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China Travel Guide

After years of hiding from western eyes, China has transformed itself into a true heavyweight on the global tourism scales. Welcoming more than 55 million foreign visitors each year, China is by far the most-visited country in Asia and one of the top travel destinations in the world. According to statisticians, it might well soon eclipse France as the world's most popular tourist destination.

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 no fewer than 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are more 'must-see' cultural attractions in China than travellers could ever hope to experience in a single visit, including fascinating sights such as 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 in a tumultuous morass. It is one of those countries that has tourists returning home filled with a far greater sense of wonder at the world than when they left.

Best time to visit China

Due to its enormous size, deciding on the best time of year to visit China will depend largely on which areas travellers wish to explore. In general, however, spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are probably the best months to visit China, as temperatures are mild, there is not too much rain, and peak tourist season (which is in summer, from June to August) can be avoided.

What to see in China

-The Imperial Palace (or Forbidden City) is the best-preserved ancient structure in the whole of China.

-Every visitor to China should see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an.

-The Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama, is a wonderful window into the richness of Tibetan culture.

-Exploring The Underground City is a surreal and intriguing experience.

What to do in China

-Join the thousands of annual cultural pilgrims for a walk along a section of the Great Wall of China.

-Visit China's most famous animal at the Chengdu Panda Center.

-Experience the juxtaposition of old and new Shanghai by walking along The Bund.

-Take a trip to the Huaqing Hot Springs to bathe like an emperor.

Getting to China

There are cheap direct and indirect flights to China available from the United Kingdom and the United States. The most popular entry-points into China are Beijing (Beijing International Airport) and Shanghai (Pudong International Airport).


Rice: A Novel by Tong Su, Empress Orchid by Anchee Min, Iron and Silk by Mark Saltzman, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.


Cui Jian, Rynn Lim, Andy Lau, and Wang Lee Hom.


The Painted Veil (2006), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hero (2002), and The Inn of the 6th Happiness (1958).


Sample as many tea (cha) variations as possible. For something a bit stronger, rice wine (mijiu) is worth a try.


Duck (kaoya) is generally a favourite among westerners, as are chive dumplings (jiucai jiaozi).

What to buy

Porcelain products and jade jewellery make very popular gifts.

What to pack

If travelling in spring or summer, be sure to take a lightweight rain slicker along; if travelling in autumn or winter, travellers should make sure to pack a good coat or jacket. Anti-bacterial hand soap is a great idea, helping to stave off diseases which can spread from using public toilets or eating in local restaurants.

What's on in China

The Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival is a spectacular winter celebration, featuring fun activities, ice sculptures, ice lanterns and a dazzling fireworks display. Chinese New Year is a raucous affair, with fireworks and loud music going on late into the night, especially in Beijing. The Great Wall Marathon is worth taking part in for its beautiful setting, even for the tragically unfit.

Did you know?

-About one in five people in the world is Chinese.

-Ice cream, gunpowder, cross bows, paper, kites, and the compass are all Chinese inventions.

-Toilet paper was also invented by the Chinese, in the late 1300s, but it was only used by emperors.

-In the 1930s and 1940s, Shanghai was the only port in the world to accept Jews fleeing the Holocaust without entry permits.

A final word

A mysterious and wonderful land where ancient history and hyper-modernity exist side-by-side, China is a challenging and deeply rewarding place to visit.


The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are hundreds of local dialects.


China's currency is the Renminbi Yuan (CNY), which is divided into 10 jiao or 100 fen. Make sure you exchange your leftover Yuan before returning home because you may have difficulty exchanging the currency outside China's borders. Foreign cash can be exchanged in cities at the Bank of China. It is not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes. Banks are closed weekends. The larger hotels and the special 'Friendship Stores' designed for foreigners will accept most Western currencies for purchases. Major credit cards are accepted in the main cities, but acceptance may be limited in more rural areas. ATMs are scarce in rural areas.


Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plug types vary, but the two-pin flat blade and oblique three-pin flat blade plugs are common. Adapters are generally required.


