west and more than 5,500 kilometres from north to south, its southern borders lying 4,500 kilometres northwest of Northern Australia. The topography varies tremendously and includes the world's highest peak, the 8,848 metre Mount Qomolangma (Mount Everest) on the China-Nepal border, and one of the world's lowest basin, the Turpan Basin, 154 metres below sea level, in Xinjiang. In China's extensive territorial waters, there are 6,536 islands and island groups.
Land Formation and Rivers
China's land drops off in escarpments eastward to the ocean, letting in humid air current and leading many rivers eastward. Among the rivers totaling 220,000 kilometres in length in China, the Changjiang (Yangtze) and the Huanghe (Yellow) are world reknowned.
China has beautiful scenery, with mountains and ranges, highlands and plains, basins and hills. The highlands and hill regions account for 65 percent of the country's total land mass, and there are more than 2,000 lakes.
China abounds in natural resources. It leads the world in many proven mineral deposits. No country in the world boasts more wildlife than China, many of which are native to China, such as the Giant Panda, Snub-nosed Golden Monkey, and Chinese Alligator. China's dawn redwood and Cathaya argyrophylla are known as the living fossils of ancient plants.
To protect the nation's native animals and plants and especially the endangered species, China has established more than 700 nature reserves.
China is divided into 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities under the direct jurisdiction of the Central Government, and 2 special administrative regions. The 23 provinces are Hebei, Shanxi, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Shangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Fujian, Taiwan, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Hainan. The 5 autonomous regions are Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, and Tibet.
The four municipalities are Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing, whilst Hong Kong and Macao are the Special Administrative regions
Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China. A centre for politics, economy and culture, Beijing has been developed into a world-class metropolis in which the modern world is blended harmoniously with the glory of an imperial past.
China, as the world's most populous country, has a population exceeding 1.26 billion - almost a quarter of the world's total. To bring population growth under control, the country has followed a family planning policy since the 1970s.
While China has long been a unified, multi-national country, the majority of its people (92%) are members of the Han ethnic group with the remainder made up of 55 minority nationalities. Some nationalities have become assimilated to the point that, to western eyes, they are indistinguishable from their Han compatriots, while others, like the Uygurs of Xingjiang, descendants of Turks and followers of Islam, are immediately recognisable by their swarthy Caucasian appearance.
Mandarin or Putonghua is the official national language and is commonly used by 70% of the population. It is one of the five working languages designated by the United Nations. The majority of the 55 ethnic groups have their own languages. As a written language, Chinese is uniform throughout China and it has been used for over 6,000 years.
Chinese family names came into being from some 5,000 family names, of which 200 or 300 are popular. The order of Chinese names is family name first. For instance, the family name of a person called Zhang Qian is Zhang.
When to go?
China's geographic area is slightly larger than the U.S.A; it covers similar latitudes, with the lion's share located in the temperate zone. This provides endless year-round
variety for visitors to the country, from ice festivals in the north to tropical beach resorts in the south. Keep in mind the vast distances between destinations when planning your trip. Travelling, along the popular Golden Route (Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Guilin) is the rough equivalent of visiting Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Miami, all in one trip. Weather wise, Shanghai and Guangzhou's climates resemble those of US south-eastern coastal states, while Beijing's climate is more like Chicago's.
While China is a year-round destination, the months of May, September, and October are ideal months for travel anywhere in the country. In the north, the winters are cold, and summers warm, with moist monsoon air streams making it hot (80% of China's rainfall occurs between late May and early October, mostly in the Southern regions). June through August is a good time to visit central and northern China. Spring and autumn are the best months for travel in Southern China. The months of March and April are the lower-priced shoulder season; while the lowest price, off-season travel, is from November through the winter months. This is when adventuresome travellers are rewarded with unbelievably low prices and far fewer fellow tourists.
Where to go?
Stretching more than 4,800 kilometres. from the western shore of the Pacific Ocean across the face of Asia, China is a country of immense size and variety.
This vastness not only adds to the excitement of planning a trip to the country, but also to the dilemma of which cities and regions to visit first. When planning a trip to China, it is recommended that you don't try to see "everything" in one start-to-finish, whirlwind trip. Sure, you'll come home with some great pictures, but if you want to fully experience the country, allow enough time to really experience it. China is definitely the kind of place you will want to visit more than once. It is best to visit the major sites and cities on the first trip, at a relaxed pace, then plan to explore the country region by region on subsequent trips when you can experience all the different ethnic minority cultures and archaeological wonders. Keep in mind that China is a land of extreme climatic variations.
