Gong xi fa choi; or congratulations on getting rich. It’s Chinese New Year again and this traditional New Year greeting will be on a billion (or more) lips this week as China rings out the old and rings in the new. If your China vacation is at this time of year; you couldn’t have chosen a better time for your trip. Though traffic is heavy on the first and last days of the New Year; travel in China in the rest of the period is a dream as everyone will be at home with their families. If you are in China this is what you need to know for your tour:
It’s the Year of the Sheep
Or it’s possibly the year of the goat. There are words in Chinese that don’t translate particularly well into English and this is one of them. It’s not a good year to be born in as the Chinese believe only 1 in 10 people born in the year of the goat will find happiness. That means that Chinese people won’t be very pleased to learn of pregnancy this year (seriously) and you probably don’t want to get too excited for someone who tells you that they’ve fallen pregnant recently unless their excitement is clear too.
However, goats themselves (the people born this year) are considered to be good people. They are considered to be delicate in society and to be very creative. They are also very much social people and resist being alone. They are also very much considered to be the definitive anti-snob. On top of all that – they’re also considered to be the healthiest sign of the Chinese zodiac. So we’re not quite certain why they’re destined for misery but that’s how it is in China.
Chinese New Year Celebrations
The best reason for making a trip to China and enjoying a tour at this time of year is to catch the New Year’s celebrations. They add real additional value to your vacation and they are a truly joyous occasion. While festivities on New Year’s Eve tend to be constrained to family – the rest of the period is open to everyone in China. Foreigner visitors can watch dragon dancing, firework displays and more on their travels. Just ask your guide to point you in the right direction of the best place to get involved in town.
It is traditional to give small gifts of money, “hong bao”, in red envelopes at this time of year. If you want to give someone a gift on your China tour – you should be aware that these envelopes are normally only given to unmarried people by married people. However, we don’t think anyone will complain on your China trip if you do give them hong bao by mistake. Just be aware that the contents should be notes and should never be in multiples of 4 (which is very unlucky) but multiples of 8 are considered extremely lucky and will be very well received indeed.
If there’s anything better than a cup of tea on a China vacation; it’s a cup of tea on a tour of Beijing, China’s capital, in luxurious surroundings. Your China trip has plenty of opportunities for you to try China’s most famous beverage but it’s only when you travel to the capital that you have the chance to do it in world class style. So if you have time when you arrive in Beijing check out some of these afternoon tea specialists:
The Ritz Carlton (Chaoyang District)
The undeniably British influence at the Ritz-Carlton may make this the perfect place for those who dream of being in an Oscar Wilde play. Travel in China has rarely been so colonial and you won’t forget a vacation afternoon spent in the Ritz-Carlton. Think delicately cut sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream, and cakes galore. Then wash it down with a selection of the finest teas in China. It’s not cheap at around 289 RMB a head but what did you expect? This is the Ritz-Carlton after all.
The Peninsula (Jinyu Hutong)
The tea isn’t from China at the Peninsula instead it has made the trip from India for a more international tour of tea (or a change from Chinese tea) this is the place to head. The Peninsula is renowned for its attention to detail in presentation and tastes. It’s a little cheaper than the Ritz-Carlton too but you should phone ahead before you head over to the Peninsula; the afternoon teas are not always available.
Brasserie FLO (Chaoyang District)
If you’re on a somewhat tighter budget than the first two options allow for then you might want to visit Brasserie FLO for your China afternoon tea experience. It’s very French in presentation and choices of accompaniments to your tea. It costs around 220 RMB for two to enjoy their famous Parisian High Tea and of course, there’s nothing to stop you from adding to the experience by indulging in the rest of their very reasonably priced menu too.
The Opposite House (Chaoyang District)
This is our favourite destination for a bit of afternoon tea on a China tour. The presentation is excellent and The Opposite House is perfectly placed in Sanlitun to combine a shopping trip with afternoon tea without having to travel very far. You can stick to a great range of China’s teas or splurge and add a little bubbly to the mix.
Capital M (Just off Tiananmen Square)
If you’d like to do afternoon tea on your visit to the Forbidden Palace then Capital M may be your bag. It’s neatly located just off Tianmen Square and there are options to suit every budget from 90 RMB for a basic tea and scones to the full on high tea. The bubbly options are varied and plentiful too (though they make a much larger dent in your wallet). We’d argue that Capital M has the best range of teas to choose from in this part of China too.
Yes, tea is the national drink of China and yes, you’ll have plenty of great opportunities to try the nation’s teas on your tour of China. But… we know that many people on a China vacation want the occasional cup of coffee on their travels too. After all, a trip to China doesn’t mean giving up all your home comforts does it? So with that in mind, we’ve tracked down some of the best coffee shops in Beijing for you:
Maan Coffee (Chaoyang District)
Maan Coffee is the best Chinese interpretation of a traditional Western coffee shop that we’ve come across so far. It has a wonderful range of coffees but the big deal is the snack list to go with it. If you thought that you’d miss ham and cheese toasties or waffles during your China vacation; think again. Maan Coffee is the perfect place to take a side trip from China and relax with a great coffee and sublime food. Its location near the Rosewood Hotel also makes it pretty easy to find in a taxi.
