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China Travel Tips

Country & population
China isn't a country - it's a different world. From shop-till-you-drop metropolises to the epic grasslands of Inner Mongolia - with deserts, sacred peaks, astounding caves, and imperial ruins - it's a land of cultural and geographic schisms. It's not that China has completely done away with its Maoist past - it's more that the yin of revolutionary zeal is being balanced by the yang of economic pragmatism, and the oldguard communists are giving way to the new wave dot-commers. 

It's a land of towering mountains and epic landscapes - background scenery to the fall of dynasties, the rise of emperors and the turning of the revolutionary wheel. Unless you have a couple of years and unlimited patience, it's best to follow a loose itinerary here, such as Beijing to Tibet via Xi'an's terracotta warriors, following the Silk Road route, sailing down the Yangzi River, or exploring the Dr Seuss landscape of Guangxi Province.

Passport & visa
Visas are required by all foreigners entering mainland China although, at this stage, visas are not required by western nationals visiting Hong Kong and Macau. A new visa policy allows foreigners from 17 countries (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Spain and the United States) to enter Shanghai (through Pudong or Hongqiao airports) without a visa and stay up to 48 hours. Plans are afoot to extend this new policy to other cities. 

Taiwan compatriots can obtain visas from the Hong Kong Consulate of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those who come back to the mainland via the United States, Japan and otyer countries can obtain travel visas from Chinese embassies and consulates. 

Hong Kong and Macao residents should hold Re-en-try cards of Hong Kong and Macao compatriots for travel of family visits to the mainland. 

Overseas Chinese can enter China without visas. They can enter and leave China with valid passports or other ID cards issued by relevant departments of the Chinese govemment. 

The official currency in China is the Renminbi (RBM)or "people's currency" the basic unit is the yuan (also known as "kuai"), which equals 10 jiao (or "mao"), which is then divided into 10 fen. Paper currency comes in 1.2,5,10,50 and 100 yuan notes. Paper jiao come in denominations of 1,2, and 5. There are also 1 and 2 fen notes, but these are rarely used as their purchasing power is exactly zero. As for coins, there are 1 youan ,1 and 5 jiao, and 1,2, and 5 fen (ahain, the fen are basically useless). 

You can exchange traveler's chechs or cash at most banks, and hotels always have a money exchange counter. You can also get a cash advance on your American Express card, but for this you need to go to the Bank of China headquarters at Fuchengmen or the one at the Asia-Pacific Building (Ya Tai Da Sha)on Yabao Lu. To change money, you have to have your passport at hand. If you want to change money in a hotel, you usually have to be a guest there. Sometimes if you are not a guest in a hotel but need to change money there, you can just say a random room number, but this doesn't always work. 

At present ,the RMB is not exchangeable on the international market, so it is only usable within the country. So when you are changing money, don't change too much, because it is difficult to change back into other currencies. To change RMB back into your home currency, you must retain the exchange slips that are given to you at the bank or money exchange counter. Then when you want to go home, you have to bring the slips with you to prove that you are merely changing back money you haven't spent instead of taking out needed foreign exchange if you lose the slips, you can change on the black market (locations vary , ask a Chinese friend for details), but the exchange rate is not so good and of course it is illegal. 

China's climate varies from bitter coldness in winter to unbearable heat in summer. The Yangtze River serves as China's official dividing line between north and south. Given the size and varied landscape of the country, there is no one time in the year when Chinese weather is ideal. Of course, the warmest areas in winter are to be found in the South and Southwest, such as Sichuan, Banna in Yunnan, and Hainan Island. In summer the coolest spots are in the far northeast. 

China has a climate dominated by dry and wet monsoons, which make clear temperature differences in winter and summer. In winter, northern winds coming from high latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from sea areas at lower latitude are warm and moist. Besides, climates differ from region to region because of the country's extensive territory and complex topography. In the south of the Nanling Mountains, rains are plenty and the temperature is high all year round. In the Yangtze and Huaihe river valleys in the central part of China, there are four distinctive seasons. In northeast China, summer is short but there is much sunshine, while winter is long and cold. Precipitation is limited in northwest China where it is cold in winter and hot in summer. In southwest China of low latitudes, the land is elevated high, and has characteristically vertical seasonal zones. 

