Planning a China trip? Awesome! This China Vacation Guide will help you do just that.
China is located in East Asia and has 14 neighboring countries. Together with Russia, China has the largest number of land borders with other countries. Officially the People’s Republic of China, the country borders Russia, Mongolia, Nepal, and India, just to name a few. It’s a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the United Nations Security Council.
The world’s most populated country is characterized by a vast landscape consists of desert, mountains, lake, and rivers. Traveling to China can be a very rewarding experience. Immerse yourself into its culture and world-class history. Get ready to explore.
- China vacation: quick facts
- Chinese provinces, regions, and directly controlled municipalities
- How to travel to China
- How to travel around China
- What to pack for China
- When to visit China
- What to eat in China
- 10 of the biggest events in China
- Public holidays in China
- Cultural customs to be aware of in China
- Where to stay in China
- Don't forget travel insurance
- Is China safe to travel to?
- The use of cash and cards in China
- A word on WiFi in China
- Tipping in China
- A brief history of China
- Posts about China
China vacation: quick facts
Size: 9,596,961 km² or 3,705,407 sq mi
People living there: more than 1.3 billion
Governmental structure: China's governmental structure has received many names but basically, it is a presidential republic with a premier as the head of government.
National day: October 1
Time zones: UTC+6 (Xinjiang Time), for the westernmost part of China and UTC+8 (Chinese Standard Time) for the rest of the country
Power voltage and socket type(s): 220V/50HZ, plug types A and I.
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion but religious organizations that haven't received government approval can be persecuted.
Official language(s) and general knowledge of English: There is no such thing as “Chinese”. Instead, there are almost 300 languages spoken throughout China of which Mandarin and Cantonese are probably the most known. The official language for the entire country is a standardized version of the Mandarin of Beijing.
While English is taught at schools and universities, a lot of people only have a theoretical knowledge of English unless they needed it in daily business life, for example.
Drives on this side: right
International driver's licence accepted? no
Phone code: +86
Recommended shots for China? Hepatitis A and Typhoid
Can you drink the tap water? no
Want more quick facts about China? This post has as list of both quirky and historical ones.
Chinese provinces, regions, and directly controlled municipalities
The People's Republic of China comprises 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. It considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province but Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, rejects this claim.
Located in the eastern region, the province is situated across the basins of the Yangtze River and the Huai River. The province is one of the principal tea producing areas in China with the most well-known varieties being Qimen Black and Tunxi Green tea.
The 22nd-largest Chinese province has some great tourist attractions. Top spots to visit include Mount Huangshan and Mount Jiuhua, one of the four famous Buddhist Mountains in China.
The region’s capital is Fuzhou and is located on China’s southeastern coast. The climate is warm and humid year-round. It has a rich history with beautiful natural landscapes and the Oolong tea produced in the region is world famous. Unique attractions also include Mount Wuyi and Fujian Tulou, the mountain residences.
Situated in the upper reaches of the Yellow River along the ancient Silk Road in northwest China. The capital of the region, Lanzhou, is a well-known ancient city in China. There’s plenty of natural relics and scenery to keep you entertained. Visit the world-famous Magao Caves, the Labrang Monastery and the Bingling Temple.
In southwest China, Guangdong is a picturesque destination with rich folk customs and culture. Kast landforms take up about 60% of the province’s territory. The region is home to 48 of China’s ethnic groups, each with their own customs and cultures.
Expect to eat mainly Qian cuisine which features mainly hot, spicy and sour flavors. Must-try snacks include Chang Wang Noodle and Sour Soup Fish.
In the southernmost part of China’s mainland, the province has the longest coastline in the country. One of the top things to do in the area is the Pearl River Cruise, which offers beautiful scenery along the third longest river in the country. Popular events in the region include the Yangjang Kite Festival and the China Tourism Art Festival.
