Posted by: CS
Hidden Gems in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has something for everyone. It's one of the top destinations for people on a China vacation because it's so varied. Most people on a China tour only ever scratch the surface of what the island has to offer. However, with some careful travel planning you can see things in China's most popular (and populous) island that only a handful of tourists ever get to see on a China trip. Here's a list of a few hidden gems you might want to seek out:

Spooky Histories

Yim Tin Tsai Island
Once home to the Hakka Chan this island now has no permanent residents. There's a whole ghost town here and many buildings lie unoccupied but still full of furniture and other household items. It's a great China vacation spot because it's a UNESCO heritage site that rarely makes it on to the itinerary of tour companies. You can grab a boat out to the island from Sai Kung Pier for about $35 (Hong Kong Dollars) and wander around to your heart's content in one of China's spookiest places.

The School of the Ghost
Travel to Yuen Long you'll find the old Tak Tak School. It was constructed atop an old burial ground where the inhabitants were said to have died resisting the English occupation of Hong Kong. If that wasn't creepy enough a teach is said to have killed herself in the toilet of the school and her ghost is now said to wander the school unable to rest. There aren't many great ghost stories in China but this is one of them.

Nerdy Treats

The Museum of Coastal Defense
We know how dull that sounds but it's actually a cracking place to visit. It's to be found on the site of the Lei Yue Mun Fort down at the harbor. Check out the history trail and take a trip through China's military past with the chance to see a gunpowder factory too.

The Museum of Medical Sciences
This is a bit macabre and you'll need a strong stomach to enjoy the sight of old school Chinese medical equipment. However, if you're that way inclined this is a great China vacation stop. It's on Caine Lane and you can see the history of the biological research institute that it once was alongside autopsy tables, gruesome x-rays and more.

Getting in Touch With Nature

Turtle Cove Beach (South Side)
If you'd like to catch some rays during your China tour then you'll love Turtle Cove Beach. It's the one place that nobody seems to know about on the South Side and unlike the other beaches which are always packed with tourists this one is a little slice of paradise. You can't even see any of Hong Kong's ubiquitous tower blocks from its golden sands.

Wong Nai Chung Gap
If you have a military bent then you might fancy a trip out to Hong Kong's only battlefield walk. It's a leisurely 2 hour stroll among old bunkers and anti-aircraft batteries from China's participation in World War 2.

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Posted by: CS
Shanghai's Free Trade Zone – What's the Buzz?

The big news this week from China is the announcement of Shanghai's brand new free trade zone. If you travel anywhere in Shanghai you'll know that China's premier city is a bit miffed that it plays second fiddle to Hong Kong on the international stage. While many a vacation visit is spent in Shanghai, business often passes the city by in favor of the small island in the south. Now, the city is all set to do something about it. You probably won't want to visit the free trade zone during your China tour but it may be one of the most significant developments on the mainland in years.

Where is it?

If you wanted to take a trip to the zone you'd need to go to the edges of the Pudong District. Where a massive 28 kilometers squared will be given over to the new development. China's Premier Li Keqiang has been plugging the development this week and it's due to open on the 29th of September.

What's a Free Trade Zone?

The idea behind a free trade zone is to provide an area that is attractive to foreign investors. So companies may be able to take an extended vacation from China's punitive tax regime or receive assistance with hiring local staff on terms more like those in their own countries. Unfortunately, to date there's been no announcement as to what the precise benefits of this free trade zone will be. We know that the country's looking to attract significant levels of foreign investment and that the zone will allow any kind of business not on the official "Chinese businesses only" black list. This list may be different from the standard list used elsewhere in the country that prevents foreign ownership in sectors like the automotive and media arenas.

There's an expectation of more transparency and less red tape from Chinese analysts but no confirmation of this as yet.

Are there Financial Benefits?

As you'll experience on your China tour – currency trading in China is strictly limited. You need to be careful when you travel that you don't convert too many dollars into RMB and then try to change them back again when you leave as there are controls over even small amounts of personal capital. For businesses these restrictions are much heavier. Many businesses run large RMB balances in the bank that cannot be converted easily into other currencies to pay suppliers with.

