The biggest and most important festival in the Chinese calendar is the Spring Festival. It's often called Chinese New Year in the West, and that's a reasonably good description as it does coincide with the beginning of the lunar year in the country.
How long is the festival?
The Spring Festival begins on the first day of the first lunar month, Zhengyue, and ends on the 15th with another festival – The Lantern Festival. It is without a doubt the busiest period in China, and travelers should be warned that unless you've arranged transport well in advance – it can literally take days to procure a ticket anywhere. Over a billion people head home from their workplaces to their families, and then return at the end – it's the largest human migration on a regular basis on earth!
What happens in China during the Spring Festival?
As the world's second largest country by land and the most populous nation, there's no assumption that different regions have different customs. Although you can expect a few surprises depending on where you visit, you will discover some fairly consistent themes.
All families kick off the first evening with a family meal, and if you're invited, you should seize the opportunity! As with Christmas in the Western calendar, it's the day where the best food will be prepared, served and eaten. Pork, duck, chicken and sweets are the main order of the day in most of China, and there's normally a fireworks display at the end of the evening too. In fact, almost every night of new year ends in a fireworks display.
The Red Packet
The following morning, children will greet the adults around them wishing them a prosperous new year. They will then receive gifts from the adults, which is always money in red envelopes (this is known as hong bao). Children is a very flexible term, and it actually applies to all unmarried people.
Adults ensure that multiples of 4 is not inside an envelope, as 4 is the number for death and considered very unlucky; however, multiples of 8 are considered to be especially lucky. How much is enough? The Chinese will tell you that any amount is fine, but a good rule of thumb is to base the amount on someone's social status. A poor villager will be delighted with a few RMB, but a rich man's children might be expecting something very much more substantial.
There are many other traditions that depend on the specific day of new year and the region you're in, so don't be afraid to ask what's going on during the Spring Festival, as the Chinese are always pleased that someone cares enough to ask.
The Spring Festival is a truly joyous occasion in China! If you're making travel plans to see China during the New Year, you'll want to choose a destination carefully that lets you take maximum advantage of the holiday period.
Although you can get Western cutlery in almost every restaurant in China, admit it -- using chopsticks is fun and makes your China trip even more authentically enjoyable! However, there are a few things you should follow when it comes to chopstick etiquette. Read those 7 things below.
Chopsticks Should be Kept Even
When you place your chopsticks on the plate or holder provided, make sure that they are evenly laid out without any overlap. Why? It’s because in China, the uneven shape made by chopsticks make it similar to that of a coffin. No-one wants you to bring death to the dining table! Well, except in a horror novel that is.
Keep that Forefinger Down and out of the Way
The right way to use them is to use the thumb and forefinger to keep them secure, and then use your other fingers on the sides to keep them under control. It's rude to keep your forefinger sticking up at everyone else at the table, since it reminds people of being scolded to as children. Also, avoid pointing at other people with your chopsticks!
Don’t Leave Your Chopsticks Wedged in the Dish
Do not stick the chopsticks in the bowl, leaving them pointing up in the air. To the Chinese people, this is an unforgivable insult similar to Western culture, showing your middle finger to someone. So when you’ve finished eating for a moment, you’ll want to put your chopsticks down on the dish or holder provided.
Don’t Hand Someone Rice with the Serving Chopsticks Still in the Rice
Chopsticks should be passed separately from the plate. Not doing so reminds the Chinese people of the incense that is burned during a funeral. The death taboo is a strong one (remember that 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese because it sounds like death), and it’s not something you want to interject into a meal in China during your tour.
Try and Keep the Chopsticks Uncrossed
Placing your chopsticks crossed over each other on a plate is a subtle way of telling your Chinese dining companion that you think they’re "talking nonsense". This behavior is no more welcome in China than it would be back home.
Don’t Bang Your Chopsticks on Your Bowl
Beggars approach people in the Chinese streets by banging their fingers against the begging bowl to get attention. It’s really quite offensive to Chinese dining companions.
Keep Your Chopsticks Off the Floor
It goes without saying that throwing your utensils on the floor deliberately at the end of a meal would be rude, but it’s also a bad idea to drop them by accident. There’s an ancient belief that this may upset the ancestors of your Chinese dining companions.
If you follow these rules when dining with chopsticks, your China trip will be a happier one. It’s worth noting that some areas have additional specific customs, and it’s worth keeping an eye on your hosts to make sure you’re doing everything right.
Shanghai is huge and so unlike China in many respects, that you'll wonder if your China tour hasn't landed in another country. Because Shanghai was partly colonized, you will notice
Because Shanghai was partly colonized by the British, French and Americans, each colonial presence was brought in with its particular culture, architecture and society. An influence most notable amongst others is The Shanghai Bund.
Why the Bund? Well, it comes from the Hindi-Urdu word band which means an embankment. This was then slightly revised in German to bund, since the street runs down the edge of the Huangpu River.
A Brief History
What makes this place so spectacular is all the amazing buildings, which were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. The rise of Shanghai as one Asia's major financial hubs brought investment from all over Europe, as each nation added a little twist of their own architecture to local styles. These were then heavily influenced by French and British architecture as the previous colonial occupiers left their mark on the city. The vast majority of the buildings were banks until the 1950's.
