Health and vaccinations
You should seek medical advice before travelling to China to ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. Although not compulsory, typhoid, Hepatitis A, tetanus and polio vaccinations are recommended. You don’t need anti-malaria medication unless travelling to the tropical regions of Yunnan Province and Hainan Island. Please consult your GP for further advice. We would recommend that you carry a vaccination certificate while in China.
If you have a medical condition which requires taking medication on a daily basis we would recommend that you carry a doctor’s note stating the condition, drug name and dosage.
If you are travelling in summer, the pollution in China can be worse than at home, and asthma sufferers and clients with breathing conditions should prepare for this with appropriate medication.
For further information on vaccination requirements and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre and NHS Scotland’s Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
China Holidays recommends that you bring your own prescribed medication as well as other non-prescribed such as painkillers, stomach settlers, plasters, cold remedies, and throat lozenges. If you are travelling between April and September we would recommend that you take mosquito repellent especially if you are going on a Yangtze Cruise.
Before applying for a Chinese Visa please ensure you have at least one completely empty page in your passport and that it is valid for at least six months after the date you are due to leave China.
British passport holders visiting Hong Kong for less than six months do not require a Hong Kong visa.
Transit passengers do not require a visa.
Passengers visiting Tibet are required to have a permit in addition to a Chinese Visa. This can be obtained through China Holidays.
The Chinese currency is called Renminbi but is more commonly known as Yuan, and it’s divided into Jiao and Fen. At the time of writing (March 2011) the exchange rate is RMB10=£1. Chinese currency can be purchased in the UK but the exchange rate given is not as good as in China, so we recommend that you take a small amount of RMB to China and the rest in Sterling cash. The notes you carry to China must be in good condition no writing or other marks on them as they may be refused. Scottish banknotes are not accepted and traveller’s cheques are becoming less common.
Many hotels in China offer the same exchange rate as banks and do not charge any commission.
If you are left with extra Yuan at the end of your holiday, you can change up to half of it back into sterling in mainland China, and also in some banks in Hong Kong. China Holidays’ advice therefore is to spend as much of your Chinese currency as you can whilst you are still in China.
We are often asked how much money to take on holiday to China. Whilst this question is of the length of a piece of string variety, we would say that the main expenditure on tour would be on meals. As a general rule we tend to include most meals on China Holidays’ tours, but if meals are not included we would suggest that £10 is a guideline price for a good dinner in a decent restaurant, although obviously some fancy hotels may charge more and street stalls will charge much less.
Most credit cards (Mastercard, American Express, Visa and Diners) are accepted in hotels and cruise ships used on China Holidays’ tours. Cash machines are available in major cities in China to withdraw local currency, whilst in smaller cities you can exchange money in your hotel but some of the hotels may charge you 4-5% commission.
China Holidays recommend you take a multi-adaptor if you are planning to take a video or digital camera, electric shaver, hairdryer, travel iron etc. The voltage in China is 220 volts but there are many different types of sockets, some similar to those in the UK, others with two or three thin prongs.
China is vast county three times the size of Europe and travelling around means going through different climates. The best time to travel to China is spring (April, May) or autumn (September, October). If you decide to travel during these periods try to avoid any National Holidays which are the first week of May and the first week of October.
Winters (from November to March) in China tend to be cold and crispy, but which prove an excellent opportunity to have sights for yourselves as fewer people travel during this period. Also the winter is the best time to take very good shots with clear skies. Summers (from June to August) are hot and humid especially in big cities and recommended clothing would include T- shirts, short-sleeved shirts, comfortable walking shoes (sandals, trainers) sunglasses and a sun cream with a high UF factor. Other tour companies recommend you pack waterproof jackets and umbrellas but considering that you can buy them in China for around £1 there is no need to add extra weight to your luggage.
If you are booked on a Yangtze Cruise we would recommended a jumper or light coat during spring or autumn , and warmer clothes in winter of course.
The dress code on our group tours is relaxed. On cruises as there are Captain’s welcome and farewell dinners passengers tend to dress up, with a shirt and tie for gentlemen.
China Holidays (UK) Ltd. featured hotels are carefully hand-picked and checked by our team on regular visits to China. The star rating specified in our brochure is the official rating by the China National Tourist Administration. All hotels featured include private en-suite facilities. It’s a common international practice to vacate hotel rooms by noon and check-in is allowed after this time. Ultimately we have no direct control over the daily management of the hotels and in the event that we have to change a hotel, every effort will be made to find a substitute hotel of the same standard. We must stress that the facilities of some hotels in more remote regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang, parts of Yunnan Province for example, can be basic.