Some analysts expect the RMB to be freely convertible within the zone and for interest rate policies to be rather simpler there too. This may reflect an experimental approach to further liberalization of the Chinese economy. China's success in many arenas has often begun with a test case first (like the Shenzhen Economic Zone for manufacturers and exporters).

China's opening up has been one of the most exciting economic events of the last few decades. During your China tour you'll reap the benefits of that opening up. It's not too long ago that having a China vacation would have been very, very difficult because of the restrictions on travel and the permits required to make it happen. The Shanghai Free Trade Zone is another step along the long path to a completely open economy.

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Posted by: CS
The Farmer's Market of Beijing

The food you'll encounter on your China vacation will be fantastic. China's culinary heritage is amongst the most varied in the world and you'll get to sample a massive variety of it during your tour. However, there's one place you might want to take a trip to during your time in Beijing that beats all the rest. China's newest farmer's market is gaining global acclaim for great food. It's also the healthiest possible option during your travel as everything is organically farmed or produced from organic products by craftspeople.

Where is it?

Your guess is as good as ours. The market is currently without a permanent location so it travels round China's capital and is advertised on Facebook and also Sina Weibo (China's answer to Twitter). This doesn't stop it from drawing a crowd though and should you be able to track it down it will normally pull 2-3,000 folk through the doors in the 4 hour window that it's open for.

The market relies on venues provided by sponsors so you may find that the place is covered in branding for a department store. The good news is that the Chinese government has heard about its popularity and they are now trying to give it an official site.

How did it start?

Given China's track record on “anything gets eaten” you won't be surprised to find that the market was started by expats. They wanted somewhere to eat healthily and enjoy Chinese food. With the number of food product scares that have happened in China in the last few years it didn't take long for the locals to catch on. Nowadays, it's a Chinese run occasion. It was local farmers and traders that took the market from a tiny community to the major event it is now. People travel from all over China to take part.

What's There?

You'll find all sorts of products including a few that are hard to find in China at the market. There's an organic bread maker who delivers the kind of bread that most people dream of in the country. Bread in most of China is mass produced and overly sweet to Western taste buds. Here it's made with organic flour and in the same way that a high-quality French patisserie would make it.

You'll also be surprised to hear that there are several cheese makers on the site. Cheese is typically believed to be outside of the Chinese diet. The truth is more that most Chinese people didn't grow up with any access to cheese so they find it harder to acquire the taste for it as adults. If you take a trip round most of China's cities you'll see that pizza and burgers are catching on everywhere and the Chinese are no longer as resistant to eating cheese as they once were. If you do take some time out of your China tour to travel to the market you might want to hunt down the cheese flavored ice-cream a product that's probably only found here in all of China.

If your China tour passes through Beijing we heartily recommend a trip to the farmer's market. On your next China vacation it may have grown so large that it's no longer the wonderful, warm community experience that it is today.

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Posted by: CS
Weird and Wonderful Facts about China

As you'll soon discover on your China vacation the country can feel very alien at times. It's this strangeness that makes a China tour so memorable. As you travel round China it's the differences from life at home that make the biggest impact. With that in mind we thought we'd prepare you for some of the most bizarre things you might hear about during your China trip.

Cave Life

If you think that China's cities are overcrowded you'd probably be shocked to find that over 30 million people live in caves still. Most of them can be found in Shaanxi province (which isn't yet on China tour itineraries because it's quite remote). Living in a cave doesn't have to mean a basic life though – if you were to travel out there you'd find that many of the caves have electricity and running water. An interesting fact is that Xi Jinping (one of the most senior party members) lived in one of these caves for 7 years during the cultural revolution.

Strange Snacks

When you think of vending machines you tend to think of chocolate bars and soft drinks. In Nanjing there's a machine on a station platform that vends… live crabs. If the crab is dead when it pops out of the slot the customer can claim compensation in the form of 3 more live crabs. This trend has yet to catch on in the rest of China but give it time.

