"I've always wanted to go to China to say that I've walked on the Great Wall. However it turned out to be much, much more than that"
"Trekking on the magnificent wall was indeed a highlight – imagine being out in the “sticks” on a construction so massive it stretches as far as the eye can see, with no one else except your fellow group members and a couple of local entrepreneurs who sell refreshments and offer a helping hand over some of the more “rustic” (unrestored) parts. It was breathtaking! And that’s just ONE of the many things China has to offer – there’s also the Terracotta Warriors, the Three Gorges that will still be there despite the dam, trekking in Tiger Leaping Gorge, cycling through the wonderful scenery in Yangshuo, all the busy people with their amazing smiles, and eating “Peking Duck” in an authentic restaurant somewhere in the hutong area of Beijing. I had heard somewhere that the food in China was not up to much. Whoever started that rumour definitely didn’t know what they were talking about and they sure missed out on some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted (no dog, snake, etc.- unless you wanted it) and with beer cheaper than water, what are you waiting for?"
Lee Douglas, Reservations Manager – The Imaginative Traveller
Official Language: Putonghua (Mandarin)
Others: Mandarin has eight major dialect groups including Cantonese. Other minorities speak their own languages including Tibetan, Mongolian and Uighur.
Religions: There are three main philosophies: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. It is very difficult to estimate the number of adherents to each philosophy.
Voltage: 220 Volts. Sockets come in at least four designs – 3 pronged angled pins (as in Australia), three pronged round pins (as in Hong Kong), two flat pins (American style but without the earth wire) or two narrow round pins (European style). Conversion plugs can be purchased in most cities..
Visas are required by all nationalities. A tourist visa is normally valid for entry within three months of the date of issue and allows a stay of 30 days from the date of entry. Visas are refused without explanation to those the authorities consider a proscribed profession. Therefore it is advisable to avoid listing your profession as a journalist, editor or similar.
Regulations and costs do change frequently. For the latest information on your specific visa requirements you should contact the local Chinese Embassy or Consulate close to your planned date of travel.
Note: Group members on the Beijing to Kathmandu tour who are spending extra days in Beijing before the normal start date may well exceed the 30 day visa limit and should consider applying for a longer stay to avoid requesting an extension in-country.
Hong Kong is treated as a separate entity and most travellers do not need to obtain a visa in advance. Visas for China can be obtained in Hong Kong but can take several working days.
Please note: if you are planning to travel to Tibet before you visit China, and have already obtained a Chinese visa, it is possible that the Chinese authorities may cancel this visa when you enter Tibet. You should therefore allow yourself sufficient time before your China tour to obtain an additional visa for China.
Double Entry Visas
If you plan to leave mainland China and return later you must clearly request a double entry visa when you make your application. This includes visits to Hong Kong or Macau which have their own visa regulations.
If you apply for a double entry visa, check your passport when it is returned to you to make sure that you have been issued with the correct visa.
The monetary unit in China is the Renminbi (Rmb), literally ‘people’s money’, also known as the Yuan(¥).
1 Yuan can be divided into 10 Jiao or 100 Fen. As two different series of notes are in circulation an unfamiliar note is not necessarily counterfeit (although please see the note below). Hong Kong and Macau operate separate currencies, the Hong Kong dollar (HK$) and Macau Pataca (M$), respectively.
Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
At present there are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into China. However sums over US$5,000 should be declared on arrival.
Warning: Counterfeit notes are becoming more common in China. Although the print quality is very good they can usually be detected by the lack of a watermark or poor quality of paper used (counterfeits tend to be smoother than real notes).
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
There is a set exchange rate in China, determined by the Bank of China, the only bank authorised to deal in foreign exchange. Tourist class hotels are often also authorised to exchange foreign currency, have exchange rates that are equivalent to those at the bank and are far more convenient for travellers. Cash and traveller's cheques can be easily changed throughout the country and oddly the latter attract a better rate than cash. Although there are ATMs in larger cities, these facilities are very unreliable. Do not rely solely on a debit card as a source of funds whilst in China. Credit cards are accepted in very few shops and not generally in the restaurants we frequent.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a combination of cash and traveller's cheques (either US$ or GB£). Notes should be blemish free. Scottish pound notes are not recognised.
It is very easy to change money at the airport on arrival in Beijing, but not so convenient in Beijing itself. Given that exchange rates are the same throughout the country it is advisable to change some money at the airport, particularly if you arrive on a weekend or if your tour leaves the city the next morning.
Note: Our Adventurer category hotel in Beijing does not have a money exchange so passengers on the following tours in particular, should change money at the airport: China Explored, Journey Across China, Beijing to Kathmandu, The Silk Road, The Great China Adventure, The Road to Shanghai, Chinese Takeaway
Excess Yuan may be converted on departure (again, only at a Bank of China) on presentation of the original exchange certificates.
