CHINA TRAVEL GUIDE CONTENTS
China At a Glance
China Quick Information
Currency: Renminbi or Yuan (CNY)
Electricity Socket: China uses 220V/50Hz and has two types of plug sockets that are commonly used. The most commonly used one is the two flat prongs and is the same type used in North and Central America as well as in Japan. Some places also have the Euro plug which is made up of two round prongs. To avoid the hassle of having to buy new adapters for everywhere you go, we recommend picking up a Universal Travel Adaptor before you leave.
Visa: If you wish to visit China (or even pass through), you will have to apply for a tourist or a transit visa beforehand. This is usually done in any Chinese embassy or consulate, showing documents such as proof of a flight out, hotel or hostel reservations, as well as bank statements. The requirements vary depending on where you will be applying from so do check beforehand. If you’re traveling as a group or booking through a travel agency, you can also process your tourist visa through them.
It usually takes 4 days to process and if you want them to rush it (same-day processing, there is an extra $30 fee.)
Safety: Generally speaking, China is a pretty safe country to travel around, with the exception of petty crime such as pickpocketing and tourist scams. But, as always, as long as you’re wary of your surroundings and you’re cautious, you’ll be fine. A few scams to avoid are the tea scam where you will be invited to a special tea drinking ceremony as well as taxi scams where they quote you a price instead of using the meter. Always check your bill when it comes to restaurants to double check that nothing has been added on. At the same time, always ask how much things are as some store owners usually leave items unmarked for this very reason.
Based on our years of experience of traveling all over the world, we would never leave home without travel insurance. At the risk of sounding like your parents, make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or Safety Wing, depending on the type of traveler you are.
Language: There are at least 8 different linguistic groups in China and over 100 dialects, however, the most common languages spoken are Mandarin and Cantonese. In the main cities, English is widely spoken and is easily understood, however, as soon as you start venturing out, this isn’t always the case. I once traveled to the middle of nowhere near the Central part of China and went on for about 11 days before I ran into anyone who spoke English. Taking public transport is particularly hard so your best bet is to get a dictionary and carry a small notebook with you so you can draw out symbols.
Festivals and Celebrations: While there are a few fun festivals and celebrations in China, the biggest (and most obvious one) has to be Chinese New Year celebrated mid-February (this is based on the Lunar year so check ahead of time). During this time, expect schools and universities to be closed for 2-3 weeks which means that things are busier. Famous attractions have more people, transport and accommodations might be booked out, and things will generally be busier.
Small restaurants or businesses might also be closed during this time as most of them will be traveling home to their families. Generally speaking, I would advice to avoid this period due to the many inconveniences, however, if you must go, the vibe of the place is electric with fireworks and other celebrations going on all evening in the main cities.
If you’re planning on being in China during this period, make sure that you make the necessary bookings at least 2 months in advance. Apart from Chinese New Year, another famous festival in China worth visiting is the Harbin Ice festival showcasing intricately designed ice sculptures from all over the world.
China Trip Planning
Best Time to Go
No matter what you do, China is a popular destination. The fact that it is also one of the most populous countries in the world, this means that no matter when you go, things are always busy. However, with that being said, like most places, they have a low season which runs from November-February. During this time, visitors or even domestic tourism slows down due to the cold brought about by the winter months.
The shoulder season runs from Feb-April as well as Sept-October. I highly recommend visiting during these months as it is neither too hot or too cold. If you’re planning on traveling North, this is also a good time to go as you will most likely get clear skies and cool weather.
Last but not least, High Season starts at May-August and usually brings about a rise in accommodation prices and busy crowds.
Generally speaking, China isn’t the cheapest country to travel around in, compared to other countries in Asia, however, it still is very reasonable compared to Northern American standards. A good daily budget would be anything from $35-50 a day. While I know people who have done it cheaper, if you want to properly travel around and see all the attractions, this budget will be more than enough to cover your expenses:
Budget: $6-8 (dorm) $15-20 (private)
Food (Typical Meal For One)
Street food: $6-10
Mid-range restaurant: $12-15
Gourmet meals: $45
Trains:$8-30 (long distance trains)
Domestic Flights: $100-200
What to Pack for Traveling China
Due to the fact that China has four seasons, there isn’t a one-size fits all packing recommendation as what you need to bring will highly depend on when and where you are going. During the summer months, bring a few quick-dry athletic t-shirts if you’re planning on going on a lot of treks. If you’re heading there during the winter months, make sure you have the right gear for it as it can get bitterly cold in some places.