Wild Men

If you thought that Bigfoot was exclusive to America then think again. Back in 2010 one hundred Chinese scientists took a trip out into the wilds of Hubei, to try and track down China's "Yeren" a mythical creature that shares a lot of characteristics with America's Bigfoot. They didn't find anything but it's nice to think that they might.


Fortunately there are no cannibals to encounter on your China vacation but back in the dark and ancient history of China it was a common occurrence. Chinese warriors would eat the hearts and livers of their enemies after battle. Sometimes this was officially endorsed by military leaders as a punishment for too much resistance and sometimes it was done because the warrior wanted to take vengeance upon a particular person.

Weird Work

One of the worst things about working in China is the traffic in the big cities. When millions hit the roads and head off to the office; chaos ensues. Spying an opportunity in the market there are now businesses in which one gentleman will take a driver to work on a motorbike when the traffic gets too heavy and the other sits in the driver's car and takes it to his work when the traffic's done.

Internet Addicts

The Internet is a relatively new freedom for many Chinese and as you'll see during your China tour – everyone wants to take part. In fact some folks love the Internet so much that they become addicted. In response to this China now has boot camps that deal harshly with addicts. These camps are not always popular with their “guests” and in 2010 14 kids broke out and ran for the hills from a particularly strict regime.

Empty Shopping

The world's largest mall is in Dongguan in Guangdong province. Don't bother taking a trip to see it. Why? It's been open for nearly a decade and has rarely managed to achieve a 1% occupancy level of retailers. Inside it's themed on 7 countries/regions and there's even a canal running through the center but none of this has persuaded anyone to actually go there yet.

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Posted by: CS
Cool things to see in Chongqing

If you're including a Yangtze River Cruise in your China vacation then you'll be spending some time in the former (and potentially future) capital of China; Chongqing. The city is one of the largest in China and there's plenty to see if you want to take a little time off from your tour and set out and explore by yourself. A word of warning don't be tempted to take a bike trip the traffic is positively lethal in China compared to back home and it's a very easy city to get lost in – so please stick to travel by public transport and taxis.

Places to See

  • Zhou Enlai's Former Home. Zhou was a major mover and shaker during the original communist uprising in China. He is still revered by the people today and is considered a genuinely good person from that time. His house is worth a quick trip as it's been converted into a museum with plenty of revolutionary nostalgia.

  • Hong Ya Dong. Much of Chongqing's original glory has been lost in the rush to reach the modern age. If you'd like to see the city as it once was back in China's dim and distant past you can travel out to Jie Fang Bei mountain and see a model. It's nice enough but the real highlight is all the local craft shops around the area.

  • Foreigner Street. It's not far from Hong Ya Dong but this is kitsch Chinese style. In essence it's where foreigners were first told to set up businesses before the grand opening up of China. So you can find all sorts of quirky places including a house that was built the wrong way up.

  • Chiang Kai-Shek's Headquarters. His government is taking an extended vacation in the “other China” but you can see where the infamous former leader planned his crusades against the Japanese invaders and the compound itself is quite lovely.

  • Jiefangbei Walking Street. Not to be confused with the mountain of the same name this is Chongqing's answer to Times Square. Luxury stores, shopping malls, tall buildings, and plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants. If you want to shop until your drop on your China tour there's no better place to do it.

  • The Hall of the People. This is perhaps the most architecturally intriguing building in the city and it makes for a great vacation photo. You'll find China's ancient and modern styles carefully incorporated in the construction and if it looks familiar – it's because there's a considered and deliberate semblance of the Temple of Heaven within too.

  • Zha Zi Dong – It's a little bleak for most tastes but this is an intriguing glimpse at prison culture in the pre-revolutionary days of World War 2. You should know that there is some evidence that suggests that much of the hardship and cruelty the occurred within the grounds was done with the full knowledge and possible cooperation of American forces and the Chang-Kai-Shek government. It's best to be very respectful if you visit this place.

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Posted by: CS
What do things cost in China?

