HELPFUL HINTS FOR TRAVELLERS TO CHINA
BEFORE YOU GO.
Passport and Visa.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of your return to New Zealand. You must also have a valid tourist visa to enter China which we will arrange for you. We do not use group visas as they are a real hassle if someone has to leave the group early. Your passports and visas will be checked at each airport when we fly in China. Last thing to check before you leave home is that you bring it with you. Its amazing how many people turn up at the airport without their passport!
Travel insurance is a must covering medical expenses, baggage loss or damage, and delays.
We can arrange this for you or you are welcome to arrange your own but it is essential. The standard of medical treatment in China is high but they have learned to charge western tourists, western rates!
If you are on medication a supply should be taken for the whole journey along with a letter from your doctor setting out exactly what it is. Come healthy is an excellent start!! There is quite a bit of walking at some of the attractions so a reasonable level of fitness is desirable. We do suggest that if you feel tired from the busy sightseeing programme it is better to take a half day off and relax than to miss a day or two if a larger problem develops. No vaccinations are mandatory. Some people however like to take all precautions while others feel that taking the vaccinations can be worse than the potential risk of catching whatever it is! We leave it to you to discuss with your doctor. There is some risk of Hepatitis however as we stay at good hotels and eat at the better restaurants the risk is not high. In some villages there is some incidence of cholera and typhoid but we are not usually in these areas. There is some incidence of Malaria in the Yangtse area. Obey the main rules - NEVER drink the water from the tap and only eat food from the street stalls if it has been cooked in front of you or if you can peel it yourself with a clean knife and we have very little trouble. Each hotel room will have a flask of hot water or the more modern ones now have a water boiler and usually provide tea bags of green tea. You are welcome to take a small jar of coffee and/or black tea bags and creamer if you wish. We suggest that you take a small kit of Disprin, bandaids, anti stomach problem pills (Immodium is highly recommended) etc with you. Some people do get coughs and colds from the pollution and changes in climate and we do recommend packing some of your favourite cold repellent and cough drops.
Many people have tried traditional Chinese medicine and found it effective.
Altitude Between Lijiang and Zhongdian (Shangri la) we are travelling at up to 3,400 metres and some people will feel the effects of altitude with slight headaches etc. The main antidote is to take life easy, rest when you can, walk more slowly than usual, and let the body adjust.
Go casual! Baggage is restricted to 1 medium sized suitcase and 1 overnight bag. The suitcase MUST be lockable as it will be outside our control when travelling on the trains and at airports. A sturdy suitcase with wheels is ideal but make sure the wheels are fairly well enclosed so that they do not damage other bags and are not likely to be ripped off.. Careful handling of 'Foreign Friends" does not always extend to foreign friends luggage. Porterage is officially included however sometimes it is more convenient and much faster to handle ones own bag. Domestic flights in China have a weight limit of 20 kilos still.
Light easily washable drip dry clothes are ideal. Laundry service is available at most hotels but takes time and money. (Self service laundry is not usually available). Items you can wash in the room and dry overnight are ideal if you wish to save time and money. There is no need to dress up at any of the hotels and it is definitely not necessary to have a different set of clothes for every day!!. A fold up umbrella is a must. We will almost certainly experience some rain, especially down the Yangtse and an easily carried umbrella is very useful. New Zealanders are the only ones I know of casual (and sensible) enough to use the umbrella's as sunshades which does amuse the Chinese. (You can also buy them very cheaply in China if need be). Dress on the cruise is smart casual for dinner and the official welcome evening. A sunhat is another must along with good walking shoes.
As the weather can be cool at altitude around Lijiang and Shangri la and also while cruising the Yangtse (especially if the wind is blowing) a warm, easily packed windbreaker is a good idea. Greatcoats can be hired for the chairlift ride in the mountains if required on the day.
Most of your expenses are prepaid. All your sightseeing and all except lunch and dinner in Hong Kong and 3 dinners in China. On top of that may be a meal or two and sightseeing at your stopover en route. You can feel quite comfortable coming with say $US500 in cash per person to cover incidentals and some basic shopping HOWEVER for the heavy shoppers you need more. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted at restaurants and main shops and certainly at the hotels where we are staying if you need to pay for incidentals such as liquor, faxes, medical expenses etc. Diners and American Express are accepted at some places. Credit cards are not accepted in the markets but prices are cheap. All hotels operate an exchange desk for exchanging US dollars cash and travellers cheques for local currency (Yuan) at official government rates. I always carry small denomination US dollars cash (maximum bill size $50) but I take the risk of losing it. Travellers cheques are safer but a real hassle if you lose them and sometimes are surcharged when you come to cash them. Most hotels have in room safes for security (Please remember your pin numbers!) or else operate a safety deposit box system at the front desk.