In the 50's, the government of the revolution overthrew the banks and occupied the Bund for their own offices. However, as the nation began to relax its strict economic conditions in the 70's and 80's, the buildings were returned to their former usage. Today, they are nearly all financial institutions once again.
What to See
The Bund is only a mile long, but has 52 buildings representing a huge variety of architectural styles including art-deco, gothic, neo-classical, renaissance and more.
On your Shanghai visit, you should take your time to enjoy all of them, and then pop into the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, also known as the HSBC building. Look up -- the mosaics on the ceiling are world famous and once brought the title of the most luxurious building in the East.
Stop for a drink in the cafe at Sassoon House, which was built by Sir Victor Sassoon, but today is famed for its jazz band. If you like watches, make your next stop the Jardine Matheson Company at Number 27. It has the Rolex Flagship Store and the wine collection in China too.
To experience the Bund is to experience authentic China. Don't miss it!
"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man." - Mao Zedong
China’s greatest engineering triumph and must-see sight wriggles haphazardly from its scattered Manchurian remains in Liáoníng province to wind-scoured rubble in the Gobi desert and faint traces in the unforgiving sands of Xīnjiāng.
As one of the greatest human accomplishments, it is the building project with the longest duration and greatest cost in human work and sacrifice. What was once a fortification to defend China for centuries, the Great Wall stretches for more than 6,214 miles across 9 provinces and is now the most iconic attraction that is unmatched in many ways.
The world is a beautiful masterpiece. Picasso, van Gogh or Dali could not paint a picture that truly reflects the vividness of Planet Earth.
This is why you travel - why you fly thousands of miles to foreign lands - why you take your children, spouse, parents or grandparents to see new places; experience new things. Because you can’t tell someone what it’s like to stand in front of the sweeping panorama of the Great Wall. You can’t simply explain the feeling of being at the pulse of bustling Shanghai, China's cultural and financial center.
The world’s most scenic destinations aren’t meant to be digitized in your email account or shared on Facebook. They’re meant to be seen, with your own two eyes.
The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
Why not seize the opportunity to buy the one thing that actually makes you richer? An investment in travel is an investment in yourself.
Experience an unforgettable expedition that fills your soul without emptying your pockets. For more information about travel options and tours, click on our Tour Packages above.
Photography is not about the camera. It’s not even about the beautiful images we create. It's about telling powerful stories. It's a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share.
You're unlikely to long remember the smell and buzz of Shanghai's streets, the awe of gazing for the first time at temples of Angkor, the caress of a tropical breeze in Bali, the thrill of a rickshaw ride through New Delhi, or the adrenaline of hiking the Great Wall. Your photographs bring these and other sensations back, to trigger memories, and to communicate how you felt to others.
It's really about unique moments in life that will never be created. Why keep them to yourself? Instead, share those magical moments with us and your fellow travelers.
If you joined us on a recent trip, you can share your videos, images or travel journal with us and easily be in the running to win $500 by entering our 2015 Photo Contest. You have until Thursday, December 31st 2015 to send entries to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on our Facebook page. Looking forward to seeing what magical moments you experienced!
* Check out the 2014 winners here *
We know that the combination of cultural uniqueness, ancient glory, natural wonders and stunning modernization make travelling to China an exciting and rewarding adventure.
There are bargains and there are bargains, but you know you’ve really got a deal when the whole tour costs less than the round-trip air fare.
A great way to celebrate the Chinese New Year is by experiencing our Timeless Beijing package which starts at only $888 from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and includes not only round-trip transpacific air, but six nights’ accommodation in the beautiful Traders Hotel by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, airport/hotel transfers, six American buffet breakfasts and three delicious Chinese lunches, three days of escorted sightseeing with entrance fees, baggage handling and a knowledgeable English-speaking guide.
With imperial delights, a dazzling array of different dishes, modern architecture and a thriving cultural scene, the glorious city of Beijing beckons you.
With its historic sites and monuments, big cities and small villages, mountains and rivers, as well as world-renowned cuisine, China is justifiably one of the biggest and most popular places to visit in the world.
After seeing the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Bund in Shanghai, many travelers move on to Xian to see the world famous Army of the Terracotta Warriors, while other visitors go for a cruise on the Yangtze River.
Wherever you visit in China, there is the chance that you will hear some traditional or modern Chinese music, which mostly comes from the Han Chinese people, the largest ethnic group of people in the country.
Ancient Chinese documents show that music was a part of Chinese culture as early as the Zhou Dynasty which ruled between 1122 BC and 256 BC. According to tradition, the first musical instrument was a set of bamboo pipes made by Ling Lun. Bamboo pipes and the Guqin, a plucked seven string instrument related to a zither, are the oldest known Chinese musical instruments.
Traditional Chinese musical instruments are played as solo instruments or are played in small groups. These ensembles are made up of bowed and plucked stringed instruments, flutes and several kinds of percussion instruments such as cymbals, drums and gongs. Instruments are organized based on what they are made out of: bamboo, clay, gourd, metal, silk, skin, stone or wood.
Chinese vocal music, which developed from poems and verses, is usually not sung in a group but by a solo singer.
Chinese opera is a very popular form of Chinese vocal music and has been entertaining Chinese people and tourists for many centuries. There are many kinds including Cantonese Opera, Puppet Opera, Ritual Masked Opera, Sichuan Opera and several others. It is sung in a high-pitched voice and is accompanied by string instruments and percussion.