We've found that when people are planning their China vacation they'd like to know what they can buy in the country that's good value and where their big expenses will be. As you'll soon discover on your China tour there are plenty of bargains to be had in a trip round one of China's ubiquitous markets. However there are a few things to watch out for too. Here's a quick guide to shopping in China during your travel and what you should expect to pay for things:

  • Clothing. If you want a great deal on clothes then China's the right place to take a vacation. You should be aware that sizes are likely to be a little on the small side outside of the main tourist spots but you won't be charged too much of a premium in the tourists spots. Haggling is expected (outside of designer stores in shopping malls) and the best bargains are had when you start very low (10% of the price offered is a good place to begin).

  • Food. China is an absolute steal when it comes to eating out. In general the price tags tend to reflect the quality of the seating rather than the quality of the food – so keep that in mind when you choose where to dine on your trip. Sometimes you may pay a little extra for in-house entertainment like Chinese opera too. Be careful with street food which is a big travel highlight but can result in an upset tummy if you're not vigilant. The best rule of thumb is to eat where the queues are because it means the locals know and trust the vendor.

  • Electronics. In general electronics in China are best avoided. They tend to be low quality and not as cheap as you might expect them to be. Computer equipment is expensive and pirated operating systems and software full of viruses are the norm. If you want to pick up some cheap electronics during your tour then make sure your vacation plans include Hong Kong where real bargains can be had and where vendors are more reliable than in mainland China.

  • Antiques. You need to know what you're doing in China when it comes to antiques. It's not that bargains aren't available but there are two things you should know; the first is that there's a whole heck of a lot of fakes and the second is that real antiques normally require an export permit from the Chinese government which can be hard and expensive to secure. Don't spoil your trip by having everything confiscated at the airport on the way out.

  • Local Crafts. These can be a huge bargain and they can be a major rip off. The key is to set the price you're willing to pay for these and never go above it. Haggling is expected and welcomed and if you're not happy – walk away. There are always plenty of vendors offering similar products so you can seek a better deal within the vicinity. Western tourists can often seem very rich to locals who may ask very high prices in the first instance expecting you to haggle, so never pay the first price offered.

  • General. China was once a haven of low cost products today there's not much difference between brand name products in China than there is with the rest of the world. Grocery items and some forms of alcohol are less expensive than in the US and cigarettes are practically a giveaway item but other than that if something seems ridiculously low price – it's probably fake.

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Posted by: CS
The Bayu Culture of Chongqing

A Yangtze River Cruise is not just a chance to take in the beauty of China's natural wonders on your tour – it's also a chance to meet some of the unique minority people of the region. Chongqing is one of the biggest cities in China and it is home to 55 of China's ethnic minorities. Your trip won't be complete unless you travel out of the city and meet the Ba people and enjoy their unique culture.

The Ba People of China

The Ba have been in the area for a long time. They were almost certainly there before the Han Chinese formed the city of Chongqing. They have dwelt in the upper and middle Yangtze River region for as long as there's been a record of the river. They travel up the mountains and tributaries of the area and are famed for their hardy and physical lifestyles. They are famed throughout China for their bravery and would once have been tough warriors.

Today they are known as the Bayu as the Ba Kingdom which once ruled the Yangtze is long gone. However, their song usually known as the "Yangtze River Boatmen Song" remains and it is considered within China to be a "living cultural fossil". This is because it appears to be unchanged over the course of history having been passed down from father to son for generations uncountable. If you make a trip to see the Ba you will almost certainly hear the song and it may be the most unique thing you hear during your China vacation.

The Ba remain excellent ship builders and you should be able to enjoy the sights of large groups of men working on the Yangtze River banks during your cruise up river. Be warned that they traditionally conduct in this activity in the nude though today they normally wear shorts and sandals to cover their modesty. The boats they build were originally designed to carry salt up river though now they may carry a mixed cargo. The homes of the Ba are also unusual in that they are designed to deal with the mountainous terrain that surrounds Chongqing. (These mountains join the Himalayas in Tibet which you might also be visiting during your China tour – so don't be fooled they're pretty substantial even if they're not quite Mount Everest.) They are built on stilts which lie on wooden columns and there's a substantial benefit to them not touching the ground – they keep the snakes and other dangerous animals out of the home and in the wild where they belong.