Located in the tropical part of the southern end of China, there’s no winter here, only warm weather. You’ll find soft beaches and tropical scenery, making it a popular holiday resort and tourist destination in China. The main island, Hainan Island, is China’s largest island after Taiwan.
Hebei is situated to the north of the Yellow River, to the east of the Taihang Mountains. Top spots in the area to visit include the famous Mountain Resort of Chengde which used to be the largest royal summer resort of the Qing Dynasty. Other highlights include the Shanhaiguan Pass at the easternmost part of the Great Wall and the Wuqiao Acrobatics World.
The province neighbors the country’s capital Beijing and the city of Tianjin.
If you like the snow, then head to the northeast of China and you can enjoy the national Ski Festival and Ice festival held every year. Within the province, the town of Harbin is famous for its name ‘Ice City’.
Heilongjiang is home to roughly 35 ethical groups including the Hezhe fisherman and the Ewenki Hunters.
The shining light of the province, the Songshan Mountain, lies southwest of the city of Zhengzhou. In the region, you can find the most famous Buddhist temple in China, the Shaolin Temple, located on the Shaoshi Mountain.
In the middle of the Yangtze River and to the north of Dongting Lake, the capital city of the province is Wuhan. Hubei is home to the Three Gorges Dam Project, the largest water conservation project in China and the rest of the world. Attractions to visit include the Shennongjia Nature Reserve and the Chibi Ancient Battlefield of Three Kingdoms.
Located in the south central part of the mainland of China, Hunan is known for its natural beauty. The second-largest lake in the country, Dongting Lake, can be found in the region. Yueyang City in the area is home to one of China’s three famous towers, the Yueyang Pavilion, originally built during the Tang Dynasty.
Situated on the Yangtze River, you’ll find lots of classical gardens to explore in Jiangsu. Suzhou, a popular tourist city features some of the best classical gardens in the country such as Humble Administrator's Garden, Lion Grove Garden and the Garden of Master of Nets.
Jiangxi is located in southern China and characterized by mountain landscapes and freshwater lakes. Situated along the Yangtze River, the Poyang Lake and Mt. Lushan are popular spots to visit. Be sure to also go to Jingdezhen, a national center for porcelain production with lots of pottery factories and ancient kiln sites.
Located in the central part of China’s northeast region, it’s known for its winter sports with some of the best ski resorts in the country. The Changbaishan mountains is a nature preserve that has tigers, leopards, and sables. The Museum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo makes the region’s capital, Chang Chun one of the cities in China to visit.
The southernmost province in northeast China is the closest gateway to the Korean Peninsula. The region’s capital city, Shenyang, is home to the Manchu version of the Forbidden Kingdom called the Shenyang Imperial Palace. Festivals in the area not to be missed are the Dalian Spring Fireworks Festival and the Dalian Chinese Scholar Tree Blossom Affairs.
The largest inland saltwater lake, Qinghai Lake, is located in the region. Situated in the northeastern part of western China, it’s the fourth-largest province in the country. Expect snow-covered mountains, icy peaks, and vast landscapes. Over 250 animals can be found here under national protection including the wild camel, chiru, snow leopard and black stork.
Situated in the heart of China’s territory, the province is the birthplace of some of China’s national culture. It boasts historical relics such as the Zhenbeitai of the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Qin Dynasty, and China’s largest and most-preserved ancient City Wall.
In the eastern part of China, the province overlooks the Korean Peninsula and the Japan Archipelago. Major historical sites to visit include the ruins of Ancient Longshan City, the Confucius Temple and the Confucius Cemetery in Qufu.
Located to the west of the Taihang Mountain, due to the high altitude it has a cold and dry climate. Explore a number of cultural sites including the Yungang Grottoes, the Ancient City of Pingyao a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Zhangbi Ancient Fortress.
One of the largest provinces in China, the landscape consists of plains, hills, and mountains. The western part of the province is one of the Tibetan-inhabited areas where visitors can experience customs and day-to-day living. It’s been famous for its satins and lacquer since the 13th century.