Folk music is an important part of Chinese culture. Music performed at traditional Han funerals and weddings is usually accompanied by a kind of oboe as well as groups of percussion instruments. In northern villages, flutes, mouth organs and percussion instruments are used. Xian is known for its drum and wind music.
In the southern part of China, women sing sorrowful songs (particularly with a love-stricken theme) accompanied by traditional instruments. Guangdong Music or Cantonese Music is influenced by Cantonese Opera music as well as Western music, like jazz.
After the end of the Chinese Empire in the early 20th century, many changes were made to traditional Chinese music. The music we hear today that we think of as traditional Chinese music comes from the New Culture Movement at this time, so it is, in fact, less than 100 years old. Some elements of Western music were brought in to China, such as the teaching of music in conservatories and changes to instruments and performance style.
As you walk around, whether you are in a city or village, listen for some Chinese music during your China tour!
China is a vast country full of exciting and fascinating things to see and to do. There are huge cities, small villages, dramatic landscapes, delicious food, and a long history. China is not an expensive place to visit and there are many affordable tours from which to choose.
Many people arrive at the international airport in a big city like Beijing or Shanghai. Tours often start in Beijing because of the famous sights like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. Shanghai is the most populous city in China and the home of the biggest port in the world.
After visiting one or both of these big cities, some people continue on to Xian to see the famous Army of the Terracotta Warriors, while other people take a relaxing cruise down the Yangtze River.
There are many other places to visit in China, and everywhere you go you will encounter evidence of one or more of the many religions of China. Some of these include Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, folk religions, Islam, and Taoism.
Three of these religions have had an important role in shaping the culture of China. Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism are referred to as the “Three Teachings” of China. Aspects of these three religions are sometimes mixed into folk or popular religions.
The religions of China are family oriented and people often practice more than one religion at a time. In fact, some scholars think it’s better to use terms other than “religion” in Chinese culture: terms like “belief systems,” “cultural practices,” “philosophies,” and “thought systems” are some ways to describe “religion” in China.
When you think about religion in China, the first one that probably comes to mind is Buddhism. In fact, Buddhism is not the biggest religion in China: it is folk religion, also known as popular religion. But, folk religion often overlaps the beliefs in Buddhism, as well as Confucianism and Taoism.
Folk religion is characterized by a respect for gods of human groups, the forces of nature, and figures in Chinese mythology as well as the worship of ancestors. Some of the gods and goddesses include Caishen, the god of prosperity and richness, Guandi, the god of business and war; Huangdi, the patriarch of all the Chinese; Mazu, the goddess of the seas; and many other deities.
Some religions are associated with certain ethnic groups like the Islamic religion of the Hui and the Uyghur peoples. And there are ethnic minority groups who practice religions that are found no place else on Earth.
About 90% of the population in China adhere to the principles of various folk religions intertwined with Taoism. They worship “shen” which means “energies of generation.” Shen includes deities in the natural world, ancestors, heroes, and figures from Chinese mythology.
After this huge group of people who practice folk religions, about 6% follow Buddhism, about 2 % follow Christianity, less than 2% follow Islam, and the remainder fall under the category of “other faiths.”
The Communist Party of China is an atheist institution and during Mao Zedong’s rule religions were oppressed. However, more recently things have become more relaxed and today the government recognizes five religions in China: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Taoism. Confucianism and folk religion are net yet officially sanctioned, but work is under way to making this become a reality.
China is a vast country filled with so many things to see and do that it can be hard to come to decisions about where to go. There are many tours from which to choose and some of these can be reasonably priced and will not break your budget.
Tours often include the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China in Beijing, the country’s capital city; the port city of Shanghai, the most populous city in China; and Xian, the home of the incredible Army of the Terracotta Warriors.
Yunnan is one of several provinces in southwest China, and Kunming is the capital and largest city in this province. It is known as the City of Eternal Spring because it sits at a near-tropical latitude yet at a high altitude. This gives it a pleasant temperate climate, although it can get cold enough to snow sometimes in the winter.
The greater metropolitan area has about 10 million people and is not only an interesting place to visit, but it also serves as a base from which to explore all of the wonders of Yunnan Province. Kunming is the cultural center of the province and has many galleries, museums, universities, and historic sights.
Kunming sits on the northern edge of a large lake called Lake Dian and is surrounded by a landscape filled with temples, limestone hills, and other lakes. It is a modern city, but it also has an old city that was previously walled.
Yuantong Temple is over 1,000 years old: it is the biggest and most important temple in Yunnan Province. This is a working temple and the center of Buddhism in Yunnan. Part of the temple is carved into the side of the mountain.
Another important temple is Tanhua Temple built in 1634. This is one of the most well-known scenic places in the city: the temple has a lotus pond with fish, flower gardens, and many tall trees.
In Daguan Park, the three hundred year old Daguan Pavilion is a square building with three floors and beautiful golden lacquer decorations. From the top floor there is a stunning view of Lake Dian and the Western Mountains.
There are many museums in Kunming including the Kunming City Museum, the Kunming Zoology Museum, the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, the Yunnan Provincial Museum, the Yunnan Railway Museum, and the Yunnan University Wu Mayao Museum of Anthropology.
