tian Tan Buddha, is a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, completed in 1993, and located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. Also near by is Po Lin Monastery. Ngong Ping 360, an aerial tramway on Lantau Island. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a Buddhist temple in Sha Tin, located at 220 Pai Tau Village, Sha Tin.
Tip: View the city from "The Peak", one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. By day your eyes stretch across sparkling skyscrapers and Victoria Harbour all the way to the green hills of the New Territories. In early evening this panorama melts into pink and orange before reincarnating as a dazzling galaxy of light. Located at Lower Terminus, The Peak Tram Historical Gallery is a way of paying tribute to The Peak Tram, its heritage and the history of Hong Kong. Since 1888, The Peak Tram has served Hong Kong, quietly witnessing 120 years of the city's changes.
Another viewing platform to see the city is from the International Commerce Centre Tower, Sky 100 level. Its located at Austin Station.
Food and drink: Visitors to Hong Kong will find authentic food from all the regions of China, including Cantonese, Northern (Peking), Chiu Chow (Swatow), Shanghai, Szechuan and Hakka. What’s more, there’s the chance to sample them in all kinds of surroundings: on a sampan in Causeway Bay or a floating restaurant, in a Kowloon back-street restaurant or street market; or in the dining room of a luxury hotel.
Chinese dishes are by no means the whole story, though, as Hong Kong is one of the great centres for international cooking. There are stalls and restaurants serving most of the key Asian cuisines, including Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Singapore/Malaysian and Thai, but there’s also some truly excellent Western cooking on offer.
Shopping: Everyone knows Hong Kong is a place of neon-lit retail signs and a shopping heaven. All international brands have their logo outlets here, and they are supplemented by the city’s own retail locals shops and markets. That said, Hong Kong's reputation as a bargain hunter’s paradise is pretty much a thing of the past. What can you find in Hong Kong? the answer is easy. Anything you want! Clothing, luggage, jewellery, cameras and electronic goods are the city’s strong suits. Excellent shops and galleries specializing in Asian art and antiques also abound.
For antique shops and art galleries you will them bunched along Wyndham St and Hollywood Rd in Central and Sheung Wan.The shops at the western end of Hollywood Rd tend to be cheaper paraphernalia, including propaganda posters and badges from the Cultural Revolution.
For Clothes, the best places to find global designer brands and luxury stores are in malls, such as the IFC and the Landmark in Central, Times Square in Causeway Bay, Pacific Place in Admiralty, and Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui.
For markets and minimalls, the best hunting grounds for low-cost garments are at the eastern end of Granville Rd in Tsim Sha Tsui, and Cheung Sha Wan Rd in Sham Shui Po. The street markets on Temple St in Yau Ma Tei and Tung Choi St in Mong Kok have the cheapest clothes.
For IT products, Hong Kong has a plethora of shops specialising in electronic and digital gadgets, but the product mix and prices vary. Shopkeepers are generally honest but some have been known to sell display second-hand items as new. One of the best spots in Hong Kong to buy photographic equipment is Stanley St in Central. Everything sold here carries a price tag (never buy a camera without one). For jewellery and watches, reputable shops and chains, are found in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok.
Tip: Remember to bargain and ask for discounts, specially as many smaller shops and stalls where the owners are working direct, and naturally in markets. The best tip to see if you can bargain of not is by checking if there is a price tag on it. Often for visitors they will increase the price potentially just by looking at your face. Though Sales assistants in department or chain stores rarely have any leeway to give discounts. However in Hong Kong you must be careful of counterfeit products and copies, even if you can get really cheap prices, often the product can be of bad quality or have limited warranty.
Accomodation: Hong Kong can be very reasonable to stay at if you book in advance and compare prices, even good hotels can have deals at €30 a night! However it's worth staying a little out of the typical tourist areas to save money and therefore spending on leisure. There are plenty of hostels as well offering really cheap nights though some places may not be as clean as expected specially in the city centre.
Recommended duration: Most tourists go to Hong Kong for shopping or for business. This makes the city a heaven for shoppers but if your interest is just to discover the city then 3 nights should just do it.