Posted by: CS
Welcome to the Year of the Horse
the Year of the Horse

On the 31st of January the whole of China goes on vacation to celebrate Chinese New Year. If you're lucky enough to be in China during the Spring Festival you'll be able to take part in the festivities as you travel round the country. Each year in the Chinese calendar is associated with a sign of the Chinese zodiac. 2013 was the year of the rabbit, this year will be the year of the horse. To prepare you for your China trip we've prepared a short brief so that you can understand what the horse means for your China tour.

What does the horse mean?

The horse is considered a noble animal in China's mythology. Someone who is considered to be extremely able will be referred to as a "Qianli Ma". That's a horse which can travel a thousand "Li" a day. (That's around 50 kilometers or 30 miles).

People who are born in the year of the horse are said to acquire some of the strengths and weaknesses of the sign.

The Strengths of the Horse Sign

In China they say that someone born in the year of the horse likes to travel and will take trips around their wider community to demonstrate their talents and skills to others. They consider horse people to be clever, kind and cooperative. Their tendency to talk too much is balanced with their good cheer, perception, and talent.

It's good to meet "a horse" during your China vacation as they are said to be the friendliest of people and at ease with strangers and crowds. They are also hard working and refuse to give up at the first signs of trouble.

The Weaknesses of the Horse Sign

There are weaknesses attributed to the horse in China too. Horse people are said to bridle at constraining circumstances. They may be fickle and find it hard to be substantive in their interaction with others. They can be quick to anger and lack patience for others. If they are finding life to be a struggle – they can take this out on the people around them too. They may lack financial wisdom preferring to fritter away their cash rather than save it. (As you may find out during your China tour; saving is considered to be the mark of respectability in Chinese society).

Horse people may be vapid social climbers pursuing dreams of a high-flying lifestyle without the perseverance to back it up. They may put their nose into other's business when it doesn't belong.

Other Elements Relating to the Horse Sign

The horse is a fire element and is considered to be a yang (rather yin) sign. Horse people who wear browns, yellows and purples are going to be lucky. They should never wear whites, blues or golds. Their lucky numbers are 2,3 and 7. They should aim to marry someone born in the signs of the tiger, the sheep or the dog.

We wish all of you a happy and prosperous year of the horse. If you want to wish a Chinese person a Happy New Year during your China tour say; "Gong Xi Fa Cai". It literally means "congratulations on getting rich" and is a wish for prosperity.

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Posted by: CS
What's coming up for the Chinese New Year?

If your trip to China is scheduled for Jan 31st to Mid-February then you'll have the chance to get involved in the Spring Festival; China's largest vacation and festival. To prepare you for this time of year before you travel to China we've put together a quick list of events and other information that you may need for your China tour.

Expect Crowded Airports, Train Stations, etc.

The world's biggest vacation migration begins around the 16th of January. This year it's expected that 3.6 billion passenger journeys will be made throughout China for the Spring Festival. As you might expect that many journeys leads to a bit of crowding at major transport hubs. If you are planning to take a side trip during your China tour that requires public transport; make sure you allow enough time before you travel to get through the crowds.

What's on in Hong Kong?

China's special administrative region is not immune to the Spring Festival excitement and you'll find the most impressive celebrations in China take place in Hong Kong.

The New Year's Eve parade is an extravaganza of carnival floats, groups, bands, etc. you can also catch some lion dancing.

The fireworks display over Victoria harbor is absolutely incredible and you'll be rubbing shoulders with half a million people to catch them. If your tour passes through Hong Kong at the right time; don't miss it.

The New Year's Flower Market is pleasant and it's open throughout the New Year period. The scale is spectacular. The horse racing at Sha Tin also gears up for the New Year and the race cards are packed and exciting.

What's on in Beijing?

China's capital, is unsurprisingly, geared up for some of the biggest and best vacation celebrations. It's less organized than Hong Kong's celebrations but that shouldn't put you off. Pretty much everywhere you visit in Beijing will have something going on for the Spring Festival.

We'd recommend that you spend your time visiting the temples around the city. Why? Most temples will have a huge temple fair running throughout the holiday. That means you'll be able to connect with the architecture and spiritual side of Chinese life whilst enjoying China's New Year celebrations.

You'll find dragon dancing and lion dancing at almost every fair. You'll discover other traditional Chinese pastimes and be invited to participate in games galore. The food is usually cheap, plentiful and reflects those meals which are considered lucky for the time of year.