Some of the sights in the city are the Guandu Old Town with its classical architecture, temples, parks, shops, restaurants, pavilions, and bridges; the Kunming Flower and Bird Market; and the Zhangguanying Secondhand Market which is located in an old warehouse area.
There are several parks like the Green Lake Park with its lotus plants and goldfish; the Jindian Park on the Mingfeng Mountain with its Golden Temple; the Kunming Botanical Gardens with its 4,000 species of plants; and the Western Mountain Forest Reserve with its ancient trees, wildlife, and streams.
But one of the most interesting sights is just outside of Kunming. It is the Shilin National Park, a stone forest that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a karst landscape where the tall limestone rocks look like petrified trees or stalagmites. These stones, over 270 million years old, are a popular tourist destination.
During your tour of China, add Yunnan and Kunming and especially Shilin National Park: you will be amazed at this unique landscape!
There are many tours to China because it is such a huge and fascinating country to visit. Many of these tours are not expensive: this makes it affordable for most people to see the amazing sights of this great country.
Most tours concentrate on sights like the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing as well as other places of interest like Shanghai, the Yangtze River, and Xian, the home of the Army of Terracotta Warriors.
Any visit to China will raise questions about its history, so it’s a good idea to learn a bit about China’s past before you start your tour.
China’s prehistory includes fossils of the “Peking Man” who is known to have used fire. It also includes the earliest examples of the Chinese writing system.
When you think about China’s history, the word “dynasties” is one of the first things that comes to mind. A large part of China’s history was dominated by dynasties and their rulers.
Some people believe that the Xia Dynasty was the first to rule China starting around 2,100 BC, but scientists are not sure. The Shang Dynasty is the earliest one that can be confirmed: it ruled over the Yellow River plain from the 17th to the 11th century BC. The Zhou Dynasty conquered the Shang and ruled from the 11th to the 5th century BC.
This dynasty became weak, so there were several hundred years when China was split up between seven kingdoms. In 221 BC, when one of these, the Qin, conquered the other six kingdoms, the leader, Qin Shi Huang, named himself emperor of China: this was the beginning of “Imperial China.”
Qin introduced many reforms to China like standardizing the language, currency, and measurements. But his dynasty only lasted 15 years, to be followed by the most famous of all Chinese dynasties: the Han Dynasty.
This dynasty is very important: today’s Chinese people identify with the culture that sprang from the Han Dynasty. China was expanded during the Han Dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD: at this time it included parts of Central Asia, Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam. It was during this dynasty that the famous “Silk Road” was created: the Han Dynasty became the biggest economic power of the ancient world!
There were many years of disunity after the Han Dynasty ended. The next important dynasty was the Song Dynasty that ruled from 960 to 1279. This dynasty was the first government in the world to create a permanent navy and to use paper money. This was also a time when the arts grew.
The Mongols invaded China in the 13th century and Kublai Khan created the Yuan Dynasty. Surprisingly, a peasant overthrew the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 and began the Ming Dynasty. Like the Song Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty was another golden age of prosperity. During the Ming Dynasty the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing.
The last dynasty was the Qing Dynasty which ruled from 1644 to 1912. Towards the end of this dynasty there were many wars and rebellions. Many Chinese began to leave. The Republic of China was established in 1912.
During World War II, China was occupied by Japanese forces. After World War II ended, there was a civil war until the Communist Party won in 1949: the Republic of China became the People’s Republic of China.
Eventually China opened up and tourism began to flourish. And today you have many options as you begin to plan your tour of China!
The voracious reader has a lot to look forward to on a China tour. China’s history is stacked with literary greats and of course international travel means that not all books about China are written there either. If you want to connect with China’s literary heritage during your travels why not take a few side trips when you get to Beijing? Here are some of the best places to see:
If you’re going to the Forbidden City (and who on a China tour in Beijing isn’t?) then you might want to travel a little way across the road and explore Zhongshan Park too. Zhang Henshui the famous 20th century Chinese author spent a lot of time in this park. You can find mentions of it in some of his work too. China’s first literary study group was formed in the park too and you can still visit the restaurant in which it was held in the park today. The restaurant even has literary themed dishes based on a banquet served in the novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xequin.
Mao Dun’s Residence
In the Doncheng District, you can find the home of a lesser known Chinese literary great. Mao Dun was the pseudonym used by Shen Dehong. He wrote the “Unofficial History of Beijing” which is pretty well renowned in China. If you want to include this in your vacation plans; there’s a pleasant little museum on the site which includes some of his early drafts and manuscripts.
Grand View Garden
You’ll have make a bit of a trip to discover this pleasant garden as it’s on the Second Ring Road but it might be worth it if you’re a big fan of the “Dream of the Red Chamber”. It is considered to be one of the four most important novels written in classical China. The Grand View Garden is the garden featured in the book and while it’s a replica (the original is long gone) it’s a jolly good one.
Le Xun Museum
Travel around the hutongs is part of the Beijing experience and hidden among the backstreets of the Baitaisi hutongs is this charming museum. Le Xun was, perhaps, the most influential writer of the 20th century in China and his work can be found in translation everywhere in the world. The museum has over 20,000 objects related to his life and work and is very much worth a visit.
The National Library of China
It would be hard to mention literature in China without taking pause to remember the largest library in China. It’s on the MTR line 4 and there are over 30 million books inside! You’d probably need more than a vacation to even get started on reading your way through these. If you do want to read anything (and some of the old texts are spectacular to look at – even if you can’t read Mandarin) you need to provide your passport to access a reading room.
