Travel Guide
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(中国 Zhōngguó), formally known as the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is a country in Eastern Asia about the same size as the United States of America.

With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, it borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the South; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the West; Russia and Mongolia to the North and North Korea to the East.

China (中国 Zhōngguó), formally known as the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is a country in Eastern Asia about the same size as the United States of America.

With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, it borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the South; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the West; Russia and Mongolia to the North and North Korea to the East.


China is vast, but it can be divided into the following regions:
  • North-east: Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang. Dongbei, the "rust belt"
  • North: Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin. The Yellow river basin area, historical heartland of China.
  • North-west: Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang. grasslands and deserts, nomadic people, Islam.
  • South-west: Tibet, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou. The exotic part, home to most of the Chinese minorities and spectacular scenery.
  • Southern-central: Anhui, Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi. Farming areas.
  • South-east: Guangdong, Hainan, Fujian. The traditional trading center.
  • East: Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang. The new economic center.

For the full list of administrative regions — provinces, municipalities that are not in provinces, Autonomous Regions for various ethnic groups, Special Administrative Regions (SARs) such as Macau and Hong Kong and Special Economic Zones (SEZs} set up to encourage development — see List of Chinese provinces and regions.

Map of China


China has many large and famous cities. Below is a list of the nine most important to travelers. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.
  • Beijing — capital city and host of the 2008 Olympics
  • Guangzhou — one of China's most prosperous and liberal cities.
  • Guilin — popular destination for both Chinese and foreign tourists, sensational mountain/river scenery
  • Hangzhou — former capital, famously beautiful city, major center for the silk industry
  • Kunming — capital of Yunnan
  • Nanjing — a former capital with many historic relics
  • Shanghai — China's largest city, famous for its riverside scenery. Major commercial center.
  • Suzhou — old city, famous for canals and gardens
  • Xi'an — a former capital, terminus of the ancient Silk Road, home of the terracotta warriors.

An often-quoted poem claims "Heaven has paradise. Earth has Hangzhou and Suzhou".
Many cities have been capitals of China at various times. See #Dynasties_and_capitals below for a list.

Other destinations

Some of the most famous tourist attractions in China are:
  • Great Wall of China
  • Tibet
  • Silk Road
  • Hainan island, tropical paradise

Sacred sites

For sacred mountains, see the next section.
Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China have famous Buddhist art:
  • the 1,500-year-old Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi Province. There are more than 51,000 Buddhist carvings in the recesses and caves that cover the mountain-sides in the Yangang Valley.
  • the Mogao Caves, near Dunhuang in Gansu province, with both art and manuscripts, some dating back to the 4th century
  • Dazu Rock Carvings near Chongqing, date from the 7-13th century
  • the Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang, 5th to 10th century


China (including Tibet) is home to many sacred mountains.
  • The Five Great Mountains (五岳 Wǔyuè), associated with Taoism:
    • Mount Tai, Shandong Province (1545 meters)
    • Mount Hua, Shaanxi Province (1,997 meters)
    • Mount Heng (Hunan), Hunan Province (1,290 meters)
    • Mount Heng (Shanxi), Shanxi province (2,017 meters)
    • Mount Song, Henan province (1,494)
  • The Four Sacred Mountains (四大佛教名山), associated with Buddhism:
    • Mount Emei, Sichuan Province (3099 meters)
    • Mount Jiuhua, Anhui Province (1342 meters)
    • Mount Putuo, Zhejiang Province (297 meters)
    • Mount Wutai, Shanxi Province (3058 meters)
  • The three main sacred mountains of Tibetan Buddhism:
    • Mount Kailash, known as Gang Rinpoche in Tibetan, Tibet (5,656 meters), also visited by Hindu pilgrims
    • Kawa Karpo
    • Amnye Machen

There are also several other well-known mountains. In China, many mountains have temples, even if they are not especially scared sites.
  • Mount Wuyi, Fujian province, a major tourist/scenic site
  • Mount Everest, on the Tibet/Nepal border, world's highest mountain
  • Mount Huang (Yellow Mountain), in Anhui province, with scenery and temples
  • Mount Wudang, near Danjiangkou in Hubei, famous for kung fu


Some itineraries cover trips that are entirely within China:
  • A week near Hong Kong
  • Along the Yangtze river
  • Along the Yellow river

Others are partly in China:
  • Europe to South Asia over land
  • Overland from Singapore to Shanghai
  • Silk Road, ancient caravan route from China to Europe
  • Karakoram Highway, Western China to Pakistan through the Himalayas
  • On the trail of Marco Polo


The climate is also extremely diverse, from tropical in the South to subarctic in the North. Hainan Island is roughly at the latitude of Jamaica while Harbin, one of the largest cites in the North, is at the latitude of Montreal.

There is also a wide range of terrain with mostly mountains, high plateaus, and deserts in west; while plains, deltas, and hills can be found in the east. On the border between Tibet and Nepal lies Mount Everest, at 8,850 m, being the highest point on earth. While the Turpan depression, in northwest China has the lowest point of the country, at 154 m below sea level. This is also the second lowest point on land in the world, after the Dead Sea in Israel.


China is a huge country with endless travel opportunities. However, during holidays, tickets of any kind are hard to come by and the rates for hotel rooms skyrocket. It can be quite difficult to find a seat of any kind, especially for those traveling from remote western China to the east coast or in the opposite direction.

China has three major annual holidays:
  • National Day, October 1
  • Chinese New Year or Spring Festival (春节 chūnjié), late January to mid February
  • Labour Day (May Day), May 1

These aren't one-day holidays: workers get at least a week or two off for Chinese New Year and one week is common for both National Day and Labour Day. Students generally get at least four weeks off at Spring Festival and a 9-day (two weekends framing a work week) break for the other two.

Also, during early July millions of university students go home and in late August they return to school, jamming transportation options, especially between the east coast and the western provinces of Sichuan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

At these times, traveling should be planned well in advance or even reconsidered all together. Tens of millions of migrant workers return home and millions of other Chinese travel. Any mode of transportation is crowded and it may be necessary to book well in advance. Also various travel services such as hotels raise their prices for the high season.

Spring Festival is especially busy. Not only is it the longest holiday, it is also a traditional time to visit family, much as Christmas is in the West. More or less all the university students (20-odd million of them!) go home, and more or less all the migrant workers who have left their farms and villages for better pay in the cities go home. This is often the only chance they have. Everyone wants to go home, and China has a lot of "everyone"!

Get in Visas

Most travelers will need a visa. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure. Please note that traveling to Hong Kong and Macau have different visa requirements. See those guides for more information. As of 2005, nationals of Singapore, Brunei and Japan do not need a visa to visit China for a stay of up to 15 days, regardless reason of visit.

Hong Kong and Macau residents need to obtain a Home Travel Permit to visit China from the China Travel Service, which is a wallet size ID card valid normally for 10 years multiple entry.
Getting a tourist visa is easy for most passports as you don't need an invitation, which you do for business or working visas. It is expensive compared to other countries' visa fees (currently $50 USD for U.S. passport holders and $35 for those hold passports from other countries). The usual tourist single-entry visa is valid for thirty days and must be used within three months after it was issued. However, in Hong Kong and Macau you can often get a 3 month visa.

Visa overview
L visa tourism
F visa business trips, internships, short study
Z visa working
X visa study more than 6 months

Some travelers will need a dual entry or multiple entry visa. For example, if you enter China on a single entry visa, then go to Hong Kong or Macau, you cannot re-enter China without a new visa. With a multiple entry visa, you can.

Holders of most passports can easily get Chinese visas in Hong Kong or Macau, either by going to the government office themselves or paying a bit more to have a travel agent do it for them. China Travel Services handles visa processing. Currently they offer Same-day-service at extra cost: in by 12PM, out by 5:30PM. Next day and 3 day services are also available.

Obtaining a visa on arrival is sometimes possible, but usually only for the Shenzhen or Zhuhai Special Economic Zones. This is not recommended as it is not possible at some entry points or for some passports, and the visas are restricted: they do not allow travel outside the SEZ.

There may be restrictions on visas for political reasons and these vary over time. For example as of mid-2004:
  • Nigerians could not get visas in Hong Kong, presumably because the Chinese Government was upset that Nigeria extended diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.
  • Americans could no longer get Shenzhen-only visas at the border, presumably because the Chinese Government was irritated by US fingerprinting of Chinese travelers.
  • British nationals could no longer get Shenzhen-only visas at the border. (In February 2007 British passport holders can get a Shenzhen visa, although they pay around HK$450 for it.)
  • As of mid-2006, South Africans are having trouble with visas. No one seems to know why.

By plane

While several major airlines fly to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, budget seats can prove hard to come by. For good offers, book as early as you can.

Particularly busy periods are usually when Chinese students are flying home for Summer, flying back to Universities around the world after Summer or around Chinese New Year (early February). Tickets at these times are often hard to get and/or more expensive.

If you live somewhere like Toronto or San Francisco with a large overseas Chinese community, check for cheap flights with someone in that community. Sometimes flights advertised only in the Chinese newspapers are significantly less.

Tiger Airways , Bangkok Airways and Air Asia offer low-priced flights from Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila) to various destinations in southern China, including Xiamen, Jinghong, Guangzhou, Haikou and Macau.

Oasis Airways [5] is due to start flying in late October 2006, offering cheap no-frills flights between Hong Kong and Europe. Initial route will be Hong Kong to London with fares starting at $1000 HK ($125 US) one way, $6600 HK ($825 US) for business class. Flights to several other European cities plus Oakland and Chicago in the US are planned for later.

Many fliers prefer Asian airlines, which generally have more cabin staff and better service. Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific is an obvious possibility for flights to China. Others include Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Indonesia's Garuda.
Taiwan-based China Airlines does not fly to mainland China, but their Amsterdam-Bangkok-Taipei-Hong Kong route is sometimes cheaper than more direct flights and stopovers are possible.

Korean Air often have good prices on flights from various places in Asia, such as Bangkok via Seoul to North America. One person on a mailing list reported that taking a train to Southern China, cheap Macau-Bangkok flight, then Korean Air Bangkok-Seoul-LA was $200 cheaper than flying direct Shanghai-LA. Korean Air also fly to a dozen or so Chinese cities, including Shanghai, but we do not know if the big discounts are available there.

China's own airlines are growing rapidly (500 planes in 2000, 863 as of May 2006; they say 1580 by 2010 and 3200 by 2024) and working hard at becoming highly competitive in both service and pricing. They include China Southern [9], China Eastern, and Air China.

