It would be impossible to understand this fascinating land with all its quirky nuances without first-hand experience. From the unfathomable language to the unrecognisable cuisine, China is one of the few developed destinations left in the world where you can still experience an entirely different culture. Sometimes this feels exciting. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable. But it’s these differences that will provide you with the stories you take home.
While utterly alien, underneath the unknown you’ll find a rich and meaningful culture. The deep importance placed on Ch’i which affects everything from the placement and colour of the furniture, to organising wedding dates and is the reason you will be offered a cup of hot water with your lunch despite it being the height of summer. Draped in ancient superstitions, prepare to be judged by your Chinese Zodiac sign and whatever you do, don’t write in red pen.
When embarking on a holiday to China, it helps to have some experts on hand. How else would you know to always carry a packet of tissues and some hand sanitiser in your bag? Or that downloading a translator app before you travel will transform your entire experience? With Google hiding behind the great firewall, let us help you navigate your way through this epic country.
Time difference: GMT +8
Flight time: Direct flights from London to Beijing are in the region of 10hrs, further down the east coast to Shanghai slightly more at 11hrs while Guangzhou in the south is just under 12.
Currency: Chinese Yuan (CNY) or Renminbi (RMB) with the symbol ¥
Language: Over 70% of the population use the official language of China which is Mandarin. Cantonese (Yue), Hunanese (Xiang), Min dialect, Gan dialect, Wu dialect and Kejia or Hakka dialect are also used in different districts.
Telephone Code: +86
Tipping: Despite the westernisation of many places in China, tipping is generally not expected. This includes sit down restaurants, Chinese hotels, bars, taxis and when you receive spa treatments such as massages. In many cases if you leave your change you’ll be chased down the road by your server assuming you simply forgot it. Giving a tip will not grant you any better service either.
Tips of 10-20% will be accepted in more high end and international restaurants although it’s important to note that it’s still not expected. What you do tip will be a reflection of you and your country too not the level of service you received.
Finally, if you’re taking a day tour it’s deemed polite to tip your driver and tour guide around 10%.
Etiquette: Everything your parents ever taught you about table manners can be thrown out of the window. Slurp your noodles, burp if you need to and if it was really tasty, be sure to leave a morsel in your bowl. When someone refills your tea, tap the table with two fingers to say thank you but definitely don’t tap your chopsticks on your bowl. That would be rude.
As curious as you may be to uncover a genuine, first hand opinion on political matters in China, discussions regarding politics, recent history, issues concerning Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet are sensitive subjects and should be avoided.
There are a myriad of fascinating customs rooted in Chinese culture. Don’t use red ink, always refuse an offered gift initially, avoid too vivid public displays of affection and above all stay calm.
Religion: As a Communist country, China has no official religion however the government formally recognises Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
Visas: You can look up the latest advice on https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/china/entry-requirements. Please be aware that this information can change at short notice.
Vaccinations: Health facilities, hygiene and disease vary world-wide and you may choose to take the necessary vaccinations before you depart. You can find out more about China on the NHS’s Fit For Travel website.