The voracious reader has a lot to look forward to on a China tour. China’s history is stacked with literary greats and of course international travel means that not all books about China are written there either. If you want to connect with China’s literary heritage during your travels why not take a few side trips when you get to Beijing? Here are some of the best places to see:
If you’re going to the Forbidden City (and who on a China tour in Beijing isn’t?) then you might want to travel a little way across the road and explore Zhongshan Park too. Zhang Henshui the famous 20th century Chinese author spent a lot of time in this park. You can find mentions of it in some of his work too. China’s first literary study group was formed in the park too and you can still visit the restaurant in which it was held in the park today. The restaurant even has literary themed dishes based on a banquet served in the novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xequin.
Mao Dun’s Residence
In the Doncheng District, you can find the home of a lesser known Chinese literary great. Mao Dun was the pseudonym used by Shen Dehong. He wrote the “Unofficial History of Beijing” which is pretty well renowned in China. If you want to include this in your vacation plans; there’s a pleasant little museum on the site which includes some of his early drafts and manuscripts.
Grand View Garden
You’ll have make a bit of a trip to discover this pleasant garden as it’s on the Second Ring Road but it might be worth it if you’re a big fan of the “Dream of the Red Chamber”. It is considered to be one of the four most important novels written in classical China. The Grand View Garden is the garden featured in the book and while it’s a replica (the original is long gone) it’s a jolly good one.
Le Xun Museum
Travel around the hutongs is part of the Beijing experience and hidden among the backstreets of the Baitaisi hutongs is this charming museum. Le Xun was, perhaps, the most influential writer of the 20th century in China and his work can be found in translation everywhere in the world. The museum has over 20,000 objects related to his life and work and is very much worth a visit.
The National Library of China
It would be hard to mention literature in China without taking pause to remember the largest library in China. It’s on the MTR line 4 and there are over 30 million books inside! You’d probably need more than a vacation to even get started on reading your way through these. If you do want to read anything (and some of the old texts are spectacular to look at – even if you can’t read Mandarin) you need to provide your passport to access a reading room.
Planning a China vacation and wondering how to get the most from your China tour? Then you might be wondering where to include in your China travel plans to sample the best food that China has to offer. Wherever you go on your China trip there will be superb cuisine but you might want to consider these 5 destinations which offer truly amazing tastes to wow the palate.
Xi'an's the home of the North-western style of cooking in China and it's also the home of the terracotta warriors making it a great tour destination. In fact, the warriors are why many people book their China vacation in the first place. It's famed for its imperial feasts and you can enjoy one of these at one of the many Tang Dynasty themed eateries in town. Be warned some of the meats used are a little exotic – so if you don't want to try donkey… you might want to ask what's in a dish before you sample it.
Macau's cuisine takes a little of the South-eastern Cantonese style and adds a uniquely Portuguese twist. The UNESCO heritage site of the old town makes travel to Macau a must and the food just adds another layer to appreciate. Don't miss out on the custard tarts which are rightly famed throughout the world. The street vendors also specialize in pork sandwiches which are among the best sandwiches in China.
You'll want to include Chengdu on your China trip because it's the only place in China where you can see the Giant Panda in the wild. It's also one of the best places to lose yourself in the fiery culinary culture of Sichuan. Peppers and chili make up the staple base for most dishes here and you may need to speak to your host and ask them to go easy if this is your first experience of Sichuanese cookery. The Mapo Tofu is a particular favourite and the creamy texture compliments the fire of the dish perfectly.
There's no excuse for not fitting Beijing into your vacation. China's capital is the ultimate tour destination with the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and many, many other awesome places to visit. It is also where the incredible Beijing Duck hails from and you haven't eaten Beijing Duck until you've had it in one of Beijing's dedicated duck restaurants. You'll also find a wealth of dumplings and steamed buns to tempt you from street vendors.
There is nowhere else in China where you can have a Michelin starred meal for less than $10 other than Hong Kong. The special administrative region is a Cantonese cookery paradise and Dim Sum is what most people want to try. Head to any dim sum restaurant and just select what you want from the endless procession of food carts passing by. Once you've had your fill, why not visit Victoria Harbour and take an easy cruise around the world's best loved harbour front?
If you book your China tour with us, then most of your travel in China will be arranged by us and you won't need to hunt around for transport too often. However, a lot of people like to make a side trip or two on their China vacation and there are a variety of options for you to choose for transportation in China.
Using Taxis to Get Around
Taxis in China are cheap and plentiful in most big cities (and nearly everywhere in China is a big city compared to the US). They can be flagged down in the street just like they can in New York and using a meter is mandatory – so there's no need to haggle over the fare. For long journeys you may be able to negotiate a flat fee but it will always be less than the metered fare if you do.