North American airlines: United Airlines, the dominant US carrier serving China, currently flies to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai from Chicago and San Francisco. Continental Airlines flies to Hong Kong and Beijing from Newark. Northwest Airlines and American Airlines also fly to China. Air Canada has flights from Toronto and Vancouver to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
European airlines: Air France flies from Paris to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. British Airways goes to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. KLM fly direct Amsterdam-Chengdu, as well as to other Chinese cities. Finnish Airlines have a direct Helsinki-Guangzhou flight.

If you are coming into Hong Kong or Macau and then flying on to somewhere in mainland China, consider crossing the border to Shenzhen or Zhuhai and picking up a flight there. These are usually significantly cheaper. See also Discount airlines in Asia.

By train

The Trans-Siberian railway originates in Moscow and terminates in Beijing, stopping in various other Russian cities, as well as Ulaan Baator, Mongolia.

From Almaty, Kazakhstan one can travel by rail to Urumqi in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. There are long waits at the border crossing for customs, as well as for changing the wheelbase for the next country's track.
Regular rail service links mainland China with Hong Kong.

There is also a train from Nanning in Guangxi province into Vietnam.
There are four weekly connections between the North Korean capital Pyongyang and Beijing.
Timetable of Local Train (in Chinese).

By car

It is illegal for foreigners to drive in China without a Chinese license; however, this will finally change in 2007 as short-term driving without a Chinese license becomes legal. International licenses are currently not recognised, and importing a foreign vehicle is nearly impossible. You may however rent a car with a driver.
See more at: Driving in China

By bus

From Vietnam
For most travellers Hanoi is the origin for any overland journey to China. There are at the moment 3 border gates open for foreigners:
  • Dong Dang (V) - Pingxiang (C)
    You can catch a local bus from Hanoi's eastern bus station (Ben Xe Gia Lam, Ben Xe St., Gia Lam District, Phone: 04/827-1529). That will take you to Lang Son, where you have to switch transport to minibus or motorbike to reach the border at Dong Dang. Alternatively there are many offers from Open-Tour-Providers. If you are in a hurry, they might be a good option for they take you directly from your hotel to the border gate. You can change money with freelance-moneychangers, but check the rate carefully and beforehand. Formalities take about 30 minutes. On the Chinese side, walk up past the "Friendship-gate" and catch a taxi (about ¥20, bargain hard!) to Pingxiang, Guangxi. A seat in a minibus is ¥5. There is a Bank of China branch right across the street from the main bus station. You can use maestro-cards on the ATM. You can either travel by bus or train to Nanning
  • Lao Cai (V) - Hekou (C)
  • Mong Cai (V) - Dongxing (C)

At Dongxing, you can take a bus to Nanning, a sleeper bus to Guangzhou (approximately ¥180), or a sleeper bus to Shenzhen (approximately ¥230 and 12 hours).

From Laos
From Luang Namtha you can get a bus leaving at around 8 a.m. going to Boten (Chinese border) and Mengla. You need to have a Chinese visa beforehand as there is no way to get one on arrival. The border is close (about 1 hr). Customs procedures will eat up another good hour. The trip costs about 45k Kip. Also, there is a direct Chinese sleeper bus connection from Vientiane to Kunming (about 32 hours). You can jump in this bus at the border, when the minibus from Luang Namtha and the sleeper meet. Don't pay more than ¥200, though.

From Pakistan
The Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan into Western China is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It's closed for tourists for a few months in winter.

From Nepal
The road from Nepal to Tibet passes near Mount Everest, and through amazing mountain scenery. Entering Tibet from Nepal is only possible for tourists on package tours.

By boat
There is regular ferry and hovercraft service between various points on the mainland, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai to Hong Kong and Macau.

To Japan
There is a 2-day ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka, Japan. Service is once or twice weekly, depending on season. A twice-weekly ferry also connects Qingdao to Shimonoseki.

To South Korea
There is a ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Incheon, the main port of South Korea. Another line is from Qingdao or Weihai to Incheon.

Get around

By plane

China has many domestic flights to all the major cities and tourist destinations.
Prices for domestic flights are set at standard rates, but discounts are common, especially on the busier routes. Most good hotels will have a travel ticket service and will be able to save you 15%-40% off the price of tickets. Even after considering discounts, travelling by plane in China is not inexpensive.

Do be prepared for flight delays; these are on the increase despite pressure from both the government and consumers.
Travelling between mainland cities and Hong Kong or Macau is considered an international flight and so can be quite expensive. Although more of a hassle, it is usually much cheaper to fly to or from Shenzhen or Zhuhai, just across the border, or Guangzhou, which is a little further, but offers flights to more destinations.

As an example, the distance from Fuzhou to Hong Kong, Shenzhen or Guangzhou is about the same, but as of mid-2005 flying to Hong Kong cost ¥1400 while list price for the other cities was ¥880 and for Shenzhen discounts to ¥550 were available. Overnight bus to any of them was about ¥250.

By train

Train travel is the major mode of long-distance transportation for the Chinese themselves, with an extensive network of routes covering the entire country.

There are five classes of travel:
  • hard seats (硬座 yìngzuǒ)
  • soft seats (软座 ruǎnzuǒ)
  • hard sleepers (硬卧 yìngwò)
  • soft sleepers (软卧 ruǎnwò)
  • standing

Soft sleepers are the most comfortable mode of transportation and are still relatively cheap by Western standards. The soft sleeper compartments contain four bunks stacked two to a column (though some newer trains have two-bunk compartments), with a latchable door for privacy, and are quite spacious. Hard sleepers, on the other hand, have 3 beds per column open to the corridor, with the highest bunk very high up, leaving little space for headroom. Also note that the "hard" sleeper is not "hard" - the beds have a mattress and are generally quite comfortable. All sleepers have pillows and blanket.

Hard seats (which are actually padded) are not for everyone, especially overnight, as they are 5 seats wide, in a three and two arrangement) but it is this class that most of the backpacker crowd travels in. You may still buy tickets for a fully booked train, the seat section of your ticket will be marked differently. You may be able to be assigned a seat by the conductor, or it may mean standing in the aisle. Consider carrying a tripod chair in your backpack to make such journeys more comfortable. Despite the "no smoking" signs, there is invariably a crowd of smokers at the ends of the cars and occasional smokers within the car. Overnight travel in this class is extremely uncomfortable if you are not a smoker.

It is a good idea to ask a local friend to buy 'hard' tickets as the sellers are not always willing to sell them to foreigners.
The bathrooms on trains tend to be more usable than on buses or most public areas, because they are simple devices that empty the contents directly onto the track.

Long distance trains will have a buffet or dining car, which serves hot (but generally overpriced by Chinese standards, at ¥25 or so) food. The menu will be entirely in Chinese, but if you're willing to take the chance, interpret some of the Chinese characters, or ask for common dishes by name, you can eat very well. If you are on a strict budget, wait until the train stops at a station; there are normally stall vendors on the platform who can sell you some noodles or fruit at better prices. Trains also have boiled water available; bring tea, soups and instant noodles to make your own food.

Be careful of your valuables while on the train; property theft on public transportation has gone up in recent years.
Motion sickness pills are recommended if you are inclined toward that type of ailment.

If you have some things to share on the train, you'll have fun. The Chinese families and business people traveling the route are just as bored as the next guy and will be happy to attempt conversation or share a movie shown on a laptop. All in all, the opportunity to see the countryside going by is a neat experience.

By bus

Traveling by public city buses (公共汽车 gōnggòngqìchē) or long distance buses (长途汽车 changtuqìchē) is inexpensive and ideal for in-city and short distances transportation.

Local public city buses start at around ¥1 and can be quite packed during rush hour. More modern buses with air conditioning start at ¥2. Fares are sometimes marked on the outside of bus doors or beneath the cash slot inside. No change is provided unless there is a ticket conductor. The price of the fare increases for longer distance trips to as much as ¥5 or more.

Coaches, or long-distance buses, differ drastically and can be a reasonably comfortable or very unpleasant experience. Coaches originating from larger cities on the east coast tend to be air conditioned with soft seats or sleepers. The roads are very good and the ride is smooth, allowing you to enjoy the view or take a snooze. Coaches are often a better, though more expensive option than trains. Bus personnel tend to try to be helpful, but they are much less familiar with foreigners than airline personnel and English ability is very rare. Some coaches have bathrooms, but they are frequently dirty and using them can be a real challenge as the bus turns a corner and water in the basin splashes around.

A coach in rural China is a different experience altogether. Rarely is there an English sign in the station to identify buses and your coach's license plate number is supposed to be printed on the ticket, but all too often that is inaccurate. Bus personnel frequently lack in politeness and your fellow passengers lack in manners as they spit on the floor and out the window and smoke. It will be especially cozy if the driver decides to continually stop and pick up as many passengers as he can cram into the bus. The roads in rural China are frequently little more than a series of potholes, which makes for a painful ride; if you have a seat in the back of the bus you'll spend much of your trip flying through the air. Scheduled times of departure and arrival are only rough estimates, as many buses won't leave until every seat is sold, which can add hours, and breakdowns and other mishaps can significantly extend your trip. The misery of your ride is only compounded if you have to travel for 10 or 20 hours straight. As gut-wrenching as all this sounds, short of shelling out the cash for your own personal transport, rural coaches are the only forms of transportation in many areas of China.

Everywhere in China drivers often disregard the rules of the road, and accidents are frequent. Sudden swerves and stops can cause injury, so keep a good hold wherever possible. Horn honking is widespread among Chinese coach drivers, so a set of earplugs is a good idea if you plan on sleeping during the trip.

Sleeper busses are common in China; instead of seats they have bunk beds. These are a good way to cover longer distances — overnight at freeway speeds is 1000 km or more — but they are not all that comfortable for large or tall travelers. You have to remove your shoes as you enter the bus; a plastic bag is provided to store them. If you normally travel in boots, it is worth getting a pair of kung fu slippers to make this easy.

By subway

Major cities — at least Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Nanjing — have a subway (地铁 dìtiě) system. Chongqing has a monorail system. Most of these systems are being expanded, and new ones are under construction (as of mid-2006) in other cities such as Hangzhou and Xian. Generally these are modern, clean and efficient. The signs and ticket machines are in both English and Chinese.

By taxi

Taxis (出租车 chūzūchē or 的士 dishì) are generally common, and reasonably priced. Flagfalls range from ¥5 in some cities to ¥12 in others, with a km charge around ¥2. In most situations, expect between ¥10 and ¥50 for an ordinary trip within the city. There is no extra charge for luggage, but in many cities rates are a bit higher at night. While drivers trying to cheat you by taking a longer way are not unheard of, it is not that common, and usually shouldn't be a nuisance.

