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Travel tips in China

Travel Agency

Tip: In general, when we travel to China, we always book a tour in a Chinese city. There are huge numbers of travel agencies in major cities, and you would have a much better deal there. Most of the tour guides nowadays can speak English. There are two advantages of doing that, firstly your tour will cost you a lot less, secondly you can choose to travel with local Chinese tourists. They are generally very friendly towards foreigners.

Tip: If you are sick, or don't feel like visiting some of the attractions in the tour schedule, you can play sick (or really get sick!), most of the agency would give you partial refund on admission fees if you ask for it.

Tip: In general, in any tours, Chinese tour guides will take you to some shopping place (or restaurants, if your tour does not include meals). This is common practise, as their salary is partially commission based. They get huge kickbacks, in rare cases they get up to 80% of what you just paid. For example, in Sanya, Hainan, taxi drivers gets kickbacks from admission fees to lunch bills. Those are "tourist-only" shopping malls and restaurants and are very likely to be very expensive. Some tourist restaurants also carry two menus, one for locals and one for visitors. Buy as little stuff as you can, and you can do shopping in local stores later for much better deals.

Obtaining Chinese Tourists Visa

Foreign tourists must apply for tourist visas at China's foreign affairs offices, consulates or other organizations authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A group of five tourists or more can apply for a group tourist visa. This is usually handled by a travel agency organizing groups. However, you can apply for tourist visas on your own if you prefer so. The normal procedure involves filling a few forms, providing passport sized photos and paying visa application fees. The processing fee differs depending on your nationality. Generally it is around USD50 for normal tourist visa application, which takes around a week to get through. There is also a speed visa application, that allows you to get your visa in 2 days, and the fee is around USD $100. People coming to China from countries which have visa agreements with China (such as agreements which exempt tourist groups from visas) are treated in accordance with these agreements. For more information on visa, please ring your local Chinese consulate.

Visiting tibetan autonomous region
All tourists visiting Tibet requires valid China visa and a special Alien Travel Permit, which they can obtain only by joining tours organized by recognized travel agencies. The general processing time is around 4-7 working days.

Quarantine Service

Those who carry such special articles as microorganisms, human body tissues, biological products, and blood and its products, should declare to a quarantine department, and subject these articles to quarantine inspections. Passengers from yellow fever-infested areas should, when entering China, display to the quarantine department effective certificates showing that they have been inoculated against yellow fever. He who does not have such a valid certificate shall be retained for observation for six days beginning from the day he left the infested area, or he shall be inoculated and retained until the certificate comes into effect. It is the task of the Chinese quarantine authorities to prevent foreigners suffering AIDS, venereal diseases, leprosy, mental diseases and open tuberculosis from entering China.

Tip: Due to the recent bird flue and SARs, Chinese health departments have installed infra red temperature sensors, and travellers with fever will face a high possibility of being forced to spend a few days to be monitored. Try not to travel while having fever!

Getting Around China

All major cities have international airports (Shanghai, Beijing, Hongkong, etc). All sizable cities will have at least a domestic airport. There are 9 domestic airline carriers and traveling between cities via air is convenient. Ctrip is a large hotel and airline booking company in China. However, you would not get the most out of your trip if you fly. As China have an extensive rail system, a recommended alternative is to try travelling by train. Most trains have "soft bed" - comfortable and private 4-person cabins where you can enjoy the scenery while talking to local Chinese passengers. On some routes there are double storey trains for improved sightseeing. Trains are cheaper, comfortable and fast. A direct train from Shanghai to Beijing cost about 500 RMB, and only takes about 12 hours. You can do a live search for trains here. There are also frequent coach services running between cities, they are generally comfortable and affordable, providing another alternative for short distance travel.

Tip: Use train service if you want to enjoy the scenery.

Currency & Foreign Exchange

The Chinese currency is called Renminbi, and is issued by the People's Bank of China. The unit of Renminbi is the "yuan" and the smaller units are the jiao and fen. The abbreviation for Chinese currency is RMB. Many hotels and stores accept major credit cards. Holders of these cards can draw cash from the Bank of China, buy goods and pay for purchases at exchange centers of the Bank of China, appointed shops, hotels and restaurants. For the convenience of tourists, the Bank of China can cash travelers' checks sold by international commercial banks and travelers' check companies. Foreign currency cannot be circulated within the People's Republic of China or used to determine the price and settle accounts. At present, China will accept and convert into Chinese Renminbi such foreign currencies as the US dollar, British pound, French franc, German mark, Japanese yen, Australian dollar, Austrian schilling, Belgian franc, Canadian dollar, HK dollar, Swiss franc, Danish Krone, Singapore dollar, Malaysian Ringgit, Italian lira, Macao dollar, Finnish markka, and Taiwan dollar. Exchange rates are issued every day by the State Administration of Exchange Control. Before leaving China, unused Chinese Renminbi can be converted back into foreign currency with a "foreign exchange certificate" which is valid for six months.