Using taxis on your tour is not quite as simple as just jumping in a taxi. Most taxi drivers don't speak any English and unless you want to spend half your vacation frustrated and hunting for the driver who does speak English. It's better to take written directions for your trip and show those to your driver. It's also a very good idea to carry the details of your address in China so that if you get lost – you can always flag a taxi back to your hotel.
Using Buses to Get Around
Buses can be taken from everywhere in China to nearly everywhere else. Travel on buses isn't great for many Westerners because the vehicles are designed for a people who are generally a bit smaller than their Western friends. Catching a bus is relatively straight forward and you can either get one from a stand or from a major bus station. You will need, again, written directions for where you want to get off – Chinese drivers are pretty sympathetic to foreigners on vacation in China and will make sure you get where you're going.
Services are incredibly cheap but it may take 3-4 times as long to get to your destination by bus than by taxi.
Using Trains and Subways to Get Around
The easiest way for a Westerner to get around in China is to travel by train or subway. These services are deliciously well equipped and better still they are nearly all in English (there's a button on the terminals to change the language to English on the subway).
You'll find that they're incredibly cheap because the Chinese government subsidizes rail journeys for everyone. In fact, they run at such a loss in most cases that if they were to charge a break-even price for a ticket, it would cost ten times as much.
The subway systems are easy to navigate with announcements in English and English language maps throughout. The trains are a little less obvious but platform signs are normally in pinyin (English characters) so knowing where to get off is easier than you might think too.
Modern China is no longer fully communist and as you will see on your China trip; that has brought prosperity and wealth to China. However, it can be nice to spend a bit of time on your vacation taking a tour of the old communist heart of the nation. When you travel to Shanghai there are plenty of places to catch up with Red China:
Mao Zedong's Former Residence (Maoming Bei Lu)
There is no figure in China's history as intimately associated with communism as Chairman Mao. He led the Cultural Revolution and changed China forever. He will be forever revered in the Middle Kingdom and this tiny residence in Shanghai is the only one open to the public. It's your only chance on your vacation to take a tour of how Mao would have lived. There are some interesting wax work figures of the great man and his family and an awful lot of photographs to show you more of Mao's life and works.
Liu Debao's Photo Shop (Caoyang Lu)
This isn't so much a tour attraction as it is a collection of Chinese history. Liu Debao has tracked down nearly 4,000 reels of film from the Cultural Revolution era. Nowhere else on your China trip can you see such rare footage – including personal footage of Chairman Mao himself. If you want to visit; you will need to ask your guide to call and arrange it for you as Liu only speaks Mandarin. Visits are by appointment only. This is an unmissable part of China's history.
Longhua Revolutionary Martyr's Cemetery (Longhua Xi Lu)
There's a dark side to China's communist history. For many years leading up to the Cultural Revolution; communists were imprisoned and often executed at the prison on the site of this cemetery. Today, there is a lovely park and a museum on the grounds as well as some preserved prison cells.
The Propaganda Poster Art Center (Huahsan Lu)
We'd make this one of our favourite travel destinations in China. It doesn't really matter whether you want to find out about communism; this collection of more than 5,000 art posters is simply incredible. Covering more than 25 years of the early communist regime you can discover China through the eyes of a people in motion. If you're in Shanghai; you really must visit the Propaganda Poster Art Center if you have the time to do so.
Memorial House of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (Huangpi Nan Lu) The first congress was held in total secrecy and included a representation from Mao Zedong. Today, it's an open house with a museum on site to detail the evolution of the communist party in China. It's a fascinating exhibit (even if some of it is a touch overblown for English speaking tourists) and very much worth including on your vacation. There are hundreds of interesting relics and artefacts from the pre-revolutionary days and it would be hard to get bored going through this random but captivating collection.
If you're getting ready to book your China vacation and you're thinking of starting your China tour in the fall – here are some of the best places to include on your China trip at that time of year. Travel in China is always an amazing experience but if you work with nature; you can get even more out of your time in the country as the colours of the leaves subtly complement some of the best scenes in the nation.
Beijing – Fragrant Hill
In the months of October and November the Fragrant Hill just outside of Beijing becomes one of the most magical places in China. As you will see on your tour – it's covered in maple and smoke trees and as the fall comes on, they change colour from green to a wonderful range of auburn, reds, and purples. People travel from all over China to see the trees here and if that wasn't enough – they also hold a major festival on the site to welcome visitors at the same time. It's truly spectacular.