A Note of Caution

We love Chinese New Year. It really is a wonderful experience and any visitor lucky enough to take part in the festivities should do so. However, one of the more popular entertainments for the New Year is the use of fireworks and firecrackers. There is a certain laxity in these displays when it comes to safety. You should pay careful attention to your surroundings and if you find yourself too close to fireworks; please move away from them. Things have been getting better in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai with respect to fireworks but the rest of the country is still a bit of a free-for-all. Enjoy the sights and sounds but keep safety in mind.

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Posted by: CS
Tips for Travel in Spring Festival Time

Spring Festival is here and if your China vacation is during this busy festive period you'll need our survival guide to get the most from any side trips you make on your China tour. Travel during this time in China can be extremely hectic so make sure you're ready to brave the crowds and reap the rewards of China's busiest holiday period.

Always Travel Light

In Northern China it gets chilly at this time of year. So you'll want to make sure you have a coat, hat, gloves, sweaters, etc. The checked luggage limit on both airplanes and trains is around 20 Kg. However, given the huge numbers of people using these services and the unfortunate tendency of thieves to operate in crowds; you'd be better off packing a light bag and buying any extra clothes you need at your destination. Clothing is very cheap in China. You should know that if your trip coincides with Spring Festival that most stores will be closed during the first 3 days of the holiday.

Hit the Big Attractions

When the whole country's on vacation seeing their families it's the best time to take a China tour. All the big sites are open throughout the holidays but the visitor numbers are at an all-time low. There's no better time to see the Great Wall of China or The Bund when the crowds are staying at home.

Plan Journeys in Advance

If you want to take a short trip by train or bus during your stay in China; plan ahead. Tickets can be hard to get on many routes and need to be booked up days in advance of your travel plans. However, after the first few days of the holidays most people are home and transport becomes significantly emptier than usual – until everyone heads back to work at the end of the holiday.

Always Carry ID

You can't buy a ticket during the Chinese New Year if you don't have ID on you. Tickets to anywhere in China will be issued with your ID number on them. They will be checked during your journey and you may find yourself in trouble if you can't produce the ID on demand.

Figure out Where You Can Eat

In the early part of the Spring Festival many of the smaller restaurants will be closed. That's because they tend to be family owned and run and they want their family break just like everyone else. It can be hard to get a place in the upmarket restaurants because they tend to be booked out well-in-advance by wealthier local families. It's a great time to try Xinjiang (Muslim) food though because the Xinjiang folks follow the Islamic calendar and don't tend to celebrate the New Year as enthusiastically as everyone else. Expect lots of lamb and mutton on the menu. Many expats in China say Xinjiang cuisine is their favorite; so you can expect a great meal in these places. Wherever you stay during the Spring Festival you will always be able to eat in your hotel.

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Posted by: CS
Things Everyone Knows about Shanghai – That Aren't True

You'll come across a lot of interesting facts on your China tour. A China vacation can be a wonderfully educational experience as well as a fascinating trip through China's history. However, if your China travel takes you to Shanghai you'll almost certainly hear some of the following stories; they all have one thing in common they aren't true.

Myth Number 1: Before the British won the Opium Wars; Shanghai was a tiny village of fishermen.

This one sounds convincing. There are many places in the modern world which would have been insignificant back in 1842 (the end of the first opium war). The trouble is that by any reasonable standard the 200,000 inhabitants of Shanghai wouldn't have fit in a village. The military tour of China by the British wasn't looking for real estate to develop; it was looking for a place of strategic importance. Shanghai's port facilities made it more than a pleasant vacation spot for the European settlements in China; it was a major economic target thanks to the ability to trade easily with and ship goods to the rest of Asia.

Myth Number 2: Shanghai is built over what used to be a swamp.

No, it isn't. A trip round China's biggest city will soon inform you that the Bund was constructed over an old swamp but the rest of the city was not. Back when Shanghai was being built it would have been a ridiculous effort to drain that much swampland. It would be more effort than it was worth today too.

Myth Number 3: No Chinese or Asian people were allowed to live in the international facilities held by the Europeans until Shanghai was liberated.

It's true that these facilities (including the French Concession) were designed for foreign ownership. The trouble is that there weren't enough Westerners to make these places exclusive. In fact more Japanese would travel to China to live in these areas than Europeans. And the Chinese themselves were the most numerous residents of them all.