Yunnan is the most southwest province of China, bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. The region has the most ethnic minorities in China, making up about a third of the province’s population. The natural scenery is a great draw for tourists with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Meili Snow Mountain, and the Stone Forest.
The province is one of the smallest and most densely populated in China. The region capital, Hangzhou, is a key national tourist city with West Lake located right in the heart of the city. Other top things to do including visiting Yandang Mountain, Orchid Pavilion, and the Grand Canal.
How to travel to China
China entry requirements
To travel to China, you will need a passport valid for at least six months. EU, U.S and Australian nationals all need a visa to enter the country. Generally, when you submit your visa application, you need a detailed itinerary including dates of arrival and departure. Depending on your nationality, visa costs change.
You can apply for a single or multiple-entry visa. Single-entry visas are normally valid for three months, double-entry for six months and multiple-entry visas can last up to 24 months.
How to go to China
The easiest and most efficient way to reach China is by plane. The country is well connected to cities all around the world with many international airports. There are more than 200 airports in China that travelers can make use of. Beijing Capital International Airport is the busiest airport in Asia, located northeast of Beijing.
Shanghai Pudong International Airport is another of China’s busiest airport offering more than 60 domestic and 70 international destinations. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is a major airport and is the main hub of Chinese Southern Airlines in the Guangdong province.
China borders a number of countries so it is possible to reach the country by bus however this isn’t the easiest or quickest way to travel. You can reach the country from Pakistan, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar through border crossings.
Visitors can reach China by ferry from Kobe in Japan and Dem Rep on the west coast of Korea. There are also regular ferry services linking Osaka in Japan and Shanghai.
Traveling by train is also an option along the Chinese border. A number of trains go through China including the Russian Trans-Siberian Express. The non-stop journey takes around a week by train, definitely not the most time-effective journey. You can also reach China by train from Vietnam and North Korea.
How to travel around China
How to travel through China independently
There is a comprehensive public transport network with regular flights, trains, and buses which makes travel within China pretty easy.. You can fly to the majority of the regional capitals and most cities. The rail network will get you to every region of the country. The country’s first ultra-fast bullet trains launched in 2007 creating high-speed connections between major cities. You’ll need to show your passport when booking tickets.
For the most remote areas, you’ll need to rely on the local buses. It can be tricky to find the departure point for the buses as places can have multiple bus stations so give yourself plenty of time when traveling by bus. You can travel freely throughout the country except for Tibet where there are complete restrictions on independent travel.
What to pack for China
China is a huge country with ranging climatic conditions. The weather features a distinct continental monsoon usually with cold winters and hot summers. However, the weather really differs from region to region. The country has five temperature zones and four seasons.
The South China Sea sees hot days most of the year and most cold days in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. There’s spring all year round in southern Yunnan plateau, long winters in northern Inner Mongolia and long summers in the south of Fujian province. What you need to pack really depends on the region you plan on traveling to so make sure to research that beforehand.
When to visit China
China is a year-round travel destination with something to do regardless of when you go. In terms of weather, the best time to travel to China is during spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October). The temperature is warm and comfortable to explore then.
Spring is also a great time for nature lovers as the country is in full bloom. The rains start to build up towards the summer in the south of China but can actually enhance mountain views, clearing up the mists.
If you’re visiting in the summer, the weather is hot and it’s the rainy season in most areas. But, it’s the best time to visit the mountain and highland destinations such as Tibet, Yunnan, and Guilin.
Try to avoid public Chinese holidays as they get extremely busy. The Spring Festival is also known as Chinese New Year is one of China’s most important holidays, with millions of Chinese on the move taking trips.
