With a 4,000 year-old history, a population of 1.4 billion people, and a total landmass of 9.6m square kilometres, China is truly one of the most extraordinary travel destinations on the planet. Featuring an endless variety of geographical locales and cultural spectacles, there is no shortage of things to see or do while in China. Whether you wish to scale the heights of the Great Wall, gaze upon the famous Terracotta Warriors, or simply indulge in the array foods that comprise Chinese cuisine, there’s something for every traveller in China.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. China has an extensive rail network, with a high speed rail network stretching across the country. Non-high speed rail services are also available, though are less fast and may be less comfortable. Most major cities have well-developed transport networks and have a variety of transport options, including subway trains, taxis and buses.
Taxis and buses are generally cheap and easy to find, though be advised taxi drivers don’t always speak English – having your destination written down for you in characters can be a big help.
In major cities in China, Odyssey typically stays in centrally located 4-5 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in clean family-run hotels or guesthouses in China.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Environment & Weather
As the third largest country in the world, China’s geography is vast, varied, and diverse. China is divided into 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities, and 2 special administrative regions. Physical landscapes greatly vary, from the mountains of Tibet, to the plains of northern China, and the deserts of Xinjiang in the west. Two major rivers flow across the country – the Yellow River to the north, and the Yangtze to the centre. Mountains and hills typify much of the southern and western regions of the country, while coastal flatlands and open plains feature in the east and north respectively.
Given the diversity of China’s geography, climate and temperature can vary considerably. The north often features hot summers and freezing winters, while the south is generally warm, subtropical and humid. Depending on the time of year and region you intend to travel to, be prepared to dress according to season and climate.
World heritage sites
China has more than 50 world heritage sites, the second most in the world. You can view the official list of the sites here https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/cn.
Although every site is worth visiting, here are a few highlights:
- The Grand Canal, a colossal waterway system completed in the 7th century AD
- Temple of Heaven, a stunning complex of religious buildings located in Beijing
- Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, home of China’s iconic national animal
Festivals and Events
With its ancient history and deeply ingrained cultural traditions, China is home to many colourful festivals and events. Chinese New Year, generally held at the end of January or the beginning of February is a time of celebration and excitement across the country, featuring fireworks, music and gift-giving. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the largest ice-sculpture in the world and attracts participants from across the country and the world, while the Duanwu Festival centres around the thrilling Dragon Boat races.
- A History of Chinese Civilization, by Jacques Gernet
- The River at the Center of the World, by Simon Winchester
- The Silk Road in World History, by Xinru Liu
- China’s Lost Imperial Garden, by Guo Daiheng and Yawtsong Lee
Eating and Drinking
China’s cuisine is a central part of Chinese culture. Chinese cuisine draws from distinct regional flavours and cooking styles, including Sichuanese, Cantonese, Shandong and Jiangsu regional cuisines. Kungpao chicken, a dish native to Sichuan, showcases the region’s flair for spice and heat, while Peking duck is the signature dish of the nation’s capital. Tea remains an important part of Chinese culture, with many varieties consumed, including green, oolong, and white tea. Wherever you travel in China, you will always find a new and unique culinary experience.
Health and Safety
For most of the country, travel within China is usually safe. However, smartraveller.gov.au advises travellers to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to Tibet or Xinjiang.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. The electricity supply runs at 220V, and 50Hz. Chinese plugs will either have two vertical pins or three pins (either triangular or in a T-shape), depending on region, so make sure you have the right adapter with you before your trip.
The Forbidden city
The Great Wall
Lushan National Park
China has a single time zone, Beijing Time (UTC+8). China does not observe daylight savings.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services. Generally speaking, it is not common practice in China to tip for services rendered, although there are some exceptions. Group tour guides, hotel bellhops and waiters in high-level western restaraunts may accept tips, though don’t feel pressured to do so.
Internet access is usually good in hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars. Be aware however that in China, the government censors certain internet content, and some websites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in the country, as are certain news websites such as the BBC.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in China. Many providers will offer a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for China
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of Yuan notes in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.