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China Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

British Airways fly direct from London Heathrow to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hong Kong. Virgin Atlantic fly from London Heathrow to Shanghai and Hong Kong. In addition Air China have services and connections throughout the country and Cathay Pacific offer numerous direct flights between Hong Kong and the UK. Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways also have excellent connections via their respected hubs to China.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights from the UK take around 10 hours depending on the destination. Flights with stops en-route take between 13 and 17 hours.

Time Zone

China is +8 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

Visas for China must be arranged prior to travel and full details on how these can obtained will be sent at the time of booking. Travellers must ensure that their passports are valid for at least six months beyond their planned return date and passports have at least one blank visa page.

Do's and don'ts

Always greet a Chinese person with their formal title and address the oldest person first.

The Chinese people are very patriotic and dislike hearing any criticism of their country, even if only in jest. Politics is a very sensitive subject and is best avoided.

Expect to be asked about personal details such as marital status or income. This is not seen as rude by the Chinese and is merely a way of trying to seek some common ground with you.

The Chinese rarely appreciate hugs or other physical shows of affection.

Permission should always be asked before taking a person’s photograph.

Money

The currency in China is the Yuan Renminbi – the literal translation of Yuan Renminbi is ‘people’s currency’. It is straightforward to exchange Pound Sterling, US Dollars or Euros into Yuan and there are numerous currency exchange outlets. Money can also usually be exchanged at hotels. ATMs are plentiful and credit and debit cards are widely accepted but remember to inform your card issuer before you travel. Hong Kong and Macau both have their own currencies but the advice about remains relevant.

Tipping

The Chinese tipping policy is pretty straightforward – nobody tips anyone for anything. Inside China, tipping is almost unheard of and, in many cases, if you try to tip you may even cause offence as could be viewed that you are stating an employer is not paying their staff well enough. However, in larger hotels and top-end restaurants it is common to tip service staff in recognition of good service. A guideline for tipping drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Buckwheat, sweet potato and steamed bread are popular carbohydrates in China. While there is a great deal of rice in Chinese dishes, you will find regional flavours vary greatly. The Chinese people are very keen on using every part of the plant or meat source, so prepare to be surprised at some of the dishes you are offered. Every region has its own distinctive style of cooking, based on the agricultural produce of the region. The further south you go, the spicier the food tends to be with meals in Sichuan Province known throughout China for being the spiciest.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the largest and most important in China and is celebrated across the country. As a general rule, people clean their homes then decorate in red, an auspicious colour, hanging posters, streamers and lanterns. Firework displays are also a popular way to see in the New Year. Most try to spend Chinese New Year with family and many travel long distances to be with relatives with trains, planes and hotels tend to be booked well in advance. Other popular holidays in China include New Year’s Day in January, the Qingming Festival in April which honours ancestors and National Day which is celebrated annually on the 1st October.

Shopping

China offers the shopper pretty much anything they could imagine at a price much lower than what is paid at home. In Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong there are fabulous markets and almost anything can be found and bought. China's cities have department stores, food shops and art stores but there is nowhere better than the local markets for authentic Chinese souvenirs. Aside from general handicrafts, jade jewellery, ceramics, embroidery, calligraphy, paintings and silk clothing are all popular gifts.

Suggested reading

Footprint, Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Bradt all have excellent guide books whilst Nelles have comprehensive and up to date mapping for all of the regions of China. There is also a wide range of literature with popular contemporary authors including Amy Tan, Anchee Min and Jung Chan whose works include ‘Empress Dowager Cixi’, ‘Mao: The Unknown Story’, and the excellent ‘Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China’. Other good books on the country include:

‘China: A History’ by John Keay

‘The Cultural Revolution’ by Richard Curt Kraus

‘Wild Grass’ by Ian Johnson

‘Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip’’ by Peter Hessler

‘River Town’ by Peter Hessler

‘Midnight in Peking’ by Paul French

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on China the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

China Holiday Ideas

China, Mongolia, South Korea, Central Asia, Nepal and Bhutan Holiday Review

I was lucky enough to be given a three month career break and wanted to do some extensive travelling in Asia. I emailed a number of travel companies with a request to prepare a tailor made tour across certain specific dates. Pettitts were the first to reply and from that moment on provided a superb service. Initially there were a number of changes requested to the itinerary, but they were able to accommodate all changes and flex the programme according to our needs. The countries visited were China, Mongolia, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Nepal and Bhutan. Pettitts have clearly identified high quality international partners given that we were impressed with all travel guides in each country.

Pettitts assisted with all questions we had during the planning of the trip and were very quick to get in touch with us on the one occasion they needed to during the trip. Pettitts were excellent and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Their service was first class and I would be more than happy to use their services again.

SG - China, Mongolia, South Korea, Central Asia, Nepal and Bhutan - July 2018

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