There's not really an 'ideal' time to visit the country, so use the following information as a rough guide to avoid temperature extremes. 

Heath requirements
Any trip which involves a change of climate and diet can lead to difficulty in physical adjustment. One should take along some usual medicines, such as those for colds, diarrhea and constipation, though they are available at drugstore. Those who take special medicine on a regular basis should be sure to carry an adequate supply with them. It is advisable to avoid unboiled water and raw or under-cooked meat. Medical treatment in China is usually very inexpensive. 

International flights
Air China operates twice-weekly direct service from New York, and Los Angeles, and three times weekly from San Francisco to Shanghai and Beijing. China Eastern Airlines operates daily service to Shanghai and Beijing from Los Angeles, and twice-weekly service from San Francisco. China Southern operates service between Los Angeles and Guangzhou three times a week. Northwest Airlines operates daily service between Detroit and Beijing, and United Airlines offers frequent flights to Hong Kong from Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 

Other international carriers connect the US with China, operating primarily through Hong Kong (plus an additional stop at their gateway). Or, if you are traveling from another Asian destination, many of these international carriers have convenient connections via Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi, Manila, Rangoon, Sydney, Melbourne, and Moscow, plus dozens of other points from Europe and the Middle East. Check with your travel agent when planning your trip, since airlines tailor their service to meet seasonal demands. 

Travelers from Hong Kong may reach Guangzhou (Canton) by first-class rail service in less than two hours. The Trans-Siberian Railway connects China to Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, North Korea, and Vietnam, as well as Eastern and Western Europe (about a 6-day trip). 

For visitors who wish to travel by sea, there are cruise lines operating seasonal 1st class service that enter China via ports of Hong Kong or Shanghai from other Asian port cities. Check with your travel agent for schedules and itineraries. 

In China, both Putonghua (Beijing Mandarin dialect) and English are the languages of business. So, if the foreign tourists travel to China for business purpose, they can usually communicate with the Chinese merchants in simple English. However, Putonghua is an official language of China. Most of the Chinese merely speak Putonghua with the outsiders. So, if the foreign tourists want to visit China but cannot speak Putonghua, they will find inconvenient on their tours. Therefore, it is essential and useful for the foreign tourists to learn some simple Putonghua when they decide to visit China. 

Public holidays
Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) starts on the first day of the old lunar calendar, which usually falls in February. 

The Lantern Festival isn't a public holiday, but it's big and it's colourful. It falls on the 15th day of the 1st moon (around mid-Feb to mid-March) and marks the end of the new-year celebrations. The famous lion dances occur throughout this period. 

Ching Ming (or Tomb Sweep Day) is in April, and sees Chinese families spend the day tending the graves of departed loved ones. 

Hong Kong hosts one of the liveliest annual Chinese celebrations - the Dragon Boat Festival. Usually held in June, the festival honours the poet Wut Yuan and features races between teams in long ornate canoes. 

Special prayers are held at Buddhist and Taoist temples on full-moon and sliver-moon days. Temple and moon-based festivities include: 

* Guanyin's Birthday : late March to late April

* Mazu's Birthday : May or June

* Water-Splashing Festival : 13-15 April 

* Ghost Month : late August to late September

* Mid-Autumn Moon Festival : October

* Birthday of Confucius : 28 September

Airport tax
When you depart China there is a 90 yuan ($11) departure tax (payable only in Chinese currency). If traveling with a tour, departure taxes are usually included; but if you are traveling as a FIT (Foreign Independent Traveler), don't forget to save enough yuan. Departure tax on all domestic flights is 50 yuan ($6), payable at a special airport tax desk before check-in.

Business hours 
GMT/UTC plus eight hours (the whole of China is set to Beijing time).

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