Chengdu - The Miyaluo Area
This is a much, much bigger place than Fragrant Hill and it's the perfect place to take some time out of your vacation after you meet China's most beloved symbol – the Giant Panda. It covers over 1,000 square miles so don't expect to see it all but it's, perhaps, one of the most perfect vistas that you can see on a China trip. The Himalayas in the background and Tibet calling, the chance of a sprinkle of snow and the amazing colours of fall foliage.
Chengdu – Jiuzhaigou Valley
This wonderful valley contains some of the purest mountain lakes of anywhere in the world. You will need to arrange to see this as part of booking your China tour as the only way to visit is to take a round trip ticket around the full 400 miles of the valley itself. It's very much worth it. This is nature at its finest and as the fall encroaches on the mountains it's nothing short of sublime.
The Great Wall of China
The place most people see the Great Wall from is China's capital city Beijing but it does run for 4,000 miles through some of the most wonderful tree lined areas of China. The contrast between this spectacular feat of manmade engineering and the natural splendour of the trees in fall is just lovely. You won't want to leave.
The Yellow Mountains
In the fall there is nothing quite as striking as the mountains near Shanghai. They are considered to be an area of outstanding natural beauty at any time of year but once again it's the change in colours that brings them to life during the autumnal period. Get up early and see the sunrise over the peaks and then you're free to explore the mountains as much as you like. See if you can find some of the waterfalls.
Many people want to know what the weather will be like before they travel to China. This is understandable it makes packing for a China vacation easier and it means you're less likely to have to spend time on your China trip going shopping. Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to this question as you will discover on your China tour.
The Scale of China
Most of us have only seen China on a Mercator map. This map was designed by a German and has become the international standard in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, it relies on a sense of perspective running through Germany. That makes some parts of the world, like Western Europe, look much bigger than they are. It also makes some parts of the world, like Africa and much of Asia – look much smaller than they are. This makes basing your travel plans on that map not so easy.
Your China vacation will actually be taking place in a huge country. If your China tour is going to take in say, Hong Kong and Beijing – the weather varies dramatically between the two. In the winter, Beijing plunges into temperatures below zero while Hong Kong remains at a balmy 10-20 degrees centigrade. In the summer, both places can be hot but Hong Kong quite often becomes sweltering. Thus it becomes pretty challenging to predict the weather for your China trip.
Then there's the issue of Tibet. If you're going to put Tibet on your China tour itinerary then you're going to have to pack for cold weather. The altitude of Tibet's capital, Lhasa is the highest of any capital city on earth. It sits in the Himalayas and it's cold pretty much all year round.
Many people choose spring or autumn for their China vacation to try and balance the extremes of temperature but sadly, even then on a day-to-day basis – as with everywhere in the world, not just China, the weather can vary immensely in a single location and over a country as large as China – it's impossible to predict.
The best way to pack for your China trip based on this is to pack for all eventualities. A raincoat with Gore-Tex lining is a good way to keep the load light and still be prepared for all eventualities. You should take a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen too – these things will come in handy in Tibet where the reflection of sun from the snow can be taxing in the extreme and they'll be useful in hotter weather too.
Try and pack some sensible shoes for walking around in and which are waterproof if the rain sets in. You can stay warm by wearing multiple layers so light t-shirts that can be stacked if necessary and a sweater will help you stay cool or stay hot in different temperatures.
It's normally better to wear trousers rather than shorts or skirts because many holy places won't let you in with too much bare flesh on show anyway.
So, you've booked your China vacation. You've decided on each intimate detail of your China tour and where you will travel and what parts of China you will see. Now, you're probably wondering what you will eat when on your China trip. The good news is that there are always plenty of interesting options and we've put together some of the best breakfasts you can find in the country:
Dim sum may be something that we eat in the West at any time but in China it's very much a traditional breakfast. The best place on your vacation to try dim sum is Hong Kong, China's special administrative region. But you can find dim sum wherever you travel in the country and they're nearly always sumptuous treats. They are served in steaming hot bamboo baskets and generally you just pick what you want off a trolley but be quick – you may never see the same thing twice, there's a whole lot of variety in dim sum
Nearly everywhere that you visit on your China tour will offer you the option of trying congee at breakfast time. On its own, it's a bit bland. It's a watery rice porridge without much flavour so normally it will be served with a selection of vegetables and/or meats. You may, if you're lucky, also find something that you can only really find on a China trip – that it's served with one hundred year old eggs. (Which aren't really one hundred years old but they sure do look like it).
Big bowls of noodles are very popular for breakfast in China. Particularly up in the North of the country where rice is more scarce and more wheat-based dishes are popular. However, you can find them everywhere and in Sichuan, in particular, they're likely to be served spicy which may wake you up to perfection… don't be afraid to ask them to tone down the peppers and chilies if they aren't to your taste. You'll find Chinese people are only too happy to help with requests throughout your trip.