What to eat in China
- Dumplings – this traditional Chinese food can be steamed, boiled, and fried
- Kung Pao chicken – diced chicken mixed with peanuts, red chillis and a slightly sweet sauce usually served with a bowl of rice
- Jian Bing – like a pancake or crepe, served with green onions and spicy chili sauce
- Beijing roast duck – classic Chinese duck dish
- Ma Po tofu – spicy dish of tofu with browned ground beef in a savory sauce with green onions
- Sichuan shredded chicken – spicy chicken stir-fry
- Steamed stuffed buns – balls of dough usually stuffed with pork and vegetables
- Dim Sum – traditional Cantonese dish with a variety of dumplings and steamed buns
- Sugared hawthorns on a stick – a sweet but slightly tart snack sold by street vendors
- Hot pot – a culinary experience where you order meats and vegetables to the table and add the ingredients to a boiling hot cauldron of water in the middle of the table
10 of the biggest events in China
- Chinese New Year
- Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival
- Dragon Boat Race
- Harbin Ice Festival
- Lantern Festival
- Tibet Shoton Festival
- Qingdao International Beer Festival
- Miaonian Festival
- Hungry Ghost Festival
- Shaoxing Rice Wine Festival
Public holidays in China
While there are a bunch of holidays in China for specific groups of people, there are only seven national holidays. These are announced about three weeks before the start of every new year by the General Office of the State Council. When a holiday is in a weekend, the Chinese usually get the Monday after that weekend off.
When you are planning a trip to China, it's best to see if there's also something special going on in the region you're traveling to.
- International New Year's day (January 1)
- Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival (the 1st and sometimes also 2nd and 3rd days of 1st Lunisolar month)
- Tomb-Sweeping Day (the 5th solar term)
- Labor Day (May 1)
- Dragon Boat Festival (5th day of the 5th Lunisolar month)
- Mid-Autumn Festival (15th day of the 18th Lunisolar month)
- National Day (October 1, 2, and 3)
Cultural customs to be aware of in China
China can be a massive culture shock and the sheer amount of people can feel overwhelming at times. Spitting in China is very common and can be a bit confronting, to begin with. Instead of using tissues to clear their noses they spit and feel similarly offended when they see us using tissues to blow our noses and keeping it.
Finger-pointing is considered rude, instead, use your whole hand to make a small gesture. When you’re finished eating with chopsticks, place them on top of the bowl. Chopsticks upright in a bowl mimics the appearance of a funeral incense and is considered a bad omen.
Personal space is much smaller than you’re accustomed to in the west, don’t be alerted if you’re shoved while queueing, it’s just part of Chinese culture. The Chinese love taking photos so don’t be surprised if a local tries to get a sneaky snap of you or even asks for a picture with you.
If you want to learn more about Chinese culture, read these books about China recommended by someone who moved there.
Where to stay in China
Booking.com is my go-to place for booking hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts abroad. It has a bunch of filtering options so I can easily get a list of only the hotels that meet my criteria. If you're looking for accommodation in China, I highly recommend you check there.
Whent I want to book an apartment rather than a hotel, I look for one on Airbnb. If you don't have an Airbnb account yet, you can sign up using my link to get a discount on your first stay.
Don't forget travel insurance
Because of the language and cultural differences, China isn't the easiest country to be in when something goes wrong. You can plan your trip to China really well but there's always something that can happen beyond your control. Part of your trip may get canceled, you might break a leg or a stranger could knock over your camera and break it.
When things like that happen, good travel insurance has got you covered. I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on. If you don't have travel insurance yet, you can get a free quote here:
Is China safe to travel to?
Generally, China is a safe place to travel with low crime rates. Law enforcement is tough with a high conviction rate. Although serious crime rates are low, pickpocketing does happen in the larger cities so be careful of your belongings during peak travel hours and in queues or markets.
One of the biggest safety concerns in China is the roads. In terms of road safety and rules, to westerners, it might look like there are none. Traffic enforcement is pretty lax and the roads can be very chaotic. The rules of the road take some getting used to so be aware of your surroundings and stay calm.
