China General Information
The country has been officially atheist since the beginning of communist rule, but old religious practices have always abounded and are now being recognised, albeit controlled, by the government. The main religious philosophies are Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Both ancestor worship and spirit worship are also common. There are also an estimated 16 million Muslims and 7 million Christians in China.
Since 1949 the Chinese Government has been trying to modify the Chinese language, which, historically, comprises more than a dozen major spoken dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible. The official spoken language of the Chinese is generally referred to as Mandarin (known locally at ‘Putonghua’) and is originally the dialect of northern China. Mandarin is now spoken by virtually every Chinese person throughout the country. Major efforts have also been made to modify the written language, using simplified characters, and a type of shorthand. In 1958 the Chinese officially adopted a system of writing their language using the Roman alphabet, known as pinyin. English is not spoken widely in the provinces and little is spoken even in the major cities.
Area (sq. km):
9,596,960 square meters
GMT +8 hours
When To Travel
China’s climate is not dissimilar to that of the continental United States and varies from region to region. The climate southeastward of the Yangtze-Huang Ho divide is quite distinctive from the rest of China, generally warmer and wetter. Average annual precipitation generally exceeds 750 mm in the south, more near the coast, and decreases northward from the divide. NORTHERN CHINA: In winter (Dec – Mar), cold dry winds blow out of the high-pressure system of central Siberia, bringing low temperatures to all regions north of the Yangtze River and drought to many parts of the country. Temperatures in Beijing usually range from about 4°C to minus 10°C, rarely rising above 0°C. In contrast, the Summer (June – August) is usually hot with average temperatures around 24°C, often reaching much higher temperatures in July and August. Most of China’s annual rainfall occurs in summer, so despite the heat, wet days can be expected during this period. You should take appropriate wet-weather gear regardless of the time you travel. In general, there is less rain in spring and autumn, and the warmer months to travel are from April to October EASTERN CHINA: Winter is very cold, with very little precipitation. February to April is an excellent time of year, with low rainfall. May to August is summer, and it is very hot, generally over 30 degrees Celsius. July and August are also quire rainy. September to November is very pleasant, with mild temperatures and clear skies. SOUTHERN CHINA: The southern half of the country has a sub-tropical climate, with long, hot and humid summers. Daytime temperatures in the Yangtze basin average 26°C and it can be very hot between April and October. Average winter temperatures are around 4°C along the Yangtze River. January and February is often cold and damp. SOUTH WESTERN CHINA: Yunnan province enjoys relatively mild temperatures all year; in fact, Yunnan means ‘south of the clouds’ and its capital, Kunming, means ‘Spring City’. Mid-November until early February can be quite cold - in fact Tiger Leaping Gorge and much of Northern Yunnan are very cold in December (but still OK for hardy types). February until May is very pleasant, mild temperatures and a bit of drizzle. May until June is hot. July until October is rainy, but not unpleasant.
Useful Travel Facts
Beijing: Beijing Capital International airport is located north-east of Beijing, 25 km from the city centre. One of the biggest airports in the world, it is relatively easy to navigate and many signs are written in English. Most international flights arrive at Terminal 3. For more information about Beijing Capital Airport, please go to http://en.bcia.com.cn/
Shanghai: There are 2 airports in Shanghai - Hongqiao Airport and Pudong Airport. Most international flights now are at Pudong International airport. It is relatively easy to navigate and many signs are written in English.
All airports in China have public transport options to get to the city centre. Do not use any driver that approaches you at an airport. Only use metered taxis from the official taxi queues.
The international dialling code for China is +86. To make local or international calls we recommend purchasing a phone card or local SIM. Your tour leader can advise you and help you with this.
The electricity supply in China is rated at 220 volts, and appliances requiring 240 volts will work normally. If you bring electrical appliances you should also bring an international adaptor. Plug design varies, depending where you are; however, two flat pins (USA style) or three-pronged angled pins (Australian style) are fairly common.
The Chinese have a reputation for eating just about anything that moves. The Cantonese have been known to claim that ‘if it has four legs, and it’s not a table, we’ll eat it’. Generally speaking, you are unlikely to encounter the more ‘exotic’ food items, but will have ample opportunity to enjoy a wide range of regional cuisine. Sichuan food is the hottest, with dishes often flavoured with peanuts, chilli and peppercorns. Shanghainese food is generally sweeter than most forms of Chinese food. In the south, the dominant cuisine is Cantonese, which includes a lot of steamed and stir-fried dishes. Cantonese cuisine has been widely exported, and, if you have enjoyed Chinese food in your home country, it is likely to be based on the Cantonese style. When eating in China, you should expect to eat banquets, use chopsticks & split the bill. China does not cater very well for individual ordering, unless you are ordering what the locals are eating. Western food is available some places, however can be of a standard that is quite different to home and usually takes a long time to get served. It’s best to carry snacks, for unexpected delays on transport, etc, or in case the local food isn’t to your liking. In some areas western breakfasts can be difficult to find. It is easy to get steam buns, fried bread sticks, noodles, etc so if this is not your thing, stock up on yoghurt, fruit, bread, etc. . If you have an allergy to a particular food, your leader can write for you“ I am allergic to…………” so you can show it to restaurant staff when eating out.If you can’t survive without your caffeine, carry your own, as China is essentially a tea drinking nation, there are a few Starbucks around, but coffee can be expensive and often doesn’t taste that great.