Myth Number 4: The Westerners living in the foreign-districts of Shanghai were not prejudiced against the locals.

This is a lead in to our final myth. It's certainly true that not every Westerner who had made the trip to China was a racist soul but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the majority were not particularly kindly to the local people. It's certainly true that many of the park facilities would only allow Chinese guardians accompanying Western children in and all other locals were asked to remain outside.

Myth Number 5: No dogs and No Chinese in the parks under Western rule.

We've already see that this wasn't entirely the case. However; it's a good rule of thumb that sometime during your China tour someone will tell you that there used to be a sign banning dogs and Chinese people from the parks when areas of Shanghai were under European control. The evidence offered for this is that there's a Bruce Lee movie where he smashes a sign like that into pieces. The actual evidence suggest that this sign only existed in the movie and never appeared anywhere in Shanghai.

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Posted by: CS
Feng Shui for the Year of the Horse

As you’ll soon find out on your China tour; Feng Shui is important in China. Feng Shui is all about creating environmental harmony so that your life is more successful. If your China vacation coincides with the Year of the Horse (2014-2015) then you can put some of these tips into place before, during and after your China travel to get the most out of the New Year. A little understanding of Feng Shui will make your trip to China even more enjoyable.

Feng Shui for Your Career

In China they say that an uncluttered office leads to an unclutter mind. If you trip over junk where you are working; you’ll be tripping over mental junk and performing badly. Keeping your desk neat and tidy can help free up positive energy so that it can travel through you and enhance your performance. This seems like sound advice whether you believe in Feng Shui or not.

Feng Shui for Love

Your China tour may open up new possibilities for romance but this tip is more about ensuring that whoever and whomever you share your love with is getting the best of you. Your bedroom should be a safe harbor from life. A night’s sleep should be a vacation from your troubles. Too many people keep too many distractions in the bedroom; clear out the TV and exercise equipment and move them elsewhere in your home. It’s not just in China that we could do with a proper rest.

Keep the windows and doors open and let fresh air travel freely round the room. Get a dimmer switch and let the light levels match your mood. Fill the room with happy pictures that create a good feeling when you view them.

Your bed should be approachable from both sides; have two tables (one on either side) and it should not be directly positioned in front of the door.

Feng Shui for Your Health

China has many beliefs that affect health and you can boost your life standards using the three aspects of Feng Shui for health; they are bamboo, plants and essential oils. It’s worth noting that plants should be kept out of the bedroom but strewn liberally around the rest of your home. You shouldn’t buy these plants during your China vacation because export regulations mean that you can’t take them home so pick some up before you travel or when you get back.

Patience in All You Do

The year of the horse is all about patience and whether you’re in China or not you can enhance your Feng Shui all year long by taking a bit more time and effort to understand other people and ensure that things are given the proper time to take place.

China takes Feng Shui seriously and while we’re not sure that all the Feng Shui ideas touted are helpful; we think these tips for the year of the horse make sense whether or not you’re convinced by the theory overall.

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Posted by: CS
Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber

Before you travel to China you might want to catch up with some of China's greatest literary works. If your China vacation is going to take you to Beijing and you're going to visit the Botanical Gardens there; you'll encounter the memorial to Cao Xeuqin during your tour of the grounds. Cao Xeuqin is one of China's great classical authors (his work the Dream of the Red Chamber is considered to be one of the four greatest works of literature in China). So if you're planning your reading list for your trip; here's why you might want to read his work.

About Cao Xeuqin

Cao was a Han Chinese servant of the Manchu in the 17th century. He came from a long line of distinguished and noble warriors who had served the country well and his family members were all officials of some distinction and they all would have been extremely rich. They would travel throughout China representing the royal house in all their duties.

Unfortunately before Cao could enjoy the fruits of his past; the family would fall from grace during his youth and his uncle Cao Fu was jailed as part of a political conspiracy against them. The family fortunes took a trip to nothing and Cao Xueqin was raised in poverty in China's soon to be capital city; Beijing.

We know very little about Cao's life. It's perhaps no surprise that there are no documents relating to his early life – who would have recorded the life story of a peasant? As you will discover during your China vacation there are very few documents left relating to many of the most important figures in Chinese history.

