Practical information China

  • China
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  • China
    © René Mattes
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination China
China : the key figures

Area : 9706961.0 km2

Population : 1344000000 inhabitants


Mandarin Chinese (putonghua) is understood, spoken and written all over China. English is spoken in the big businesses of the large cities and by most students.


  • Beijing and the North :

    Beijing is 5,095 miles from London, with a flight time of around 10 hours. British Airways operates daily flights from London to Beijing, while China Eastern Airlines operates weekly flights. Air China also operates daily direct flights from London to Beijing. The Belgian company Brussels Airlines operates flights from London Heathrow to Beijing in partnership with Chinese Hainan Airlines.

  • Shanghai and the South :

    Shanghai is approximately 5,700 miles from London, with a flight time of around 11h 30m.

    British Airways operates daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Pudong International Airport, Shanghai. Air China operates flights from London Heathrow to both Pudong and Hongqiao International Airports, Shanghai, with a connecting flight in Beijing.

  • Tibet :

    London-Beijing-Chengdu-Lhasa flight takes approximately 14 hours, not including connections. The total distance covered is approximately 6, 950 mi. When travelling via Katmandu in Nepal, anticipate approximately 10 hours, including the Katmandu-Lhasa flight, which takes 40 minutes. Connections to the Tibetan capital also operate from the Chinese towns of X'ian and Chongqing.

  • Hainan :

    : At the moment, there are no direct flights from the UK. The journey takes between 10 and 20 hours depending on the stopover.

  • Sichuan :

    At the moment there are no direct flights from the UK. The journey takes between 10 and 20 hours depending on the stopover (Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong).

  • Inner Mongolia :

    There are no direct flights from the UK. The journey takes almost 13 hours with a stopover in Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, is 4,864 miles from London.

  • China's Western Provinces :

    The airline companies Air China, China Southern, KLM, Cathay Pacific, Hainan Airlines and Air France all fly to China's western provinces. You may have to take up to two connecting flights, usually one in Europe, in Brussels or Amsterdam, and a second in Asia, in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou (formerly Canton), Hangzhou or Singapore. Flights to Kunming, Guilin and Xi'an take around 20 hours.

  • China's Eastern Provinces :

    To get to Eastern China from the UK you have to fly to Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. A large number of airlines, such as Air China, Austrian Airlines and British Airways operate flights to these cities.

    A return trip to Beijing from London can be expensive in peak season. The flight time to Beijing is around 11 hours, and can be direct or include stopovers, depending on the airline.

Required travel documents for China

To enter China, you must have a passport valid at least six months after your return date, a visa, an identity card and you need to fill in a form. Please note: the form can be downloaded from the embassy's website: can get your visa at the consulate for about £28 (in cash) for a single entry and £40 for two entries. It often takes a long time to get the document. Some agencies will do this paper work for you, for the cost of about £21.


The main religion is Buddhism (100 million), followed by Taoism (30 million), Islam (20 million), and Christianity (4 million). Almost the whole of China respects the "cult of the ancestors" prescribed by Confucius.


The Yuan or Kuai (CNY), also referred to as the Renminbi Yuan (RMB) ('people's currency'), consists of 10 Jiaos (commonly referred to as Maos) or 100 Fens. £1 Sterling = 10.26 yuan. Currency exchange is available in almost all large hotels (excluding commission, the official rate is the same everywhere). Small amounts of cash in US Dollars are also very useful. International bank cards are only accepted in large establishments, hotels and shops, but cash can be withdrawn at all branches of the Bank of China. Those in Shanghai and Beijing have ATM machines which can be used 24 hours a day. Banks open at 8.00am and close for lunch and then at around 4.00pm from Monday to Friday. Some also open on Saturdays from 8:00am to noon. Be careful not to exchange money on the black market, although this practice has virtually died out.


The plane:
There are numerous internal airlines now (750 in 2004). Air China alone serves more than 80 towns. A ticket costs 50% more for a foreigner than for a Chinese person. You cannot avoid this increase! Return tickets, however, can be bought at the same time. You have to pay ?cash', though the use of credit cards is being slowly introduced. By way of example, Peking-Canton costs CNY 1,500. Book a long time in advance through a hotel or agency (commission has to be paid in all cases).

The train:
Any real traveller must experience this very safe and strange means of transport, which travels at an average of 40 mph. This is the opportunity to see what Chinese crowds in the stations are like, together with daily Chinese life. There are four ?classes' available: ?hard seats', ?soft seats', ?hard couchette' and ?soft couchette'. Travelling in ?hard couchette' (rather spartan couchettes) means that you will share with families. A one-way Peking-Canton ticket costs around CNY 500. ?Soft couchette' (more comfortable couchettes in private compartments) is more the style for the ?management and military'; then again, the ticket costs almost as much as a plane ticket. There are two ways of obtaining a one-way ticket (you cannot buy return tickets): you can buy it at hotel reception, or in a travel agency (CITS), at least 34 days in advance or at the station ticket-office, which involves hours of waiting and a lot of pushing. However, it is worth the experience when you have the time and the patience. In Beijing and in some large metropolises, a ticket office reserved for foreigners facilitates things. The Chinese spend their time on the trains eating, with no regard for cleanliness. The restaurant cars often serve excellent dishes, and also sell snacks. A Beijing-Shanghai trip takes 17 hours, and Shanghai-Chongqing, 50 hours!