China Holidays (UK) Ltd. provides full board on group tours to China. For breakfast you will have a normal buffet-style breakfast at the hotel and a Chinese meal for lunch and dinner with one complimentary soft drink (or beer) per meal. Please be aware that Chinese food tastes different to Chinese food taste here in UK, with the accent being on authentic regional specialties: food can be spicier, soup could be served last instead of first like in Western Europe and sometimes rice is not included but instead you will get very tasty noodles.
Seating is socialable around large circular tables, with dishes served on small plates which are passed around.
If you are vegetarian please let us know at the time of booking. We will request vegetarian meals for you but please be aware that such food in China can be repetitive and bland.
Tipping is the norm in China but it is discretionary. In order to avoid constant individual tipping and to make the tour run smoothly, your China Holidays Tour Manager will collect a kitty of tips from all passengers at the beginning of the tour for distribution to local guides, drivers on your behalf as the tour progresses, and we suggest a sum of around £3 – £4 per passenger per day.
On board Victoria Cruises there is service charge of RMB150 per person for short cruises up to 5 days, and RMB300 per person for 7 days and longer.
Areas of high altitude include Lhasa at 3650m, Jade Snow Mountain in Lijiang at 4247m and Zhongdian at 3100m. China Holidays takes a great care of clients and we take into account the effect of high altitude on our tours, adding extra time for acclimatisation. However you may still experience dizziness, headache or shortness of breath. We would advise you to take plenty of water and rest to reduce symptoms. The Chinese remedy for high altitude sickness is ginger and we would suggest you take some ginger biscuits.
If you have a medical condition and which may be aggravated by travel to high altitude, we suggest you talk to your GP before booking a holiday.
Most international airlines have strict restrictions on the size and weight of luggage. Please see table below. Baggage allowances within China are restricted to 20kg and please take this weight as your guideline.
Extra luggage is subject to surcharge and China Holidays recommends clients travel light in order to have enough space for any shopping on your travels.
X-rays machines in mainland China are film safe. The handling of luggage however can be rough so please bring a sturdy case with a lock.
China Holidays highly recommends not drinking tap water in China. Bottled water is provided in your hotel but be aware whilst bottled water placed in the bathroom is free, if placed elsewhere in your room it will be charged for.
If you are buying bottled water outside of the hotel, please make sure the cap and seal are unbroken as it may happen that the bottle has been refilled with tap water.
Tea and coffee
In most hotels Chinese tea and coffee are provided but if you wish to have your own brand please bring it with you. Most hotels featured on a China Holidays’ tour provide kettles in the room but if not, you can always ask for one at reception.
A hairdryer is usually provided in most hotels and on the Yangtze cruises, and if not, ask at reception, but they are not always available in remoter areas of China.
Use of swimming pools, sauna, massage
Most of the hotels which have a pool do not charge guests for using it, but ladies should wear a one-piece bathing suit rather than a bikini. In some pools all guests must wear a swimming cap, available at reception for RMB 20-30.
Most of the hotels have a steam bath, sauna and massage rooms which sometimes can be sublet, in which case the hotel has no responsibility over the service provided. We usually recommend guests check this before use. Most hotels charge for the use of these facilities.
UK mobile phones generally find a good signal throughout China except sometimes on the Yangtze River, or in high altitude areas.
You can use hotel phones but service charges are extremely high. You can use public phones a lot cheaper by buying a telephone card from the hotel reception, airports and train stations, but ask your Tour Manager for help as there are many different types of phone card, some of which only work in certain cities.
Please note that cine cameras larger then 8mm are not allowed in mainland China and Mongolia without special authorisation. If you are carrying camera using film, film for prints and film can be easily obtained in larger cities, hotels and on boats on the Yangtze River but please note that prices are high so we would advise you to take a sufficient amount from home in order not to miss the excellent photographic opportunities coming your way. Photographing some of the sights, once not permitted, is now allowed but not with a flash or the use of tripod.
Toilet facilities outside of the hotels, restaurants and main sightseeing areas are of a very poor standard and of the hole in the ground variety, usually without toilet paper although they may impose a charge for using them even so.
