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China Travel Guide
Fast Facts
ACTIVITIES
Historic Interest
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Places to Visit
ACTIVE ADVENTURE
 
 

The Great Wall of China

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

The hardest thing about planning a trip to China is deciding what not to see. Not only is it the third largest country by land area, the Middle Kingdom's diverse landscape includes deserts, mountains and fertile river basins. It has 14,500 kilometers of coastline, shares a common border with 14 countries, and is composed of 56 ethnic groups. What's more, it's home to a handful of the world's best known monuments and several of the most cosmopolitan cities on the globe. With such variety on offer, it's important to establish your travel interests and sightseeing priorities, not to mention your budget for the trip, before picking up a guidebook. Not only will these decisions determine whether you travel by train, plane or bus they will help define your itinerary.
Getting Around
 
China is well-served by rails, roads and airports and the infrastructure is constantly improving. What's more, it has thousands of kilometers of navigable inland waterways and getting round Chinese cities is easier than before. TRAINS: Trains are the primary mode of transportation. They are safe, comfortable, and reliable. Taking the train is often more affordable than flying and overnight trains save the cost of a hotel. It's possible to purchase train tickets from abroad and have them delivered to your hotel in China. What's more, it's an interesting way to travel. On the other hand, the language barrier and limited availability of tickets can make organizing an independent train trip a truly challenging experience. Flexibility and advance planning are key to finding train tickets. LONG DISTANCE BUSES: Bus travel is the best budget option. Not only is it cheaper than the train, it is easier and oftentimes faster. Nonetheless, bus trips aren't without hazards, especially on remote routes. SELF-DRIVE: Driving a car in China is less about open roads than it is about aggravation, from reading road signs to obtaining a Chinese drivers license. - An international driving permit isn't valid in mainland China thus all foreign drivers must obtain a Chinese drivers license. A temporary license, which is both legal and easy to get at the Beijing airport, is not accepted by most rental car companies. AIRPLANES: Air travel, while more expensive trains and buses, is worth considering for long trips, especially if you are strapped for time. Beijing is the hub of the system with direct flights to more than 140 Chinese cities. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, Hong Kong International Airport and the two airports in Shanghai, Pudong and Hongqiao International airports, are some of the country's busiest airports. Domestic airline tickets can be purchased online and can be purchased from abroad. Ctrip and eLong, China's most popular online flight ticketing service providers, are reliable, easy to use, and offer cheap fares. BOATS: The Yangtze River may China's best known waterway but it's not the countries only navigable inland channel. Rivers cruises on the Pearl, Heilongjiang, Huaihe, Qiantang, Minjiang, Huangpu and Li rivers, as well as the Grand Canal, are increasingly popular. LOCAL TRANSPORT: City buses ply Chinese streets and are a cheap way to get around, however, metros and light railways are faster, more efficient and easier to navigate. Taxis are readily available but in some large cities, such as Beijing, they are reluctant to stop for foreigner travelers. Try booking a cab through your accommodation or, if you're out and about, head to nearest large hotel and ask the doorman to hail you a taxi.
Documents Required
 
Passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the length of stay. A visa is required for all travelers, except for nationals from Singapore, Brunei and Japan staying 15 days or less, and must be obtained in advance. The type of visa required depends on the nature of the visit, number of entries and duration of stay. A multi-entry visa is essential for travelers planning to re-enter China on the same visa, even if interim exits are limited to Hong Kong and/or Macau. A special permit is required for travel to Tibet and some other remote areas of China. Most travelers to Hong Kong and Macau, including EU, Australia, New Zealand, US, and Canadian nationals, do not require a visa for stays of less than 60 days.
When to Travel
 
The climate in China varies from subarctic to subtropical and, in addition to latitude, the weather in each region is influenced by altitude, topographical factors and proximity to the ocean. Much of China experiences four distinct seasons. Temperature differences vary most in winter and the greatest extremes occur in regions far from the sea. Winter in northern China is cold, and in many places snow-packed, whereas it's mild throughout the subtropical south. Summers are hot throughout the country. The rainy season is from May to September. Monsoons affect all but northwest China, which receives little rainfall. Spring and fall offer the best weather for travelers. The peak seasons coincide with school breaks and multi-day public holidays; Spring Festival, May Day, National Day, and the month of August. Expect high prices and crowded spaces throughout the high season.
Health & Safety
 
China is a safe place to visit and there are few health risks for those sticking to the beaten track. That said, CDC recommends that all travelers be up-to-date on routine immunizations prior to traveling to China and consult a health-care provider or travel medicine clinic 4 to 6 weeks in advance of travel to determine the need for additional medications and vaccinations. Furthermore, it's important to check government sources for travel advisories and review your medical coverage to ensure it applies abroad and covers emergencies, for example a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation. ROAD WORRIES: Traveler's diarrhea is the most common illness affecting tourists. Pick pocketing and purse snatching are real risks on public transportation and are commonplace at sights and stores. Malaria is prevalent in rural parts of Anhui, Guizhou, Hainan, Henan, Hubei and Yunnan provinces. Other diseases carried by insects, such as Dengue Fever, also occur in some rural areas. Altitude sickness is the biggest health risk for travelers to Tibet. Rabies is common in China. PRECAUTIONS: Drink bottled water. Don't eat uncooked vegetables or unpeeled fruit. Avoid unpasteurized milk. Safeguard valuables including money and passports. Keep a firm grip on daypacks and handbags. Don't leave valuables lying about the hotel room. Keep an eye, if not a hand, on children. Talk to kids about animal safety. Prevent insect bites by using insect repellent with DEET, wearing trousers and long-sleeved shirts after dark, and sleeping under a treated mosquito net or in a screened or air conditioned room.
Travel Trivia
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Books for Kids about China
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