***Yellow Mountains (Anhui)
The Yellow Mountains’ (Mount Huangshan or just Huangshan) massive peaks, weird rock formations wreathed in mist and diverse plants make up a scenery that has inspired thousands of years of paintings and poetry. Climb or take the cable car up this World Heritage site, one of the most popular destinations among Chinese tourists; it’s located in southern Anhui Province (east China, near Shanghai).
100kms (about 40 minutes) northwest of Shanghai in Jiangsu Province, by train . Nicknamed ‘Venice of East’, quiet Suzhou is a canal town dotted with fine old bridges, complex traditional gardens, Pagodas and ancient stonework. It’s not far from Hangzhou or watery Tongli.
The Shilin Stone Forest in Yunnan.
This sub-tropical province in China’s far southwest, near Burma/Laos/Vietnam, is the place to meet colourful ethnic minorities and to see shining ranks of rice terraces groomed by water buffalo, ancient buildings and terrific hiking or biking.
Kunming is the capital of Yunnan and known for its fine climate (aka the city of eternal spring), temples and relaxed lifestyle; it’s fairly modern but still pleasant nevertheless.
The weird rock formations of Shilin ‘Stone Forest’ are an easy 100kms from Kunming while 370kms away (7 hours by train) is a backpacker favourite, atmospheric Dali’s fortified old town, great hiking around Lake Erhai or Cang Shan mountain and banana pancake breakfasts.
The old town of Lijiang. Photo by chensiyuan.
570 kms from Kunming Lijiang is more remote and less modernised than most Chinese towns. Traditional old, wooden, low-rise buildings are inhabited by traditional old low-rise Chinese, offering one of the country’s most charming and authentic old-time China experiences, with the added value of canals, colourful Naxi culture and the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountains.
Hiking the jungle in Xishuangbanna brings visitors to really exotic ethnic villages.
Best time to visit Yunnan: more or less any time. Winter is sunny but a little chilly, summer a little wet but cooler than most places due to its altitude of nearly 2, 000 metres.
January – February. Harbin Ice Sculpture Festival. Plus ice sports!
February. Xian, Hong Kong Lantern Festival.
February/March, Lhasa, Tibetan New Year.
March, Chengdu Flower Festival with music and theatre.
Mid April, Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan, *Water Splashing Festival.
April, Dali, Third Moon Street Fair.
May, Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong, Bun Festival, 3 days.
Late May, early June. Chengdu, Sichuan, Guanxi, Hong Kong, *Dragon Boat Festival.
June, Stone Forest, Kunming, Torch Festival.
July, Guizhou Province, Tribal Festivals for ethnic minorities.
September/October. Nationwide, Hong Kong, Moon Festival.
Chinese hotels are at peak pricing three months in advance. If you are willing to risk not getting a room at your preferred hotel or b&b then wait until weeks before arrival before making a booking. The nearer to the date the lower the price. You could save up to 50% on room rates though patience.
Chinese-run hotels are particularly good value compared to international chains.
Unlike western countries tipping is not a part of the Chinese culture and could actually be deemed offensive. Do not tip in taxis, restaurants and hotels unless you are in a very westernized establishment where service personnel have obviously been conditioned to expect tips from foreigners. The exception is for some tour guides of organised groups and service people in Hong Kong where you should round up taxi fares, check restaurant bills to see if 10% or 15% service charge is included if it is, you could leave a little tip if you’re happy.
Airports and metros/railways are user friendly and function almost perfectly; Shanghai’s multi-billion dollar maglev line to the airport is especially impressive (Buses take 50 minutes from city centre to the airport but the maglev takes 7 minutes! ) and plans are afoot to build something similar Shanghai – Beijing.
220v, flat 2 pins, occasionally 3 flat pins or even 3 rectangular pins (UK style).
Visas are required from most visitor’s home consulates or embassies with the exception of western nationals visiting only Hong Kong or Macau.
A citizen of Singapore, Brunei or Japan with passport is exempted from a visa if he/she visits China’s mainland for tourism or business, if he/she stays for no more than 15 days.
Cash is still the preferred way to pay in China, though very large establishments such as high-end shops, hotels and restaurants should accept credit cards, though they may ask to see your passport too.
Chinese currency is the Yuan (CNY), also known as Renminbi (RMB) or in common speech as the kwai. This can be obtained from ATMs that are most frequently found in hotel lobbies and shopping malls, or bring foreign currency and change it is easily throughout China in banks, hotels, airports and shopping malls. 14 currencies can be exchanged including Euro, British Pound, US Dollar, Swiss Franc, Singapore Dollar, Swedish Krona, Danish Krone, Norwegian Krone, Japanese Yen, Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar and more.
A passport is required when changing money and keep the receipt for when you exchange leftover RMB before leaving China. Don’t bother trying to pay in dollars, or changing on the black market, $ no longer have the cachet they used to.
Tipping is not necessary in any situation outside Hong Kong or Macau.
Beware AMS (altitude sickness) in Tibet for older or less fit tourists; hygiene standards are low in Tibet so typhoid is not uncommon, as is rabies due to rampant dog packs.
Hepatitis A and B occur throuout the country as does malaria in some south western states.
Mainly Mandarin (70%) or Cantonese, but service people are increasingly making an effort with English.