Compared to other travel companies in the UK, China Holidays limits visits to one government shop per city. Apart from the government shops there are plenty of markets where you are expected to bargain. If you decide to bargain please bear in mind the following:
-check the currency in which goods are quoted. Vendors deal with clients from all around the world and sometimes they give the price in the currency of the country they think you are from
-never bargain for something you don’t want to buy
-if the price offered by the vendor is not acceptable offer what you think you should pay for it
On some occasions hawkers will follow you around in order to sell you post cards, books and hand made carvings. If you are not interested in buying such items please do not get into conversation and ignore their advances.
TRANSPORT IN CHINA
Travelling by train
There are two classes of train travel: standard and first class, and first class is recommended for train journeys during the day for example Beijing – Datong, Beijing – Chengde, Shanghai – Hangzhou etc…
For overnight journeys we recommend a soft sleeper in a 4-berth compartment. If you wish to travel first class on an overnight train then we would book an entire 4-berth compartment for you. On some trains (Beijing – Lhasa) there are hard sleeper compartments with six berths in each. We don’t tend to use this service for our clients but sometimes it’s very difficult to confirm a soft sleeper during National Holidays or religious festivals. In that case we tend to offer alternative means of transport.
There is a guard in each carriage who can provide you with free hot water, and clean sheets and blankets are provided on overnight trains. There are toilets in each carriage but they are not kept up to Western standards. You should keep your cabin door locked whenever you are not in it.
On the high speed trains each passenger is allowed to carry one piece of luggage with them. The size is 60cm x 35cm x 35cm and weight allowance is 20kg.
Travelling by plane
Most domestic flights are booked with China Holidays in the UK. We provide you with e-tickets and flight itinerary when sending your final documents. If we are not able to book domestic flights here in the UK then our office in Beijing will do it for us and provide you with the relevant flight information once you are in China.
Most Chinese airlines fly with modern aircraft with an average age of less than 10 years. The in-flight service is the same as in Europe i.e. a small snack and drink for flights less than 3 hours. For flights longer than 5 hours a hot Chinese meal is provided. Alcohol and smoking is not allowed on planes in China. Please be aware that crews on domestic flights speak only limited English so please try to be patient when communicating with them.
If you wish to upgrade your domestic flights within China to First or Business Class please be aware that some routes do not provide this.
Taxis are easy to use in China and are a cheap and reliable way of getting around in big cities. Most taxis are metered but not all drivers speak English. China Holidays recommends you to have the name of your hotel or destination written down in Chinese – most hotels do have these freely available at reception.
Please avoid unlicensed taxis, especially at airports, as the fare could be much higher than anticipated.
Tube, Underground or Metro in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong
This form of transport is easy to use and since the Beijing Olympics the standard of service is excellent. Everyone speaks English and all the maps are clearly displayed in English and Chinese. The flat fee system is implemented on the existing five Beijing subway lines. You can use a YIKTONG card which is similar to the Oyster card in London or a Public Transportation card in Shanghai or Octopus Card in Hong Kong.
China Holidays uses the 5-star Victoria Cruises and Century Cruises companies which are used to Western guests and provide a high standard of service. The food is prepared to Western standards and Cruise Managers are from the West. Please note a service charge is applied, payable locally on the cruise.
Hiring a car
We don’t recommend hiring a car whilst in China. Driving is on the right side of the road as in Europe and road signs are not in English except in and around big cities. Traffic jams are horrendous and Chinese drivers not very patient.
We don’t recommend hiring a bicycle whilst in China for the safety reasons. Cycling on the roads can be dangerous.
– The Empty Throne by Tony Scotland
Story of the last Emperor, Pu Yi, through the eyes of a British scholar
– Frontiers of Heaven by Stanley Stuart
Biblical book about the old Silk Road
– The River at the Centre of the World by Simon Winchester
All about the Yangtze, the lives, history and culture of the people lIving on the banks of the river
– Culture Shock! China
Guide to Chinese customs
– Soul Mountain by the 2000 Nobel Prize-winning Chinese author Gao Xingjian
The novel is a product of the author’s journey in rural areas of China, inspired by a false diagnosis of fatal lung cancer.
– The Exploration of Yunnan by Jim Goodman.
The book covers most of the regions and relevant aspects of the ethnic groups of Yunnan and gives useful and comprehensive information to travellers.
– Sailing Through China by Paul Theroux
– Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux
Theroux spent a year exploring China by train, and his thoughts about what has and has not changed in the country, as gathered in hundreds of conversations with Chinese citizens, is a large part of the book.
– Lost Horizon by James Hilton.
This novel is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.
– China by Yann Layma.
Photography book about China.