China keeps on appearing on the travel wish lists of people the world over, and a single visit to China is never enough. Here’s a brief guide to help you plan your trip to the most populated country in the world.
I drift like a cloud,
Across these venerable eastern lands,
A journey of unfathomable distances,
An endless scroll of experiences…
Lady Zhejiang here we must part,
For the next province awaits my embrace.
― Tom Carter, China: Portrait of a People
Sharing its terrestrial borders with as many as 14 countries, and coastal boundaries with five, the East Asian sovereign state of China, officially the Republic of China, is the world’s second-largest country by land area, and also the most populated one. For people from across the world, China seems a familiar country, not just because it keeps appearing in the news every now and then. But more importantly, because there is a huge Chinese diaspora overseas. Chinese culture and traditions have penetrated and assimilated into different cultures around the world, and hence, it may not seem an unknown land, unless you decide to actually visit it. It is only then that you realize that you have, in fact, known nothing about China.
If you thought China was outwardly urban and very similar, culturally, to America or some European countries, you will find that it is indeed all that you thought, and yet, nothing of it. It is urban yet rural, conservative yet progressive, and modern yet old-fashioned, and it is these incredible diversities which make China not only a mystical land in its own right, but also an eye-opener for the rest of the world.
Planning a Chinese Vacation
From slick skyscrapers to ancient palace complexes, from the Great Wall to the famous Terracotta Warriors, from dragon dances to kung fu, and from out-of-this-world flavors to breathtaking landscapes and scenery, China has it all. And, if you still want more, be rest assured that you would surely have it. If China is on your travel wish list, this write-up will help you plan your trip, but if it’s not, we bet that this article will surely strike a chord.
Best Time to Visit
Note: If you plan to travel during summer, book your flights and accommodations well in advance, in order to grab the best deals. It is needless to say that accommodation prices are sky-high during the peak season, and getting last-minute bookings can be extremely difficult.
Warning: Do not underestimate the Chinese winter; if you’re traveling to high-altitude areas, the temperature can plummet well below freezing.
► No doubt that you would get some of the most entertaining and colorful glimpses of China on these days, but the accommodation prices are at their peak, public transport is overcrowded, and it is often difficult to acquire train tickets.
Tip: Be flexible with your travel dates, and ensure, as far as possible, that you are not in China on one of these days (unless that is the reason of your visit). This way, you will be able to avoid heavy crowds and save a substantial expenses on travel and accommodation.
Planning the Itinerary
► It is very important that you research well before planning your itinerary, especially if you are traveling on your own. However, if you are going through a tour operator, he/she will design an appropriate and convenient itinerary for you.
Warning: Please check your tour operator’s reputation and past record, in order to ensure a hassle-free trip. Do not opt for a tour operator who asks you to make all payments in advance and/or to sign blank forms.
Travel Documents and Visas
Note: Visitors wanting to enter Hong Kong from China are required to have a multiple-entry visa, if they want to re-enter China. However, if they don’t have one, they will have to get a new visa for Mainland China from Hong Kong.
► Again, those wanting to re-enter Mainland China from Macau require a multiple-entry visa to be able to do so.
Tip: Your Chinese visa application form will ask you the details of your itinerary. Note that if you provide an in-depth point-to-point itinerary (some places such as the Tibet Autonomous Region are politically very sensitive), your visa processing may get complicated. So, as far as possible, try to list only standard tourist destinations like Shanghai, Beijing, etc., as this list is not binding in any manner. You can then visit other unlisted places once you get there, and also acquire special permits while you are there, in case they are required for visiting certain locations.
The Overall Budget
Note: Macau is cheaper than Hong Kong, but prices do shoot up significantly on weekends.
Tip: Befriend a local if possible, and take him/her along everywhere you go. This way you can escape the numerous tourist traps on the streets of China.
► While food is reasonably priced throughout China, what is even better is that restaurants do not ask for or accept tips. However, these days, several mid-range and high-end restaurants do ask for a separate service charge. But this trend is not seen in smaller, cheaper eateries.
► Another option to travel around the cities and even long distances are private taxis which, though costlier than buses, are still affordable. Like restaurants, even taxi drivers in China do not accept tips.
Warning: While hitchhiking is not safe in China, it remains your only option if you want to get to some of the remote and isolated outposts, which have extremely poor public transport. If you decide to hitchhike (it is not recommended), please ensure that you are not alone, and keep someone posted as to where you are going, in order to ensure safety.
Other Important Tips
► While China may lack familiar culinary flavors, do not hesitate to try out authentic Chinese food. After all, it is an inevitable part of their culture. Do not avoid eating street food; it will provide an opportunity to sample some of the most authentic local flavors. Moreover, try eating with chopsticks even if you don’t know how to. It’s absolute fun, and you cannot miss it while in China!
So, pack your bags, explore China to the fullest, venture into the unknown, and try to unravel the mysteries of one of the most mesmerizing lands on the planet. You will surely want to return for more!