All About China

 

Area
Approximately 9.6 millon square kilometers

Population
Over 1.35 billion

Capital
Beijing

Language
Mandarin

Time Difference
2 hours behind Australia (EST)

Electricity
220V, plug sizes can be 2 or 3, round or flat pins. 

Currency & Money
Renminbi (RMB), The current exchange rate is approxmately AUD$1=RMB¥6

Public Holiday in China 

1 Jan                            New Year's Day
late Jan/mid-Feb       Chinese New Year or Spring Festival (1Jan of Lunar Calendar)
5 April                           Tomb Sweeping Day or Qingming Festival
1 May                            Labor Day or May Day
May/Jun                        Dragon Boat Festival (5May of Lunar Calendar)
Sep/Oct                        Mid-Autumn Day (15Aug of Lunar Calendar)
1 Oct                             National Day  
 

Visa Requirements 

Australian passport holders will need a visa to visit mainland China. This should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure. Australian citizens do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau.

 

Climate

The climate is extremely diverse, from tropical regions in the south to subarctic in the north. The best time to visit China is generally either spring (March to May) or autumn (September to early November). North China has four distinct seasons with intensely hot summers and bitterly cold winters. Southern China tends to be milder and wetter. 

 

Getting Around

By plane

China is a huge country, so unless you enjoy spending a couple of days on the train or on the road getting from one area to another, you should definitely consider domestic flights. China has many domestic flights connecting all the major cities and tourist destinations. Airlines include the three international carriers: Air China, China Southern, and China Eastern, as well as regional ones including Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.

By train

Train travel is the major mode of long-distance transportation for the Chinese themselves. China is in the process of building a network of high-speed trains, similar to French TGV or Japanese bullet trains. These trains are already in service on several routes. If your route and budget allow, these are much the best way to get around. For more detail, see High-speed rail in China. During busy seasons tickets sell out rapidly at train stations. It may be better to get tickets in advance through an agent. 

By bus

Travelling by public city buses or long distance buses is inexpensive and ideal for in-city and short distances transportation. City buses vary from city to city - generally expect plastic seats, many people, no English signs and unhelpful drivers. However, if you can understand the bus routes then they are cheap and go almost everywhere. Buses will normally have recorded announcements telling you the next stop. Some major cities such as Beijing or Hangzhou will have English announcements on some major routes. 

By subway

Major cities — Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shenyang, Xian, Chengdu and Nanjing — have a subway system. Generally these are modern, clean and efficient. The signs and ticket machines are in both English and Chinese.

By taxi

Taxis are generally common, and reasonably priced. Flagfalls range from ¥5 in some cities to ¥12 in others, with a per kilometer charge around ¥2. In most situations, you can expect between ¥10 and ¥50 for an ordinary trip within the city. There is no extra charge for luggage, but in many cities rates are a bit higher at night. Tips are not expected.

By bicycle

Bicycles, along with electronic bikes and motorcycle, are the most common form of transportation in China; at rush hour almost anywhere in China there will be thousands of them. There are two major dangers for cyclists in China:

  • One is the rest of the traffic; cars and motorcycles frequently pull out without any warning, and in some areas red lights are apparently optional. 
  • Bicycle theft is rampant throughout cities in China. 

By car

The PRC generally does not recognize International Driving Permits and does not permit foreigners to drive in China without a Chinese license. Rented cars most often come with a driver and this is probably the best way to travel in China by car. Driving in China is not recommended unless you are used to extremely chaotic driving conditions. Traffic moves on the right in mainland China. English directional signs are ubiquitous in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities which see many Western tourists. However, they are spotty at best in other cities and virtually non-existent in the countryside. As such, it is always a good idea to have your destination written in Chinese before you set off so that locals can point you in the right direction should you get lost.


Food

Food in China varies widely from region to region. While visiting, relax your inhibitions and try a bit of everything.