BEWARE THE PICKPOCKET - they are a fact of life in the major cities in China now - but certainly less than in most major cities in the world. A money belt can be a good idea but in any case the usual simple precautions of not flaunting wealth and not making it obvious and easy to get at your finances and passports are advisable.
All Hotels we stay at except Beijing are rated 4 star - (Beijing is 5 star) but standards will vary from place to place. In Beijing we stay at the grand old newly beautifully refurbished 5 star Beijing hotel. Our Victoria Cruises ship is now officially rated 5 stars.. We will be using the Victoria Star - all cabins have private balconies. In the main you will be pleasantly surprised I am sure. The Chinese give us a list of hotels as per your final itinerary provided 3-4 weeks prior to departure but these are subject to change along the way. All hotels have coffee shops, laundry service (but not usually self service), room service, restaurants, etc. Prices of 'incidentals' have certainly increased considerably in the past few years.
Western breakfast and Chinese lunches and dinners are included most days as per your itinerary. Its a chance to develop your chopstick skills! All must eat together at included meals. Lunches and dinners are usually at restaurants away from the hotel.
A very comprehensive programme of sightseeing is included. We will have a local guide in each city. Most local guides do an excellent job and respond well to the friendly laid back kiwi attitude. They have responsibilities to their employers and we will probably have the occasional tussle to move out of the shops and back to sights! Your tour escort is responsible for all liasing with the Chinese guides. All our arrangements in China are handled by China International Travel Service the official government tourist organisation who handled my first group in 1975 and every group since. They usually give us excellent service. Expect some 'flexibility' in travel arrangements along the way however. Travel is by air conditioned bus in each city. Very few optional extras for sightseeing will be offered but there may be some additional shows available.
Expect a wide range! The mountains of Yunnan and even the Yangtse valley and Beijing can be cool at this time of year (or can be hot!!). Expect temperatures between 15 and 30 degrees but in the main in the mid to high 20's. It is very important to take one warm jacket and trousers set for use in the mountains and on deck on the ship. You do not need a different outfit for every day!!
Rest asssured there will be plenty of opportunity! Quality is variable but some is absolutely excellent. Let the buyer beware! Most main shops are now 'fixed price'but bargaining is expected in the markets. Clothing in Shanghai is highly sophisticated and economical. The Silks of Shanghai tempt most people and a model terracotta warrior seems to find its way into most people's suitcases.
China is safer than most countries but as part of 'opening up to the west' the old days of virtually no crime are gone. Just take the sensible precautions of not going down dark alleys late at night on your own etc - and again watch the pickpockets.
I am pleased to advise that we are now covering the main tips to guides and drivers only. This will be handled by your escort. Tips are not expected at the restaurants we visit as part of the tour. Porterage at the hotels is included however I have no doubt that some bellboys will be eager to show you every feature of the room until you relent and drop a Yuan or two in their direction. However this is not mandatory. It is over to you.
In the past it was traditional to give souvenirs and gifts to guides. Money has a greater attraction now! If you want to pack a few little souvenirs of your country or city/town they are appreciated. A few pictures of your family can be useful to make friendships.
Chinese is a very difficult language but a few words learned and the attempt made to use them is greatly appreciated.
Ni Hao Good Morning, Good afternoon, hullo, gidday
Qing Please (Q is pronounced ch - sort of!)
Xie Xie Thank you (X is pronouced sh - sort of!)
Dui Yes, Correct
Bu dui No
Qieng wen Excuse me
Duo shao qian How much is it?
Tai Gui TOO MUCH!! Too expensive
As with most things in life the extent to which you enjoy yourself depends on the attitude with which you approach your tour. China can still be frustrating at times although the standards of service and infrastructure have improved immensely since I went first in 1975. Standards of cleanliness, especially in public toilets, leaves a lot to be desired but this is all part of the experience.
Be friendly to others and they will be friendly to you is a useful maxim anywhere
Welcome aboard and have a great time in China.