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Travel Tips

This page provides some useful information about traveling to China. The information contained here are subject to change. Chinese History Digest is not responsible or liable if any changes should occur.

Best times to travel

Due to the Chinese holiday schedule, weather, environmental factors etc. some periods are more suitable to visit certain regions then others. Visit this page to see a customized calendar for China (2014 - 2016) that lists the different holidays.

Season Avoid this Period Don't go to Go here instead
Winter the entire spring festival period (some places close for the holidays) as well as the travel rush (Chunyun) before and after Beijing and other heavily polluted cities visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, the tropical island of Hainan or other warmer areas in the Southeast of China
Spring crowded 3 day official holidays during the Qingming Festival (Qing Ming Jie holiday), Labour Day holiday, Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival) Beijing often experiences sandstorms in early spring. visit the Luoyang Peony Festival, spring is generally a good time to travel anywhere in China
Summer crowded 3 day Mid-Autumn Festival coastal areas in Southeast China (typhoon season), the Seven Furnaces (Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing, Nanchang, Changsha, Shanghai and Hangzhou) and other hot areas Dalian the "Hong Kong of Northern China" and Kunming, "the city of eternal spring"
Autumn the crowded Golden Week in October winter arrives early in northern Heilongjiang, travelers that like that should go to Mohe County autumn is a great time to travel almost anywhere in China

Getting a visa

Chinese Visa For US Tourist
Chinese Visa For US Tourist
By Sbharris [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Most foreigners require a visa when visiting China. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. At this page, all necessary information about China's visa policies can be found.

Even though most people will apply for a Chinese visa in their home countries, there is another way that some people might prefer. It is possible to get a Chinese visa in Hong Kong at the Chinese Visa Office of the Consular Department Office of the Commissioner Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.

That has several advantages. First of all, there is no need to travel to the nearest visa-issueing Chinese embassy or consulate in the traveler's home country then.

Depending on their home state in the United States, applicants would have to travel to the visa office in Washington D.C., Chicago, Houston, New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco (or have someone go there for them).

Most foreign citizens can enter Hong Kong visa-free. What's more, depending on the departure location, international flights to Hong Kong are often cheaper then flying to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing or other international airports on the mainland.

Once arrived in Hong Kong, travelers can then apply for a Chinese visa at the Chinese Visa Office inside the China Resources Building. That is a fairly uncomplicated process that does however take between 2 - 4 working days, which gives visitors ample time to get over their jetlag, get used to the culture shock, go shopping, sightseeing etc. If spending a few hours on the passport drop-off and pick-up days seem to bothersome, travelers could ask their hotel for help with their visa application. Many hotels in Hong Kong offer that service for an extra fee, particularly at the Chungking Mansions.
China Resources Building
China Resources Building, click on the picture for a larger view. The entrance to the visa office is along the side of the building that is shown in the picture.
By LeetungTong (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Hotels in Hong Kong

Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, Hong Kong
the Chungking Mansions building in Kowloon, Hong Kong
(WT-shared) at wts wikivoyage [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The disadvantage of getting a Chinese travel visa in Hong Kong are the high hotel prices for spending a few nights there. Chinese History Digest's hotel booking partners Wego and DHR offer some good rates.

Hong Kong's cheapest possible hotel rooms can be found at 2 buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui that house a plethora of small guesthouses and hostels. These are the Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansion, which stand almost next to each other on Nathan Road (stop 14 of airport bus A21) in Kowloon (so not on Hong Kong Island itself but on the mainland on the other side of the bay).

The rooms there are tiny but generally clean. Due to the large number of hostels and guesthouses, rooms are almost always available and prices can often be negotiated a fair bit downwards. Travelers who intend to arrive during the weekend, main holiday season, major conventions in Hong Kong or fairly late in the evening are advised to book online beforehand. Some of these hostels/guesthouses can be booked through Wego and DHR, like the Las Vegas Hostel or Tai Wan Hotel, but many more exist that cannot be booked online.

airplane

discounted flights to/within China (incl. Hong Kong)
Book discounted flights from/to Hong Kong International Airport or other Chinese airports or even worldwide with our partners Wego or One Travel

china hotel

Hotels/Hostels/Guesthouses in Hong Kong and China
Book discounted hotels, hostels and guesthouses in Hong Kong: with DHR or Wego
or on the mainland of China: with DHR or Wego

onwards travel to Chinese mainland

After getting the Chinese travel visa in Hong Kong, travelers can cross the border to the Chinese mainland. Even though trains and busses (and even ferries) exist to carry visitors onwards to their destination, flying is definitely the most convenient.

There are direct flights to the major airports on the mainland from the Hong Kong International Airport. Substantially cheaper prices are often available for flights from the Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport on the Chinese mainland. Whereas there are no direct flights to many destinations on the Chinese mainland out of Hong Kong, Shenzhen's Bao'an International Airport often provides these routes.
Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport, Terminal
Terminal of the Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. By Hareinhardt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong border crossing checkpoint
travelers walking towards the entrance of the Hong Kong - China border crossing checkpoint
By Chintunglee [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There are several ways to reach the Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport, but taking a bus (from several places in Hong Kong or from the Hong Kong International Airport, from where there are also ferries) is the cheapest option. It is advisable to leave Hong Kong 4 to 5 hours before the scheduled departure from the Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. It is not a far trip, but traffic jams on the Chinese side and the time needed at the border crossing make it hard to predict the journey time.

Crossing the border between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland is a major hassle for travelers with lots of luggage. All travelers will have to get out of the bus and carry their luggage through the checkpoint (there are no trolleys!!!) to the mainland side, where another bus will be waiting or arriving shortly.

Hotels on the Chinese mainland

Chinese airports generally provide shuttle busses to the city centre at very reasonable rates. Even taking a taxi from the airport is relatively cheap compared with Western countries. Some taxi drivers speak rudimentary English, but it is advisable to show a printed address of the hotel, travel destination etc. in Chinese.

When arriving at the Chinese hotel without a booking, keep in mind that prices can be negotiated. Even though every licensed hotel will display a price chart near the reception, these displayed prices are usually much higher than what people actually pay (Chinese customers are thrifty and good at bargaining). As a general guideline, publicly displayed prices are around double what savvy customers actually pay (except during high season or special events).

Even in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai it is possible (outside peak periods) to find a double room for around 100 Yuan per night. Cheap rooms at some 3 or 4 star hotels can often be had for around 200 Yuan per night.

lobby of the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai
lobby of the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai. By Rolfmueller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If traveling with Chinese friends, let them negotiate the price while waiting outside the hotel and out of sight. Showing a non-Chinese face at the reception often drives up the price. Of course, this can be avoided by booking accomodation online beforehand (see yellow box above).

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all hotels will accept foreigners as guests. Some Chinese hotels (especially in small towns or the countryside) will refuse to provide accomodation by saying that their establishment doesn't have the required government license to house foreign guests. Whether such a licensing requirement does or does not exist can not be verified. Intrepid travelers who can speak Chinese can try to use the suggestions in this article to solve any problems with their registration at the hotel.