Your Yangtze River Cruise may also offer you some time at the Dazu Rock Carvings where you can see the traditional art of the Bayu people. These date back to the 7th century AD and the site was made a world heritage site by UNESCO back in 1999. There are over 100,000 works of art in the complex and it may be the largest collection of Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist art from that period in the world.

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Posted by: CS
The Red Leaf Festival of Beijing

Autumn's coming and if your China vacation falls in October or November there's a pleasant surprise waiting you in Beijing. If you want to take a little time out of your China tour to commune with nature then the Red Leaf Festival might be the perfect opportunity. It's held a little bit outside of Beijing at Fragrant Hill so you might need to get up early to travel outside of China's capital city. However, it's a lovely sight and well worth the trip even in the worst rush-hour traffic in China.

About the Red Leaf Festival

The Red Leaf festival gives you the opportunity to admire the canopy created by thousands of trees as the leaves turn red and prepare to shed during the Autumn season. It's a breathtaking sight that has been recreated in many of China's most famous movies (including the House of Flying Daggers which has been widely released in English and was the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). You'll need to travel uphill to get the most out of the experience so be prepared for a bit of walking.

Walking Routes

The best walking route is the one that starts at the South Mountain of Fragrant Hill. Your tour takes you from the East Gate past the Jingcui Lake, the extravagant villa and the local temple on to the Daheshun Gate. You then follow the road all the way up the mountain to view the leaves from above. This is one of China's most popular festival destinations and it fills up fast so the earlier you arrive, the better. The trip takes about 3-4 hours so make sure to take a bit of lunch and some water.

If you fancy something a little less energetic you can join the family tours that run from the Middle Road. This is an easier walk; though the view is not quite as spectacular. You'll be able to visit a different villa and also the Sweet Mist Cave on your way up. It's also a shorter journey. Again as with all events in China it can get a little crowded if you turn up later in the day.

The No Effort Route – Take the Cable Car

If you don't fancy spending 4 hours of your China vacation hiking up a mountain – that's OK. There's a cable car from the North Gate and the trip to the top only takes 18 minutes. You won't see the temple or villa close up but you will see them both from the air. It's a spectacular way to take in one of China's most beautiful places.

The I'm in a Hurry Approach

If you want to see the festival but really can't spend more than a few minutes at the event then jead to Jingcui Lake through the South Gate – it's a 5 minute walk. It's a lovely place to view the spectacle of the leaves and they're quite striking in the reflection of the lake too.

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Posted by: CS
The Han Dynasty

Today, we're back with our ongoing trip through China's past and its imperial dynasties. The Han Dynasty has had one of the most lasting impacts on Chinese culture of all. During your China vacation you'll come to know that the majority of people in China consider themselves Han Chinese and it's from this dynasty that they take their name. So let's travel back in time and see what it took to leave such a mark on the nation.

Two Dynasties for the Price of One

One of the unusual things about the Han Dynasty is that their rule was broken in the middle for a period of less than 20 years by the Xin Dynasty (who we'll look at another day). So our trip to the past begins in 206 BC with the first of the dynasties; the Western Han. Liu Bang a rebel leader fighting the Qin Dynasty took control of China in that year. He recaptured the 18 states that China had fractured into and his military would tour the country making sure that they remained in line.

The country became rich and prosperous during this period and low rates of tax and a healthy approach to budgetary control – brought China out of the dark period of the Qin and into a new age of creation. The next 200 years or so would pass relatively peacefully until the Emperor Liu Yang was born in 6 AD. His regent Wang Mang stole the throne and cancelled the Mandate of Heaven. This left the Han taking an enforced vacation from rule up to the year 23 AD.