Tipping is not officially recognised in China, though the practice is has become increasingly common among tour guides, top-end restaurants, tour bus drivers and hotel staff. Travellers wanting to tip should leave a gratuity of about 10 percent. Large hotels and restaurants often include a service charge in their bills, usually of around 10 percent, so travellers should make sure that they aren't doubling up.


China is generally safe, and there is currently little threat from global terrorism. The risk of terror attacks is higher in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and travellers should exercise caution if travelling to or around Xinjiang. Serious crime against foreigners is rare but does occur, particularly in isolated or sparsely populated areas. There has been an increase in the number of muggings and robberies at Beijing International Airport and around the Jianguomenwai area of Beijing, as well as in Shenzen, bordering Hong Kong.

If travelling alone, including following parts of the Great Wall, it is advisable to leave an itinerary and expected time of return with a third party. Travellers should take extra care in street markets and at tourist sites, which attract thieves and pickpockets, and around the popular expat bar areas at night, where lone foreigners have occasionally been attacked. Travellers should be cautious about using pedicabs in Beijing, as tourists have reportedly been mugged by the drivers; women in particular have been targeted. Disputes over taxi fares can occur. Insist on paying the metered fare and ask for a receipt; this has the taxi number on it.

Seasonal heavy rains and typhoons cause hundreds of deaths in China each year, particularly those areas bordering the Yangtze River in central, southern and western China. Demonstrations have taken place in Lhasa, Tibet, as well as in some Chinese provinces in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. Even though the situation seems to have stabilised, visitors are advised to stay up to date on the situation before travelling to the region and to avoid all protests. The Chinese government sometimes suspends the issue of permits for travel to Tibet due to unrest.


The international dialling code for China is +86. In hotels, local calls are generally free or will be charged only a nominal fee. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.


A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers coming into China from infected areas. There is a risk of malaria throughout the low-lying areas of the country, and it is recommended that travellers to China seek medical advice about malaria before departure. Vaccinations are recommended against hepatitis A and hepatitis B, typhoid (not necessary if eating and drinking in major restaurants and hotels), Japanese encephalitis (usually only recommended for rural areas), and rabies (only recommended for travellers at risk of animal bites). Tap water shouldn't be drunk unless it has first been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected. Street food should be treated with caution. High levels of air pollution in major cities and industrialised areas in China may exacerbate bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions. There is generally a high standard of health care in major Chinese cities, but it is not provided free of charge; travellers are advised to have comprehensive travel health insurance.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day1 Jan1 Jan
Spring Festival24 Jan11 Feb
Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)4 Apr4 Apr
Dragon Boat Festival25 Jun14 Jun
Mid-Autumn Festival1 Oct21 Sep
National Day Golden Week1 Oct1 Oct
May Day1 May1 May


The Chinese are strict timekeepers and being late for a meeting is considered rude. When meeting people for the first time it is normal to shake hands and say 'ni hao', which means 'how are you'. Note that handshakes generally go on for longer in China than in most western countries. Business cards are commonly exchanged at the start of meetings in China; it is customary to have one side printed in Chinese and one in English. When giving or receiving business cards or a gift, it is customary to hold it with both hands. Chinese consider gifts an important show of courtesy. Decision-making may take longer than expected during negotiations. During a meal or reception, your host is likely to offer a toast; foreigners may be expected to offer them one in return.

Women are generally treated with respect and courtesy when doing business in China and it is increasingly common to find Chinese women in senior positions, especially in the big cities. Businesswomen should, however, avoid showing too much skin. Business dress for both men and women tends to be conservative and plain without much ornament or bright colour.

Business hours are 8am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. A five-day week is more common in larger cities and international companies. Workers usually take their lunch break between 12pm and 2pm and it is not unusual to find offices empty during this time.

