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Please read the DFA advice on travel to China HERE
For thousands of years China has kept to itself, and foreigners still find it difficult to penetrate the inner depths of this fascinating and enigmatic nation. Since the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing showcased some of its most spectacular attractions however, there has been a major increase in travellers wanting to explore the exotic destination. There is a great deal to discover in this, the world's most populated country, the third largest in the world territorially with more than 1.3 billion citizens.
What makes China attractive as a travel destination for Western tourists is its fascinating culture and valuable antiquities. Ruins and relics from Neolithic settlements and the dynastic reigns of the mighty emperors are there to behold, along with adventures along the legendary ancient trade routes, such as the Silk Road. The Forbidden Palace, Great Wall of China, and Terracotta Army of X'ian are just some of the incredible attractions to be seen in this ancient Eastern empire.
The People's Republic of China has been under communist government since 1949, but is currently undergoing social and economic development. Emphasis is being placed on tourist facilities and infrastructure. Though the country's inconsistent human rights record makes it a somewhat controversial choice, China is opening the doors to its wealth of historical and cultural treasures and visitors are flooding in to be amazed and awed.
Organised tours are still the favoured way to explore China, but independent travel is slowly becoming easier. The major cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, are modern metropolises offering fast food and glitzy stores alongside centuries-old historical buildings and traditional eating houses. Archaeological wonders vie with amazing architecture in the interior, while majestic mountains and remote monasteries crown the northern areas.
China's attractions are so many and its landscapes so vast, you'll need a lifetime to 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, you get to choose from a huge range of cultural treasures, traditional temples, incredible landscapes, wonderful national parks and fascinating festivals.
One of the most amazing sights, however, is the one you can see in every Chinese city every day: the incredible pace of modernisation reflected in the energy of the people, frenetic urban development and relentless embrace of capitalism, with all its virtues and vices. These are probably the impressions that leave the deepest mark on visitors to China.
China is a year-round destination although you 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.
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'. Business cards are exchanged at the start of meetings in China and 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 as an important show of courtesy. During a meal or reception your host is likely to offer a toast; you may be expected to offer him one in return. Business hours are 8am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. A five-day week is more normal in larger cities. Workers take their lunch break between 12pm and 2pm and it is not unusual to find offices empty during this time.
China covers extensive territory and has a complex topography, therefore the weather differs 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. The coast is humid and experiences monsoons during summer.
The international access code for China is +86. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). The city code for Beijing is (0)10. International Direct Dialling is available in most cities. Phone cards are widely available and calls can be made from post offices and hotels; phone booths on the streets are usually for local calls only. In hotels, local calls are generally free or will be charged only a nominal fee. Mobile phone networks are very advanced. Operators use GSM 900 networks and have roaming agreements with most non-North American international operators. Internet cafes are available in most main towns.
The Chinese 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 in conversation it is customary to stand close together. Politeness in Western terms is foreign to them, and they rarely bother with pleasantries. All foreigners should carry ID at all times as spot checks are common and failure to show evidence in ID will result in a fine or detention.
Travellers to China do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes (600 cigarettes if stay exceeds six months), two bottles of alcoholic beverages (not more than 0,75 litres per bottle), or four bottles if staying longer than six months. Perfume for personal use is allowed. Prohibited goods include arms and 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 or export of antiquities, banned publications, and religious literature. All valuables must be declared on the forms provided.
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.
There have been confirmed cases of Swine Flu in Mainland China. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers coming 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 before departure. A total of 18 human cases of avian influenza ('bird flu') have been reported from China since November 2005. Twelve of the cases were fatal. Travellers are unlikely to be affected by bird flu, but live animal markets and places where contact with live poultry is possible should be avoided. All poultry and egg dishes should also be thoroughly cooked. Outbreaks of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are few and far between, although the last fatality was in 2008. Travellers are warned to remain vigilant against this viral disease. Japanese encephalitis has been responsible for the deaths of a number of people in the Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces in northern China, and rabies infects people every year, occasionally causing death. Outbreaks of dengue fever occur. A variant of hand, foot and mouth disease, an intestinal virus has also been prevalent in 2008, with children being at particular risk. Altitude sickness can occur in the mountainous regions of Tibet, Qinghai, parts of Xinjiang, and western Sichuan. Outside city centres, visitors should only drink bottled water. Western-style medical centres with international staff are available in the major cities and usually accept credit cards. Health insurance is recommended.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are hundreds of local dialects.
The currency used in China is the Renminbi Yuan (CNY). The Yuan is divided into 10 chiao/jiao or 100 fen. Make sure you exchange your leftover Yuan before returning home because this currency can be exchanged only within China's borders. Travellers cheques, preferably in US Dollars, and foreign cash can be exchanged in cities at the Bank of China. 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 at various establishments, but outside the major cities acceptance is limited. ATMs are scarce outside the main cities.
Visa not required if coming for a stay of six days only if arriving from Hong Kong or Macao in order to take a trip to Zhujian Delta in Guangdong Province. 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. 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.
China is generally safe, and there has been no evidence of a threat from global terrorism. 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 the Jianguomenwai area of Beijing, as well as in Shenzen, bordering Hong Kong. If trekking 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 recently been attacked. Travellers should be cautious about using pedicabs in Beijing, as tourists have been mugged and demands for money made by pedicab drivers; women in particular have been targeted. 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 took place in Lhasa, Tibet, as well as in some Chinese provinces in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet; although the situation seems to have stabilised, visitors are advised to stay up to date on the latest situation before travel.
Local time is GMT +8.
Tipping is not officially recognised, although the practice is becoming more common among travel guides, top-end restaurants, tour bus drivers and hotel staff. If wanting to tip leave a gratuity of 10%. Large hotels and restaurants often include a service charge in their bills, usually of about 10%.