Finding a taxi during peak hours can be a bit hard. But it really gets tough if it is raining. Away from peak hours, especially at night, it is sometimes possible to get a 10% to 20% discount especially if you negotiate it in advance, even if with the meter on, and asking for the receipt. As with everything else in China you should not tip. Incredibly, taxi drivers in many cities will refuse it.
Note that sitting in the front passenger seat of taxis is the norm -- some taxis even mount the taxi meter down by the gearbox, where you can only see it from the front seat.

Note that even in major cities like Shanghai or Beijing, it is extremely unlikely to find an English-speaking taxi driver. Chinese language phonetics being quite far from English, keep in mind that even if you say the name of your destination in Chinese (but with your native pronunciation), you can easily be misunderstood, or not understood at all. Therefore, it is advisable to keep a written note of the name of place where you want to go to by taxi, if you can't speak Mandarin. Chinese characters will work better for this than the Romanized (pinyin) version. Get business cards for your hotel, and for restaurants you like, to show taxi drivers.

If you are in China for any length of time, consider getting a cell phone so you can call Chinese friends and let them tell the driver where to take you.

In most cities, taxi companies use a star-rating system for drivers, ranging from 0 to 5, displayed on the drivers name-plate, in front of the passenger seat. While no or few stars do not necessarily indicated a bad driver, many stars tend to indicate good knowledge of the city, and willingness to take you to where you asked by the shortest way. Another indicator of the drivers ability can be found on the same name-plate, in the driver's ID number. A small number tells you he has been around for a long time, and is likely to know the place very well.

Be aware that the Chinese can be relatively aggressive when it comes to finding a taxi, and the person who flags down a particular car is not necessarily entitled to that ride. Having natives maneuver farther up traffic to intercept cars or being shoved out of the way while trying to enter a taxi is not unheard of. If there are others in the area competing for rides, be ready to reach your car and enter it as soon as possible after flagging it down.

By bicycle

China has been referred to as the "bicycle kingdom". Bikes are the commonest transportation method; at rush hour almost anywhere in China you will see hundreds of them. Most are fairly basic single-speed clunkers, but multi-geared racing style bikes are pretty common as well, and there are some mountain bikes. For the traveller, bicycles (zìxíngchē, 自行车) can be a cheap, convenient means of transport that beats being squeezed into a public bus for hours on end.

There are two great dangers for bicyclists in China:
  • One is the rest of the traffic; cars and motorcycles frequently pull out without any warning, and in some areas red lights are apparently optional. See the more extensive comment at Driving in China.
  • If your bike doesn't get run over by a motorcycle, it is still under threat from thievery. Bicycle theft is rampant throughout China. Bring at least one high-grade lock from home if you plan to use bikes much, especially if you will have a fancy, new foreign bike. Also, try to park in areas with a guard as much as possible; there will usually be a small fee, but it is worth it.

In most tourist areas — whether major cities like Beijing or heavily-touristed villages such as Yangshuo — bicycles are easy to rent and there is a repair shop around every corner. Guided bike tours are also readily available.

Buying a bicycle is not too much of a hassle, as most supermarkets carry a good stock of bikes, starting from as little as ¥150 ($18). The problem is that the average bike sold in China is of low quality, and it is not unheard of for a pedal or fender to fall off after riding a new bike for only one block. Bicycle repair shops are frequent in most Chinese cities; it might be a bit difficult for the average tourist to identify them if they cannot read Chinese, but usually you can just look for bikes and tires. For a quick fix to a sudden flat tire, there are also many people standing by along the road with a bowl of water and a repairkit ready.

China is a vast country and it may not appeal to the average tourist to bike across mountains and desert. Despite the difficulties of traveling by bicycle in China it is not unheard of to see foreign tourists biking across the Tibetan Plateau or through some ethnic minority village. See Karakoram Highway for one spectacular but difficult route. Companies such as Bike China and Intrepid Travel organise such tours for small groups.

By car

Rented cars often come with a driver; that is probably the best way to travel China by car. International Driver's Permits are not valid in China; to drive yourself you have to get a Chinese driver's licence.
See more at: Driving in China

By motorcycle

Motorcycle taxis are common, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. They are usually cheap and effective but somewhat scary. The fares are negotiable.
For info on riding yourself, see Driving in China#Motorcycles

By pedicab

In some mid-sized cities, pedicabs are a much more convenient means of travelling short distances.

By rickshaw

Sanlunche (三轮车), the Chinese term used both for pedaled and auto rickshaws, are ubiquitous in rural China and lesser developed (which is to say, less touristy) areas of larger cities. Negotiating the price in advance is a must.

Constant assertions on this and other sites that "the drivers will frequently try and rip you off" puzzle long-time China travellers. Posters must be talking about ripoff artists working tourist destinations, like Silk Alley in Beijing; Wanfujing; and beware the Lao She Tea House in particular. Perhaps the rule of thumb should be, "Beware of anyone selling anything near tourist traps."
If you notice normal Chinese families using the "sanlun"-- for instance, between the Beijing Zoo and its nearest subway stop-- then it's safe. Don't patronize any sanlun wearing some old fashioned costume to attract tourists. He'll try to charge you ten times the going rate.

Try to choose pedicabs over motorized transport. You'll be helping the truly poor stay in business, and reducing pollution. .



Massage is available all over China, often both high quality and reasonably priced.
  • Almost any hairdresser will give a hair wash and head massage for ¥10. This often includes cleaning out ear wax and some massage on neck and arms. With a haircut and/or a shave, ¥15 to ¥25.
  • Foot massage is widely available, often indicated by a picture of a bare footprint on the sign. Prices are from ¥15 to about ¥60.
  • Whole body massage is also widespread, at prices from ¥15 an hour up. There are two varieties: anmo (按摩) is general massage, tuina (推拿) concentrates on the meridians used in acupuncture.
    • The most expert massages are in massage hospitals, or general Chinese medicine hospitals, usually at ¥50 an hour or a bit more.
    • The best value is at tiny out-of-the-way places some of whose staff are blind — traditionally, massage is a trade for the blind in Asia — with expert work for ¥15 to ¥30 an hour.

These three types of massage are often mixed; many places offer all three.
Some massage places are actually brothels. Prostitution is illegal in China but quite common and often disguised as massage. Most hot spring or sauna establishments offer all the services a businessman might want for relaxation. As for the smaller places, if you see pink lighting or lots of girls in short skirts, probably considerably more than just massage is on offer, and quite often they cannot do a good massage.

The non-pink-lit places usually give good massage and generally do not offer sex.

It is possible to take a few hours nap in many massage places and even to spend the night in some. Hairdressers generally do not have facilities for this, but you can sleep on the table in a body massage place or (much better) on the couch used for foot massage. Fees are moderate; this is probably the cheapest way to sleep in China. Note, however, that except in high-end saunas with private rooms, you will share the staff's toilet and there may not be any way to lock up luggage.

Language for massage:
  • "tong" and "bu tong" are "pain" and "no pain"
  • "hao" and "bu hao" are "good" and "not good"; "hen hao" is "very good" or "great"
  • "yao" is "want", "bu yao" "don't want"
  • "yang" is "that tickles"

There are several ways a masseur or masseuse might ask a question. For example "does this hurt" might be asked as "tong bu tong?" or "tong ma?". For either, answer "tong" or "bu tong".


Karst formations, Guilin
Karst scenery
Karst is type of limestone formation named after an area in Slovenia.
Large parts of Southern China have karst terrain, including some of the most famous tourist areas — Wu Yi Mountain in Fujian, Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi. Many people think Chinese paintings of karst terrain are strange stylised representations of mountains and are amazed to discover that China actually has mountains that look like that.


Map of Chinese dialects
The official language of China is Standard Mandarin, known in Chinese as Putonghua (普通话, "common speech"). It has been the only language used in education on the mainland since the 1950s, so most people speak it. However, the pronunciation varies quite a lot from region to region. Unless otherwise noted, all terms, spellings and pronunciations in this guide are standard Mandarin.
Many regio
ns also have their own "dialect". These are really distinct languages, as different as French and Italian. The largest dialect groups are Cantonese, spoken in Guangdong (Canton), Wu (Shanghainese), spoken in the region around Shanghai, and Minnan (Hokkien, Teochew), spoken in the region around Xiamen. Many Chinese are bilingual in the local language and Mandarin. A few who are older, less educated or from the countryside may speak only the local dialect, but this is unlikely to affect tourists. It often helps to have a guide that can speak the local language as it marks that person as an insider, and you as a friend of the insider.

Whatever the spoken dialect, the written language is always the same. Even Japanese and Korean use many of the same characters with the same meaning. There is a complication in this, however. Mainland China uses "simplified characters", adopted to facilitate literacy education some years back. Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and by many overseas Chinese, but also on the mainland in advertising and commercial signs. As a result you will just as often see 银行 (yínháng) as 銀行 for "bank". The simplification was however fairly systematic, which means that all hope is not lost for the traveler trying to pick up some sign-reading skills.

English speakers

Although most Chinese are taught some English at school, and passing an English exam is a requirement for a university degree, the focus of the instruction is formal grammar and writing rather than conversation. As a result, few learn it well enough to be able to participate in an English conversation. Outside of the largest cities and the major tourist areas, it is quite rare to find locals who speak decent English.

That said, a few locals who have studied English to university level (especially if abroad) generally have a reasonable to very good standard of English.

Useful hint: it's often helpful if you try to simplify your English. Stay away from using complex phrasing like "Would you mind if I come back tomorrow?" and stick to simpler, more abrupt phrasing like "I will come back tomorrow."

Learning Chinese

In the West, Chinese has an undeserved reputation as being exceptionally difficult to learn. While it is very different from English or other Western languages, there is no reason that a traveller can not learn a bit of Chinese; every bit you learn will be of enormous help. The main difficulty with learning to speak Chinese is the pronunciation; basic grammar is very simple.

Written Chinese is famously complex, however there is the advantage of it being easier to learn a bit of. In alphabetic writing systems, you can't understand anything until you know the whole alphabet and speak a good deal of the language. In Chinese on the other hand it's very straightforward to pick up the characters, for example for "Internet Cafe" or "Fried Noodles", without knowing anything else about the language. If you have a good visual memory, you may even end up knowing what a sign means, without being able to pronounce it out loud — still a useful skill even if only to distinguish, say, the exit 出口 from the entrance 入口. To bridge the gap between recognizing and reading out loud, pinyin was developed, which uses latin script to help teach Chinese to schoolchildren and foreigners. It is not obvious, as letters and combinations are not what you would expect, but learning it at even a basic level already has enormous practical value for the traveller.
Also see the Learning section.