In Hong Kong money exchange is very easy but rates vary considerably – your Tour Leader will be able to advise of the best places. Credit cards are readily accepted and ATMs are found throughout the city.
The Pre-Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre Departure Booklet contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in China.
Although our Traveller trips include entrance fees for all sites specified in your itinerary there are some additional sites that you may like to visit. Adventurer trips do not include any entrance fees to allow you the freedom to choose what to visit. On average entrance fees vary between US$2 and US$10. Details of some popular entrance fees (most of which are included on Traveller tours) are shown below.
Note: The entrance fees specified below are approximate and subject to change without notice. Some fees are seasonal and, as our tours run mainly in peak season, the higher charges have been quoted.
Our walk along the Great Wall covers two sections each costing US$4. An additional charge of US$0.6 is usually charged for crossing a bridge at the end of the walk.
Basic entry into the Forbidden City costs US$8 and there are various options costing US$1-2 each. Those on Adventurer tours, visiting without a local guide, might like to try the audio cassette guide, recorded by Roger Moore!
Entry to the Summer Palace costs US$6. Once inside there are two optional sections costing US$2-3 each. There is also a chance to go boating on the lake. Prices for this vary with the type of boat taken and the duration.
When visiting the Temple of Heaven the best option is to buy a 'through ticket' for US$5. This ticket means you do not have to queue again at the two other ticket offices inside, at no extra cost.
All tours which visit Xi’an include a trip to the Terracotta Warriors with the services of a local guide. The entrance fee is US$11. Likewise all Yangtse Cruises include excursions. At Fengdu there is an option to take the chairlift to the temple for US$2 instead of walking.
Note: International student cards are no longer generally accepted for discounts on entrance fees in China.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
You will find the meal plan for your tour clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Breakfast is provided each day on most Traveller tours, and many tours also include some lunches and dinners. Adventurer tours do not generally include any meals. The main exception to this is during Yangtse cruises which are on a full board basis. Meals which are not provided are generally arranged by the Tour Leader and take advantage of local specialities. Often this means a banquet-style meal with the bill split between those eating together. Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in China see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Tea is usually provided free of charge at meals. Boiling water is generally available in stations and airports, and is complimentary on all trains. All other drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense. Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below.
Note: Prices in restaurants, hotels and on cruise boats can be considerably higher.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in China. However bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the country.
Taxis are the most effective method of local transport, and recommended for most journeys within a city. In China, taxi meters are usually functioning with the rate displayed on a rear window. Overcharging is not common but it is a good idea to find out, from your Tour Leader or the hotel receptionist, approximately how much the fare should be for longer journeys.
Approximate taxi fares, per taxi, from our hotels in Beijing to:
Note: There is a road toll, which you must pay in addition to the metered charge, when travelling to or from Beijing airport.
Note: Taxi drivers do not usually speak English. Your Tour Leader will provide maps or cards with popular destinations in Chinese characters.
Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have underground railway networks. These are cheap (US$1 maximum), efficient and easy to use.
The Pre-Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Please note that you DO NOT need to bring a mosquito net on any of our tours in China. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a backpack or easy to carry luggage and travel light. You will have to carry your own luggage frequently – don't let this be an ordeal.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In China's hot and humid summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. Be prepared for cooler evenings and early morning starts - for this reason you will generally find it better to pack several thin layers rather than one thick layer. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow.
Other than that, almost anything goes in China. In the cities when it is hot the Chinese wear short skirts / shorts and vest tops so you will not offend anyone by dressing like this. The only exceptions to this is in West China (if you are on a Silk Road tour) where there is a sizeable Muslim population and also in some remote rural areas women may feel a little out of place with bare shoulders and 'short' shorts.
At either end of the season, the weather can drop to freezing for days at a time. Be prepared with warm clothes, especially on tours in more remote areas where hotel heating systems may be primitive.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Some trips have a few days where toilets are not available – such as while camel or horse trekking. When you do answer the call of nature please burn your toilet paper – do not bury it. If it is not possible to burn it, take it back to the camp where it can be placed in the rubbish bin and disposed of appropriately.
Whenever you use a western or squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it. Toilet paper or tissues are available in most shops in China.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic gel (i.e. water free soap) and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt/placed in a bin.
Many locals think nothing of throwing their rubbish on the floor. This is a habit that stems from the days when there were no litterbins, and the government employed people to continually sweep the streets. However the Chinese government is now trying to persuade people to use litterbins. As a visitor, you should lead by example and hold on to your rubbish until you find a litterbin or somewhere appropriate to dispose of it.
Begging is not common in China but has started to appear at some tourist destinations. Ultimately donations are a traveller’s personal choice; however our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this encourages a begging mentality and is largely ineffectual. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognised charity. If you choose not to give, simply say no with a smile and keep on walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, try to learn to say ‘no thank you’.