Planning a China vacation and wondering how to get the most from your China tour? Then you might be wondering where to include in your China travel plans to sample the best food that China has to offer. Wherever you go on your China trip there will be superb cuisine but you might want to consider these 5 destinations which offer truly amazing tastes to wow the palate.
Xi'an's the home of the North-western style of cooking in China and it's also the home of the terracotta warriors making it a great tour destination. In fact, the warriors are why many people book their China vacation in the first place. It's famed for its imperial feasts and you can enjoy one of these at one of the many Tang Dynasty themed eateries in town. Be warned some of the meats used are a little exotic – so if you don't want to try donkey… you might want to ask what's in a dish before you sample it.
Macau's cuisine takes a little of the South-eastern Cantonese style and adds a uniquely Portuguese twist. The UNESCO heritage site of the old town makes travel to Macau a must and the food just adds another layer to appreciate. Don't miss out on the custard tarts which are rightly famed throughout the world. The street vendors also specialize in pork sandwiches which are among the best sandwiches in China.
You'll want to include Chengdu on your China trip because it's the only place in China where you can see the Giant Panda in the wild. It's also one of the best places to lose yourself in the fiery culinary culture of Sichuan. Peppers and chili make up the staple base for most dishes here and you may need to speak to your host and ask them to go easy if this is your first experience of Sichuanese cookery. The Mapo Tofu is a particular favourite and the creamy texture compliments the fire of the dish perfectly.
There's no excuse for not fitting Beijing into your vacation. China's capital is the ultimate tour destination with the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and many, many other awesome places to visit. It is also where the incredible Beijing Duck hails from and you haven't eaten Beijing Duck until you've had it in one of Beijing's dedicated duck restaurants. You'll also find a wealth of dumplings and steamed buns to tempt you from street vendors.
There is nowhere else in China where you can have a Michelin starred meal for less than $10 other than Hong Kong. The special administrative region is a Cantonese cookery paradise and Dim Sum is what most people want to try. Head to any dim sum restaurant and just select what you want from the endless procession of food carts passing by. Once you've had your fill, why not visit Victoria Harbour and take an easy cruise around the world's best loved harbour front?
If you book your China tour with us, then most of your travel in China will be arranged by us and you won't need to hunt around for transport too often. However, a lot of people like to make a side trip or two on their China vacation and there are a variety of options for you to choose for transportation in China.
Using Taxis to Get Around
Taxis in China are cheap and plentiful in most big cities (and nearly everywhere in China is a big city compared to the US). They can be flagged down in the street just like they can in New York and using a meter is mandatory – so there's no need to haggle over the fare. For long journeys you may be able to negotiate a flat fee but it will always be less than the metered fare if you do.
Using taxis on your tour is not quite as simple as just jumping in a taxi. Most taxi drivers don't speak any English and unless you want to spend half your vacation frustrated and hunting for the driver who does speak English. It's better to take written directions for your trip and show those to your driver. It's also a very good idea to carry the details of your address in China so that if you get lost – you can always flag a taxi back to your hotel.
Using Buses to Get Around
Buses can be taken from everywhere in China to nearly everywhere else. Travel on buses isn't great for many Westerners because the vehicles are designed for a people who are generally a bit smaller than their Western friends. Catching a bus is relatively straight forward and you can either get one from a stand or from a major bus station. You will need, again, written directions for where you want to get off – Chinese drivers are pretty sympathetic to foreigners on vacation in China and will make sure you get where you're going.
Services are incredibly cheap but it may take 3-4 times as long to get to your destination by bus than by taxi.
Using Trains and Subways to Get Around
The easiest way for a Westerner to get around in China is to travel by train or subway. These services are deliciously well equipped and better still they are nearly all in English (there's a button on the terminals to change the language to English on the subway).
You'll find that they're incredibly cheap because the Chinese government subsidizes rail journeys for everyone. In fact, they run at such a loss in most cases that if they were to charge a break-even price for a ticket, it would cost ten times as much.
The subway systems are easy to navigate with announcements in English and English language maps throughout. The trains are a little less obvious but platform signs are normally in pinyin (English characters) so knowing where to get off is easier than you might think too.
Modern China is no longer fully communist and as you will see on your China trip; that has brought prosperity and wealth to China. However, it can be nice to spend a bit of time on your vacation taking a tour of the old communist heart of the nation. When you travel to Shanghai there are plenty of places to catch up with Red China:
Mao Zedong's Former Residence (Maoming Bei Lu)
There is no figure in China's history as intimately associated with communism as Chairman Mao. He led the Cultural Revolution and changed China forever. He will be forever revered in the Middle Kingdom and this tiny residence in Shanghai is the only one open to the public. It's your only chance on your vacation to take a tour of how Mao would have lived. There are some interesting wax work figures of the great man and his family and an awful lot of photographs to show you more of Mao's life and works.
Liu Debao's Photo Shop (Caoyang Lu)
This isn't so much a tour attraction as it is a collection of Chinese history. Liu Debao has tracked down nearly 4,000 reels of film from the Cultural Revolution era. Nowhere else on your China trip can you see such rare footage – including personal footage of Chairman Mao himself. If you want to visit; you will need to ask your guide to call and arrange it for you as Liu only speaks Mandarin. Visits are by appointment only. This is an unmissable part of China's history.