Regional Cuisines

  • Beijing: home-style noodles and baozi (buns), Peking Duck, cabbage dishes, great pickles. Not fancy but can be great and satisfying.
  • Cantonese / Guangzhou / Hong Kong: the style most Western visitors are already familiar with to some extent. Not too spicy, the emphasis is on freshly cooked ingredients and seafood. Dim Sum, small snacks usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, are a highlight. 
  • Shanghai: The most famous dishes are xiaolongbao and chives dumplings. Another specialty is "pulled noodles", from which Japanese ramen and Korean ramyeon are believed to be derived. Sugar is often added to fried dishes giving Shanghainese food a sweet flavor.
  • Sichuan: Famously hot and spicy. A popular saying is that it is so spicy your mouth will go numb. 
  • Hunan: the cuisine of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province. Similar to Sichuanese cuisine, it can actually be "spicier" in the Western sense.
  • Teochew / Chaozhou: Famous dishes include braised duck, yam paste dessert and fishballs.
  • Fujian: uses ingredients mostly from coastal and estuarial waterways. "Buddha Jumps over a Wall" is particularly famous. According to legend, the smell was so good a monk forgot his vegetarian vows and leapt over the wall to have some. 
  • Guizhou: combines elements of Sichuan and Xiang cuisine, making liberal use of spicy, peppery and sour flavors. The peculiar zhergen, a regional root vegetable, adds an unmistakable sour-peppery flavor to many dishes. Minority dishes such as Sour Fish Hot Pot are widely enjoyed.
  • Zhejiang: includes the foods of Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing. A delicately seasoned, light-tasting mix of seafood and vegetables often served in soup. Sometimes lightly sweetened or sometimes sweet and sour, Zhejiang dishes frequently involve cooked meats and vegetables in combination.
  • Hainan: characterised by the relatively heavy use of coconuts. The signature specialties are the "Four Famous Dishes of Hainan" which are Wenchang chicken, Dongshan goat, Jiaji duck and Hele crab.

 

What to do in China?

Massage

Massage is available all over China, often both high quality and reasonably priced. 

  • Almost any hairdresser will give a hair wash and head massage. This often includes cleaning out ear wax and some massage on neck and arms. 
  • Foot massage is widely available, often indicated by a picture of a bare footprint on the sign. 
  • Whole body massage is also widespread. There are two varieties:  is general massage; concentrates on the meridians used in acupuncture. The most expert massages are in massage hospitals, or general Chinese medicine hospitals. The best value is at tiny out-of-the-way places some of whose staff are blind.

Traditional arts

If you are planning to spend a longer time in China then you may want to consider learning some of the traditional arts. Traveling to China is after all a unique chance to learn the basics, or refine already acquired skills, directly from master practitioners in the arts' home country. Many cities have academies that accept beginners, and not knowing Chinese is usually not a problem as you can learn by example and imitation. Calligraphy , a term that covers both writing characters and painting scrolls (that is, classical landscapes and the like) remains a popular national hobby. Many calligraphers practice by writing with water on sidewalks in city parks. Other traditional arts which offer classes include learning to play traditional Chinese instruments, cooking Chinese cuisine, or even singing Beijing Opera. The only requirement is being in the same place for a long enough time, and showing sufficient respect; it is better not to join these classes as a tourist attraction.
 

Martial Arts and Taichi

As with traditional cultural arts, those with the time and inclination may be interested in studying China's famed martial arts. Some, such as tai chi can be studied by simply visiting any city park in the early morning and following along. You will likely find many eager teachers. Famous martial arts programs include those at the Shaolin Temple on Mt Song and Wu Wei Temple near Dali. 

 

Tipping

As a general rule, tipping is not practised anywhere in China. While some staff working in tourist industries have started to expect tipping.


Shopping
 

China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite artisanship and partly because labor is still relatively inexpensive compared to other countries. 