China’s transport varies in style and standard. Where it is convenient, we use chartered buses. In some areas, public buses are the best option as they are safer and more comfortable than the private buses and drivers are more familiar with the roads. The driving in Chian can take some getting used to and even crossing the road can be a testing experience. Not much can be done about this, just tag onto a group of locals and walk. Do not run or stop suddenly as drivers can’t judge this very well, as they are used to people walking right out in front of them. We use taxis for many of our tours as in most cities this is the most convenient form of transport as taxis do not have as many restrictions as buses. Private buses tend to be limited as to where they can park, which roads they can use and during which hours they can travel. On Geckos trips we use Hard Sleeper Trains, which are not as bad as they sound, in fact they're quite comfortable. The hard sleeper carriage is an open carriage, divided into compartments of 6, with three tiered bunk beds. Linen is provided, however some people prefer to use their own sleep sheet. Your luggage goes with you, however it is stored out of the way, so it is best to have necessities such as toilet paper, toiletries, books, etc in a day bag for easy access. Boiling water is available so bring a mug for tea or coffee. You can buy snacks off vendors or eat a meal in the dining car, however standards vary and choice can be limited, so some people prefer to take their own supplies. Be warned that toilets on trains are of the squat variety, are locked when the train is stationary and can have a less than pleasant odour at times. Trains on busier lines are much newer with air conditioning, clean dining cars & no smoking regulations that are strictly adhered to, while other trains are much older, less comfortable and people may smoke between the compartments. In the past couple of years in China trains have improved dramatically, so generally these journeys are a comfortable & fun experience and a great way to get to know the locals.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany: Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance
MAINLAND CHINA & HONG KONG:
Most nationalities require a visa for mainland China. You must obtain your Chinese visa in advance. It is not possible to get a visa on arrival and Chinese visas can be difficult to obtain outside your country of residence. You may be able to apply for your visa in Hong Kong If you have time here before your trip departs. You will need a Single Entry Tourist for your trip valid for 30 days. Hong Kong is not considered part of mainland China for immigration purposes and most nationalities do not require a visa. Please check with an embassy for specific requirements.
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
Please list the destinations you will visit in China in chronological order on your application form. Do not mention Tibet anywhere on your application form. While these areas are not off limits to travellers, they are considered politically sensitive, so including these on your visa application could lead to significant delays or your visa being denied.
Name of Host/Inviting Organisation:
Intrepid Travel Beijing Co. Ltd.
606 InterChina Commercial Building
33 Dengshikou Street
+86 10 6406 7328
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
* Hotel List - this will be sent to you by your booking agent. If you do not receive this please email us with your booking number and trip details. Please tick the hotels in all destinations that your trip visits.
* Official invitation from licensed Chinese tourism company - this will be provided together with the Hotel List to all travellers regardless of whether it is required by the embassy or not.
* Itinerary – please print off a copy of your specific trip itinerary from our website and include it with your application, listing the dates you will visit each destination.
* Photocopy of your passport.
* Passport size photo (up to 4 may be required).
* Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements.
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR TRAIN TICKET BOOKINGS
We require you to send the following at the time of booking, or no later than 60 days prior to travel:
Clear, colour copy of the personal details page of your passport
Please make sure that this copy is for the passport that you will be travelling on. If you have to renew your passport after booking please notify us as soon as you have a new passport number and bring your old passport with you on your trip as well.
Useful Words & Phrases
Mandarin1: yi (yee)
10: shi (shir)
100: yi bai (yee-bai)
1000: yi qian (yee-chen)
2: er (er)
20: er shi (er-shir)
3: san (sarn)
4: si (szir)
5: wu (woo)
6: liu (leeo)
7: qi (chee)
8: ba (bar)
9: jiu (jee-o)
goodbye: zaijian (dz I jian)
hello: ni hao (knee how)
how are you?: ni hao ma? (knee how ma)
How much?: Duoshao qian? (dwar shao chen)
no (I don’t have): mei you (may yo)
no (not so): no (not so)
thank you: xie xie (share share)
Where is_____?: _____zai nali? (dz I nar-li)
yes: you (yo)
There are a number of books which make interesting reading and provide insight in the history, politics and culture of the country. Suggestions are: Wild Swans-Jung Chang The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices-Xinran Riding the Iron Rooster-Paul Theroux From Heaven Lake-Vikram Seth One’s Company-Peter Fleming Red China Blues-Jan Wong Mr China’s Son: A Villager’s Life-He Liuyi China, Renaissance of the Middle Kingdom-Odyssey Guide China-Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrase Book-Lonely Planet. The following are recommended for travellers on the Silk Road: The Great Game-Peter Hopkirk Foreign Devils on the Silk Road-Peter Hopkirk.