The official currency of the People's Republic of China is the renminbi (人民币 "People's Money"), often abbreviated RMB. The official base unit of this currency is the yuan (元), international currency code CNY. All prices in China are denoted in yuan, usually either as ¥ or 元.

The yuan was pegged at 8.29 to the US dollar until 2005 when the Chinese government revalued it somewhat and linked it to a basket of currencies. It stayed around 8 yuan to the dollar for most of 2005 and 2006, and as of December is at 7.80. Various other governments are pressing China to further revalue the yuan, which would make Chinese exports more expensive and foreign imports cheaper in China. An eventual further change, increasing the value of the yuan, seems almost certain but a sudden dramatic change appears quite unlikely.

Cheat Sheet
10 fen (分) is 1 jiao (角)
10 jiao is 1 yuan (元), the base unit
yuan is commonly called kuai (块)
jiao is commonly called mao (毛)
10 is shí (十)
100 is bǎi (百)
1000 is qiān (千)
10000 is wàn (万)

The official subdivisions of the yuan are the jiao (角), at 10 jiao to the yuan, and the fen (分) at 10 fen to the jiao. A coin worth ¥0.10 will thus say 壹角 ("1 jiao"), not "10 fen", on it. But in colloquial Mandarin, nobody ever speaks of yuan; the standard term is kuai (块), and the jiao is also dubbed the mao (毛) instead. The fen remains the same, so a price like ¥3,75 would thus be read as "3 kuai 7 mao 5 fen" (although the trailing unit is often omitted).

When dealing with numbers, note that for example "wu bai san," literally "five hundred three," means 530 or "five hundred three tens," with the trailing unit dropped. The number 503 would be read as "wu bai ling san," literally "five hundred zero three." Similarly "yi qian ba", literally "one thousand eight", means 1800. When using larger numbers, keep in mind that Chinese has a word for ten thousand, wàn (万), and thus for example 50000 becomes "wu wan", not "wu shi qian".

Chinese coins and bills

Note also that a lot of Chinese currency will be in the form of bills — even small change. These days there seems to be a shift towards coins for obvious reasons of convenience. In the meantime though even the jiao, at just one tenth of a yuan, exists as both a bill (the smallest) and two different coins. Conversely, one kuai exists both as a coin and as two different bills. You should be prepared to recognize and handle either version!

Counterfeiting is really a major problem, especially of ¥50 and ¥100 bills — when you buy currency, ask the teller to check for counterfeit bills. Examine all such bills you receive as change. Be suspicious when you get several bills with lower denominations on top. Counterfeit notes bear a watermark, which looks good to an inexperienced eye. Better try to get used to the slightly coarse surface on genuine bills. Counterfeits have very (too) bright and luminous colours and a very fine surface. It is not considered impolite to refuse bills and to ask to have them changed.
Try to break your hundreds at larger stores or restaurants so you do not have to accept a fifty (the most commonly counterfeited note) in change from a taxi driver.

Changing money
Obtaining RMB in western countries can be a difficult or impossible task, and even where available the exchange rates are generally extremely unfavorable. It's generally less problematic to wait until arrival and using your debit or credit card in a local cash machine, which can be found everywhere in most towns. In recent years the official exchange rates have been close to market value, so official exchange rates can provide amounts similar to, or better than, unofficial ones. The airports in Beijing and Shanghai have cash machines which accept most international debit/credit cards. Be sure to check for the Plus or Cirrus symbols (whichever your bank supports), as there are many ATMs which are not linked to international networks and may retain your card, a very unpleasant prospect. If you have trouble because the ATM requires a 6 digit PIN and you only have 4 digits, try 2 leading zeroes! Also, when venturing into more remote regions it is advisable to carry sufficient cash, as ATMs with international network access may not be available.


Outside of hotels, acceptance of credit cards is infrequent, and most transactions will require cash. Beware of pickpockets.
Many stores have point-of-sale terminals for Chinese bank cards; typically these will not work for foreign cards. If you are going to spend a lot of time in China and use significant amounts of money, get a Chinese bank account.

In general, anything with a marked price tends to be sold at that price or slightly below, but there is large room for bargaining if there is no stamped price. If you are buying anything which is not from a fixed price store, bargaining is normal, though you may get a better price if you let a local person do the buying for you. Vendors will charge the lowest price to local people (who can speak the dialect), next lowest price to other Chinese nationals, and the highest price to foreigners. Bear in mind, however, that some middle and upper class locals may not be willing to bargain as mercylessly as you would.

Many visitors come looking for antiques, and hunting in the flea markets can be great fun. Be aware however that the overwhelming majority of the "antique" items you will be shown are fakes, no matter how convincing they look. You are advised not to spend serious money unless you know what you are doing, since novices are almost always taken for a ride.

In bargaining over price, local people will tend to engage in hard bargaining behavior that foreigners may consider rude (e.g. commenting unfavorably on the quality of the merchandise). Discussions over price generally remain calm however - Monty Python style histrionics usually fail to make progress. As a tourist, every vendor is going to try to make you overpay. To get a good idea of accurate pricing, pick an item that you want, and is common to many stalls. Call an absurdly low price (like 1-5% of the calling price) for it. When they say "No. Are you crazy?", look at the item a bit longer, and start to leave. They will call out progressively lower and lower prices for the item, the farther you get from them. Remember the lowest price they call out (they may even accept your "absurdly low" price). Go to the next stall, and repeat, with a price that is about 50-75% of the previous lowest. Eventually, you will find a fair price. You can obtain obscenely low prices this way, but don't abuse your bargaining power! Many people depend on making decent margins off of tourists to survive. It never hurts to pay a little more than the lowest price, and it might make all the difference to a poor merchant whose monthly rent or food costs may be little more than your purchase price. See also How to haggle.

Bogus goods
China has a reputation for forging almost anything, and it is not entirely undeserved. Almost anything you buy might be bogus. Luxury goods such as jade, expensive ceramics and other artworks, antiques or carpets are particularly risky. Unless you are an expert on whatever you want to buy, you are quite likely to get sold low quality merchandise at high prices. For such goods, is usually best to deal with a large and reputable vendor; you may not get quite the bargains an expert could find elsewhere, but you probably won't get cheated either.

Most of the "antique" furniture available is replicas. Much of the "jade" is either glass or low quality stone that has been dyed a nice green; some is even plastic. Various "stone carvings" are actually molded glass. The "samurai swords" are mostly either inferior weapons mass produced for the Japanese military in world war II or Chinese copies. At the right price, such goods can be a very good buy. However, none of them are worth anywhere near the price of real top-quality goods.
Most CDs (music or software) and DVDs in China are unauthorised copies. The ones that sell around a dollar US and come in cheap paper envelopes are absolutely certain to be bogus. Some of the ones at higher prices with better packaging might be legal copies, but it is hard to tell. Probably the best way to avoid bogus discs is to buy at one of the larger bookstores or department stores; most of these have a CD/DVD section. Prices are around $2 to $5.

There are a lot of apparently silver coins in China. In the 19th century, the emperor decreed that foreigners had to pay for all silk and tea in silver, so there are hundreds of Mexican, US, French Indochina, Chinese and other silver dollars about, mostly dated 1850-1920. Unfortunately, most coins on sale now are counterfeit. In tourist areas, nearly all are bogus.
Items with big worldwide brand labels sold in China may be bogus, especially expensive sporting goods like brand name running shoes or golf clubs. By no means all are bogus; major companies do market in China, but some will be unauthorised or downright bogus. There are a number of sources of these.

  • The most common variant comes from a Chinese firm that gets a contract to deliver, say 100,000 shirts to BigBrand. They have to actually make a few more than that because some will fail quality control. Maybe 105,000? What the heck, make 125,000. Any extras will be easy to sell; after all they have the BigBrand label. So 25,000 shirts — a few "factory seconds" and many perfectly good shirts — arrive on the Chinese market, without BigBrand's authorisation. A traveller might be happy to buy these — just check carefully to avoid the seconds and you get exactly the shirt BigBrand sells for a much better price.
  • However, it doesn't end there. If the factory owner is greedy, he goes on to crank out a bunch more. Only now he doesn't have to worry about BigBrand's strict quality control. He can cut a few corners, slap the BigBrand label on them, and make a great profit. These may or may not be a good buy, but in any case they are not what you would expect from BigBrand.
  • Finally, of course, some other factory may be cranking out utterly bogus "BigBrand" shirts. On these outright forgeries, they often misspell the brand name, which is a dead giveaway. It is not clear whether this is stupidity, really limited English, or some sort of odd attempt at avoiding lawsuits.

One traveller found a reversible jacket with "Adidas" on one side and "Nike" on the other. This might be an interesting curiosity, but it definitely is not a genuine example of either brand.

There are two basic rules for dealing with expensive brand name goods in China.
  • First, you cannot just trust the brand; inspect the goods carefully for flaws. Check the spelling on labels.
  • Second, if the deal seems too good to be true, be very suspicious. China makes a lot of good cheap products, but a hundred dollar "Rolex" is utterly certain to be bogus.

Bogus goods can cause legal problems. Selling "pirate" DVDs or forged brand name goods is illegal in China, but enforcement is lax. It is generally much less lax at customs for travellers' home countries. Customs officials will seize "pirate" DVDs or bogus brand name goods if they find them. In some cases, they might even lay charges.