The only things we do know about Cao is that he was an inveterate alcoholic and he would have spent much of his time stumbling out of drinking venues around Beijing. However, this doesn't stop the few accounts in which he is remembered taking great pains to point out the Cao was extremely gifted and hard working.

If you choose to read his book before your China tour it's worth noting that it may not be wholly his work. Why not? Well Cao died after working on it for nearly a decade. The first draft had been finished (though some of the pages were missing). A family friend chose to compile the book properly and handwritten copies of a work were circulated amongst Cao's peers. This book is said to have had 80 chapters. By the time the book was printed at the end of the 18th century it had acquired another 40 chapters and there's some suspicion that the last 40 are the work of another author.

The Dream of the Red Chamber

If you read any Chinese literature before you China vacation it should be this book. It is considered to be a classic because it so accurately demonstrates the rise and fall of a family under the Qing Dynasty. It's almost certainly semi-autobiographical.

The text itself contains a wealth of characters and the supporting cast within the novel is huge. It offers keen insight into the lives of the aristocracy at the time when it was written. It is also perhaps the most sensitive work when it comes to the portrayal of the psychology of the Chinese people.

The best translated version of the book is David Hawks' version which is published by Penguin Classics. It's universally acknowledged that this is one of the hardest Chinese texts to translate and other versions are either heavily abridged (concentrating only on the central story) or lacking in clarity and accuracy.

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Posted by: CS
The Botanical Garden of Beijing

A trip to Beijing is an essential part of many China tour itineraries. China’s capital offers a wealth of things to see and do and for most visitors it’s an unmissable location during a China vacation. Many people travel there to see The Great Wall and the The Forbidden City and given that it’s famous outside of China for a certain amount of pollution; it’s perhaps not surprising that people don’t associate Beijing with nature. However, it’s one of the best places to take a tour of all China’s natural flora and a trip to the Botanical Gardens in Beijing is very much worth your time.

How do I get to the Botanical Garden?

The garden is one of the largest in Northern China and to get there you’ll need to take a trip out of the center of Beijing and out to the Xiangshan Park in Haidian District. It’s about 14 miles away so a taxi might be your best option to get there. Try and avoid doing this in rush hour; Beijing’s rush hour is not just the worst in China it may be the worst in the world.

What will I find in the Botanical Garden?

It covers over 4 million square meters though only half that space is open to the public. You’ll need to travel on foot from the Yuquan Hill entrance so make sure you wear boots. There are over 1.5 million Chinese plants cultivated at the Botanical Garden and they are drawn from over 10,000 species. You won’t find a bigger collection of plants in China easily anywhere else.

The Exhibition

The plant exhibition area itself is split into four sections. Each of these sections is made up of multiple themed-gardens. There are 11 different themes in play through the sections. We recommend the Lilac Garden and the Chinese Rose Garden in particular for the floral displays. You’ll also find an incredible variety of trees and bushes in the arboretum. Take some time to relax at this point on your China vacation; enjoy the sights and smells and don’t rush round. Natural beauty needs a little travel time to make it worthwhile.

The Greenhouse

You can’t fail to be impressed by China’s (and Asia’s) biggest greenhouse. It covers an incredible two and a half acres and is home to another 4 exhibits. There’s an area devoted to rainforest plants, and another that touches on the plants of the desert too. Our favorite place is the Garden of the Seasons which varies dramatically depending on the time of year you visit;.


The Botanical Garden is also a spiritual place and there are several temples on the grounds. The Temple of the Reclining Buddha (built in the 7th century) is worth making the trip for on its own. But keep your eye out for others and in particular The Memorial to Cao Xueqin (one of the true literary greats of China’s past) and the monument to the student demonstrations that contributed to the rise of communism in China.

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Plants in China

One thing you're sure to notice on your China tour is that the Chinese attribute meanings to many different things. You won't be staying on the 4th floor of a hotel on your China vacation because the number is unlucky and as with the 13th floor in the West - it's omitted from the floor plan. Plants in China also have meanings and you can find your travel experience enriched by understanding how plants are viewed by the locals on your China trip.

Plants and their Meanings in China

Plants in China - Plum Blossoms

Plum Blossoms
The flower of the plum tree is inescapable on a China tour. The blossoms smell good and they're also very attractive. In ancient times the plum blossom was the symbol of China and it still resides on the currency today; you'll find it on the back of the 0.5 RMB coin when you get change on your trip.