Colibri Café (Sanlitun)
If you’d prefer to head somewhere to be seen while you sip coffee elegantly during your China tour; then you might want to hit Colibri Café. It’s prime location in the center of Sanlitun makes it an awesome place for people watching in China’s biggest city. Sanlitun’s also the right place to do some shopping if you’re looking for cutting edge designer gear or electronic items. So you’ll be in the right place to buy the clothes to look the part before you hit Colibri.
Café Zarah (Dongdajie)
This is very much the epitome of European coffee culture and well… German food. It’s one of those places you’ll end up debating whether it’s worth the trip but if you do go – the food is simply excellent and so is the coffee. It’s got a very traditional, no nonsense feel about it and the owners make it very much a home away from home. If you’re looking for somewhere in China that’s completely different – Café Zarah’s the place to go.
Trends Lounge (GuangHuaLa)
In the heart of the central business district lays a coffee shop that’s worthy of some vacation respect. Trends is the only coffee shop in the city that’s also a gigantic lending library and there are more books here than in most bookstores in China. The good news is that many of them are in English and you don’t have to learn to read Putonghua to enjoy your time at Trends. The coffee is pretty good too and while you loll in a leather armchair with a great book; it’s just about perfect.
Comptoirs De France (Chaoyang District)
If you’re planning a trip to China’s biggest silk market then you want to stop for a coffee and a sandwich in Comptoirs de France afterwards. This wonderful place is like a taste of Paris but for a much more reasonable price. It’s also won plenty of awards for its food.
Beijing, the capital of China, is the pinnacle of many a China vacation. If your tour is going to travel to Beijing then you’ll be able to see the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden Palace, etc. but you also have a chance to take a trip to parts of the city that show a different side of China. Let’s take a look at 5 destinations that you might want to see that lay a little off-the-beaten path.
Beijing Palace Restaurant (Chao Yang Men Nei Da Jie)
If you travel because you love China’s food culture then you have to pay a visit to the Beijing Palace. This is where you’ll find the most authentic Beijing-cuisine anywhere in China. It’s worth taking a slow tour of the building when you arrive as it has a fair few Qing Dynasty antiquities on display. Then settle in for an excellent meal at a very reasonable price (expect to pay not much more than 100 RMB a head excluding drinks) and bask in the tastes of Beijing’s past.
If you want the original China shopping experience on your vacation then you may just fall in love with Dashilar. It’s not a trip for the faint-hearted as the area hasn’t changed much since the 19th century and that means the smells of China are rather avidly on display alongside the sights. However, this is a great place to find the best bargains and the most genuine Chinese items in the city.
Tanqiao is the best place on your China trip to indulge in Chinese ballet. The plots may be a bit convoluted for the average Westerner, who hasn’t been brought up with endless Chinese history lessons, but the spectacle is incredible. This is where you’ll find one of the truly beautiful legacies of the Cultural Revolution as ballet was one of the few art forms which was allowed to continue during the early years following the revolution.
The Beijing Lu Xun Museum
One of China’s original rock and roll rebels from a time before rock and roll had been thought of; Lu Xun was an intellectual without peer and may even have inspired the May Fourth movement in China. His museum plays host to his writing and photography and it’s a jolly nice place to stop and see what Chinese literature was up to in the early 20th century. Check out the pigeon lofts nearby to get some insight into another aspect of Beijing life that most tourists will miss.
If you’re brining children on your China vacation – it might be best to leave them at home for this visit. There are some incredibly sexual scenes depicted on the walls of this temple. On the bright side this is now a much safer place to visit than it once was back when the priests were infamous for robbing visitors at gun point. The “devil dances” of China originate from this temple too.
China's not your regular vacation destination. As you'll soon discover on your China tour things are very different in China from back home and there are some things you should be aware of on your China trip that will make your journey more fun. Before you travel to China these are some of the things you should know:
Queues and Crowds
Queuing is pretty much unheard of in China. If you find yourself in a busy place on your vacation – it's OK to do as the locals do. In fact, in most cases if you gently shove your way through a crowd it will part for you – the Chinese tend to give foreigners plenty of space and courtesy. Don't get frustrated with the jostling it's bad form to lose your temper anywhere on your China trip.
Not everywhere that you travel in China allows people to spit in public. The Olympics in Beijing had the pleasant side effect of eliminating public spitting and it's nearly unheard of in Macau and Hong Kong. However, traditionally the Chinese have been taught that clearing their lungs and spitting wherever it takes their fancy is good for their health. It's not meant rudely and as long as you pay attention – there's no need to come into contact with any spit anywhere on your China tour.
It's polite to ask before you stick your camera in someone's face and take their photo. That's true pretty much everywhere in the world. You may also find that some attractions expect you to pay a token fee to take videos (or more rarely to use still cameras) it would be rare for this fee to be more than a couple of dollars (10 RMB).