The Zongzi dumpling is made from glutinous rice which is then wrapped in the leaf of the bamboo plant and steamed gently. They're not that common and you will mainly be able to find these delicious treats around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival and vacation in China. They do come with a range of fillings from sweet to savoury – so take your time to work out which one is your favourite.
The steamed filled bun is nearly ubiquitous in China. You can find them everywhere and they tend to be cheap, tasty and extremely filling. It's best to try a range until you find your favourite filling. Though most foreigners prefer the pork ones there is an endless choice of fillings and the bean paste ones are particularly sweet.
Soy milk is served warm with bread for dipping in it. It's a simple but enjoyable early morning snack.
If you're coming to China for a vacation; you may be wondering how you can keep in contact with folks on your China tour while you're in country. There's always the option to travel China using roaming options from your US cell phone provider but calls are expensive and international services can be a bit hit and miss at times. A better idea might be to use a local SIM or even a local phone and SIM during your China trip. Here's what you need to know about cell phones in China:
There are four major cell phone operators in China that you can choose from during your vacation. However, China rather like the United States has some fairly specialist infrastructure and there's only one operator that works to an international standard. That operator is China Unicom.
For those using Apple products, you'll be pleased to know that if you choose China Unicom then they're 100% compatible and your iPhone or iPad will work fine throughout your trip. For other handsets – the situation is a little more complex and some will not work at all, unless they have GSM compatibility. You will need to check with your handset provider before you travel to see if the phone is compatible with Chinese networks – if not, you may be better off buying a cheap phone in China for use during your tour.
The vast majority of Chinese SIM cards work on a pay-as-you-go basis. That means if you need credit – you just wander into a grocery store (and yes 7-11 are everywhere in China) and buy a top up card. Instructions are in English and this is easy to do.
You should remember that you pay to receive a call in China as well as make one, which can often explain why credit disappears faster than you expect it to. Calls are about the same cost as on most US networks in China. International calling is usually very expensive.
Buying a Phone in China
If you want to buy a phone on your China trip – the good news is that handsets are very cheap. The Xiaomi brand is now the 3rd biggest brand in the world and their flagship handsets offer all the functionality of other top brand handsets at about a quarter of the price of other brands.
The bad news is that other than Xiaomi, phones are more expensive in China (on a like-for-like basis) than they are back home.
There are also plenty of copies (fakes) circulating for every brand. If a handset appears much cheaper than it is in the US – it's almost certainly fake.
The best thing to do on your China vacation is to buy a cheap locally made handset – you can pick one up for about $10. Just check that the menu options are available in English before you commit to it. Then you can use that phone to stay in touch with people in China and still keep your US phone on in case of any emergency calls from back home.
If you're taking your children on your China vacation then you'll want something family friendly to do when your China tour hits Shanghai. Travel in China is incredibly educational and most children really enjoy a trip to China but it's nice to let them unleash their child and for you to unleash your inner child alongside them sometimes too. Here are 5 great child friendly museums in Shanghai to do just that in:
Zotter Chocolate Theatre (Yangpu District)
It's not just children on a China vacation who can't resist the call of lots of free chocolate. Zotter hail from Austria but their production facilities are in China. If you travel to the Yangpu District you can take an English speaking tour of the factory; where you'll learn all you ever needed to know about how chocolate foes from the plant to the confectionary store. Then afterwards – you are free to try as many chocolates as you like. That's a great way to spend some time in Shanghai.
Animation and Comic Museum (Pudong District)
It would be hard to find kids who wouldn't travel to interact with comic books and create animations. China's Animation and Comic Museum in Shanghai is an absolutely awesome experience and a child's highlight from a China trip. You can take a tour of the evolution of comics and animation (not just in China – they also cover a lot of American favourites) and then build your favourite cartoon character out of ceramic materials. It's a lot of fun. Shanghai Glasses Museum (Zhabei District)
Yes, it doesn't sound like much fun but it's actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. The displays of glasses (spectacles) date back as far as the Song Dynasty aren't that fascinating. Though the lady who shows you round does her very best to bring them to life in English. But the chance to find out how animals see the world – is really cool. It's also one of the cheapest day trips in China at 10 RMB a head.
Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom (Pudong District)
You can't really argue with a place stocked full of creepy crawlies and reptiles. It's the kind of place that children love or hate depending on the way they feel about insects. It's really well put together though and the collection is truly fascinating. It could use a little bit more in the way of English signage but bugs speak a language all of their own...