What to Look for/ buy

China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite handmade items, partly because labor is still cheap relative to other countries. Take your time, look closely at quality and ask questions (but don't take all the answers at face value!) Porcelain at Shanghai's antique market

  • Porcelain with a long history of porcelain making, China still makes great porcelain today. Most visitors are familiar with blue and white, but the variety of glazes is much greater, including many lovely monochrome glazes which are worth seeking out. Specialist shops near hotels and the top floors of department stores are a good place to start, though not the cheapest. The "antique" markets are also a good place to find reproductions, though it can be hard to escape from attempts to convince you that the items are genuine antiques (with prices to match). Two of the most famous centers for porcelain are Jingdezhen and Quanzhou.
  • Furniture in the last 15 years China has become a major source of antique furniture, mostly sourced from China's vast countryside. As the supply of old items dwindles many of the restorers are now turning to making new items. The quality of the new pieces is often excellent and some great bargains can still be had in new and old items. Furniture tends to be concentrated in large warehouses on the outskirts of town, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu all have plenty of these. Hotels will tell you how to find them. They can also arrange shipment in most cases. Zhongshan has a huge furniture market.
  • Art and Fine Art the art scene in China is divided into two non-interacting parts. On the one side there are the traditional painting academies, specializing in "classical" painting (bird and flower, landscapes with rocks and water, calligraphy), with conservative attitudes and serving up painting that conforms to the traditional image of Chinese art. On the other hand there is a burgeoning modern art scene, including oil painting, photography and sculpture, bearing little relation to the former type. Both "scenes" are worth checking out and include the full range from the glorious to the dreadful. The center of the modern scene is undoubtedly Beijing, where the Da Shan Zi (sometimes called 798) warehouse district is emerging as the new frontier for galleries, reminiscent of New York's Soho in the mid-80s.
  • Jade There are two types of Jade in China today: one type is pale and almost colorless and is made from a variety of stones mined in China. The other type is green in color and is imported from Myanmar (Burma) - if genuine!. The first thing to be aware of when buying Jade is that you will get what you pay for (at best). Genuine Burmese jade with a good green color is extraordinarily expensive and the "cheap" green jade you will see in the markets is made either from synthetic stone or from natural stone that has been colored with a green dye. When buying jade look closely at the quality of the carving (How well finished is it? Is it refined, or crude with tool marks visible?). The quality of the stone often goes along with the quality of the carving. Take your time and compare prices before buying. If you are going to spend a fair sum of money, do it in the specialist stores, not in the fleamarkets. Khotan in Xinjiang is a famous area for jade.
  • Carpets China is home to a remarkable variety of carpet-making traditions. These include Mongolian, Ningxia, Tibetan and modern types. Many tourists come looking for silk carpets: these are actually a fairly recent "tradition", most of the designs being taken from middle-eastern traditions rather than reflecting Chinese designs. Be aware that though the workmanship is quite fine on these carpets they often skimp on materials, particularly dyes. These are prone to fading and color change if the carpet is displayed in a brightly lit place. Some excellent wool carpets are also made in China. Tibetan carpets are amongst the best in terms of quality and construction, but be aware that most carpets described as Tibetan are not made in Tibet, with a few notable exceptions. As with jade, best to buy from stores with a reputation to uphold.
  • Other arts and Crafts Other things to look for include Cloisonne (colored enamels on a metal base), laquer work, masks, kites, wood carving, scholar's rocks (decorative rocks, some natural, some less so), papercuts, and so on.

Western goods

Areas with large expat communities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have local stores catering to those communities. See the individual articles for details. There are also several foreign-owned supermarket chains that are widespread in China — American Walmart, German Metro, French Carrefour and Japanese Jusco. All have some Western groceries. Metro is probably the best of these; in particular it usually has a fine selection of alcohol.


Food in China varies from region to region. While visiting, relax your inhibitions and try a bit of everything. Additionally, undercooked food or poor hygiene can cause bacterial or parasitic infection, particularly during the summer months. That said, hygiene is better than, say, in the Indian subcontinent, assuming that you visit an average or above average establishment to have your meal. Do be on the lookout for ripoffs though; it is not at all uncommon to order a common dish (particularly at lowbrow restaurants) and receive a portion that is obviously much smaller than that ordered by a local sitting next to you but still be charged the full price. However, if you can avoid such blatant hubris, eating in China can be a highlight (perhaps, THE highlight) of your trip. Be warned that some food is prepared from endangered species and animals that are not eaten in the west (such as dog).

Famous Cuisines

  • Cantonese/ Guangzhou/ Hong Kong: this is the style of cooking that most visitors are already familiar with to some extent. Not too spicy, emphasis on freshly cooked ingredients and seafood. Dim Sum (small snacks usually eaten for lunch/breakfast) are a highlight.
  • Sichuan: famously hot and spicy, though not all the dishes are made with live chilis; this is, arguably, the finest cuisine available in the PRC. It is widely available outside Sichuan.
  • Hunan: Hunan Cuisine, occasionally referred to on menus as Xiang cuisine, is actually the cuisine of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province. Similar to Sichuan cuisine, Hunan food can actually be "spicier" in the Western sense.
  • Beijing: home-style noodles and baozi (bread buns), peking duck, and cabbage dishes, great pickles. Not fancy but can be great.
  • Zhejiang: Zhejiang cuisine includes the foods of Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing. A delicately seasoned, light-tasting mix of seafood and vegetables often served in soup. Sometimes lightly sweetened or sometimes sweet and sour, Zhejiang dishes frequently involve cooked meats and vegetables in combination.
  • Fujian: Fujian cuisine takes most of its ingredients from coastal and estuarial waterways. One particularly famous Fujian dish is "Buddha Jumps over a Wall". The story is that this seafood dish smelled so good a monk forgot his vegetarian vows and leapt over the wall to have some.

Fast food

Various types of Chinese food provide quick, cheap, tasty, light meals:
  • various items from the ubiquitous bakeries
  • barbequed sticks of meat from street vendors
  • jiaozi, which Chinese translate as "dumplings", boiled ravioli-like items with a variety of fillings
  • baozi, steamed buns
  • noodles; look for a tiny restaurant with staff in Muslim dress, white fez-like hats on the men and head scarves on the women
  • in Guandong and sometimes elsewhere, dim sum. At any major tourist destination in China, someone will be serving dim sum for the Hong Kong customers.

The Western notion of fast food has also reached China. McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut are ubiquitous, at least in major cities. There are a few Burger Kings.
Chinese chains such as Dicos (chicken burgers, fries etc., cheaper than KFC and some say better) or Kung Fu (with a more Chinese menu) are also widespread.



The Chinese love a tipple and the all-purpose word jiǔ (酒) covers quite a range of alcoholic drinks.
Beer (啤酒 píjiǔ) is very common in China and is served in nearly every restaurant. The most famous brand is Tsingtao (青島), from Qingdao, which was at one point a German concession. Other brands abound, all light lager-ish beers and usually around 3% alcohol. Typical price is ¥2.5 in a grocery store, ¥4 to ¥6 in a restaurant and ¥10 or more in an ordinary bar, with prices soaring to ¥20-30 in a nicer bar. Unfortunately, most places outside of the most developed cities will serve your lager (just about the only type of beer available in the PRC) at room temperature, regardless of season. If you are in the Shanghai area, try the local brew known as REEB or beer spelled backwards. A six pack will set you back about $1.50.

Red wine is common and much of it is reasonably priced, under ¥20 in a grocery store, about ¥100-150 in a fancy bar. Anyone used to Aussie, European or California wines will find the general quality in China appalling, perhaps with some exceptions. Bars commonly serve it over ice and sometimes mixed with Sprite. There are also a few white and sparkling white wines. Quality on those is better than the reds.

Distilled local products are brandies and báijiǔ (白酒), a Chinese white lightning. Chinese frequently mistranslate baijiu (lit. "white spirits") as "white wine", but at 40 to 60% alcohol this sorghum-based plonk is far from it. Maotai (茅台) is a famous and comparatively expensive type of baijiu from Guizhou. Brandy is good value, about the same price as wine and generally more palatable than the baijiu. The Chinese are also great fans of various supposedly medicinal liquors, which usually contain exotic herbs and animal parts, but the unusual ingredients and steep pricetags rarely do much to improve the taste.

The fancier bars usually have imported beers in the ¥20-40 range and relatively mediocre imported whiskies (Chivas, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels; extremely rarely single malts) and cognacs, sold by the bottle in the ¥300-800 range. Vodka and Tequila are less common, but sometimes available. Bogus "brand name" products are fairly common and may ruin your next day.
In discos and some bars, you normally buy beer ¥100 at a time; this gets you anywhere from 4 to 10 beers. These places often have hostesses, young women who drink a lot and want to play drinking games to get you to consume more. They get a commission on whatever you buy. In general, these girls will not leave the bar with you; they are professional flirts, not prostitutes.

Karaoke (卡拉OK) is huge in China and can be broadly split into two categories. More common is the no-frills karaoke box or KTV, where you rent a room, bring your friends and the house gives you a mike and sells you booze. Much favored by students, these are cheap and fun with the right crowd, although you need at least a few people for a memorable night.

Rather different is the distinctly dodgier special KTV lounge, more oriented to businessmen entertaining clients or letting their hair down, where the house provides anything and everything at a price. At these often opulent establishments — over-the-top Roman and Egyptian themes are standard — you'll be joined by short-skirted professional karaoke girls, who charge by the hour for the pleasure of their company and whose services are usually not limited to just singing badly and pouring your drinks. It's highly advisable not to venture into these unless you're absolutely sure somebody else is footing the bill, which can easily run into hundreds of dollars even if you keep your pants on.

Chinese toast with the word ganbei ("empty glass", i.e. bottoms up), and traditionally you are expected to drain the glass in one swig. Exercise great caution. During a meal with locals, the non-local is often expected to drink one glass with each person present. You do not have to and are not advised to; you gain no face whatsoever by getting sick and/or stupid. Additionally, it is important that locals are sensible to your needs and desires, regardless of whatever peer pressure they place upon you. It is perfectly acceptable to have three toasts (traditionally signifying friendship) with the entire company, rather than one separate toast for every individual present.


At the risk of stating the obvious, there's a lot of tea (茶 chá) in China. Green tea is served up for free in almost every restaurant, the most common types being green gunpowder tea (珠茶 zhūchá), so named not after the taste but after the appearance of the bunched-up leaves used to brew it (the Chinese name "pearl tea" is rather more poetic), jasmine tea (茉莉茶 molicha) scented with jasmine flowers, and the half-fermented oolong (烏龍 wūlóng). However, specialist tea houses serve a vast variety of brews, ranging from the pale, delicate white tea (白茶 báichá) to the powerful fermented and aged pǔ'ěrchá (普洱茶); check prices carefully before ordering as some of the best varieties can be very pricey indeed.

Various areas of China have famous teas. Hangzhou, near Shanghai, is famed for its "Dragon Well" (龙井 longjing) tea. Mount Wuyi in Fujian has "Big Red Robe" (Da Hong Pao) tea.

Most tea shops will be more than happy to let you sit down and try different varieties of tea. "Ten Fu Tea" is a national chain, and in Beijing "Wu yu tai" is the one some locals say they favour.

Normal Chinese teas are always drunk neat, with the use of sugar and milk practically unknown. However, in some areas you find Hong Kong style "milk tea" or Tibetan "butter tea". Western-style black tea is known in China as "red tea" (紅茶 hóngchá).


Coffee (kāfēi, 咖啡) is becoming quite popular in urban China, though it is nearly impossible to find in smaller towns.
Several chains of coffee shops have branches in many cities, including Starbucks, UBC Coffee (Senda Kafei in Chinese), Ming Tien Coffee Language (Is that supposed to be "lounge"?) and SPR (the best of them). All offer coffee and both Chinese and Western food, generally with good air conditioning and nice decor, at fairly high prices, ¥25 or so a cup.