Before embarking on a drinking session with Chinese friends you should know that most Chinese drink for the purposes of getting incredibly drunk. It's pretty common in China for foreigners to be invited to join in. The etiquette is to serve alcohol in very small glasses, make a toast, and then shout “gan bei” (finish glass) and neck the whole thing. If you don't want to wake up with a hangover on the next day of your tour it's best to demur when someone makes the offer. Once you've started the only exit is when the majority of participants have passed out.
Times are changing in China and if you do decide to wear nothing but beach wear on your vacation – it's unlikely to attract any outright hostility. Having said that in the vast majority of China; people tend to dress modestly no matter how warm the weather is. Skirts below the knees, shirts below the elbows and no shorts is a good rule of thumb and this is doubly true at religious monuments.
Don't Worry Too Much
Most Chinese folks understand that foreigners won't know the rules of the game in China. They will make big allowances for most cultural faux pas that you might commit. The Chinese are an incredibly friendly and hospitable people.
Macau makes for an awesome side trip from Mainland China during your China vacation. The enchanting blend of Portugal and China makes for a unique travel experience. Macau is becoming an ever more popular tour destination as Westerners seek to understand China and its place in the modern world. Macau is wealthy and prosperous. It's popular with Chinese travelers especially because of its legalized gambling environment (it's the world's biggest gaming destination) but Westerners tend to want to explore the special administrative region's heritage and culture.
About The Maritime Museum
It's said that this museum was built where the first Portuguese ships landed on their way to China itself. Their military tour would result in a lease on Macau rather like the British lease on Hong Kong but while there are similarities between the two former colonies. Macau's development has been very different to Hong Kong's. Thus the history of the site dates back to 1553 though the museum was built somewhat later. It was redeveloped in 1990 as Macau sought to become a popular China vacation destination. The idea behind the museum is that you can travel through the maritime history of Macau, China and Portugal. The building itself is stunning. It's a three story, gleaming white sail form (which may have inspired Dubai's famous hotel – the Burj Al Arab). The interior is well lit thanks to enormous windows designed to simulate the feeling of being on a ship's observation deck.
You begin your trip to the museum with a journey back into the past. You will see the traditions of Macanese fishermen and their long standing techniques brought to life. There are costumes, boats and displays galore here.
The next exhibit examines Portugal's achievements on the seas. It takes you on a journey through their most famous explorer's lives and looks at how the Portuguese came to China. Once you've had your fill of this it's time to continue your tour and enjoy the history of marine technology in China. They even have a copy of the very first lighthouse to be used on the Mainland.
There's also a small aquarium in the museum and many people say it's one of their favorite vacation memories. It's very much focused on the waters around Macau and takes you through river life, harbour life and then on to a living coral reef and concludes with a simulation of a boat long sunk beneath the waves of China's seas.
Once you've finished inside the museum don't rush to head back to the hotel. Take a nice slow walk around the square outside and enjoy the cool sea breeze. You can then wander down to the river bank or to the harbor and see modern maritime life in Macau. If you want to go out on the water; you can hire a boat on the harbor front. If you don't have any sailing experience – don't worry they'll send a crew out with you so you can enjoy the view without any worries.
If you're interested in a trip to Macau when you visit China on vacation then you might want to consider taking in the The Macau Museum of Art when you travel to this fascinating special administrative region of China. You can add Macau to your China tour easily and the former Portuguese colony holds a special blend of the colonial and Mainland China that you can't find anywhere else in the world.
About the Macau Museum of Art
If you want to travel to the Macau Museum of Art you'll need to make a trip to Xian Xinghai Ave. which you can find in the South East of the special administrative region. It's one of the best known museums in China and it takes up more than 10,000 square meters of space. It's China's only Macanese relics museum and it's also the only museum of art in Macau.
The museum opened its doors back in 1999 and was developed, partly, from the collection held at the former Luis de Camoes Museum. Much of the rest of the collection has come from donations from around China and some of the collection has been purchased from the museum's budget. It has one of the best collections of calligraphy that you can see anywhere on your China vacation and you can take a tour through the development of local arts (including seals, paintings, pottery, etc.).
One of the nicest things about a trip to the Macau Museum of Art is the clear blend of both Chinese and Western influences. All exhibits are clearly labelled in English which makes it much easier than many other museums in China to enjoy the collection in full.
In total there are five floors in the museum which contain five galleries and two exhibition halls. Some of the exhibits are truly unique; the collection of pottery from Shiwan is the best in the world of its type. To be fair, the thing you'll probably most enjoy as you travel round the museum is the collection of Western art and photography as Macau developed as a colony and before it rejoined Mainland China.
There are regular special exhibitions held in the museum, two of the galleries house only temporary collections and that means you can see some incredible work from around the world not just from Macau and China. They've even held an exhibition of Picasso's works in the past – so it's always worth checking what's on at the time you visit – even if you're not that fascinated with Macau's history.
You could spend hours in the museum's basement too; it houses a wonderful library, workshop rooms and an additional exhibition hall. You won't find as many books on art anywhere else in Macau and many of the works are English language, though unsurprisingly a large amount of the work is in Chinese both Mandarin and Cantonese works are well represented here.
The surrounding area is quite lovely and there are many pleasant coffee shops and restaurants to kick back in after you visit the museum.