Here, I give a general overview of what travel in China is like. If you have any questions that I haven’t answered, leave me a comment and I’ll add it in here.
Q: When is the best time to visit China?
A: The best time to see China is either in the spring (March-early June) or the fall (September-November). Winters in China are incredibly cold in most regions and summers are incredibly hot and humid. Summer is also prime travel time for China locals. Think about it, 1.2 billion people on the move to visit sites like the Forbidden City (the horror). So unless you’re going to the Harbin Ice Festival in January, or for some masochistic reason enjoy feeling your shirt stick to you as you fight through crowds of other sticky people, don’t travel in winter or summer.
Travelling during the first week of October and during the Lunar New Year should also be avoided, as those are China’s “Golden Weeks.” Workers get the entire week off to travel home or around the country. Again, that’s 1.2 billion people on the move.
Q: What is the flying time to China?
A: Depends on where you are. From Los Angeles, a nonstop flight is around 13 hours, give or take a half hour depending on winds. A return trip is 11-12 hours.
Q: Is a visa required for China travel?
A: Yes. A visa to China for a US citizen is $140 and is good for one year and multiple entries. Each stay, unless you specify in the application, is 30 days. Travel to Tibet requires a special permit that you would also have to apply for. We offer visa services (with an additional service charge of $20), so you don’t have to drive your application down to your local Chinese consulate (they don’t accept mailed applications).
Q: Do I need any vaccinations for China? How healthy do I need to be?
A: We recommend that you ask your health care professionals if you need to be vaccinated. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has health information about travel to China. Make sure to bring all your required medications with you.
The Yunnan and Tibet provinces, as well as some destinations on the Silk Road are located at extremely high altitudes. If you have high blood pressure, respiratory illnesses, or heart problems, we ask that you ask your health professional if you are able to travel to these areas.
Q: What is the voltage in China?
A: China’s voltage is 220V, as opposed to the USA’s 110V. Most electronic chargers have a built in adapter to handle different voltages. Check the voltages on your chargers before plugging them in. We don’t want any gadgets shorting out now.
Outlets in China usually have two kinds of plugs. Their version of the 3 pronged plug has the top two prongs bent at an angle. In most hotels, there is a two pronged plug right about the 3 pronged plug. But don’t get too excited, the two prongs are of equal length, so if your US plug has one prong longer than the other, then it still won’t fit.
I’d recommend bringing an adapter. You can find these at your local Brookstone or travel store. Many airports carry them too.
Q: How is the food in China (or: will I end up with food poisoning?)
A: All the restaurants that we use on our tours have been inspected for cleanliness and are up to standards. We recommend that you don’t eat street food for the first few days in China, as they may not be up to US health standards. Once you feel that your stomach has acclimated to food in China, you can try out local street foods if you wish. But no one can tell you what food will make you sick, so please use your own judgement when eating on your own or from stalls.
If you have special dietary needs, make sure to let the server know. Have it written out in Chinese if you don’t speak the language. If your with a guide, have the guide tell the kitchen about your special diet. Or else you’re in for a big surprise.
As for water, we recommend you only drink bottled water. The hotels on our tours provide each room with 2 bottles of water free of charge. DO NOT drink directly from the tap.
Q: Is tipping required?
A: Tipping is not required in restaurants. Most hotels expect tipping for luggage and cleaning services. We recommend tipping USD$1 per person, but it is up to your discretion. Tour guides, tour leaders, and tour bus drivers do live off their tips, and we recommend that you tip them for their services. If you travel with one of our tours, we provide a tipping guideline in the information packet that we send you. Again, tipping is not mandatory but it is a good way of showing your appreciation.
Q: How far is it from Beijing to Shanghai?
A: A flight from Beijing to Shanghai is around 90 minutes, depending on wind conditions. A train or bus ride would be an overnight trip. If you’re thinking about taking the train, purchase a first class ticket. They are not very expensive and much more comfortable than the lower class tickets. As for busing, I’d recommend you don’t. Overnight bus trips in China are very uncomfortable (and smelly).
Q: Are the people in China friendly? Do they speak English?
A: Like every country in the world, there are good Chinese people and bad Chinese people. At major tourist sites, there might be scammers looking to take your money or incredibly persistent hawkers trying to sell you wares. Ignoring them usually works, but you can also adamantly say 不要！(bu yao, which means “I don’t want it!”). Be wary of anyone approaching you and asking to practice their English with you at a teahouse or coffee bar, as this is usually a scam.
English is rare in China, although in cities like Beijing and Shanghai you will likely find a young person who knows some rudimentary English. Most street signs have their names in Chinese and pinyin, the Romanized pronunciation of Chinese words. Cab drivers will more often than not not speak English, so make sure to print out your destination in Chinese. Subways in Shanghai and Beijing are bilingual, with stops written in English and Chinese. But subway updates are usually written only in Chinese.
Also, if you want to avoid arguments in China, leave your political opinions at home. You’re on vacation, enjoy the culture and not the politics.
So there you have it, the frequently asked questions that I can think of. If you have any others, don’t be shy. Comment and I’ll add it to the list.