There are also lots of smaller independent coffee shops or local chains. These may also be high priced, but often they are around ¥15 a cup. Quality varies from excellent to abysmal.

For cheap coffee just to stave off withdrawal symptoms, there are several options. Go to a Western restaurant chain (KFC, McD, etc.) for some ¥6 coffee. Or almost any supermarket will have both canned cold coffee and packets of Nescafe (pre-mixed with whitener and sugar), just add hot water.

Cold drinks

Many drinks that, in the West, are usually served chilled or with ice are served at room temperature in China. Ask for beer or coke in a restaurant, and it may arrive at room temperature. Water will generally be served hot. You can get cold drinks from small grocery stores and some restaurants, just look for the cooler.

Asking for ice may or may not work. Not all places will have it. Also, the ice may be made from tap water which is not entirely safe.


Sleeping accommodations for tourists are widely available and can vary in quality from shared dorm rooms to five-star luxury hotels. For the most part, laws in China restrict or ban foreigners from the cheapest hotels, forcing foreign tourist to book rooms in much more expensive accommodations than locals can get into, many of which are still state-run and haven't changed much since the Mao era. That being said, there's a dizzying number of sleeping options in most Chinese towns and despite language and law barriers you should be able to find something in your budget and comfort range.

Looking for a hotel upon first arriving in a Chinese city can be a daunting task: a mob of passengers are pushing to disembark from your train or bus, touts are tugging at your arm and screaming in your face to come with them, everything is in incomprehensible Chinese and you are just looking for a place to put down your bag. It doesn’t get any better once you get in a cab because the driver doesn’t speak any English and every hotel in your guide book is full or closed! This can be the experience for many travelers in China, but the pains of booking a hotel room can be avoided if you know where to look and what you’re looking for.

If you're willing to pay $30 or more for a room, then you’ll probably have little problem finding a room. But if you want a cheap yet comfortable room, you’ll have to be armed with a bit more knowledge than what can be had in many guide books. The cheapest options include hostels, dorms and extra rooms called zhusu, and there are plenty of hotels charging ¥150 and up available in every city. Sleeper trains and sleeper buses can also be a decent option; see the “Get Around” section of this page for more information. If you're in a town and you can't find a hotel try looking near the bus or train station, an area that typically has a larger selection of cheap hotels. Hotels that are not licensed to accept foreigners can be heavily fined if they are caught housing foreign occupants. But enforcement of this law appears spotty and many hotels unlicensed to accept foreigners will find you a room. In the cheapest range of hotels it is important to ask if there is 24 hours of hot water (有没有二十四个小时的热水 yǒuméiyǒu èrshisìge xiǎoshí rèshuǐ) — and check if the shower, sink and toilet in fact work. It is also advisable that you avoid checking into a room next to a busy street as traffic may keep you up late and wake you up early. If you do plan on just showing up in town and looking for a place to sleep it is best that you arrive before 6-7:00 p.m. as the most popular places will be booked for the night.

One secret to keep in mind when booking a room in China is that prices are often negotiable. A sharp reduction from the price listed on the wall can be had by just asking "What's the lowest price?" (最低多少 zuìdī duōshǎo). Note this doesn't work during the busy Chinese holiday seasons, when prices skyrocket and rooms are hard to get.

Low-cost options
There are various ways to sleep very cheaply in China — hostels, dorms, zhusu, and massage shops.
  • Hostels are the most comfortable low end options. They typically cater to foreigners, have English speaking employees, and can provide cheap, convenient transport around town. Some of them are even cleaner and better furnished than more expensive places. Hostels also have a cozy, international atmosphere and are a good place to meet other travelers and get some half-decent western food, which can be a godsend after days or weeks surviving off rice and noodles. In most cities of any size there is at least one hostel available, and in some travel hotspots such as Yangshou and Chengdu there are plenty of hostel options, but because of their popularity with backpackers hostels can fill up fast.
  • Another option is dorm rooms located in hotels, on university campuses, and near rural tourist attractions. Most travelers have spotty luck with dorms. Some report no problems and even find some real bargains, while others spent the entire night without a wink of sleep because some drunken businessmen in their room decided to have a party. The shared bathrooms in these locations can take some getting used to, especially if you’re not used to squatting over a dirty hole in the ground or taking cold showers. But in some areas, especially on the top of one of China’s holy mountains, dorm rooms might be a budget traveler’s only option amongst a sea of luxury resorts.
  • One cheap sleeping option in China that is a little known secret hidden from even many experienced backpackers is the zhùsù (住宿) , which simply translates as “accommodation.” The term zhusu can refer to any kind of sleeping accommodation, but those places that have the Chinese characters for zhusu written on the wall outside are the cheapest. These are extra rooms for rent located in homes, restaurants, and near train and bus stations. A zhusu room is universally Spartan and bathrooms are almost always shared. Rooms here can be quite cheap, costing only a few dozen renminbi. A zhusu is not an actual hotel, but instead a spare room or rooms in a home or small business. Officially a zhusu should not provide a room to a foreigner, but many times the caretaker is eager to get a client and will be willing to rent to anyone. There are never any English signs advertising a zhusu, but if you can read Chinese you'll be able to read the large Chinese characters 住宿 written on the wall or door outside.
  • Many massage shops and most saunas will let you sleep a while after a massage. Some allow overnight stays. See the section on massage under "Do" for details.

Budget Hotels
The next level of hotels is cheap budget hotels that cater to Chinese clients. Usually these hotels are officially off-limits to foreigners, but you may be able to convince them to accept you, especially if you can speak a smattering of Chinese. These hotels may or may not have English signs and usually have the words lǚguǎn (旅馆), which means "travel hotel", or bīnguǎn (宾馆), which means "hotel", in their name. Room options typically include singles and doubles with attached bathrooms and dorms with shared baths. In small, rural towns a night's stay might be as cheap as ¥25 and in bigger cities you can usually get a room for ¥80-120. The one problem with these hotels is that they can be quite noisy as patrons and staff may be yelling to each other across the halls into the wee hours of the morning. Another inconvenience to beware is booking a room with a shared bath, as many of these hotels have one bathroom for twenty or thirty rooms. You may have to wait a while to use the toilet, and half an hour or more to take a shower.

If you're looking for a room that is not too expensive, but also clean and comfortable then mid-range hotels may be your best option. These are usually larger hotels, with rooms starting at a low end of ¥150 ranging to over ¥200 and ¥300. Frequently the same hotels will have expensive luxurious rooms also available. The doubles in these hotels are usually quite nice and up to western standards, with a clean private bathrooms that has towels and complimentary toiletries. There may even be a free buffet breakfast thrown into the price, or a breakfast ticket can be purchased for around ¥10. Sprouting up around China are a number of Western-quality budget hotels that include the following chains:
  • JJ Inn (锦江之星) [10]
  • Rujia Home Inn (如家快捷酒店) [11]
  • Motel 168 (莫泰168) [12]

All of these chain-hotels have rooms in the ¥150-300 range and online advance booking in English. One warning for guests staying in midrange hotel rooms is that you may receive a telephone call late at night asking if you would like a "massage;" just hang-up the telephone as this is actually a front for prostitution.

At the high-end of the hotel food chain in China are the international hotels, such as the Marriott and Shangri-La, which charge hundreds of dollars per night for luxurious accommodations. If your budget includes a hundred dollars a night or more for sleeping accommodations this may be the option for you. Many expensive hotels also book rooms for package tours at steep reductions in price. If you are coming to China on a tour you may want to check and see if the tour company can get you a room in one of China's top hotels for a fraction of the listed price.
If staying in a better class of hotel, consider disconnecting the phone at night; otherwise you stand a high chance of being woken up at obscene hours by offers of "massage" services.

Booking a room over the internet

There are numerous websites that will help you book a hotel room with a credit card. This is a convenient and speedy method of making sure you have a room when you arrive at your destination. During Chinese holidays, when it is difficult to get a room anywhere, this may an acceptable option, but in the off-season rooms are plentiful almost everywhere in China and it may be just as easy to find a room upon arrival as it is to book one over the internet.


One drawback about traveling in China is that laundry services are either quite expensive, non-existent, or hard to locate. In upper end hotels it will cost ¥10-30 to wash each article of clothing, which is not an option for budget travelers. Cheap hotels almost never have laundry services and on very rare occasions hostels have a washing machine. In most areas of China, with the exception of the downtown areas in big cities, you can find small shops that do laundry. They will have written on the front door 洗衣 (xiyi), or literally "wash clothes", and can be identified by clothes hanging from the ceiling. The cost is roughly ¥2-5 for each article/pair of clothes. In even the smallest of cities dry cleaning (干洗 ganxi)outlets are widely distributed and may be able to wash clothes. But in some areas you're going to be stuck washing clothes by hand, which is time consuming and tiresome. It may take days for a pair of jeans to dry, which is especially difficult if you’re in a dorm room with no hangers. It is advised that you bring fast drying fabrics, such as polyester or silk.


A well guarded secret for cheap and enjoyable accommodation is the spa. Spa costs vary but can be as low as ¥25. When in the spa there are beds in addition to showers, saunas etc. Admission to a spa is for 24 hours, and a small locker is provided for bags and personal possessions. This is ideal if you are traveling light. Furthermore spas often provide complimentary food, and paid services such as massages and body scrubbing. There is no privacy because usually everyone sleeps in one room. However, there is more security than in a dorm, since there are attendants who watch over the area and your belongings (even your clothes!) are stored away in the lockers.

Don't be fooled when receptionists try to make up reasons why you have to pay more than the listed rate. They may try to convince you that the listed rates are only for members, locals, women, men, or include only one part of the spa (i.e. shower, but no bed/couch). To verify claims, strike up a conversation with a local a good distance away from the spa and inquire about the prices. Don't let them know that you are checking the spa's claims. Just act as if you are thinking about going there if the price is good. If they know that the spa is trying to overcharge you, they will typically support the spa's "claim".


Non-guidebooks about China or by Chinese writers.
The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo: The Venetian traveller's stories in the Middle Kingdom
The Rape of Nanking: The forgotten holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang, foreword by William C. Kirby, ISBN 0140277447
Winter Stars: a collection of poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian, 2002-6, by Beatrice Lao, ISBN 988979991X
Wild Swans: a biography of three generations, from the warlord days to the end of Mao's era, by Jung Chang, ISBN 0007176155


Foreign students have different educational needs. China's universities offer many different types of courses and teaching methods to cater to these needs as well as to the different educational levels of the students that come from abroad.
Language trainees Universities accept students who have achieved the minimum of a high school education for courses in the Chinese language. These courses usually last 1 or 2 years. Students are given certificates after they complete their course. Students who do not speak Chinese and want to study further in China are usually required to complete a language training course.