The bus:
Often the only means of transport for reaching remote areas on chaotic roads. Long and tiring but cheap journeys, involving direct contact with the people. The shock absorbers are often worn, and breakdowns frequent (the idea of maintenance is not a Chinese strong point!). However, comfort is gradually improving, and buses with couchettes are becoming more and more frequent, though they cost double the usual price. The condition of the roads is improving, and private buses are now competing with public bus services.

Car hire:
Considering the local driving rules, you are better off hiring a professional driver, with a taxi or private car. For a one or two day drive, you can bargain with any taxi driver. However, you must agree on a price before departure. Officially, it varies from 1 to 2 yuans per mile, depending on the type of vehicle. This method is much better value than going through an official agency, on condition that you speak a little Chinese.

Hiring a bicycle is far and away the best way of discovering a town. Bicycle hire (CNY 10 to 20 per day) is widely used, on deposit of CNY 200 or a passport. For long stays, you would do as well to buy a new bike (allow for around CNY 500). Riding in town requires permanent vigilance to acquire the local pace and habits, such as intermittent respect for red lights, and being knocked over by a bunch of cyclists Make sure you secure your bike correctly or, preferably, leave it in a supervised bicycle park (CNY 1 or 2). Scooter hiring has not yet been authorised.

The underground:
in Beijing as in Shanghai, the underground serves the town centre. The price of the ticket varies from 2 to 5 yuans. This is a good means of transport, on condition, however, that you avoid peak times (from 7:00 am to 9:00 am and from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm).


Inspection against SARS (a respiratory disease) and avian flu has been reinforced.
Furthermore, a vaccination against flu for people going to Asian countries who are affected by the avian flu has not yet been judged as useful or recommended, according to the Minister of Health Administration. It is recommended to travellers going to countries declared as infected by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Epizootic Office to avoid all contact with fowls, that is to say not going to farms and fowl and bird markets, avoid all contact with any surfaces spattered with fowl droppings or animal dejections. Finally, it is categorically unadvised to bring back animals from those countries.

Hygiene recommendations
Steps against microbial infections are recommended, especially avoiding eating raw or half-cooked food, in particular meat and eggs; wash your hands regularly.

General recommendations
No vaccine is required but hepatitis A, typhoid and tetanus are strongly recommended. Ask for more information at a vaccination centre to be informed about eventual epidemic diseases and risks of infections when you get there.
Good to know: every winter, flu and colds ravage China, especially in cold regions. Bring broad-spectrum antibiotics and medicine to cure sore throats. Dust and pollution can cause conjunctivitis (bring an eyewash solution). Golden rule in the country: never drink tap water, never have ice cubes, ice creams or pealed fruits sold in the street. Drink tea or mineral water, sodas or beer (in bottles with the cap open in front of you). In restaurants where hygiene conditions seem dubious, avoid eating raw vegetables and always choose hot or well-cooked dishes. In case of an accident, get a taxi to the closest hospital. Health care is relatively reliable and inexpensive. Major hotels provide medical emergency services. In any case, it is preferable to get some sort of repatriation insurance.


Voltage is 220 V.There are 5 different types of electrical outlets! US adaptor and flat outlets are necessary.


China welcomed 49.6 million visitors in 2006.


In hotels, a government tax, going from 10 to 20% is added to the room rate. Do not forget to keep enough cash to pay the airport tax (CNY 100 for an international flight, CNY 50 for a domestic flight). It is not a custom to leave tips, but tour guides would happily accept them. A small amount of cash (or a small gift), handed beforehand, sometimes facilitates human relations.

China : Useful addresses in the country

Before leaving

Chinese Embassy
49-51 Portland Place
Tel: 020 7299 4049

Chinese Consulate General
Denison House
Denison Road
Victoria Park
M14 5RX

Cultural Service
11 West Health Road

Tel: 020 7431 8830.

China National Tourist Office
4 Glentworth St
NW1 5P6
Tel: 020 7935 9787
Email: [email protected]

CITS (China International Travel Service) is the governmental agency found everywhere in China. These services are sometimes rather expensive, but very reliable.
Head Office
124 Euston Road
Tel: 01 42 66 94 51

On the spot

British Embassy
4/F Landmark Building Tower
18 Dongsanhuan Beilu
Beijing 100004
Tel: +86 (0)1065906903.

The tourist agencies distributed all over the country are divided into two categories: international tourism and interior tourism. The most important are the China International Travel Service (CITS), the China Travel Service (CTS) and China Comfort Travel (CCT), which have opened branches in different parts of the country. International agencies organise group and tailor-made trips for foreigners in China, provide interpreter-guides in different languages, and reserve hotel rooms, together with plane, boat and train tickets.

CITS: 103, Fuxingmennei Dajie
Tel: 66015588
CTS: 2, Beisanhuan Donglu
Tel: 64622288
CCT: 5, Nongzhanguan, Nanlu
Tel: 65940868

The Beijing Tourist Information Centre
10, Dengshikou xijie, Dongcheng
Tel: 65 12 30 43, open every day from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm
Their website:, provides updated information on events, addresses of tour operators, restaurants, etc.
Finally, note that monthly tourist information is available from the big hotels in the country, particularly in Shanghai and Peking, together with certain restaurants and bars. This is a good way of having the right and updated addresses when necessary.

Saturdays and Sundays are days of rest in China. The administrative entities are open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

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