For example during February you can travel the southern coast and enjoy tropical fruits, sunbathe on the beaches of Hainan Island or visit the Flower Festival in Guangdong. At the same time, in the north, Harbin is dazzling travellers at the annual Ice Sculpture Festival with giant ice pagodas, ice palaces, and cleverly sculpted panda bears. Meanwhile, Beijing is celebrating the Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival with illuminated ice lanterns, spectacular fireworks, and ice fishing. Witnessing the grandeur of the Forbidden City in the snow is an extraordinary sight indeed.
Cost of Travelling in China
While world travel prices have risen in recent years, China still offers good values in hotel accommodations, meals, and entertainment when compared to other world-class destinations. Air and train transportation within the country are particularly good value. Consider this: A couple in Beijing or Shanghai can stay in a 5-star hotel, take a full-day tour, enjoy three great meals including a Peking duck banquet; and attend an evening cultural performance, for about the cost of one deluxe room alone at a comparable hotel in Toronto, LA, Chicago, or New York.
Most visitors return home raving about the bargain shopping in China - jewellery, silk, carpets, Chinese calligraphy and paintings, jade, and other popular items can be purchased at much lower prices than in North America. Plan to travel light and carry an extra bag for all the great gifts and souvenirs you will undoubtedly want to buy.
What to Pack?
Pack lightly, and bring casual clothes. A sturdy, comfortable pair of walking shoes is a must. A business suit and tie for men and one or two dresses or pant suits for women will suffice for most formal occasions. Bring a couple of shirts, sweaters, and a jacket (depending on the season) that can be worn in layers to accommodate China's range of climates. All hotels offer reliable laundry and dry cleaning services.
No special vaccinations are required, but those who have travelled from an infected area before coming to China should have vaccination records available for a Health Declaration form upon arrival.
Note: Don't forget to ask the hotel whether the tap water is drinkable or not. Tourists are recommended to drink bottled water when they travel in China.
Electrical appliances will require an adapter that can change the shape of the plug prongs, as well as an electrical voltage converter that will allow a normal 110-volt Canadian appliance to take 220 Volt Chinese current. Throughout China 220 volt is used, although 4 & 5-star hotels are wired for use of 110-volt electrical appliances. Most hotels have a hair-dryer in each room.
China is considered one of the safest countries in the world in which to travel. Crime is very low throughout China, and there are virtually no crimes committed against tourists visiting China. Even during the late evening hours travellers have little to be concerned about. The Chinese are friendly and hospitable, and Chinese law is quite strict.
Please be aware that all Chinese hotels provide an in-room safe or locked security boxes at the front desk. Leave valuables at the hotel. If there is a problem report it immediately to a security guard or the police.
Special Telephone Numbers
114---Directory inquires and information
Tipping & Gift-Giving
Tipping is not customary in China, but visitors should be aware that local attitudes on tipping are changing, and vary with the occasion. Many tourists bring along inexpensive gifts to show their appreciation to guides, drivers or others who have been helpful. To find out what is appropriate, it is best to ask a China tour operator, or check protocol with your guide while in China.
Money & Credit Cards
China's currency is the Renminbi (RMB), usually called the Yuan. Ten Jiao make up one Yuan. At present, the Yuan is worth about CAD $0.18, with slight daily fluctuations. The Bank of China has exchange desks for foreign currency and travellers cheques with convenient hours at all hotels, airports, Friendship Stores and others shopping areas. Visa, Master Card, American Express, Diner's Club, Federal Card, Million Card, and JCB credit cards are accepted at most hotels and state-run shops in the major cities. Some of the cards like Visa and American Express can be used to get cash advance in the main office of the Bank of China. Travellers are advised to pay in Yuan when shopping in smaller shops, at restaurants, and in smaller hotels.
When you depart China there is a 90 Yuan (CAD$16) departure tax. Departure tax on all other domestic flights is 50 Yuan (CAD$9). Fees must be paid in Chinese currency at a special airport tax desk before check in.
Official Chinese Holidays
o January 1-3 New Years Day
o Late Jan. and Early Feb. Chinese New Year
o May 1-3 Labor Day
o October 1-3 National Day
The English-language China Daily and Beijing Weekend are available in all leading hotels and newsstands. Others like Beijing Review, China Pictorial, China Today and Women in China are sold in most bookstores.
In large cities, you'll find an increasing number of Internet cafés, where you can make contact with home or friends by exchanging e-mails. You can get easy access to all major Canadian and US long-distance carriers by dialling a local number from any street phone.