Tip: Do not bring back excessive RMB as there are very few forex company that wants to deal with them.

Tipping

You don't have to feel bad about not tipping people. Tipping is generally not practised in China, however most would accept tips, with the exception of few organizations that implements the "no tip" policy.

Climate and Clothing

China has a continental and seasonal climate. Most parts are in the temperate zone but southern areas are in the tropical or subtropical zone while northern areas are in the frigid zone. Climates in different areas are vastly different. For instance, northern Heilongjiang Province has a winter climate the year round without summer, while Hainan Island has a summer climate the year round without winter. The following is a reference table for tourists to prepare clothing on their trips.

Spring: 10-22C, Western suits, jackets, sports coats, woolen jackets, long sleeve shirts and travel shoes
Summer: 22C and above, T-shirts, short sleeve shirts, skirts, sandals, caps, rain wear.
Autumn: 10-22C, Western suits, jackets, sports coats, light woolen sweaters, rain wear and travel shoes.
Winter: 10C or lower, overcoat, cotton clothes, lined coats. In very cold areas a cap, gloves and cotton-padded shoes are required.

Emergency Medical Service

There are many hospitals in Chinese cities. The clinics in large hotels and restaurants also offer medical and first aid services to travelers. If you feel uncomfortable while on a tour, you may call the outpatient department of a local hotel, or ask your guide to take you to see the doctor.

Electricity

The electricity used in China is 220 volt AC. Many middle and high-class hotel wash rooms have transformer plugs for electric shavers and hair dryers, but it is better to be prepared with an adapter plug.

Postal Service

Apart from post offices in cities, mailing service is also available in some hotels. When mailing a letter, you should make sure to use a standard envelope, fill in the postal code, and attach an enough amount of stamps. Express mail service is available in most post offices and express mailing companies.

Telephones and Some Useful Numbers

110--Police
112--Inner-city telephone mishaps
113--Operator of domestic long-distance calls
114--Inner-city telephone number inquiries
115--Operator of international long-distance calls
116--Information on domestic long-distance calls
117--Time
119--Fire
120--Ambulance
121--Weather forecasts

Tip: Most convenient stores sell phone cards at competitive rates. The IDD in China is really expensive.

Shopping

Tip: You can bargin for anything that's on sale, even if the goods are sold in large shopping malls. A good starting point for stuff sold on the street would be around 20%-50%, depending on your agressiveness and luck.

Arts and Crafts
China is a treasure house of arts and crafts which are an important part of the Nation's cultural inheritance. Products such as carving, embroidery, pottery and porcelain, glassware and dyeing, replicas of ancient cultural relics are all exquisitely crafted. Other well-known crafts are weaving, printing and dyeing. Cloisonne is a special traditional handicraft of Beijing while Jiangxi Jingdezhen ware is a representative of China's fine porcelain. China's handmade carpets are much sought after in international markets. Suzhou, Hunan, Guangdong and Sichuan embroidery are four of China's best-known embroideries. Some of the regional art and craft specialties include the wood carving of Dongyang and the bamboo products of Shengxian from Zhejiang Province, the clay figurine of Master Zhang from Tianjin, the grass and wickerwork from Shandong Province, the three color-glaze Tang ware of Luoyang from Henan Province, the batik from Guizhou Province and the Huishan clay figurine of Wuxi from Jiangsu Province. Also well-know are the four treasures of study of Xuan paper and ink stick from Anhui Province, Duan ink slab from Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, and Shanlianhu writing brush from Wuxing, Zhejiang Province. There are many other famous handicrafts, such as folk paper cuts created by women farmers.

Silk: Chinese silk is famous in the world for its magnificent quality, color and variety. Representative samples are brocade from Hangzhou, Sichuan brocade from Chengdu, the fine, tough silk and pure silk crepe from Suzhou and tussah silk from Dandong.

Tea: China is the home of tea. Tea is divided into green, black, perfumed, white and Wulong tea. Longjing (green tea) and Biluochun (green tea), are famous throughout the world.

Liquors and Wines: Since ancient times, China's spirits and wines have developed in their unique way and have won many international awards. Famous liquors include Maotai from Guizhou, Fen and Zhuyeqing from Shanxi, Wuliangye, Jiannanchun and Luzhou Laojiao from Sichuan, Gujing tribute liquor from Anhui, Yanghe Daqu from Jiangsu and Dong Liquor from Guizhou. Fruit wines include gold medal brandy, red grape wine and Weimeisi from Yantai, China red grape wine from Beijing, Shacheng white grape wine form Hebei, Minquan white grape wine from Henan. Yellow rice wines include rice wine from Shaoxing, sinking-in-jar wine from Longyan and sealed jar wine from Danyang. Yanjing and Qingdao are two famous brands of the many varieties of fine beers available in China.

Traditional Chinese medicine: The body of knowledge that makes up traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been accumulated over thousands of years. It is a school of its own. Numerous herbal and other drugs are being used for their high curative efficacy, and those with a high tonic value are favorites with the Chinese.

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