Shanghai Children's Museum (Changning District)
It was the first museum built for children in the whole of China and it's a great place to visit on your vacation. Your children will get to play with local kids and enjoy everything from a pretend trip to the moon, to a pretend submarine. There are crafts areas where children can be as creative as they like and reading rooms, video rooms, etc. too. There is also a whole space dedicated to the importance of protecting the environment.
A China vacation is a great way for your children to learn about China and enjoy an exhilarating travel experience. However, sometimes they're going to want to take a little break from the China tour itinerary and do something… well…. better designed for children. If your China trip includes some time in Shanghai; here are some great ideas for a family day out:
Shanghai Wild Animal Park (Pudong New Area)
If your China trip is going to involve some time in Chengdu; you can probably skip the Wild Animal Park as it doesn't quite compare to the China vacation awe of meeting Giant Pandas face-to-face. However, otherwise this is a great day out and far less depressing than some of China's zoos. You can feed a tiger, ride an elephant, and cuddle a chimp and more here. It's a great place to enjoy some family time.
Fuxing Park (French Concession)
There's nothing nicer than taking a stroll in the park. It's even better when you can enjoy one of China's favourite hobbies on your tour – flying kites. Kite flying is a competitive sport in China and you can expect your kids to ruin a kite or two during their time in the park but they're cheap and it's all part of the fun. There are plenty of less competitive things to do and if you travel to the park in the early morning or evening – you may be able to join in with some relaxing Tai Chi with the locals. Take a picnic and make a day of it.
Eday Town (Minhang District)
It's perhaps the strangest thing you can do on a China vacation but in Eday Town – you can put your children to work, literally. The town is built to let children try out different jobs. They can be a dentist, a pilot, or a police man, etc. The idea is that the children play together and learn together (and the jobs are all play – not real work). Parents are welcome to observe but the children choose the way that their day goes. It's a real-life theme park for children and everything inside has been lovingly recreated at 2/3 of normal size so that kids can really do whatever they want to do.
It's only for the brave but Aquaria 21 brings you up close and personal with some of the fiercest predators in the world and ones you won't see elsewhere on your China tour – sharks! If you really want you can rent a scuba diving outfit and jump in with them (don't worry – they won't bite they're really harmless sand sharks but they do look mean). There's a huge underwater tunnel that lets you almost touch China's marine life in all its endless variety. They even have some penguins which are as cute as they always are. It's pretty good value too with tickets for children starting at just 60 RMB ($10) and those under 1 meter tall – get in free.
If you're planning your China vacation; you may be wondering what your duty free limits will be on a China tour. In general this isn't a major concern for travel in China with customs checks being fairly limited in most entry ports. However, it's always a good idea to stay within the law and this what you're allowed to bring into China on your trip and what you're not allowed to bring too.
Absolutely Banned in China
Bringing any of these materials with you will ruin your China vacation if you are caught. Your China tour group cannot interfere if you break the law in China during your trip:
- Guns, ammunitions and explosives of any kind
- Radio receivers, transmitters, and parts for radios
- More than 20,000 RMB in Cash
- Books, manuscripts, films, records, etc. that may be considered negatively in light of China's political, cultural, economic or ethical climate. This includes pornography, many religious materials, etc.
- Habit forming drugs including all opiates and many prescription drugs – it is important to check prior to entering China if you need supporting documentation for your own prescriptions. Many prescription remedies are not available in China at all and it's essential to travel with the right documentation for such drugs.
- Animals, plants or any products made from these which may be infested with insects.
- Foodstuffs which may be considered unsanitary or prone to infection.
What is permitted to Come into China
China is very flexible when it comes to travel in the country and these are guidelines as to what to bring as opposed to hard rules. Your China vacation will probably be easier if you stay within the limits as customs declarations can be time consuming and occasionally costly.
- Up to 2,000 RMB worth of duty free goods which you do not intend to export from the country. For example; perfume as a gift.
- Unlimited amounts of foreign currency (such as the US Dollar). However, if you bring more than $5,000 worth of currency into China – you must declare it at customs. Trying to leave China with more than $5,000 can be very problematic if you don't declare this.
- Up to 1.5 Litres of alcoholic drinks (with ABV of 12% or more), up to 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco. If you wish to bring more of these items – you need to make a declaration that they are for personal use and pay duty on them. You shouldn't need to bring any large quantities of these products as they are, generally, much cheaper in China than they would be in the United States.
- Any new electronic equipment is technically subject to duty. It is a good idea to remove such equipment from any packaging before you travel to China; unless it is for resale – in which case it is a good idea to declare this and pay the duty on it.
Entering China is generally trouble free for most people and if you follow the rules above – it will be trouble free for you too.