  • Porcelain with a long history of porcelain manufacture, China still makes great porcelain today. Most visitors are familiar with Ming-style blue and white, but the variety of glazes is much greater, including many lovely monochrome glazes which are worth seeking out. Two of the most famous centers for porcelain are Jingdezhen and Quanzhou.
  • Art and Fine Art the art scene in China is divided into three non-interacting parts. First, there are the traditional painting academies which specialize in "classical" painting (bird and flower, landscapes with rocks and water, calligraphy), with conservative attitudes and serving up painting that conforms to the traditional image of Chinese art. Second, there is a burgeoning modern art scene, including oil painting, photography and sculpture, bearing little relation to the former type. Both "scenes" are worth checking out and include the full range from the glorious to the dreadful. The center of the modern scene is undoubtedly Beijing, where the Da Shan Zi (sometimes called 798) warehouse district is emerging as the new frontier for galleries, reminiscent of New York's Soho in the mid-80s. The third arts scene fits closely with China's prowess in mass-production. China has become famous for producing hand painted reproductions of great works. The Shenzhen suburb of Dafen is particularly renowned for its reproductions.
  • Jade There are two types of Jade in China today: one type is pale and almost colorless and is made from a variety of stones mined in China. The other type is green in color and is imported from Myanmar (Burma) . When buying jade look closely at the quality of the carving (How well finished is it? Is it refined, or crude with tool marks visible?). The quality of the stone often goes along with the quality of the carving. Khotan in Xinjiang is a famous area for jade production.
  • Pearls & Pearl Jewelry cultured Akoya and freshwater pearls are mass-produced and sold at markets across China. The use of large scale aquaculture makes pearl jewelry affordable and available to virtually anyone in the world. Big, lustrous, near-round and round freshwater pearls come out with a variety of colors and overtones. In addition to pearl jewelry, pearl-based cosmetics are also widely available.
  • Other arts and Crafts Other items to look for include Cloisonne (colored enamels on a metal base), lacquer work, masks, kites, shadow puppets, Socialist-realist propaganda posters, wood carvings, scholar's rocks (decorative rocks, some natural, some less so), paper-cuts, and so on.
     

Cities

China has many large and famous cities. Below is a list of the nine most important to travelers in mainland China.  

  • Beijing  — the capital, cultural center, and host of the 2008 Olympics
  • Guangzhou  — one of the most prosperous and liberal cities in the south, near Hong Kong
  • Guilin  — popular destination for both Chinese and foreign tourists with sensational mountain and river scenery
  • Hangzhou  — famously beautiful city and major center for the silk industry
  • Kunming  — capital of Yunnan and gateway to a rainbow of ethnic minority areas
  • Nanjing — a renowned historical and cultural city with many historic sites
  • Shanghai  — famous for its riverside cityscape, China's largest city is a major commercial center with many shopping opportunities
  • Suzhou  — "Venice of the East," an ancient city famous for canals and gardens just west of Shanghai
  • Xi'an  — the oldest city and ancient capital of China, home to ten dynasties including the Han and the Tang, terminus of the ancient Silk Road, and home of the terracotta warriors

You can travel to many of these cities using the new fast trains. In particular, the Hangzhou - Shanghai - Suzhou - Nanjing line is a convenient way to see these historic areas.


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The Great Wall of China, Beijing

The Forbidden City, Beijing

Tianmen Square, Beijing

Bird's Nest, Beijing

Oriental Pearl, Shanghai

City God Temple, Shanghai 

Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Xi'An

Hanshan Temple, Suzhou

West Lake, Hangzhou

Chinese sunset

Chinese Sunset

China travel

China Travel

Amazing bridge in China

Amazing Bridge in China

Leshan Giant Buddha, China

Leshan Giant Buddha, Sichuan

Chinese "Dim sum" @ Yum Cha 

Chinese Sticky Rice

 

Chinese Noodles 

Chinese Spring Rolls

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Chinese Cruise