China


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China. Home of 1.35 billion people. Communist by politics, but the most capitalist country we’ve visited. Bar none. There is someone willing to sell you ANYTHING.   It’s the second largest country in the world by land mass (second to Russia), but it operates with a single time zone. It borders 14 land nations (the same number as Russia). We’re massively outnumbered here by domestic tourists, we eat lots of pork, no chicken unless we’re happy with ALL parts of it and we drink Snow Beer and sometimes Tsingtao. We cruise on the Yangtze on a domestic tourists boat, we take buses, minivans, trains and a bamboo boat made of PVC. We sleep in dorms, on trains, in hostels, hotels and in a train station.

Arriving

We arrived (for the first time) in China on a train – from Mongolia. It wasn’t a much touristed route as we didn’t take the traditional train route. For our second entry to China we walked. From Lao Cai to Hekou.

 

Visa

There is no visa on arrival in China. Application is long and tedious. It requires confirmed booking for each night of your stay in China (and don’t, we were told, just book 30 nights in Beijing). It also requires a confirmed flight out – back to our home country is what we had to do. (so we did both accommodation and flight bookings, PDF’d the confirmation and then cancelled them without charge). There is no one in China who checks you have the same itinerary – or bookings – when you actually get there.

 

Food & Drink

Much of the time in China we ate by pointing at what other folks were eating. Or by learning a few choice written down dishes in Mandarin. We found the food in the south to be better and much more tasty. Dishes like Mapu Doufo (tofu) will literally make you burn for more. (more on Sichuan Cuisine ).  Tofu usually comes with a dollop of meat or fat attached to it, so don’t assume it’s vegetarian. Avoid chicken unless you’re comfortable with bones, heads, feet. Eat noodles. Eat rice. The only thing we didn’t try was stinky tofu – and that’s because my nose wouldn’t let me get near enough to eat it. China has a problem with beer though. It doesn’t understand that beer needs to be cold. Be prepared to drink your Chinese beer at room temperature. Or not at all.

 

Where We Stayed

In Beijing and Shanghai we stayed in the Hilton and the Sheraton respectively. Not because we came into money, but because we had expiring hotel awards points. And they were so wonderful.  Apart from that we stayed in non-westernized hostels and hotels. Smoking happens everywhere in China, so if you don’t like it, you have to live with it. We stayed in dorms on mountains, on fabulous sleeper trains (where they wake you up before your stop and make sure you get off < – take note Indian Railways!) We messed up a train booking and attempted to sleep on a train station. It doesn’t work.

 

What China Costs

China is pretty cheap, depending on where and how you travel. Buses are cheap. Trains can be cheap (the three level sleeper trains are great!). Food is generally VERY cheap. But if you want to take long train journeys it mounts up.   Passes to get into National Parks are relatively VERY expensive. And in the further out places, where the only option is to take a car and driver, that’s not so cheap either. Our costs in China averaged out at US$65.31 per person per day.  More on our costs in China.

 

Where We Went

 

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