Undergraduates Undergraduate degrees usually require 4-5 years of study. International students have classes together with native Chinese students. In accordance with each student's past education, some classes of a degree course can be cancelled and some have to be added. Students receive a Bachelor's degree after passing the necessary exams and completing a thesis.
Postgraduates Master's degrees are granted after 2-3 years of study. Oral examinations are also taken as well as written exams and a postgraduate thesis.

Doctoral students Three years of study are needed to obtain a PhD.
Research scholars Research is usually conducted independently by the student under the supervision of an assigned tutor. Any surveys, experiments, interviews, or visits that a research scholar has to make need to be arranged beforehand and authorised.
Short-term training courses Short-term courses are now offered in many areas such as Chinese literature, calligraphy, economics, architecture, Chinese law, traditional Chinese medicine, art, and sports. Courses are offered in the holidays as well as during term time.

Foreign students are encouraged to continue their studies and obtain Master's or doctoral degrees in China's universities, and those who have graduated in China are welcome to return for further education. Some universities offer courses taught in foreign languages, but most courses are in Chinese, and you need to demonstrate a sufficient proficiency in Chinese before you can enroll.
You do this by passing the HSK test (汉语水平考试 hànyǔ shuǐpíng kǎoshì), the official way to certify your skills on a Basic, Intermediate or Advanced level. The test involves reading, writing and listening, but no speaking. See the HSK homepage for dates and locations.


Teaching a language, most commonly English, is a very popular source of employment for foreigners.
Pay and conditions vary greatly depending on location, experience and qualifications. Teachers nearly always make enough to live well in China. That said, salaries for foreigners are not catching up with inflation, in contrast to typical salaries for locals (i.e. the differences in salaries between locals and qualified foreigners are gradually becoming narrower). Free accommodation, provided by the institution, is common. Some jobs pay for all or part of an annual trip home.

It is very important that if you plan to work as a teacher in China, you research very carefully. Many teachers have had great experiences working in China, while others have had their worst nightmares realized. Use great care in your selection of employer. Broken contracts and general unscrupulousness and dishonesty are common.

Requirements and qualifications range from just having a pulse and speaking a bit of English up to needing an MA and experience. Typically, the good jobs want at least one, preferably two or three of:
  • a degree
  • a teaching certificate for primary school or high school from your own country
  • a recognized TEFL certificate, e.g. Cambridge CELTA
  • teaching experience

If you want to go, get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. It really helps.
You need a Chinese Z (working) visa. It is illegal to work without one. To get that, you need a Foreign Expert's Certificate from some ministry. While universities and other public institutions can easily get these for staff, it is a different story for private schools. Before they can even apply for certificates, they must be authorized.

Getting the authorization takes many months and a lot of money. Large established schools have it, but many of the smaller ones don't bother, so all their teachers are illegal. Some lie to teachers about this.
See also Teaching English.

Stay safe


Petty crime remains relatively low, and it is common for people to quietly carry large amounts of cash. At the same time, one should take the usual precautions against being conspicuously wealthy. In some areas, there are many pickpockets. In crowded markets, buses, and even dance clubs it is common for wallets and mobile phones to disappear. Items such as purses left unguarded at restaurants are also liable to be stolen.


Walking, especially in rural areas, can be very dangerous because of oncoming traffic. Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Traffic will not stop if they see you in the way -- in fact, they may speed up! In most places, the rules of the road are often ignored and the safest way to cross a street is via a pedestrian overpass, if available.
More generally, traffic in China can be very dangerous. The PRC does not recognize international drivers licenses and driving in China is definitely not for the faint of heart. For details, see Driving in China.


Begging in China is uncommon, with the notable exception of major tourist areas. In Beijing begging is exceptionally bad, especially around hotels and markets foreigners frequent. Beggars in China are almost exclusively professional and many have obvious deformities, which makes it easy to take pity on them. Others are fully functional and will use their strength to latch on to your leg or arm until you give them some cash or drag them for a few minutes.

Children are frequently coerced into begging by adults, who force the children to beg and then take the money that they collect. In some areas, especially Beijing, beggars are often rather aggressive and persistent, even though there are traditionally strong social norms against begging, as it is considered shameful. The Mandarin phrase "qu ni de", literally "go to your (place)", has roughly the force of "bugger off". It might be appropriate for rude aggressive beggars, almost certainly not for others.

If you do feel it appropriate to give a beggar some money keep in mind that many Chinese only make ¥20 to 30 per day working hard labor jobs. Giving one yuan to a beggar is generous.
See begging for more detailed discussion.


While begging is considered shameful, aggressive marketing of petty services that a person can perform is not. Some people will aggressively try to perform some sort of service for you, such as watching your luggage, steer you to a "great" hotel or have you ride in their taxi. They will often follow you for a while, so be prepared to ignore them. The Mandarin phrase "bu yao", literally "not want", is useful for these.

On the other hand, some of the services offered are worthwhile. Typical prices are ¥1 for a shoe shine, ¥10 for a shampoo and head massage or ¥15 with a haircut, and anywhere from ¥15 to ¥50 an hour for massage. Consider indulging yourself.
Be cautious about unknown people approaching you on the street and striking up a conversation in English, as this may be a prelude to a scam. They are often students of or dropouts from English teacher schools and make money by abusing their English proficiency. Be polite, but there is no need to come along if they start insisting on you coming with them some special place you had not planned on going to.

One common scam is the free art gallery tour. Tourists are lured into small shabby art shops and pressured to buy overpriced Chinese art which is nothing but a copy. In Beijing this is most common, but also in other big cities such as Shanghai it happens when strolling touristy places.

Also beware of the scam operating in many of the larger cities where attractive women or a friendly group of students entice you into a tea shop, bars or karaoke parlor. They show you a menu with a price on it and once you finish your drinks and ask for the bill, they produce another menu with a much higher price on it. It's wise to verify prices in writing.
See also Common scams and pickpockets.

Stay healthy

Public bathrooms are generally somewhere between dirty and shocking: hole-in-the-ground type toilets are usually extremely malodorous, while flush toilets tend to be quite dirty (and almost invariably protective sanitary covers are not provided). In addition, you will need to bring your own tissue paper as it is seldom available at toilets, and after use, the paper should be placed in the small bucket located next to the toilet. Do not flush it away as it may block the often poor plumbing systems. Tissue paper can be bought in bars, restaurants and internet cafes for ¥2. These are the characters for MEN (男) and WOMEN (女). People may stare at you while you use the toilet — although separate facilities are generally provided for men and women, there may be no doors on the front of the cubicles.

High quality bathrooms can be found inside major tourist attractions (e.g. The Forbidden City), at international hotels, and upper-class department stores. While public bathrooms in restaurants and hotels are barely acceptable, those in the rooms are generally very clean. Make sure to bring your own toilet paper and soap when you leave the hotel.

Also beware that the sit-down toilet familiar to most Westerners is rare in China in public areas. Hotels will generally have them in rooms but in places where Westerners will be in more of a minority, you can expect to find crouching toilets more often than not. Most private homes in urban areas now have sit down toilets, and one major benefit with knowing a local host is that they have clean bathrooms.

There are no widely enforced health regulations in restaurants. However most of the smaller restaurants will prepare the food in front of you. Most of the major cities have chain fast food places, and the hygiene in them tends to be good.

Tap water is generally not drinkable without boiling, even for locals. However, all hotels (and even boats!) provide either a thermos flask full of boiling water in your room (refillable by your floor attendant) or a kettle you can use to do it yourself. Purified drinking water in bottles is available everywhere, and is generally quite cheap (don't pay more than ¥2 or ¥3 for a litre), though ensure that the seal on the cap is not broken. Beer is also a cheap and safe option.

One other interesting quirk is that Chinese tend to distrust the cleanliness of bathtubs. Most homes have plastic movable tubs or showers. In hotels with fixed bathtubs, they will generally make available plastic bathtub liners in the rooms.
Parts of southern China have mosquitoes which transmit malaria. If you will be visiting any such parts, your local travel clinic will be happy to provide advice.

Drugs are generally available from a pharmacist without prescriptions. You can usually ask to see the physician instructions that came with the box. Western medicine is called xīyào (西药).
Ensure that needles used for injections, acupuncture or any other procedure that requires breaking the skin are new and unused. In many parts of China it is acceptable to re-use needles, albeit after some attempt at sterilization. In hospitals, be present when they break open a new needle. Do not accept treatment unless you witnessed it being done. Furthermore, if you plan to receive acupuncture in the PRC, it is recommended to take your own needles (they can be bought locally or in Hong Kong), as the disposable ones that are always used in Hong Kong or Taiwan are not yet in common use in China.

China has only officially recognised the threat of an AIDS/HIV epidemic since 2001. Recently Chinese President Hu Jintao has pledged to fight the spread of AIDS/HIV within China. According to the United Nations [13] "China is currently experiencing one of the most rapidly expanding HIV epidemics in the world. Since 1998, the number of reported cases has increased by about 30% yearly. By 2010, China could have as many as 10 million infections & 260,000 orphans if w/out intervention."

A less common advice: wash your hands often with soap, or better carry some disposable disinfectant tissues. You find them in almost any department or cosmetics store. This should especially be the case after having used public computers. The amount of germs and bacteria found on keyboards is manyfold that of toilets, since they never get cleaned. The main cause for getting a cold or flu is through touching your face, especially the nose, with infected hands. Just keep in mind that China has had a recent problem with sudden spreads of SARS.


Tipping is not necessary and often considered an inappropriate gesture, but under certain rare circumstances — such as a doorman allowing you into a building at a late hour — a tip is welcome. (A ¥1 tip would suffice for the above example.) The exceptions to this rule are in upscale businesses where you are rendered some type of service.

Taxi drivers do not require tips. If the meter says 8.30 and you hand him a 10 yuan note, expect two in change. However, in areas such as Beijing that are heavily touristed the drivers are now used to tips and some even ask for them.
Restaurant staff do not expect tips. If the bill adds up to 94 yuan, management will often discount it to 90. They would find it very strange to get 100 and be told to keep the change. Leave a few yuan on the table and their most likely reaction would be to chase you down the street to return it.

When presenting a business card or any other important piece of paper, it is always considered polite to hand it with both hands at the same time, with the thumbs and index fingers holding either side of the document. Accept one the same way.