Longhua Revolutionary Martyr's Cemetery (Longhua Xi Lu)
There's a dark side to China's communist history. For many years leading up to the Cultural Revolution; communists were imprisoned and often executed at the prison on the site of this cemetery. Today, there is a lovely park and a museum on the grounds as well as some preserved prison cells.
The Propaganda Poster Art Center (Huahsan Lu)
We'd make this one of our favourite travel destinations in China. It doesn't really matter whether you want to find out about communism; this collection of more than 5,000 art posters is simply incredible. Covering more than 25 years of the early communist regime you can discover China through the eyes of a people in motion. If you're in Shanghai; you really must visit the Propaganda Poster Art Center if you have the time to do so.
Memorial House of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (Huangpi Nan Lu) The first congress was held in total secrecy and included a representation from Mao Zedong. Today, it's an open house with a museum on site to detail the evolution of the communist party in China. It's a fascinating exhibit (even if some of it is a touch overblown for English speaking tourists) and very much worth including on your vacation. There are hundreds of interesting relics and artefacts from the pre-revolutionary days and it would be hard to get bored going through this random but captivating collection.
If you're getting ready to book your China vacation and you're thinking of starting your China tour in the fall – here are some of the best places to include on your China trip at that time of year. Travel in China is always an amazing experience but if you work with nature; you can get even more out of your time in the country as the colours of the leaves subtly complement some of the best scenes in the nation.
Beijing – Fragrant Hill
In the months of October and November the Fragrant Hill just outside of Beijing becomes one of the most magical places in China. As you will see on your tour – it's covered in maple and smoke trees and as the fall comes on, they change colour from green to a wonderful range of auburn, reds, and purples. People travel from all over China to see the trees here and if that wasn't enough – they also hold a major festival on the site to welcome visitors at the same time. It's truly spectacular.
Chengdu - The Miyaluo Area
This is a much, much bigger place than Fragrant Hill and it's the perfect place to take some time out of your vacation after you meet China's most beloved symbol – the Giant Panda. It covers over 1,000 square miles so don't expect to see it all but it's, perhaps, one of the most perfect vistas that you can see on a China trip. The Himalayas in the background and Tibet calling, the chance of a sprinkle of snow and the amazing colours of fall foliage.
Chengdu – Jiuzhaigou Valley
This wonderful valley contains some of the purest mountain lakes of anywhere in the world. You will need to arrange to see this as part of booking your China tour as the only way to visit is to take a round trip ticket around the full 400 miles of the valley itself. It's very much worth it. This is nature at its finest and as the fall encroaches on the mountains it's nothing short of sublime.
The Great Wall of China
The place most people see the Great Wall from is China's capital city Beijing but it does run for 4,000 miles through some of the most wonderful tree lined areas of China. The contrast between this spectacular feat of manmade engineering and the natural splendour of the trees in fall is just lovely. You won't want to leave.
The Yellow Mountains
In the fall there is nothing quite as striking as the mountains near Shanghai. They are considered to be an area of outstanding natural beauty at any time of year but once again it's the change in colours that brings them to life during the autumnal period. Get up early and see the sunrise over the peaks and then you're free to explore the mountains as much as you like. See if you can find some of the waterfalls.
Many people want to know what the weather will be like before they travel to China. This is understandable it makes packing for a China vacation easier and it means you're less likely to have to spend time on your China trip going shopping. Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to this question as you will discover on your China tour.
The Scale of China
Most of us have only seen China on a Mercator map. This map was designed by a German and has become the international standard in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, it relies on a sense of perspective running through Germany. That makes some parts of the world, like Western Europe, look much bigger than they are. It also makes some parts of the world, like Africa and much of Asia – look much smaller than they are. This makes basing your travel plans on that map not so easy.
Your China vacation will actually be taking place in a huge country. If your China tour is going to take in say, Hong Kong and Beijing – the weather varies dramatically between the two. In the winter, Beijing plunges into temperatures below zero while Hong Kong remains at a balmy 10-20 degrees centigrade. In the summer, both places can be hot but Hong Kong quite often becomes sweltering. Thus it becomes pretty challenging to predict the weather for your China trip.
Then there's the issue of Tibet. If you're going to put Tibet on your China tour itinerary then you're going to have to pack for cold weather. The altitude of Tibet's capital, Lhasa is the highest of any capital city on earth. It sits in the Himalayas and it's cold pretty much all year round.
Many people choose spring or autumn for their China vacation to try and balance the extremes of temperature but sadly, even then on a day-to-day basis – as with everywhere in the world, not just China, the weather can vary immensely in a single location and over a country as large as China – it's impossible to predict.
The best way to pack for your China trip based on this is to pack for all eventualities. A raincoat with Gore-Tex lining is a good way to keep the load light and still be prepared for all eventualities. You should take a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen too – these things will come in handy in Tibet where the reflection of sun from the snow can be taxing in the extreme and they'll be useful in hotter weather too.
Try and pack some sensible shoes for walking around in and which are waterproof if the rain sets in. You can stay warm by wearing multiple layers so light t-shirts that can be stacked if necessary and a sweater will help you stay cool or stay hot in different temperatures.
