China Overview

China has been a beguiling enigma for centuries; its vastness, coupled with a veil of mystery, has always attracted outsiders. It is the new second world superpower, going through rapid social, economic and philosophical changes – which means it can fascinate, even from a distance.

China has an abundance of man-made wonders to fill a visitor with inspiration and awe. From the Great Wall of China to the twin economic powerhouses of Beijing and Shanghai, there are hundreds of sights to behold. Shorter visits might encompass the major hotspots like the Forbidden City, and longer ones might see you explore China’s magnificent interior – one littered with temples, picturesque farming villages and even mountaintop towns.

The People’s Republic also boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The country’s size means that places like Hainan Island in the south enjoy temperatures akin to the Caribbean, whilst the northern cities remind visitors of Toronto’s cold snaps. Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, or ‘Home of the Pandas’, is certainly worth a visit for its waterfalls and stunning lakes, and the Yungang Grottoes offer a series of caves that hold thousands of Buddhist statues. China has the third highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In the major cities, you can enjoy luxury accommodations that will be the envy of everyone you know. The Grand Hyatt in the very heart of Beijing lets guests revel in five-star comfort, whilst the neighbouring Shangri-La Hotel offers refinement and grace in an award-winning setting. Further afield, travellers can bask in Hainan at the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay resort or chill out after a long day at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in cosmopolitan Shanghai. With such a wide array of top quality hotels, visitors will be spoilt for choice. Enjoying China’s wonders will be done in style and immaculate opulence.

China is the envy of the world, and it is so tempting to visit and find out why. It offers an unrivalled travelling experience that can literally please everybody. You will wonder if one trip is ever going to be enough, which explains why many visitors return time and time again to sample just a little bit more of China’s magnificence.

Local Information

The currency of China is the Chinese Yuan Renminbi (RMB), which can be abbreviated as RMB. The monetary unit is the Yuan and its fractional unit is the Jiao, with 10 Jiao equating to 1 Yuan.
The standard monetary notes you will find in China are as follows: 1 Jiao, 5 Jiao, 1 Yuan, 5 Yuan, 10 Yuan, 20 Yuan, 50 Yuan, and 100 Yuan.

Dollars and Euros will be accepted in some establishments, such as hotels and larger stores. However, many places will not accept these, so it is best to exchange your money into RMB either before your visit or once you have arrived in China. It is relatively easy to exchange money in major Chinese cities, and exchange rates can be favourable, compared with those overseas. Always make sure you exchange money at a reputable establishment, never exchange on the street and remember that a passport must be presented when exchanging money. It is far more difficult to exchange money in rural areas, so make sure you have sufficient currency if travelling to these areas.

Despite the foreign exchange rate being subject to constant change, the approximate values are listed below:

$1 = 6.10 CNY
£1 = 9.95 CNY
€1 = 8.35 CNY
(December 2013)

The vast size of the Chinese landmass means that the climate varies drastically from subtropical in the south to subarctic in the north. As well as latitudinal variance, there are also dramatic changes in climate due to the effect of the monsoon in the summer and Siberian winds in the winter, not to mention the impact of altitude, particularly in the west.

The North – Northern parts of China including Beijing experience, long, cold and dry winter months owing to the impact of strong Siberian winds from the north which cause temperatures to plummet to well below freezing. During the summer, temperatures warm up considerably whilst the sub-tropical monsoon causes rainfall and humidity to increase dramatically.

Central Region – Central China has a more varied climate than the north and south. It can be divided into areas impacted by the monsoon which have a humid subtropical climate with warm wet summers and mild winters; these are located in the east. Meanwhile, in the western reaches of China the altitude increases which makes temperatures cooler all year round. In this region, the climate is categorised as being semi-arid continental, bringing with it cold dry winters with dry springs and milder summers.

The South – Southern China sits on the tropic of cancer and therefore experiences a humid subtropical climate which is heavily influenced by the monsoon. Here the summer is much longer than in the north. As a result, the average temperature and humidity is much higher here than elsewhere with an annual mean temperature well into the 70 degrees Fahrenheit and almost 70 percent humidity.

Food and drink are an integral part of everyday life in China and this is represented in the rich diversity in the types of cuisine on offer. In the majority of China’s cities, you can find everything, from quick and tasty street food snacks, which can be picked up cheaply, to some of the world’s top restaurants. Traditional Chinese food is packed full of flavour and is often prepared to be shared on a multitude of different plates, offering a more communal dining experience.

Many Chinese dishes are prepared with pork and this is traditionally cooked quickly in a wok and infused with flavours, with soy sauce, garlic, ginger and chilli being popular ingredients. Most cities and regions have their own distinct style of cooking, such as the Beijing duck, whilst coastal areas make good use of the oceans bounty. Wherever you are in China, be sure to try the local delicacies on offer, you will not be disappointed.

Drinking tea is an art form in China and there are more tea houses here than anywhere else in the world. The finely blended teas are served in special ceremonies which are designed to promote togetherness and friendship in all those who come to the tea houses to partake in this ancient ritual.

The Chinese language or Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in China, and indeed one of the most widely spoken in the world with well over a billion speakers. English is becoming more widely spoken in China, especially amongst the younger generation, and it is quite commonly spoken by those working in the service industries which is useful for visitors. Cantonese is widely spoken in Hong Kong and Macau as well as in parts of southern China around Guangdong Province, whilst in Tibet the Tibetan language is the most populous language.
Given the vast size of China, most journeys are conducted via internal flights and this is by far the quickest and most efficient way of travelling long distances. Once you have reached your destination, further journeys will need to be completed by road, and there have been huge developments in the road infrastructure in China over the course of the last fifteen years. As part of the tour, you will enjoy a private transport with air condition and water refreshment throughout your journey. In terms of public transport, there are now many fantastic bus services in operation throughout China, although these are less common in very rural areas in the west of the country. In the major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing there is a very efficient metro train service in operation which makes getting around the city quick and easy in comfortable, air-conditioned modern carriages. As well as this modern transport system, there are the traditional pedicel and three-wheel private taxis which provide a low cost fare option in almost every city right across China.
Although there are no hard and fast rules for tipping in China, it is most certainly not a must and, in fact, can be discouraged at times in certain establishments. You may wish to give a small tip of 1 or 2 dollars if someone gives you a good recommendation. If you have a private tour guide and coach driver, the general rule of thumb is an average daily tip of 10 dollars for the guide and 5 dollars for the driver.