Wang wasn't actually a bad guy and some of his work would have been considered exemplary today but he quickly fell out of favor and was overthrown and replaced by a new Han Emperor (Gengshi) in 23 AD. He quickly made a trip to China's then capital Chang'an to try and restore order but was assassinated within 2 years. His brother returned from his military tour of the rest of China and promptly seized power. For the next 10 years the new emperor spent his time waging war across the country and bringing all the regions back under control

One of the strange things about court politics during the reign of the Han was the power of eunuchs. Eunuchs were used for administration throughout the country in order to ensure that they did not try and accumulate power to pass on to their children. Unfortunately they had become a power in their own right and in several cases they forced members of the royal court to regisn and even deposed an Empress. You won't find any eunuchs on your China vacation - this is a practice which has been thankfully consigned to the past.

The most lasting legacy of the Han was the way that social class is established in China. While the titles have changed (there is no royalty in post-revolutionary China) the essence of the class system remains. This dictates, using Confucian principles, the interaction of every single person you will meet on your China tour.

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Posted by: CS
The Capital Museum in Beijing

As your China tour passes through Beijing you might want to grab a few minutes to enjoy something on your own. A good option might be the Capital Museum which is set in the grounds of the Confucius Temple. The museum's status still hasn't caught the eye of those on a China vacation and it's often left off personal tour itineraries – so you have the chance to see something that many foreigners will never see.

About the Capital Museum of China

China's Capital Museum was a long time in the planning. It was first designed in 1953 but its doors didn't open to the public until 1981! It was then completely redeveloped as part of one of Beijing's "10 year plans" back in 2001 and was then closed down for another 4 years. So the museum you see on your trip has only been open for less than a decade. It is considered to be one of the cultural highlights of travel in Beijing and it's worth taking a trip across the city to see it.

The architecture of the museum was designed to reflect China's past and present. The roof is a traditional Chinese roof. The walls represent those of ancient cities from China's distant past. Then there are subtle touches such as the "danbi" which symbolizes the religious development of China and the archways that throw a nod to the Ming Dynasty. You'll want to keep a careful eye out during your tour to catch all the significance in the building itself.

Exhibitions Galore

They say that the plan of the museum was to take Chinese life and make it as interesting and interactive as possible. This is not one of those dull museums that you can see on any vacation – there's been a lot of investment in technology that allows you to experience parts of China as well as view them.

Look out for the Ancient Capital Beijing – History and Culture which is one of our favorites on this trip. It really brings China's heritage to life. The folk costumes exhibit is genuinely intriguing and you can see some of the ethnic minority clothing that you might not be able to see during the rest of your China tour. The urban construction exhibit might sound a little dull but in fact it's a wonderful walk through of how Beijing came to life over the ages.

Then it's time to look at the artistic side of Chinese life; check out the bronzes, the jade, the Buddha statues (perhaps the finest collection you can see on a China vacation if you're not visiting Tibet), the calligraphy, and the whimsically entitled "gallery of gadgets".

There's a lot of multi-media work involved in every exhibit and thankfully much of the support is in English as well as Mandarin so you'll be able to get a deeper understanding of what you see. This is a bit of a rarity in China still so make use of it while you can.

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Posted by: CS
10 Great things to do in Lhasa

Travel in Tibet is eye-opening and wondrous, the autonomous region of China is one of the most fascinating places on earth. If your tour is passing through Tibet then you'll be spending some time in Lhasa the capital and we've got some tips to make your Tibet vacation time go splendidly.