In many shops prices are not negotiable; however, bargaining is expected for tourist souvenirs and in most markets. The shop keeper or market trader will start with a high price which you are then expected to bargain down until you reach a fair price (you should always try to bargain in Yuan rather than Dollars). Don't be surprised if your purchase price is as little as one tenth of the asking price! Bargaining should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun but you should remember that if you agree on a price then you are expected to follow through with the purchase.
The Ai Xin (Kind Heart) Project in China provides financial support for children from poor families in Yangshuo County. With your donations we can help to cover costs of school fees and essential equipment the schools may need such as computers. The children we support now regularly attend school who would otherwise be working. The responsible travel fund is hoping to support more deserving children and get them into school as soon as possible.
Upon arrival in China, please look for our representative who will be holding an Imaginative Traveller sign. He should be waiting for you in the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the Immigration and Customs area).
All flights to Hong Kong now arrive at the new Chep Lap Kok airport, which is located on Lantau Island. We DO NOT provide complimentary arrival transfers from this airport as public transport is so efficient and easy to use (for details see the 'Making Your Own Way' section below). If, however, you would prefer a transfer we can arrange either of the following (please see the 'Extra Services' section of our website for current prices):
Upon clearing Customs and Immigration please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name or The Imaginative Traveller on it. You will then be driven directly to our hotel in a private vehicle.
Seat in Coach (SIC)
Upon clearing Customs and Immigration, there are two exits into the arrivals hall. Pass through Exit B and walk straight ahead to Commercial Kiosk B13 where you will find the Vigor Airport Shuttle Service desk. Give your name to the people at the desk and they will arrange your transfer to the hotel.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
If you have not arranged for us to meet and transfer you on arrival, it is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point.
Exit the arrivals building and look to the left for the taxi rank. Here you will be able to find a metered taxi to take you to the hotel meeting point (make sure the taxi driver turns the meter on when you get in). The best taxis to take are the small red ones with a sticker saying “2.0Y” in a rear window. The cost, using one of the red taxis, is approx. US$15 (including the toll charge for using the expressway).
In Hong Kong there are several ways to make your way to our meeting point hotels, which are located in the downtown area of Kowloon:
Taxis in Hong Kong are readily available. Red taxis serve Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, green taxis service the New Territories and blue taxis serve Lantau Island. Taxis are metered but subject to additional charges of US$4 for the bridge toll and US$0.5 for each large item of luggage. The approximate fare from the airport to Kowloon is US$35.
Airport Express Rail Link (AEL)
This is a state of the art express train service directly from the airport terminal to both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The journey takes about 20 minutes and Kowloon is the second stop. From here you can take a metered taxi to the hotel. The fare for the Express is US$12 per person (one way) and the taxi will cost approx. US$4.
A number of hotel shuttle bus services operate from the airport dropping travellers at selected hotels. Details can be obtained in the Transportation Centre of the airport. This transfer costs approx. US$12.
There are 28 franchise bus routes departing from the Transportation Centre. Twenty-two are conventional lines with numerous stops primarily used by local residents. Six are airbuses, dedicated to airline passengers and have fewer stops. Details of the services are available at the tourist information desk situated after customs. Please ask here for the exact bus for your hotel and for the exact stop. In general the A21 (airbus) or the E21 (conventional) are the most useful services for our hotels. The airbus costs approx US$4 and the conventional bus costs approx. US$2.20. Once in the downtown area a metered taxi is the most effective way to reach your hotel.
There are 3 main options from Pudong airport (PVG). Most international flights arrive here. If you arrive in Hongqiao (SHA) the first two options still apply:
The taxi rank is located immediately outside the arrivals hall. The ride should be metered, and you pay any tolls on top of that price. The total should be between USD12 and USD 19. There is a sign inside the terminal indicating prices for specific stops. Do not accept a ride for a fixed price, nor one with any unofficial car.
A sign on the wall labelled Traffic Guide shows routes and fares. For the Xinpeng Hotel take bus number 4 to HongKou Football Ground - USD 3. Walk along Xi Jiang Wan Lu (marked like this in Pinyin) for about 10-15 minutes. The hotel is number 760.
Magnetic-levitation train (Mag Lev)
Follow signs up to the second floor. Trains cost USD 7 for a single, USD 14 for VIP seats. There is a discount of 20% if you show a flight ticket arriving the same day. The service operates every 15-20 minutes from 07:00 until 21:00. You should be prepared for a fast ride. Reaching an incredible 430 km/h you will arrive downtown in just 8 minutes. From there you will need to continue by taxi or metro.
Most people find that China is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with, it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night. Pickpockets and other opportunists operate around some tourist sites and stations.