Best Things to Do in China
See the Great Wall of China
Naturally, this tops the list of the best things to do in China and is one of the main reasons why people all over the world come for a visit. Seeing the Great Wall of China in person is definitely an overwhelming experience, especially when you chance upon it without any crowds.
We wrote a complete Great Wall of China Guide which has information on how to avoid the crowds, which parts are best to visit, and the various tour activities that you can do along the way. From camping on one of the watchtowers and waking up to the sun rising beyond the way to awesome helicopter rides giving you an aerial view of the place.
Here are also a few small group Great Wall of China tours which we recommend doing to help you make the most out of your time there.
Visit the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an
Any visit to China would hardly be complete without paying respects to the impressive warriors, so do take a tour of the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an while you’re there. After being discovered in 1974, this impressive collection featuring a full-blown Terracotta army features thousands of life-sized soldiers, horses, and war ammunition. The town of Xi’an is definitely high up there on our recommendations on places to visit in China.
Marvel at the Rainbow Mountains in the Zhangye Danxia Landform
If you’re looking for something unusual to do, the rainbow mountains in Zhangye Danxia is a must see. The landscape is out of this world with stripped streaks of brown, green, orange, and red. Formed through years of sedimentation and erosion, these mountains are high up on my list of things to do in China.
Pay a Visit to the Impressive Avatar Mountains
Located west of the Hunan Province, this national forest park was made popular due to the hit film Avatar. The Hallelujah Mountains in the movie used the Zhangjiajie mountains and trees as their real-life inspiration for this animated film. This place is truly magical and is a sight to see, especially when you see the tips of these limestone karsts protruding out of the clouds with some of the treetops peeking through.
Wander Around the Main Cities, Beijing and Shanghai
While the modern structures in Beijing are impressive, another highlight and must-do while in the area is a trip to the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace as well as the Temple of Heaven. In Shanghai, amidst the towering metropolitan, you can also find plenty of street food vendors along Huanghe Road as well as Qibao Old Food Street.
Visit the Baby Pandas in Chengdu
The Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base is the main reason why people head to this part of China. The sanctuary allows visitors to interact with the pandas and has an incredible wealth of information on these furry animals. Mating season is during March to May so if you visit during Autumn or Winter, you may very likely chance upon some baby pandas in the nursery.
Walk the Deadliest Trail in Mt. Huashan
If you’re feeling a bit gutsy, you can try walking the World’s Deadliest Plank by Mt. Huashan. Imagine walking across a narrow wooden plank built in the mountains as you attach yourself along a string of ropes. If you’re looking for more adventurous things to do in China, check out our full guide featuring the best trekking rotes, cycling adventures and more.
What to Eat in China
While there are literally hundreds of different dishes to try, here are a few of our recommended must-try dishes! While many people think they know Chinese cuisine, the fact is that the Chinese that we know is very much westernized and is made to cater to a different flavor palette. For those that do venture to China and are willing to try out different dishes, you will be pleasantly surprised with a myriad of relatively healthy and extremely flavorful meals.
Siu Mei (Cantonese Barbecued Meat): If you’re looking for something quick and easy, Siu Mei or barbecued meat is a pretty great option. Often served with a plate of white rice or yellow noodle soup, this is a quick and easy meal.
Peking Duck: Served with a thin pancake-like wrap stuffed with scallions, hoisin sauce, and cucumbers, this whole roasted duck is considered as a delicacy in some parts of China and is a must try for those who enjoy good food.
Char Siu Bao: Hot buns filled with pieces of pork seasoned in a sweet barbecue sauce. Really, enough said.
Ma Po Tofu: This dish is typically made from ground pork mixed in with a spicy tofu sauce with lots of chili oil, vegetarian broth, and pepper. It’s absolutely delicious and is definitely worth ordering.
Xiao Long Bao: If you enjoy dumplings, don’t forget to order some Xiao Long Bao when in China. These soft dumplings are filled with a hot savory soup that will burst in your mouth as soon as you bite in. The flavors are delicate, delicious, and to die for! Trust me on this one.