It's normally better to wear trousers rather than shorts or skirts because many holy places won't let you in with too much bare flesh on show anyway.
So, you've booked your China vacation. You've decided on each intimate detail of your China tour and where you will travel and what parts of China you will see. Now, you're probably wondering what you will eat when on your China trip. The good news is that there are always plenty of interesting options and we've put together some of the best breakfasts you can find in the country:
Dim sum may be something that we eat in the West at any time but in China it's very much a traditional breakfast. The best place on your vacation to try dim sum is Hong Kong, China's special administrative region. But you can find dim sum wherever you travel in the country and they're nearly always sumptuous treats. They are served in steaming hot bamboo baskets and generally you just pick what you want off a trolley but be quick – you may never see the same thing twice, there's a whole lot of variety in dim sum
Nearly everywhere that you visit on your China tour will offer you the option of trying congee at breakfast time. On its own, it's a bit bland. It's a watery rice porridge without much flavour so normally it will be served with a selection of vegetables and/or meats. You may, if you're lucky, also find something that you can only really find on a China trip – that it's served with one hundred year old eggs. (Which aren't really one hundred years old but they sure do look like it).
Big bowls of noodles are very popular for breakfast in China. Particularly up in the North of the country where rice is more scarce and more wheat-based dishes are popular. However, you can find them everywhere and in Sichuan, in particular, they're likely to be served spicy which may wake you up to perfection… don't be afraid to ask them to tone down the peppers and chilies if they aren't to your taste. You'll find Chinese people are only too happy to help with requests throughout your trip.
The Zongzi dumpling is made from glutinous rice which is then wrapped in the leaf of the bamboo plant and steamed gently. They're not that common and you will mainly be able to find these delicious treats around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival and vacation in China. They do come with a range of fillings from sweet to savoury – so take your time to work out which one is your favourite.
The steamed filled bun is nearly ubiquitous in China. You can find them everywhere and they tend to be cheap, tasty and extremely filling. It's best to try a range until you find your favourite filling. Though most foreigners prefer the pork ones there is an endless choice of fillings and the bean paste ones are particularly sweet.
Soy milk is served warm with bread for dipping in it. It's a simple but enjoyable early morning snack.
If you're coming to China for a vacation; you may be wondering how you can keep in contact with folks on your China tour while you're in country. There's always the option to travel China using roaming options from your US cell phone provider but calls are expensive and international services can be a bit hit and miss at times. A better idea might be to use a local SIM or even a local phone and SIM during your China trip. Here's what you need to know about cell phones in China:
There are four major cell phone operators in China that you can choose from during your vacation. However, China rather like the United States has some fairly specialist infrastructure and there's only one operator that works to an international standard. That operator is China Unicom.
For those using Apple products, you'll be pleased to know that if you choose China Unicom then they're 100% compatible and your iPhone or iPad will work fine throughout your trip. For other handsets – the situation is a little more complex and some will not work at all, unless they have GSM compatibility. You will need to check with your handset provider before you travel to see if the phone is compatible with Chinese networks – if not, you may be better off buying a cheap phone in China for use during your tour.
The vast majority of Chinese SIM cards work on a pay-as-you-go basis. That means if you need credit – you just wander into a grocery store (and yes 7-11 are everywhere in China) and buy a top up card. Instructions are in English and this is easy to do.
You should remember that you pay to receive a call in China as well as make one, which can often explain why credit disappears faster than you expect it to. Calls are about the same cost as on most US networks in China. International calling is usually very expensive.
Buying a Phone in China
If you want to buy a phone on your China trip – the good news is that handsets are very cheap. The Xiaomi brand is now the 3rd biggest brand in the world and their flagship handsets offer all the functionality of other top brand handsets at about a quarter of the price of other brands.
The bad news is that other than Xiaomi, phones are more expensive in China (on a like-for-like basis) than they are back home.
There are also plenty of copies (fakes) circulating for every brand. If a handset appears much cheaper than it is in the US – it's almost certainly fake.
The best thing to do on your China vacation is to buy a cheap locally made handset – you can pick one up for about $10. Just check that the menu options are available in English before you commit to it. Then you can use that phone to stay in touch with people in China and still keep your US phone on in case of any emergency calls from back home.
If you're taking your children on your China vacation then you'll want something family friendly to do when your China tour hits Shanghai. Travel in China is incredibly educational and most children really enjoy a trip to China but it's nice to let them unleash their child and for you to unleash your inner child alongside them sometimes too. Here are 5 great child friendly museums in Shanghai to do just that in:
Zotter Chocolate Theatre (Yangpu District)
It's not just children on a China vacation who can't resist the call of lots of free chocolate. Zotter hail from Austria but their production facilities are in China. If you travel to the Yangpu District you can take an English speaking tour of the factory; where you'll learn all you ever needed to know about how chocolate foes from the plant to the confectionary store. Then afterwards – you are free to try as many chocolates as you like. That's a great way to spend some time in Shanghai.
Animation and Comic Museum (Pudong District)
It would be hard to find kids who wouldn't travel to interact with comic books and create animations. China's Animation and Comic Museum in Shanghai is an absolutely awesome experience and a child's highlight from a China trip. You can take a tour of the evolution of comics and animation (not just in China – they also cover a lot of American favourites) and then build your favourite cartoon character out of ceramic materials. It's a lot of fun. Shanghai Glasses Museum (Zhabei District)
Yes, it doesn't sound like much fun but it's actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. The displays of glasses (spectacles) date back as far as the Song Dynasty aren't that fascinating. Though the lady who shows you round does her very best to bring them to life in English. But the chance to find out how animals see the world – is really cool. It's also one of the cheapest day trips in China at 10 RMB a head.
Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom (Pudong District)
You can't really argue with a place stocked full of creepy crawlies and reptiles. It's the kind of place that children love or hate depending on the way they feel about insects. It's really well put together though and the collection is truly fascinating. It could use a little bit more in the way of English signage but bugs speak a language all of their own...
Shanghai Children's Museum (Changning District)
It was the first museum built for children in the whole of China and it's a great place to visit on your vacation. Your children will get to play with local kids and enjoy everything from a pretend trip to the moon, to a pretend submarine. There are crafts areas where children can be as creative as they like and reading rooms, video rooms, etc. too. There is also a whole space dedicated to the importance of protecting the environment.
A China vacation is a great way for your children to learn about China and enjoy an exhilarating travel experience. However, sometimes they're going to want to take a little break from the China tour itinerary and do something… well…. better designed for children. If your China trip includes some time in Shanghai; here are some great ideas for a family day out:
Shanghai Wild Animal Park (Pudong New Area)
If your China trip is going to involve some time in Chengdu; you can probably skip the Wild Animal Park as it doesn't quite compare to the China vacation awe of meeting Giant Pandas face-to-face. However, otherwise this is a great day out and far less depressing than some of China's zoos. You can feed a tiger, ride an elephant, and cuddle a chimp and more here. It's a great place to enjoy some family time.
Fuxing Park (French Concession)
There's nothing nicer than taking a stroll in the park. It's even better when you can enjoy one of China's favourite hobbies on your tour – flying kites. Kite flying is a competitive sport in China and you can expect your kids to ruin a kite or two during their time in the park but they're cheap and it's all part of the fun. There are plenty of less competitive things to do and if you travel to the park in the early morning or evening – you may be able to join in with some relaxing Tai Chi with the locals. Take a picnic and make a day of it.
Eday Town (Minhang District)
It's perhaps the strangest thing you can do on a China vacation but in Eday Town – you can put your children to work, literally. The town is built to let children try out different jobs. They can be a dentist, a pilot, or a police man, etc. The idea is that the children play together and learn together (and the jobs are all play – not real work). Parents are welcome to observe but the children choose the way that their day goes. It's a real-life theme park for children and everything inside has been lovingly recreated at 2/3 of normal size so that kids can really do whatever they want to do.
It's only for the brave but Aquaria 21 brings you up close and personal with some of the fiercest predators in the world and ones you won't see elsewhere on your China tour – sharks! If you really want you can rent a scuba diving outfit and jump in with them (don't worry – they won't bite they're really harmless sand sharks but they do look mean). There's a huge underwater tunnel that lets you almost touch China's marine life in all its endless variety. They even have some penguins which are as cute as they always are. It's pretty good value too with tickets for children starting at just 60 RMB ($10) and those under 1 meter tall – get in free.
If you're planning your China vacation; you may be wondering what your duty free limits will be on a China tour. In general this isn't a major concern for travel in China with customs checks being fairly limited in most entry ports. However, it's always a good idea to stay within the law and this what you're allowed to bring into China on your trip and what you're not allowed to bring too.
Absolutely Banned in China
Bringing any of these materials with you will ruin your China vacation if you are caught. Your China tour group cannot interfere if you break the law in China during your trip:
- Guns, ammunitions and explosives of any kind
- Radio receivers, transmitters, and parts for radios
- More than 20,000 RMB in Cash
- Books, manuscripts, films, records, etc. that may be considered negatively in light of China's political, cultural, economic or ethical climate. This includes pornography, many religious materials, etc.
- Habit forming drugs including all opiates and many prescription drugs – it is important to check prior to entering China if you need supporting documentation for your own prescriptions. Many prescription remedies are not available in China at all and it's essential to travel with the right documentation for such drugs.
- Animals, plants or any products made from these which may be infested with insects.
- Foodstuffs which may be considered unsanitary or prone to infection.
What is permitted to Come into China
China is very flexible when it comes to travel in the country and these are guidelines as to what to bring as opposed to hard rules. Your China vacation will probably be easier if you stay within the limits as customs declarations can be time consuming and occasionally costly.
- Up to 2,000 RMB worth of duty free goods which you do not intend to export from the country. For example; perfume as a gift.
- Unlimited amounts of foreign currency (such as the US Dollar). However, if you bring more than $5,000 worth of currency into China – you must declare it at customs. Trying to leave China with more than $5,000 can be very problematic if you don't declare this.
- Up to 1.5 Litres of alcoholic drinks (with ABV of 12% or more), up to 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco. If you wish to bring more of these items – you need to make a declaration that they are for personal use and pay duty on them. You shouldn't need to bring any large quantities of these products as they are, generally, much cheaper in China than they would be in the United States.
- Any new electronic equipment is technically subject to duty. It is a good idea to remove such equipment from any packaging before you travel to China; unless it is for resale – in which case it is a good idea to declare this and pay the duty on it.
Entering China is generally trouble free for most people and if you follow the rules above – it will be trouble free for you too.