220v, 50Hz AC. Chinese plugs come in at least 4 designs: 3-pronged angle pins as used in Australia; 3-pronged round pins as used in Hong Kong; 2-pronged flat pins as used in the USA; or 2 round narrow pins as used in Europe. To cover all bases, pack a travel adaptor!
It is recommended that you be vaccinated for Tetanus and Polio, if you haven't had a booster in the last ten years. Food and waterborne diseases are more common, so we recommend vaccinations for Typhoid (valid 3 years) and Hepatitis A (validity varies). There is a malarial risk in remote southern areas of China, so do check the current situation before travelling. Vaccination information can change regularly so please visit your local health care provider for the most up to date information.
Only some hotels (usually luxury 5 star hotels) provide drinkable tap water, so do ask your guide or the hotel front desk if the water at your hotel is safe to drink. Boiled water is sometimes provided in hotel rooms. Alternatively, purchase bottled mineral water for drinking and performing ablutions.
China is in the northern hemisphere. Broadly speaking, China experiences hot summers from late May to August in most parts of the country with great humidity in the south. September and October are warm to hot and dry across most of the country and it is during this time that China experiences increased visitor numbers.
Winters (November - March) meanwhile, vary from one geographical location to the next. Northern China (i.e. Beijing and north) experience freezing cold winters, whilst Central China (along the Yangtze) has a short, cold winter. South of the Yangtze, winters are relatively mild and rarely fall below freezing. In the very south of China, winters are very warm.
If visiting the north in winter, pack very warm attire. Many of our tours combine both north and southern China, so you'll experience two distinct weather patterns for much of the time. Come April and May, conditions in the north are cool and dry - just perfect conditions for sightseeing, however April can signal the arrival of sandstorms in Beijing and Inner Mongolia.
Down south, it's warm to hot and humid again with showers. In what are traditionally the northern hemisphere summer months, China can be hot and wet from June to August, though still enjoyable all the same. In all, China has a great diversity of climates.
China is 8 hours ahead of GMT. During British Summer Time (end March - October), time is 7 hours ahead. China operates in one time zone, so clocks are set according to Beijing time, meaning, given the size of the country, sunset and sunrise can occur at peculiar times! Pack a travel alarm clock.
Pound Sterling, US Dollars, Euro and other major currencies can be converted into Chinese Yuan locally, or you can purchase currency in advance. Previously, there were two types of currency - one for locals, called Renmimbi and one for foreigners which came in Foreign Exchange Certificates. Thankfully, this old system has now been abolished and both Chinese and foreigners use the same currency known as Yuan.
Chinese cuisine has a long history, and is one of China's cultural treasures and one of the country's most famous exports to the world. 'Chi fan le ma?' which translates to 'Have you eaten yet?' is a form of greeting and said perhaps almost as readily as we say 'How are you?'. It is this Chinese phrase that perhaps illustrates where traditional priorities lie. Food, pure, simple and not so simple.
Simply, although be no means comprehensively, Chinese cuisine falls into four major regional categories: Cantonese (Guandong), Shandong, Szechuan (Sichuan) and Huaiyang. To these four, can be added four more: Hunan, Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang. Sometimes, Beijing and Shanghai cuisine are also counted. The variety and style of cooking in China is amazing, as are the ingredients.
It's important to understand that Chinese cooking in China is different from Chinese food served in the West. Fish is usually cooked whole after removing the guts and entrails. The head remains on, and if anything, takes on a decorative appearance to the dish. The cheek of the fish is considered a delicacy that meal participants will vie for. It's not uncommon to find the pigeon's head, feet and sundry vitals floating in the soup tureen. Bones are often cut up into the food rather than removed. In many restaurants, dishes of food are placed onto a glass rotating 'lazy Susan' for the table of diners to share. Steamed rice, if ordered is usually served near the end of the meal, whilst fried rice is considered a main course.
On our tours, you'll have the chance to sample many Chinese specialities including the famous Peking Duck, typically served with wafer-thin pancakes, shallots and bean paste. The Chinese excel at noodle-based dishes. They appear in soups, boiled, crispy, short, long, fat or thin. Shaanxi Province is famous for it's noodles and on most visits to Xi'an you'll get a chance to see the preparation of noodles by trained chefs and actually try them in delicious soups. Every conceivable type and cut of meat is used including offal, and seafood is highly recommended. Vegetables feature in all dishes and fruit usually forms the very last course of a banquet. Indeed, vegetarians are for the most part, well catered for.
Here is a snapshot of the four principal regional categories and some top dishes.
Cantonese (Guandong) - Light stir-fried dishes. Stir-fried shrimp, mushrooms in oyster sauce, crisp skin roast pork.
Shandong - Soups and seafood reign supreme. Sea cucumber with braised onion, sharks fin soup.
Szechuan (Sichuan) - The cuisine that gave the world 'hot and spicy' and 'sweet and sour'. Spicy pork shreds, Szechuan chicken, bean curd with chilli, fried carp.
Huaiyang - Light, fresh dishes. Beggar's chicken, sweet and sour mandarin fish, crab meat in clear soup, boiled salted duck.
China is a virtual Aladdin's Cave. Government-run Friendship Stores in almost all cities that attract foreigners stock a range of fixed-price souvenirs and handicrafts and can offer a reasonable idea of what is acceptable in terms of quality and price. After a visit to the Friendship Store, visit private or provincial stores, craft shops and local department stores. However, the best shopping is often at public markets. If you see something you want, buy it when you see it - prices don't vary greatly, but selection can vary from location to location.
Top buys include silk products, embroidery, Chinese calligraphy and paintings, ceramics, jade and stone carvings, lacquer ware, Chinese tea, Cloisonne, Chinese medicine, Mao reproduction propaganda souvenirs such as the famous 'Red Book', caps and buttons, personalised ink seals and clothing of every kind. Markets in Beijing and Shanghai commonly sell top quality ski jackets and leisure attire by big name brands. Additionally, copied goods such as handbags, jewellery and shoes are available in plentiful supply in these markets. Ethnic crafts are a speciality in some regions including Xi'an and Kunming. If wishing to buy antiques, proceed with caution. It's highly likely that the antique will be a skilful reproduction. However, if it is the real deal, you'll need paperwork the Chinese Administrative Department of Cultural Relics which must then accompany the article being exported.
Vast and efficient, China's first rail lines were laid in the 19th century, and today, the government continues to invest heavily in this crucial mode of transport which connects many parts of the country. When travelling during the day, 'soft' seats, that is to say upholstered seats are provided. For overnight travel, clients are accommodated in 'soft class' sleeper cabins. Aboard each wagon are 9 compartments that comprise 4 bunks per compartment. Four people of mixed sex share one compartment. On occasion, dependent upon group size, you may get the opportunity to share with local people on the overnight journey, though sometimes dependent upon how the Chinese Railways Booking Office configure the bookings, the cabin may be filled with four of our clients.
A dining wagon serves reasonably priced Chinese food of the noodles and rice variety along with snacks and drinks. On the Beijing - Xi'an service, there is also a small bar serving drinks including alcohol. Each wagon offers a WC and handbasin facility. At one end, is a Chinese squat-style WC, whilst at the other end is a Western-style WC. Bed linen is distributed, for which there is a modest fee paid by clients (in local currency) aboard the train.
Porterage: In China most often porterage is not available at railway stations and you will be required to carry your own luggage. we recommend you pack as light as possible as there can be several flights of stairs and a lengthy walk to our awaiting transportation.