Food safety comes up a lot when traveling in China especially with street food. Having said that, street food can be delicious just use your eyes, nose, and judgment. Look out for long queues and fresh food made in front of you.
Foreign travelers should always be on the lookout for scams and China is no exception. Tourist scams are known to happen particularly in major cities like Beijing. China is vulnerable to natural disasters as it’s located in an active seismic zone and in the past has experienced earthquakes, floods, and storms. Always check any weather warnings ahead of travel.
The use of cash and cards in China
Credit cards including Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are becoming more widely accepted particularly by international hotels, major restaurants, and shops in big cities. However, cash is still mainly used, especially in smaller cities and away from the tourist areas.
In larger cities, there are a number of ATMs that will accept foreign bank cards but less so in smaller non-tourist areas. Either bring your home-currency cash with you to exchange at the airport or exchange your cash prior to leaving. Even though cash is mainly used, it’s a good idea to have an ATM card with you and a credit card.
A word on WiFi in China
The internet is available all over China however you can’t access all of the Internet. Due to censorship restrictions, you can’t use a number of sites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter.
Consider investing in a VPN service so you can access your favorite sites while away but double check that the VPN itself isn’t blocked in China. ExpressVPN or Astrill are good options but remember to set up the software before you leave.
Another option is to use a China-firewall-avoiding data sim card from Comnet Mobile. The prepaid data sim card means the cost of using data and calling abroad is much cheaper than roaming. You can access sites that would normally be blocked however when you use local wifi, say at a hotel, you will not have access to certain sites.
Free WiFi is available in most hotels in tourist cities but some connections can be slow.
Tipping in China
Tipping happens rarely in mainland China and is even banned at some establishments. However, it's common practice in the touristy cities Macau and Hong Kong. Want to know more about who to tip what when and where in China? Check out this section on tipping in China.
A brief history of China
China is one of the world’s four ancient civilizations with documented history dating back to the Shang Dynasty, over 3,000 years ago. The first dynasty in ancient China is believed to be the Xia Dynasty which consisted of several clans alongside the Yellow River. By 2000 B.C the Chinese had learned to make bronze and human sacrifice was practiced in China.
The Shang Dynasty from 1600 B.C was the first to have many historical relics remaining like bronze and jade objects. The Shang built the first real cities in China as well as palaces and temples. Slavery was very common during this time and prisoners of war were made into slaves.
The Shang Dynasty was then overthrown by the Zhou Dynasty. During this time the Chinese philosopher Confucius was born. The first emperor of China, Emperor Qin united all of China under one rule in 221 B.C and the construction of the Great Wall of China began a year later.
China’s Medieval Ages saw steady growth through a series of changes before being consumed by the Mongol Empire. During this time Buddhism was introduced, paper and gunpowder were invented and woodblock printing was used for the first time to print a book.
In 1206, Genghis Khan unified all the tribes in Mongolia and Mongolian rule grew. The Mongol Empire extended to Eastern Europe. From 1271 to 1279, Genghis Khan’s grandson made Dadu, which is modern-day Beijing, the capital of the first foreign-led dynasty in China. In 1368, The Ming dynasty led a revolt against the Mongols and extended the Great Wall to 4,000 miles to keep the Mongols away. The last imperial dynasty in China’s history, the Qing Dynasty, ruled from 1644 to 1912.
The Republican Revolution of 1911 ended the rule of the Qing Dynasty but the Republic of China couldn’t be established across China leading to a civil war that lasted decades. World War I and II followed and Japan was defeated, resuming the civil war between the nationalists and the communists. In 1949, the communists won the war and the People’s Republic of China was formed.
Between 1958-62, the country experienced one of the largest famines in human history, where an estimated 30 million people dyed from starvation. In 1979, the “One-Child Policy” was introduced to limit China’s growing population.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing hosted the summer Olympics and China has become the world’s second-largest economy behind the United States.
Posts about China
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