People's Republic of China Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
💶Currency: Chinese Yuan ¥ (CNY)-Renminbi (RMB) Hong kong Dollar $ (HKD) and Macau " $ Pataca" (MOP)
🕙Time Zone: +8 GMT
📞Phone Code: +86
🌐Language: Mandarin and Cantonese
✈️Best time to visit: March-May & Sept-Nov
🍴Eat: Peking duck
🍷Drink: Suannai Suannai, (yogurt) / Tsingtao (beer)
🗺️Don't miss: The Great wall of China
🗺 Menu of Contents:
China, might be a surprise for many visitors, who don't know quite, what to expect, after years of hiding from western eyes, the country has transformed itself into a true heavyweight on the global tourism scales. Now China is in the top 5 destinations to visit, together with countries like Italy, France, the United Kingdom or the USA.
Welcoming more than 55 million foreign visitors each year, China is by far the most-visited country in Asia. The key in its success is its ample offering from modern metropolis to cultural and truly traditional towns, passing by top entertainment options for people of all ages, incredible countryside and historical sights to visit.
One of the most ancient civilisations on earth, China's heritage spans the ages and is home to Neolithic structures, the Silk Road, and more than 2,000 years of Dynastic reign. The country's long and proud cultural heritage is reflected by the fact that it is home to 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of these are the Summer Palace, the Stone Forest, and the Beijing National Stadium.
Tourists to China looking to explore its incredible natural bounty will be particularly blown away by the Five Sacred Mountains, as well as the Jiuzhaigou Valley, a natural wonderland filled with snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal-blue lakes, cascading waterfalls, and lush vegetation; a prime example of the astonishing variety of China's natural landscape.
China is an enigmatic and mysterious country, where modernity and tradition, as well as progress and conservatism, all coexist. It is one of those countries that has tourists returning home filled with a far greater sense of understanding how China, is, the way it is. Nevertheless, one visit to China is not enough to be able to see all the highlights, unless you plan a whole month spent on touring the country. Many visitors plan one visit to China, visiting the bigger cities like the capital of Beijing and the financial epicentre of Shanghai and come back with a general idea from the country. This is just one side of the massive country.
Come to visit again, each time you will be delighted to discover, see and experience, what this country has to offer and observe why it is evolving at such a fast rate, more than any other on the planet!
China's size is the first thing to look out for when travelling there. Going from one city to another can take several hours by plane alone! When travelling by train or bus this can range from a few hours to 12 hours, day and night, with some tickets being offered as "standing only!" Therefore plane is the best alternative to travel to China and within. Plan the cities or regions you want to visit carefully and well in advance, at least one month, in order to obtain seats. Take into consideration that China is still a communist country, and this puts limitations on the amount of travel options. There are only state owned airlines and limited high speed train operators, which make prices high when the demand to travel in China is so large, specially in recent years that their economy has grown substantially.
First, the obvious way to arrive in the country is by plane, with many airlines providing frequent links to China around the world. Now the nation has one of the biggest growth rates in the world, meaning that business and leisure travel is highly demanded. The number of airlines has increased in China recently, which makes travel easier thanks to more options of airports, routes and times, but still the government takes a major control in these airlines which make prices high and expensive for internal/domestic travel in the country. Air China is the lead international airline of the People's Republic of China, but now other airlines are becoming major players, since the countries new "liberation" of the air space making for more airlines to serve the extreme demand to travel. Other airlines to check when travelling to China are China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines or Xiamenair. They all have international links to Asia, America and Europe. As for other carriers, every major European or American airline has a presence in China, specially if flying to Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
✔️Tip: When booking airline travel to China, international fares from Europe or America are cheaper than some domestic fares from city to city in China! This is because of the lack of low cost/fare airlines, making for no competition and all national airlines being regulated by the government. it's recommended that you always buy your airline tickets well in advance, and if possible chose to book domestic flights with in the same itinerary or ticket, which make it cheaper than buying single costly tickets.
An exception to all this control is Hong Kong and Macau, they are part of China but still enjoy's special travel freedom between the rest of the world. This is because of the conditions that China would take back Hong Kong in 1997 from the United Kingdom and Macau from Portugal in 1999 to still give the region more autonomy, freedom and even has a separate border control! Flying there is also simpler, the host airline is Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong and Air Macau in Macau. Also many European, Asian, Australian, New Zealand and American operators fly to Hong Kong daily.
Once in China, travelling around is possible by a multitude of options. National airlines or regional airlines, 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 in each city. However with every company being owned by the government, prices are always expensive when travelling internally, so planning and booking in advance is essential when visiting other regions or cities. Also take into consideration the times it takes to reach stations, platforms etc, to find your way around is NOT easy in most smaller cities where development has not reached to make stations signs translated into English. However its slowing changing and most big cities have always translations into English which aid travellers a lot.
A basic Knowledge of Chinese would also help, as people in China are not competent in English and it's hard to ask for help/directions when feeling lost. China's international appeal is getting bigger as more and more people, specially younger generations are now able to speak some basic English.
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. Things are changing in China, but it's also advised to be ready to face the people's culture and attitudes. Generally Chinese can be quite impatient when in queues, pushy and rude, in comparison to EU or USA standards.
❗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 approx. Refer to the Embassy in your country for more info on fees. However if you have a confirmed return/outward ticket to a third country (not flying back home) it's possible to obtain a Free Transit visa in Beijing and other major cities within 72/144 hours only and departing at the same airport.
