As the old Chinese proverb goes, “be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” Oh yes. As a merry gang of globetrotters, that’s one motto the Rickshaw team can get on board with. And what better place to go for a, erm, ‘trot’ than the home of the proverb itself! To make life easier, our resident China Travel Specialist Fiona has answered some of her frequently asked questions…
When to go
It’s possible to travel to China all year round, but there are some specific climate zones and seasons to bear in mind. We recommend visiting during the spring or autumn when the weather is pleasant and you can dodge some of the crowds by travelling outside of the peak tourist season.
It’s worth bearing in mind when planning your trip that Chinese New Year occurs in either January or February and most locals take this opportunity to visit family. This means most flights, trains, buses and accommodation are full or very expensive!
Although April – May and September – October are the best months to visit, we wouldn’t recommend travelling in the first week of May or the first week of October as these are also national Chinese holidays and once again all means of transport and accommodation can get booked up really quickly.
Where to go: North China
North China is home to heaps of cultural spots, from the famous Great Wall to nomadic villages, and is known for its dry, hot summers and long, cold winters. On the other side of the coin, the winter months here are very cold and Beijing’s daytime temperatures are usually around freezing. So, if you’re planning a winter break, be sure to pack warm clothing to keep you snug.
Where to go: South China
Whether you want to explore ancient lantern-lit cities or sail between breath-taking karst mountains, South China has it all. With more of a subtropical climate than in the north, the south enjoys long, hot and humid summers (with plenty tropical showers thrown in for good measure), and cool, short winters.
Getting around China
China is a vast country and often domestic flights can have both unpredictable schedules and very high fare tags to go along with them. Travelling by train offers a more affordable and adventurous way to get from place to place.
If you’re planning on travelling by sleeper train, there are two cabin options to choose from: Hard Sleeper and Soft Sleeper. You can read about these differences and more on our handy Guide to China’s Trains. It’s good to be aware that on some routings it can be tricky to purchase soft-sleeper tickets.
Train tickets in China are currently released for sale 2 months ahead of the train’s departure. Local ticketing offices require a digital copy of travellers’ passports to be able to purchase tickets for you and you will need to have this passport with you when getting onto your train.
As more and more of China opens up to high speed train travel there are so many more options now for getting to those destinations on your bucket list. High speed train travel offers the benefit of comfort and speed but without breaking the bank. Usually these trains have two cabin classes; 1st class and 2nd class. The main difference being the seat size and in the 1st class carriage the seat configuration is 2 – 2 with a wider aisle. In second class the configuration would be 2 – 3.
What to eat
China has a vast array of cuisine to offer. You’ll find everything from scorpions on a stick to gorgeous noodle dishes and of course the Szechuan Hot Pot. Our trips to China are slightly different to our trips in other parts of the world which generally include a breakfast. Based on experience from the Rickshaw team and returning customers, we decided that it is best for you to have the choice of what you want to eat for breakfast. Having said this, some hotels offer a free breakfast with your stay so be sure to ask your Travel Specialist where these are most likely to be included if this is important for you. To get an idea of what to expect you can also read our Foodie Guide to Eating in China.
For all your other meals it’s up to you as to what you want to eat and how much you want to spend. If you book onto one of our cooking classes, available in Chengdu, Dali or Yangshuo, of course what you cook you also get to eat! In Beijing we also offer the chance to enjoy a delicious Peking Duck dinner which we can plan for you after your Beijing City tour.
One question we often get asked is about tipping while in China. Our answer is always tip as much as you feel you would like to give depending on how well you feel a guide’s service has been. It’s customary to tip your guides and drivers and they are generally reliant on tips for a large portion of their income. We recommend £5-£8 per person, per day.
When you’re in restaurants, it’s not customary to add on tip to your bill so you don’t need to worry about that!
Meaningful Travel in China
We feel it is important to offer trips where you can interact with local communities or stay somewhere which really gives something back to the area you are visiting. For instance, in our Escape into Rural Yunnan trip you have the chance to visit remote areas of China passing by traditional Naxi villages, clear blue lakes and the famous Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Staying in local guesthouses, eating at small authentic restaurants and learning about cultures and traditions gives something back to the local community as well as giving you a different perspective of life in China.
When travelling to China with us you also get a chance to make a donation to our local charity project in Lhasa, Braille without Borders. This is an international development organisation which creates training programs and books for blind and visually impaired people in Tibet and across the world.
Visa and passport advice
To visit China, you’ll need a visa which is usually valid for 90 days from the date of issue, and for a maximum stay of 30. So, it’s important not to get your visa too early. The application process time can vary so make sure you leave enough time and make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity after your intended departure from China, with at least one blank page. You can apply direct to the CVASC in-person, by post, or through a specialist visa service, The Visa Machine.
What to pack
- Obvious, but necessary – Passport with appropriate visas, itinerary/ confirmation of booking, any medicines you might need, credit card and any other important documents you consider relevant.
- A “Point It Book” – These image-based books are perfect when travelling around China, that way you’ll always have a way to order what you really want to eat and drink.
- A phrase book – Making an effort with the local lingo is a lovely way of showing respect and interacting with locals: Hello! (ni hao), Thank you (xièxiè) and good bye (Zàijiàn).
- Hand sanitiser & wipes – Many public toilets in China won’t offer toilet papers/soap/towel, so worth bringing some with you
- Clothing – The South is hot and humid, but most places will have air con, so a light jacket would come in handy. The North is colder and drier so warmer clothes are essential. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes if you’re planning on doing some trekking and bring some waterproof clothing just in case.
- Power adaptor: The electricity of mainland China and Hong Kong runs on 220V and 50Hz and so you’ll need a three angled flat style plug adaptor.
- Earplugs – They dont take up much space and could be really handy on a long train journey
We like to support local points of interest as much as possible and so we leave it to you to pay the entry fees to the majority of the points of interest while you’re in China. The only project we support directly is the Panda Breeding Research Centre in Chengdu where your entry ticket is included.
If you’re looking to budget for these entry fees please bear in mind that we can only offer advice based on personal experience, and that prices are subject to change locally. As a guideline though you can expect to pay from CNY150pp for entry to the Terracotta Army to CNY60pp for sites such as the Forbidden City to CNY9 for entry to Moon Hill in Yangshuo.