  1. Travel to Tibet: Jokhang Temple
    Take a trip up to the roof of the Jokhang Temple. This is one of Tibet's most iconic sites and the perfect place to get the most amazing Tibet vacation snaps. Check out the views over the Barkhor Square!
  2. Travel out to the Sera Monastery and see the monks engage in debating sessions. Tibet and Buddhism are nearly synonymous and what better way to get acquainted with the culture than spending some time seeing the monks thrash out their understanding of the finer points of their religion?
  3. Visit the oracle of Tibet. Actually, the oracle is no longer in residence but the Nechung Monastery is lovely and one of the less well-visited places in Lhasa. It's a short trip from Drepung Monastery on foot.
  4. Meet the ladies of Buddhism. If you head out to the Ani Sangkung Nunnery you can meet some of the very few nuns who have chosen the monastic existence in the country. This is a great place to spend a couple of hours in relative solitude and there's a great tea house on the premises where the nuns serve and prepare the drinks.
  5. Dine at the New Mandala. This is one of the best restaurants in Lhasa. It's actually run by folks from nearby Nepal but the mix of Tibetan, Nepali and of course, Indian food can't be beaten anywhere else in town.
  6. Missing your coffee? The best cup of coffee in town and often sorely needed during the quieter moments of a Tibet vacation can be found in the Summit Café. It's Western owned but exclusively Tibetan staffed.
  7. Not so keen on butter tea? Tea with Yak Butter can be a bit of an acquired taste and if it's not something you're keen to acquire then get out around the Barkhor Square and find a tea shop that sells Cha Ngamo. That's "sweet milky tea" to you and me. It's worth taking a trip across Tibet for according to expats in the region.
  8. Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims. In the grounds of the Potala Palace you can walk the "kora" – just follow the ever flowing mass of pilgrims from all around the country.
  9. Lose yourself in the madness of the market. The maze of streets around the Barkhor Square are perfect for wandering and rubbing shoulders with the locals. Getting lost in them is a great idea – you're never that far from your hotel.
  10. Buy local. We know that Tibet travel demands some souvenirs for the folks back home. Why not head to Dropenling and buy those souvenirs from locals who make them all? It's a great end to a Tibet tour!

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Posted by: CS
Frequently asked questions about Tibet

A Tibet vacation is one of the most unforgettable experiences of a lifetime. The country is a stunning vista of ancient culture and inspiring mountain backdrops. To get the most out of your Tibet travel we’ve put together a quick guide to some of the frequently asked questions about tours in Tibet.

Where is Tibet?

China tour: Tibet

Tibet is officially an autonomous region of China. It’s in the North West of the country and borders India, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan as well as China. However, native Tibetan people can be found in several provinces of China that aren’t officially Tibet. You may meet some Tibetans when you travel to Sichuan for example.

Do I need to join an official tour to see Tibet?

Yes. It used to be possible to get a visa for Tibet independently but today you must join a tour group to visit Tibet. Trying to take a Tibet vacation without a legal visa will land you in a lot of trouble and it won’t be as much fun because you won’t have a native guide to help you make the best of the country.

Can I travel anywhere in Tibet?

No. You must stay within the regions that are nominated on your Tibet visa. You should also be aware that you must not travel anywhere in Tibet without an official guide and rented transport. The only exception being that you may hail a taxi or use a bus that stays exclusively within Lhasa.

Can I stay in Tibet after my tour is finished?

Sadly, the answer is no. You must leave Tibet with the group that you travelled with. We know it’s tempting to stay on but you (and we) could get into a lot of trouble for doing so.

Are there any times of year when travel in Tibet is difficult?

Yes, it can be very difficult to travel to areas of Tibet that are on the borders of China in March. Our groups are only taken to areas where travel is unrestricted. So you will have no problems whatever time of year you are travelling. Some of the roads to more remote parts of the country close without notice due to adverse weather conditions too.

Will I need a sleeping bag while I’m there?

If you’re travelling with us – the answer is a happy “no”! We use guesthouses and hotels that provide excellent facilities including beds. If you’re thinking about hiking and camping; then you probably will need a sleeping bag.

What kind of transport is available there?

4 x 4 vehicles are the standard for most travel in the country and occasionally vans designed for group travel. It is possible to cycle in Tibet but it’s expensive and difficult to arrange so you’re probably best off sticking with the transport provided to you.

Which guidebook should I take?

We find that Frommer’s, Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide are all perfectly acceptable to help you find your way around the country.

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Posted by: CS
Altitude Sickness and Tibet

Tibet is a top destination for many people's China tours. A vacation in Tibet gives you a unique insight into one of the world's most interesting cultures and ways of life. A trip to Tibet often brings up a question from our guests; “Will travel in Tibet give me altitude sickness?” We think it's important that you understand altitude sickness before you travel to Tibet.

What is altitude sickness?

The condition is also known as soroche, the bends of altitude, hypobaropathy and AMS (acute mountain sickness). It is something that may happen to anyone when travelling above 8,000 feet above sea level.