✔️Tip: Take advantage to travel to China for 144 hours with the Free Transit Visa! You don't need a visa up to 6 days from the date of arrival and this give travellers ample time to explore one city in China in depth! Its'a great opportunity to save money and avoid the high visa costs. Lean more about the Free Visa conditions if travelling to Beijing.
When you arrive at the airport you will need to fill out a Blue landing card, not the yellow standard card which normally they give you on the plane.
You need to get the approval sticker on your passport first before going to immigration/passport control.
❗Attention: When arriving to China, you need to register your stay at a local police station within 24H of arriving. This is legal requirement in China for visitors who stay at accommodation establishments other than Hotels/Hostels. Although there are no checks, in case you have an emergency and you are not registered you might need to pay a fine of 2.000 yuan. (€250). To find Police stations it's easy in the city centre, with plenty of signs indicating the location (see image below) otherwise ask around at nearby Hotels.
(Note, if you are staying at Hotels/Hostels, there is no need to register, as the accommodation will do it themselves and take your passports details).
Another thing to note is that it is a legal requirement in China for all visitors and foreigners to have their passports on them at all times. Although there are no street checks for this, sometimes you will need your passport for visiting some important buildings or sites so it is always useful to carry it with you just in case and to avoid problems with local police.
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 or Guangzhou. Check "weather and temperature" information of the city you want to visit below.
Generally it's good to visit China, and many of its cities during September to November, where it's Autumn in the north and the cooler season in the south. However if you are visiting southern cities then December to February is best for a comfortable temperature to be out and walk.
March to May is also suggested if you are visiting the north of China, this will coincide with Spring time. However, the Summer time, June to August, is generally quite hot in the south with a high humidity and the north easily reaching +30 °C. Also its best to avoid the summer to skip long waiting times to enter all attractions as it's the peak for holidays from EU and the USA.
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. 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. Suannai Suannai, a traditional yogurt of Beijing. It is heated milk that is made in a barrel, mixed with some sugar or honey then chilled before packaging. It has no preservatives. This is good for the body but not so good for those who enjoy the taste of western-style yogurt.
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. Yanjing Beer,very popular in northern China. It has a clean, smooth and refreshing taste and owns inviting wheat fragrance.
The Chinese Yuan, also known as Renminbi, is used throughout in mainland China, while in Hong Kong and Macau, the "Hong Kong dollar" and "pataca" are respectively used. “Renminbi,” which translates to “people’s money,” is the official currency of China. The basic unit of the Renminbi is the Yuan and the symbol for the Yuan is ￥, just as the symbol for the Euro is €.
The Chinese Yuan is subdivided as: 1 Yuan="10" jiao, and 1 jiao="10" fen.
In some parts of China, the yuan is called kuai (much like US dollars can be referred to as “bucks”) and jiao is referred as mao. Chinese money is issued by the People’s Bank of China in denominations of one, two, five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred yuan. The jiao (角) and fen (分) coins are both issued in ones, twos, and fives. It's easy to get confused by the Yuan, Jiao and Fen coins at the beginning, but just like with any other currency, after paying a few times you will get used to them, as well as vendors can help you pick the right change if you start accumulating too many Jiao and Fen!
❗Attention: It's advised to change your money before arriving in China. ￥100 notes are the most likely to be faked and they are quite "common" in China. Even it's known that cash machines or exchange bureaus have given out fake notes. Note the real￥100 have a rugged paper feeling and a 100 symbol watermark amongst some of the ways to tell if its real or not.
Also, you will notice that paying in cash in China is more and more rare today. This can be tricky if you are tourist and don't use the APP's which are mostly used to pay when in any store today.
WeChat Pay and Alipay are two of the most popular mobile payment methods in China, and most people pay on those platforms using barcodes, known as QR codes, on their phones.
Not many places accept foreign cards like Visa or Mastercard and tourists have few options but to use cash.
But since late 2019, there is a version of the Alipay app that will support international debit or credit cards. After downloading Alipay on Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS, users can register for the international version of the app using their foreign mobile number. Users can then top up money onto a prepaid virtual card and begin using Alipay across China. Alipay will support Visa, Mastercard, Japan’s JCB and Singapore’s Diners Club cards.
Travelling to China was a true eye opener for me and teaches you a lot about the Chinese culture at their home land. In all the experience of visiting the major cities was not without some challenges with the language and the communication which can be overcome if you do some homework before going. Nevertheless they were very enjoyable visits, interesting and educational. At first China might put you off, as it did to me, but give yourself time to adapt a little to the "craziness". Cities have a clear dual face, China is a very advanced country with many technological advancements and efficient in the way they work, cities are growing at a fast rate with lots of new companies choosing to establish themselves in China. On the other hand, the people are still very traditional, lack civility knowledge and their behaviour can seem rude and loud when compared to other cultures in Asia like Japanese or Korean. It has to be taken into account that the country is still very controlled by the government and people are still somewhat restricted, for example lack of social rights, tough environment to work in, long hours and how many people can live with the bare basics. However China's middle class is rising quickly and there is much more economy now. Shopping centres and mega-stores are opening in cities, new infrastructures are being built around the country and as technology evolves at an alarming rate, so does the society, despite at a much slower rate.
The highlight of any visit to China is the Great Wall of China, having done it twice now, it's a spiritual experience knowing how many centuries have past under your feet, there are many different areas of the Wall to visit, but no matter the weather the visit always feels magical. Together with a tour it helps you understand the culture and its people. I look forward for future trips to China and to discover smaller cities and the countryside with its wildlife, which has also lots to offer!
(2 times visited)