The chrysanthemum is one of the most meaningful flowers of them all. A gift of chrysanthemums to an elderly person is a good thing because the flowers represent a long life. You don't want to make the mistake of buying white (or the pale yellow) blossoms on your China vacation though; they are used exclusively for burial ceremonies. You should stick to red blossoms for your gifts. It's worth noting that it's extremely bad form to buy chrysanthemums as a gift for a lover.

There may be no flower on earth as beautiful as the orchid. And if your China trip coincides with spring you'll find them available for sale everywhere. These are the perfect gift for relationship building with high-status people and potential business partners. It's considered extremely respectful to give someone an orchid.

The narcissus is an elegant plant. Delicate white flowers each of which has only 5 petals, like its cousin the lily it is grown floating on water. Narcissus represents purity as well as the highest of other virtues. If you give narcissus as a gift during your China vacation it will be very much appreciated.

You sure to encounter the lotus during your China travel too. It's an incredibly versatile plant. The roots can be eaten. The blossoms only come out during the summer and are usually a bright red or brilliant white. The seeds are an essential component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A gift of a lotus is a great way to congratulate someone who started from humble beginnings and became a great success.

Peach Blossoms
The sight of the peach trees in blossom is unforgettable. In the spring you can visit Chengdu (as part of a Yangtze River Cruise) and watch the hills and valleys covered with them. The flower is said to represent pretty women. Many a young Chinese person will buy a peach plant to tend at home in order to become luckier in love. So you might want to think twice about buying one for somebody; you're essentially suggesting that they might need some help with their love life!

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Posted by: CS
Five Predictions for China in 2014

You'll already know that China is a place of dramatic change at the moment. What you might not know before you travel is what changes may be lined up for this year. Your China tour will be visiting a nation establishing itself on the global stage. Your trip will bring you to a country of growth and expansion. As you'll see on your China vacation this leads to China being both fascinating and confusing for domestic and international observers alike. Here are our predictions for 2014 in China.

1. Economic growth begins to slow to sustainable levels

China's economy has been on a rocket trip for nearly 3 decades. Double digit growth year on year consistently has been incredible. However, there's no doubt that this kind of growth cannot be sustained forever. 2014 will be the first vacation the country takes from that kind of expansion and it's likely to be a healthy 7-8% economic increase this year. This is good news for the Chinese people as it should lead to a cool down of the rampant inflation that puts pressure on the wages of the working man.

2. Tourism in China continues to boom

We think vacation numbers in China are going to keep rising for another 20-30 years yet. The country has a wealth of history and an extraordinary variety of things to see and do. You could take a China tour once a year, every year and still never see all the country has to offer. Now you can get a visa to travel to China easily from almost everywhere; international visits are going to be constantly rising. Domestic tourism will also keep growing as the Chinese economy trickles more wealth into the hands of the middle and working classes. There's no better reason to book a China vacation today than you want as much of the country to yourself as possible.

3. Chinese Brands to Begin to Conquer the World

China's big brands are relatively unknown outside of the country itself. Given the gentle economic contractions back home they are likely to begin to aggressively pursue opportunities elsewhere. We expect some teething problems with this to begin but we'd also expect China's first internationally recognized flagship brand to emerge at some point during 2014 too.

4. Big Investments in Education

The Chinese are one of the best educated populations on earth. However, the local education system still leaves a lot to be desired. In an effort to push China's economy up a notch and for the country to compete effectively in the high-end of manufacturing we'd expect a lot of money to be flowing into the better universities this year.

5. Working in China will lose some of its appeal

Economic stability means reduced opportunities for "quick wins" for investors in China. We think there's going to be a move away from "working in China" and towards "working with China" instead. As brands begin to seek global expansion there will be a huge level of opportunity for companies that can help the biggest Chinese businesses achieve their success.

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Five Things You Should Know at the Dinner Table in China

When you're booking your China vacation the last thing you'll be concerned with is table manners in China. However, as your tour wends its way through the country you'll certainly want to fit in during your travels. The best way to approach dining out in China is to do as the Chinese do. So to help you from accidentally giving offence during your China trip we've put together a quick guide to avoiding any faux pas.