If you smoke (and even if you don't), it is always considered polite to offer a cigarette to those you meet, as long as they are of adult age. This rule applies almost exclusively to men, but under certain circumstances, such as a club, bar or tea house, it is OK to apply the rule toward women, particularly in the larger, more cosmopolitan cities. If someone offers you a cigarette and you don't smoke, you can turn it down by politely and gently waving your hand. The same applies to alcoholic drinks or food offered during a meal. An alternative to the alcohol drink tip is to turn your "wine" cup upside down (if it is empty!) and place it on the table in such manner, but do this with a smile. Note: When toasting, it is best to look directly in the eyes of those you are toasting with. Keep in mind that although the Chinese love to drink copious amounts of alcohol, public drunkenness is frowned upon. If you see some people getting or being obnoxiously drunk in public, by no means think that it is OK -- it isn't.

Try to avoid political topics, as they usually lead nowhere and can even cause problems. Many Chinese hold to their beliefs quite rigidly and it is rather rare to find a politically open mind. Those who are open and knowledgeable about political issues, tend to keep such ideas to themselves and those very close to them, so don't expect a quick breaking of the ice in this field. To a lesser extent, topics of history are met with a similar attitude. On the other hand, religious topics are easier to discuss. Note: Do not discuss Tibet or Taiwan political issues unless you fully agree with the policies of the PRC regarding these matters, as they are almost invariably met with varying degrees of hostility.

It is usually best to spit the bones found in food directly on the table or a small plate for such purpose, or skillfully take them out with your chopsticks and place them there, rather than using your fingers. This may be totally unacceptable to most people from other countries but it is the rule in China. Sticking your chopsticks into your rice and leaving them there is considered taboo, as it is reminiscent of sticks of incense burning at a shrine or funeral and therefore you are seen to be wishing death upon the people at the table. Also, if someone clears his/her throat and spits on a restaurant floor, accept it, as it is also very common indeed throughout most of the country.

A small gift taken to a host's home is always very welcome.
As a traveller, you may find that your language, color of hair and skin, behavior, and manner of dress will draw long and sustained stares, especially in rural areas or outside the major cities. While there is a great deal of diversity in China, it is also true that in some areas people have little or no contact with people outside of their village or social circle. Do not be put off by this fact or you may spoil your own time in China.

The Chinese tend to be very concerned about correct behavior and "saving face", and also tend to be very conscious of social status. Pointing out mistakes or failings, even for innocent and/or justified reasons, may cause intense humiliation and embarrassment for the person on the receiving end. This does not mean that you have to accept a significant error or mistake that has a negative effect on you; it means that if you must point out a problem or give criticism, do so in the most polite (but firm) manner that you can.

There is a strong difference between members of the in-group and strangers, although there is a fair gray area between the two. However, this is common worldwide, so there is no need to think about this issue too much.

Contact & Communications


In China the Internet is readily accessible. Internet cafes (网吧 wangba) are abundant throughout China. Many of them are designed mainly for gaming though and are not useful places to do business. It is cheap (¥1 to ¥4 an hour) to use a computer, albeit one with Chinese software. Internet cafes are supposed to require users to show identification (passport), but this is generally not enforced. Traffic may be monitored.

It may be difficult to find an internet-cafe with any service beyond simple access. If you need to use a printer or burn a CD, expect to search for the service, paying a fairly high price when and if you find it. The exception is tourist areas such as Yangshuo where these services are fairly readily available, though still at a price.

Most of the better hotels provide access from the rooms (often expensive) and/or provide a wireless service in public areas. Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service — for example, Starbucks, Italy cafe, Feeling4Seasons Cafe in Chengdu, Padan cafe in Shanghai, etc. Some cafes, especially in tourist areas such as Yangshuo, even provide a machine for customer use.
A word of caution: public computers and the internet lines they are connected to are not secure. Assume that anything you type in can be viewed by others. Do not send extremely sensitive data such as banking passwords from an Internet cafe.

If you are planning on connecting to the internet with your own computer, be aware that many places (especially college campuses) require you to use Microsoft Internet Explorer and to install (censorship?) software on your system and/or accept certificates in order to use their services. For Mac OS or Linux users, look into using a browser that can fake its identity such as Opera.

The Chinese government has installed systems (commonly known as "The Great Firewall of China") that block various Internet sites, either permanently or temporarily. Free web hosts such as Geocities and Angelfire are permanently banned, as are most of the major blog sites. Major news sites such as are blocked intermittently, but often for long stretches. In October of 2005, Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Wiktionary were all banned. (Curiously, Wikitravel wasn't, though that too may well change.) They all briefly re-appeared in October 2006, but are now blocked again.

If you have access to a corporate VPN outside of China, it will let you bypass the firewall systems. Another option is a service provided by Peace Fire [14]. They provide unblocked access to all web sites without the need to install any software. You can subscribe to a mailing list and always stay up to date about it. Tor software may also be of great help.

The Chinese government is quite serious about enforcing these restrictions, and Internet companies often help them. Both Google and MSN have agreed to censor in order to get Chinese licenses. Yahoo went further; in one recent case they turned in a Chinese user who got ten years in prison! While travellers are generally not at risk, it would be sensible to be cautious. In particular, beware of getting Chinese friends into trouble.

Getting news

China has some local English language news media. CCTV 9 is an English channel available in most cities. China Daily is an English language newspaper available in upscale hotels and supermarkets catering to foreigners throughout China. There are also a few English magazines such as China Today.
At least if you read English, there are a number of ways to get uncensored news in China.
  • The free web mail services from Hotmail, Google, Yahoo, Netscape and others are generally not blocked; they can be read from any Internet cafe or laptop/wireless connection in China. You can subscribe to Internet mailing lists and/or ask friends to mail you news stories; those will come through fine.
  • The better hotels often have satellite TV in the rooms.
  • Many hotels also sell major newspapers from around the world and business-oriented publications like The Economist, albeit at very high prices. Some provide international newspapers free for reading in their coffee shops.


The Chinese Post Office is generally reliable and sometimes quick. There are a few things you need to adapt to:
  • Incoming mail will be both faster and more reliable if the address is in Chinese. If not, the Post Office has people who will translate but that takes time and is not 100% accurate.
  • Do not seal outgoing packages before taking them to the Post Office; they will not send them without inspecting the contents. Generally it is best to buy the packing materials at the Post Office.
  • Most Post Offices and courier services will refuse to send CDs or DVDs.


International fax (传真 chuanzhen) services are available in most large hotels for a fee of a dozen renminbi or more. Faxes within China can be made in the ubiquitous photocopy outlets that have the Chinese characters for fax written on the front door.


Telephone service is more of a mixed bag. Calling outside the country is often difficult, and usually impossible without a calling card, which can often only be bought locally. The good news is these cards are fairly cheap, and the connection is surprisingly clear, uninterrupted and delay-free. Look out for IP Telephone Cards, which typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the US and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper.

Buying a cell phone
Cellular phones are very widespread and offer very good service. If you are staying more than a few weeks, it may be advisable to buy one. Prices start around ¥400. If you are travelling around, be sure to get a GSM phone and a SIM card that lets your phone work anywhere in China; some cards work only in one province. Avoid the cheaper PHS (小灵通 xiaolingtong); they only work in one city.

Unlike most Western countries, you don't sign up for "a plan" and a monthly bill when you buy a cellphone in China. All cell phone service is prepaid; you just go to a shop and purchase a charge card, which has a number and password that must be used to call the telephone company to recharge the money in your account. You will be calling a computer and the default language is Chinese, which can be changed to English if you understand the Chinese. Even the English language options may be daunting, as there are several options. The typical expat spends ¥100 (US $12.50) a month or a bit more; tourists might use it less. Charge cards are sold in denominations of ¥100 and ¥50, but discounts are frequently available, so a ¥100 charge card may actually only cost ¥80 or less.

Cell phones will not normally make international calls. To get that service, you need to go to the local office for China Mobile or China Unicom and ask them to enable it. They may require a deposit. You can use prepaid cards for international calling with a cellphone however; just dial the number on the card as with a regular landline phone, and the charges will go to the prepaid calling card.

The Chinese GSM system uses 900 and 1800 MHz, and most phones are sold with only those frequencies. Those phones will work in Europe, South East Asia, and Australia, but not in the US, Canada or South America (1900 or 850 MHz). Consider buying a "world phone" with more frequencies.

  • Panasonic GD55 is a cheap (under ¥700) 3-frequency (900/1800/1900) phone.
  • Nokia has many three-band models, e.g. 6310i
  • Motorola has several high-end models with four frequencies, camera and other extras, e.g. RAZR V3 [17] which is just under 2000 RMB in China as of May 2006.

These and other brands are all available in China, but often slightly cheaper in Hong Kong.
Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked". They will work with any SIM card you put in them, not just cards from one vendor.

Conversely, if you already have a cellphone that supports the Chinese frequencies, it is also possible to only buy a SIM-card. This gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded, so you can immediately start making calls. Service may be restricted to a certain city or area, so you cannot roam through the country and expect your phone to work in every case. There is room for bargaining, allowing you to pay less than the actual prepaid value for a given card; Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount of 50% or more.

Area codes
The country dialling code for mainland China is 86. Within the country, the patterns for numbers are as follows:
  • Major cities with eight digit numbers have a two-digit area code, for example: Beijing is (0)10 plus and eight digit number. Other places use seven or eight digit local numbers and a three-digit area code that does not start with 0, 1 or 2. So, for example: 0756 plus 7 digits for Zhuhai.
  • Normal cell phones do not need an area code. The numbers are just: 130 to 132 plus 8 digits — China Unicom, GSM 133 plus 8 digits — China Unicom, CDMA 134 to 139 plus 8 digits — China Mobile, GSM
  • Some mobile phones (小灵通 xiaolingtong) work only in one city. These have numbers that look exactly like land line numbers for their cities. They are the cheapest choice, both for cost of phone and for usage fees, but not flexible enough for most travellers. The technology is neither GSM nor CDMA, but basically a wireless phone on steroids called PHS.

Emergency numbers
The following emergency telephone numbers work in all areas of China:
  • Police: 110
  • Fire alarm: 119
  • Medical care: 120 (or 999 in some places)
  • Directory inquiries: 114
Calling these from a cell phone is free.



Quick Facts

Capital Beijing
Government Communist state
Currency Yuan (CNY) or Renminbi (RMB)
Area 9,596,960 km2
Population 1,313,973,713 (July 2006 est.)
Language Mandarin (Putonghua), Cantonese (Yue), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages
Religion Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Christian 3%-4%, Muslim 1%-2% (officially atheist)
Electricity 220V/50Hz (various plugs)
Calling Code 86
Internet TLD .cn
Time Zone UTC +8

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