Passport & Visa

Persons holding an APEC Business Travel Card do not require a visa, provided that it is valid for travel to China. Travel to Tibet will also require a special Tibet Entry Permit. There are a few complex exceptions to Chinese visa requirements, which will not apply to the majority of visitors, but all requirements should be confirmed with a Chinese embassy before travel. All documents necessary for further travel and sufficient funds to cover intended period of stay are required. Period of validity is stated on visas, and care should be taken when reading dates on visas for China as they are written in year/month/day format. We always recommend that passports be valid for six months after intended period of travel.


Chinese people usually have three names, the first of which is their surname, or family name. As a result, visitors should be prepared for hotels mistakenly reserving rooms under their first names. For clarity, surnames may be underlined. When addressing Chinese people, the surname should come first and official titles should be used. Chinese handshakes last longer than those in western countries, and it is customary to stand close together when in conversation. Politeness in western terms is often foreign to the Chinese, and they rarely bother with pleasantries. It is considered disrespectful to keep prolonged eye contact, avoiding eye contact is considered reverential rather than rude. All foreigners should carry their ID on them at all times, as spot checks are common. Failure to show evidence of ID when requested by an official may result in a fine or detention.

Duty Free

Travellers to China do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco; 1.5 litres of alcohol; perfume for personal use; and personal articles up to the value of ¥2000. Prohibited goods include arms, ammunition, or printed material that conflicts with the public order or moral standards of the country. Also prohibited are radio transmitters and receivers, exposed but undeveloped film and fresh produce. Strict regulations apply to the import and export of antiquities, banned publications, and religious literature. All valuables must be declared on the forms provided.


Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Guangxi: +86 773 288 5326,

110 (Police); 120 (Ambulance)

Entry Requirements

US nationals require both a valid passport and visa for entry into China.

UK nationals require a passport valid on arrival and a visa for entry into China. Passports endorsed British National (Overseas) are not recognized and holders should carry a Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macao Residents together with their Hong Kong ID.

Canadians require a valid passport and visa for entry into China.

South African nationals require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China.

Irish nationals require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China.

New Zealand nationals require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China.

Embassy Consulates

United States Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 3000.

British Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5192 4000.

Canadian Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5139 4000.

South African Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8532 0000.

Irish Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 6200.

New Zealand Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 2700.

Embassy Consulates

Chinese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 495 2266.

Chinese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7299 4049.

Chinese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3434.

Chinese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 431 6500.

Chinese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 219 6651.

Chinese Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 3514.


China's attractions are so many, and its landscapes so vast, that travellers will need a lifetime to fully explore this fascinating and impossibly diverse country. That said, the must-see sights are fairly obvious and highly accessible, and, as previously restricted areas open up, the list of world-class attractions keeps growing. In addition to big draw-cards like the Great Wall, the Xi'an Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City, travellers can choose from a huge range of cultural treasures, traditional temples, incredible landscapes, national parks, and festivals. Travellers should choose areas that they would like to explore wisely, especially if travelling on a budget, because the country's vastness can make travelling from place to place considerably expensive.

One of the most amazing sights in China can be seen in every Chinese city every day: the incredible pace of modernisation reflected in the energy of the people, frenetic urban development, and the relentless embrace of capitalism, with all its virtues and vices. These impressions are likely to leave the deepest mark on visitors to China. The contrast between the ancient and the new is intriguing and makes exploring China a joy for both history and culture buffs as well as the more modern tourist interested in technology and development.

China is a year-round destination, although visitors might want to plan around Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in late January and early February, when much of the country shuts down for a week and public transport is completely booked up.


China covers extensive territory and has a complex topography, therefore the weather differs substantially from region to region. The southeast, below the Nanling Mountains, tends to be very wet with high temperatures all year round. In the central Yangtze and Huaihe River valleys there are four distinct seasons with very hot summers and extremely cold winters, and rain all year round. The dry north experiences a short but sunny summer, with long, bitterly cold winters (between December and March), with temperatures in Beijing dropping as low as -4ºF (-20ºC). The coast is humid and experiences Typhoons during summer. Travellers are advised to research the climate for the specific region they are visiting.

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