What clothes should I bring?
In summer, the weather can be hot so light clothing, i.e. cotton and linen, is recommended with perhaps a light sweater as interiors are often cooled by air-conditioning.
Spring and autumn weather is generally very pleasant, but you should bring light sweaters for chillier mornings and evenings. Light, comfortable footwear is appropriate, i.e. sneakers, sandals. A light raincoat is also useful, just in case. In winter, the weather especially in the north (e.g., Beijing, Xi’an, Dunhuang) can be cold with strong winds, thus necessitating a heavy coat, sweaters, scarf, gloves and a hat. However, as hotels and buses are always heated, it is advisable that you wear layers of clothing.
Since restaurant dress codes in mainland China are generally relaxed, there is no need to bring much more than comfortable and convenient clothing. In Beijing and Shanghai you may well wish to wear something smart in the evenings. Although a jacket and tie are not required, certain restaurants do have restrictions on sneakers, shorts, etc. Hong Kong has strict dress regulations at certain dinner destinations. Please inquire with us if you need more details.
The sun can be quite strong so bring sun creams, sunglasses and a hat. You might find it useful to have a small backpack in which to carry drinks. Western mosquito repellents are hard to find, so bring them if you do not wish to use local remedies.
What is the weather usually like? And when should I travel?
Beijing, meaning Northern Capital, is the most northern city you will likely visit on your tour with us. The air in Beijing is dry – traditionally it rains rarely except in July and August when heavy downpours can occur. The best times to visit Beijing are in spring and autumn between March and June and September and November. During these periods day-time temperatures vary between 20ºC to 30ºC (68ºF to 86ºF). From December to February you should assume that the daytime temperatures could be as cold as -3ºC (19ºF), though it can be as warm as 14ºC (57ºF).
Xi’an, meaning Western Peace, is further south than Beijing but its weather pattern is broadly similar.
Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou are in eastern China. Rainfall here is not severe, but tends to peak with the heat in July and August. In recent years, there has been a sporadic mild typhoon effect from late August to early September. It is possible to visit these destinations year round, though autumn and spring are the best periods. During these times the daytime temperatures vary between 18ºC to 28ºC (64ºC to 82ºF). In winter the average temperature is about 9ºC (48ºF) rising in the summer months to 32ºC (89ºF).
Guilin is further south, and can be humid. When traveling to Guilin, you will likely encounter some rain at any time of year. Precipitation, most severe during late spring, trails off from summer onwards. The year round daytime temperature in Guilin varies between 21ºC to 32ºC (70ºF to 89ºF).
Tibet, because of its altitude, receives dramatic temperature fluctuations between night and day. During the winter months, November to April, the night temperatures can be uncomfortably cold, however, daytime temperatures range between 6ºC and 14ºC (45ºF and 60ºF). The advantage of traveling to Lhasa during the winter, particularly during the Tibetan New Year, is the reduced number of other travelers. Although many charts will indicate a level of increased rainfall in Lhasa during August, it is a relatively low amount and shouldn’t dissuade visitors.
Spring usually brings fluctuating weather patterns across China. April is traditionally a windy month in Beijing however extensive tree planting around the city’s northern perimeters has done a great deal to break this up. Late spring also brings increased rainfall in the southern parts of China, for this reason, Imperial is reluctant to arrange tours to Huangshan before July in any given year. Guilin can also be subject to high rainfall in April and May, but this varies. There are typically sandstorms in Dunhuang coming from the Gobi desert, however the frequency and severity of these storms has decreased over the past years.
What kind of souvenirs will I be able to buy?
Should I bring cash, travelers’ checks or can I rely on my credit card?
Travelers’ checks are rarely used these days, but major foreign currencies can be exchanged for Chinese Renminbi (RMB) at hotels, banks and some department stores. These establishments are obliged by law to change at an official rate established by the People’s Bank of China.
Credit cards such as Mastercard, Visa and American Express are often accepted at the larger department stores and gift shops. Using international credit cards or your ATM card to draw cash from ATMs is usually possible, particularly near your hotel, but should not necessarily be taken for granted.
What is the local currency?
The Chinese peoples’ national currency or Renminbi (RMB) consists of fen, jiao and yuan. There are ten fen in a jiao, and ten jiao in a yuan. The basic currency unit is the yuan, known colloquially as a kuai. The yuan is denominated in notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Ten yuan or kuai is worth about US$1.60 or £1.
How much should I tip?
Tipping is not customary in China, though the influx of Western tourists has taught many Chinese hotel staff to expect tips. Should you wish to tip a bellboy, you might give 10RMB per bag. Tipping is unnecessary in restaurants and taxis. On all Ultimate China tours, the China Host takes care of tipping all local service staff including tour guides, drivers and bellboys. Guests are given guidelines as to the recommended tip for the China Host at the end of an Ultimate China tour, as well as recommended guide and driver tips for a China Escapades tour.
Can I use my electric appliances in China?
The Chinese electricity system runs on a 220V, 50Hz alternating current. Plugs are usually two pronged, either flat pinned as in the US or round as in Europe. There are also three-pronged, angled, pinned plugs in the Australian style. International travel adapter plugs are readily available at most travel stores in the West, but not in China. Most hotels are equipped with hair dryers.
US appliances run on 110V alternating current. For a US appliance to run in China, you will need a transformer to reduce the 220V current to 110V. Some hotel bathrooms have 110V outlets for electric shavers. Most laptop adapters and mobile phone chargers function across the entire 110V to 240V range (check the label) and do not require transformers (though you may require an adapter plug as noted above).