Availability of Helmets
Protective helmets of a reliable standard are not available locally. If you intend to take part in activities such as bike, horse or camel rides, you should consider bringing a suitable helmet from home.
If you have any safety concerns you should mention these to your tour leader immediately.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager. In China we also use the services of specialist guides at sights of particular historical interest such as at the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours hotels are simple, but comfortable. Bathroom facilities may sometimes be shared and rooms may sometimes be multi share rather than twin. Hotels on Traveller tours almost always have private bathrooms, air conditioning and bar / restaurant facilities. Please bear in mind that hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone and have not paid a single supplement you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex. If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
Note: Single supplements are only applicable to single travellers who wish to have their own room. Single supplements are also only available on Traveller tours and are not applicable on overnight trains.
A laundry service is available in most of the hotels we use and on Yangtse cruise boats.
Chinese cuisine is world famous, and justifiably so. You should forget about ‘western’ food for a while, cast away your reservations and sample the great range of delicious dishes. The Chinese are completely omnivorous, no doubt due to past famines, which has led to a wealth of exotic dishes. Be prepared for some amazing combinations and learn an entirely new set of conventions. Meals are huge, are taken early and often end with soup. Breakfasts are more savoury than sweet, and often contain a selection of dishes you would not expect so early in the day.
The variety of climate and local produce has created outstanding regional cooking in China. In the colder wheat producing north, noodles, dumplings and casserole type dishes predominate as well as the imperial speciality, Peking Duck. The province of Sichuan is renowned for its spicy dishes, and Guangzhou in the south produces the stir-fried meat and vegetables, fried rice, and steamed chicken and fish dishes that are, to most of the world, typical of Chinese cooking.
Hong Kong offers not only Cantonese food, but also cuisine from all parts of the globe. Walk down almost any street and you can choose authentic food from Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Italy, and many more.
Tea is the drink of China and is often served as a glass of hot water with large leaves floating around. Coffee is not as common and is usually made very strong, though milk is generally available. Instant coffee is available in supermarkets and boiled water is supplied everywhere, so you can make your own instant coffee.
Traditional rice wines are extremely alcoholic and not generally rated highly by travellers. China does produce surprisingly good lager type beers, Tsing Tao (Qingdao) and Liquan being the most well known. If you prefer wine, Great Wall wine (red or white) is also drinkable.
Vegetarians need not be apprehensive about travelling in China; a non-meat alternative is always possible. However, vegetarianism is not something Chinese chefs are particularly familiar with, so dishes tend to have a limited variety of vegetables and are not richly flavoured or spiced.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Nut Allergies - Important Note:
People with nut allergies should be aware that a lot of food is cooked in nut oil and avoiding this will be particularly difficult. The choice of dishes may be incredibly restricted and it would be extremely hard to guarantee complete nut avoidance.
Internet cafés can now be found almost everywhere in China. The cost for an hour is usually under US$1. Hotel Business Centres often charge US$2 or more per hour but are can be convenient for quick checks.
The Chinese phone system is reliable, and the mobile network surprisingly comprehensive. A 3-minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$8 from a hotel and approx. US$2 from a telephone centre or with a pre-paid phonecard which you can buy from shops and kiosks.
The postal service is good and stamps are widely available. An overseas stamp for a postcard will cost approx. US$0.7.
Availability of Film
Whilst regular camera film can be easily found, fast film (ASA 200+) and slide film are harder to find and it is best to bring a supply from home. Remember, fast film will allow you to take photos even when flash photography is not permitted.
China experiences great diversity in climate. Spread over such a vast area, the country is subject to extremes in weather. There is heavy snowfall in northern regions like Beijing in winter, whilst Hong Kong in the south is warm all year round with average daytime temperatures seldom falling below 20 degrees even in winter.
We do not operate many tours to China during the winter months and those we do run are based in the warmer south. Overall, Spring and Autumn are considered the best seasons to travel. Even so, our tours cover vast areas, so weather conditions may vary considerably during the tour. Daily average temperatures rise to around 25 degrees in the summer, peaking around 30 in July and August. July sees the highest rainfall in most parts of the country, so summer can be very humid. 60% humidity is not unusual and it may reach 70% in Canton. It is also worth noting that many travellers comment that they did not expect the poor air quality and high levels of pollution evident in cities.
The following are average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
Secular public holidays, when banks and government offices are closed, are few and many shops remain open even on these days.
Note:' Labour Day and National Day holidays are week long events for most Chinese. As large numbers of people take the opportunity to visit their families or go on holiday, expect most things to be busy during these weeks.
Although Mandarin is the official language there are many dialects, as different from each other as French and Italian. Most common is Cantonese which is used in the south and Hong Kong. Written Chinese is the same everywhere and is understood by everyone.
As Mandarin has four tones which determine the meaning of a word the following words and phrases are spelled phonetically to help you with pronunciation.
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