In general there are no set symptoms of altitude sickness and it may present in a similar fashion to the flu or a hangover.

Most of Tibet is above the 8,000 foot threshold and travel to Tibet does entail some risk of altitude sickness. In general most people will make the trip to Lhasa or other parts of the country without difficulty.

It is important to note that if you find yourself with symptoms of altitude sickness that you should let your tour guide know – the problem is normally harmless if treated but if left unchecked it is possible to develop acute mountain sickness which is potentially lethal.

Possible Symptoms:

  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Poor Sleep Patterns
  • Nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Rapid Pulse

What causes altitude sickness?

It is commonly believed that there is less oxygen in the air when you reach 9,000 feet. This is not true – the amount of oxygen in the air is constant all the way up to 69,000 feet above sea level. However, the density of air does drop and this leaves less oxygen per volume than at lower levels.

This combined with the effects of dehydration (we expel more water when we breathe at higher altitudes) may lead to altitude sickness.

It is possible that the rate of ascent also affects the likelihood of altitude sickness. However, in general altitude sickness is simply a matter of personal susceptibility and in most cases the symptoms are temporary and will disappear as the individual acclimatizes at the new height. It is a good idea to take things a little easy after you arrive in Tibet on your tour.

The Most Popular Treatments for Altitude Sickness

In general most people's vacation in Tibet will pass without any hindrance due to altitude sickness. Those who display symptoms will be pleased to know that treatments tend to be simple, comfortable and non-invasive.

The best treatment is rest. Take a few hours out to acclimatize. Other treatments include drinking more water or inhaling oxygen (which is available in almost every hotel in Tibet) from a bottle. If someone develops acute mountain sickness the best treatment is to descend to a level where the symptoms ameliorate and the traveler feels better.

You'll be pleased to learn that there's no requirement for the treatment proffered in most of the Andes in South America – cocaine.

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Posted by: CS
The Shanghai Tourism Festival 2013 – A Little Something Extra

Shanghai is China's largest city. It's one of the top destination choices for a China vacation. It's the city in which you'll find the greatest contrasts between modern China and historic China. People who've seen Shanghai on a China tour say that they'll never forget the place. A trip down the streets of Shanghai allows you to experience the realities of day-to-day Chinese life while rubbing shoulders with literally millions of people. If your travel plans are taking you to Shanghai this September then you may be able to get a few bonuses for your trip in the form of the Shanghai Tourism Festival.

About the Shanghai Tourism Festival

Since China's opening up to tour groups and visitors from the West; the country has been working hard to make travel to the big cities as appealing as possible to the tourist dollar. Given that there's nothing the Chinese love more than a big expensive spectacle it's perhaps unsurprising that Shanghai decided to hold one of China's biggest parties each and every year to appeal to domestic visitors and those on vacation from overseas alike.

The program this year will begin on September 14th with a cultural parade down Huaihai Road at night. This is designed to show off various aspects of Chinese culture and history and while there's plenty of traditional Chinese art forms on display – keep your eyes peeled as there's a whole lot of work that goes into make each year's parade unique and some of the more modern arts are a glory to behold. You can stand and watch the parade as it travels down the road and there's no need to wander about.

This is a big party and people from all over China come to join in. There will be around 8 million people present for the parade so you probably don't want to get separated from your friends as finding them again might be a bit tricky in that throng. In addition to those present in real life – it's estimated that over 200 million people in China will watch the parade on TV making it one of the largest spectacles of any kind in the world.

However, that's not all and if your China vacation hits Shanghai on the 15th, 16th or 17th of September then there's still plenty of things to see and do.

If you visit the Jade Buddha Temple on the 15th you'll find many of the acts from the parade performing there throughout the day – there's also free entry to the temple that day. On the 16th the acts will move on to the Shanghai Museum and again the entry fee for the museum is waived to visitors all day long. On the 17th the show moves on to the Oriental Pearl though sadly – you'll have to pay to get in that day, it's only the performers who get access to the Oriental Pearl for free. So don't forget to check out the Shanghai Tourism Festival in you're in town; it should be great fun!

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