Lie the Chopsticks Down

There's a good reason that wherever you go on your China tour there will be a chopstick holder by your dish; leaving the rice standing up in a dish is really bad form. Why? There's a belief that the chopsticks when standing up look like the incense burned at funerals in China. If you remember that the number "4" in China is bad luck because it sounds like "death" then you should have no problem avoiding this mistake on your trip. And if you can't find a chopstick holder – use the side of your plate.

Don't Flip the Fish...

You'll soon see on your China vacation that when fish dishes are served in China they tend to come as one big fish. So once you've finished munching on the top it would seem natural to turn it over and eat the bottom. The trouble is that if your travel has taken you to a coastal town; this is considered to be a curse on the local fishermen.

Why? It's because the motion reminds the people of a capsizing boat. The way around this is to use your cutlery to pull the bone out of the fish (essentially grab the bone by the tail and pull backwards) and then you can eat the fish without turning it over.

Keep the Number of Dishes Even

This is one of those confusing tips that make no sense at first glance. An odd number of dishes is only ordered during funerals in China. That means to keep things happy round the table you should order one more dish to prevent an etiquette problem. Ideally, you'll order one dish per person at the table and then round up to stop an "odd numbered" problem. Though don't forget 4 dishes would also be unlucky; so you should up that to 6 dishes if there are only four of you dining.

Tap the Table to Stop the Tea

As you'll soon find on your trip; the Chinese can be very gracious hosts. That means that an empty tea cup is always kept full. If you're getting tired of refills; you can tap the table (using your forefinger and index finger) to show you have had enough. This works better in Southern China and Hong Kong than in the North.

Never Sever Birthday Noodles

The Chinese enjoy a meal of noodles on their birthday. If you're lucky enough to be invited to a birthday party during your China vacation make sure you don't cut the noodles in any way. They are to be slurped whole as they represent "long life" and cutting them means cutting short the length of someone's life.

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Spring Festival Problems in China 2014

If you are visiting China at the very end of January or early February then you've timed your vacation just right to enjoy Chinese New Year. The New Year, or Spring Festival as it is more correctly known, is a time of serious travel – the world's largest migration of people occurs in China at this point. Nearly 2 billion journeys will be taken in China as people tour the country to visit their friends and family. It's the longest holiday in the Chinese calendar and perhaps the largest event in the world. So here's a little insight for you if your trip to China coincides with the dates.

Why is Spring Festival such a big deal in China?

Every country has its big festival; in many nations the big annual vacation is linked to a religious festival. However, officially China is a nation without religion. This means that they need a festival that everyone can relate to that comes without religious overtones. It's worth noting that there is plenty of animism, Daoism and Buddhism wrapped up in Spring Festival but none of it is so overt that it overshadows a time which traditionally would celebrate the end of Winter and the time for planting the fields.

But why so much travel during this time in China?

You need to understand that most people in China today travel a long, long way to work. In fact many urban workers will work on the opposite side of the country from their homes and families. Given their low (by our standards) salaries and long working weeks these people can't take a vacation when they feel like it. So once a year they make the long trip back to their own region of China to see their parents, spouses and children.

Cities like Shenzhen, (the 4th largest city in China opposite Hong Kong on the mainland) which have the highest concentrations of migrant labor are nearly empty when Spring Festival is in full-force.

Alright, understood but what's the problem in 2014?

Now you understand how important this vacation is in China and how many people want to travel at this time. What do you think would happen if the dates of the holiday were suddenly changed arbitrarily?

Imagine if the USA announced a month before Thanksgiving that it was being moved. Would that throw the workforce into chaos as travel plans were rescheduled?

That's what's happened this year. In response to employer's needing workers at the coal face to continue China's economic boom; this year “New Year's Eve” has been removed from the official holiday listings. As this is the biggest and most important date with the family during the Spring Festival this means that hundreds of millions of travel plans have been disrupted. There's also the incredible cultural chaos created; it's a bit like cancelling Christmas.

So if you are in China this Spring Festival and your hearty New Year's greeting is received a little glum-facedly it may be because the person you're greeting is dealing with the fall out in the change in dates.

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Bamboo in China

If your trip to China is to include a Yangtze River Cruise then you'll be spending some time in Chengdu. Chengdu is a hugely popular destination on a China tour because it's where you'll find the giant panda the furry symbol of all things China. As you travel around the panda sanctuary the other thing you'll see is a whole heck of a lot of bamboo. We thought it might enhance your China vacation if you knew a little about this wonderful plant before you travel.

About Bamboo

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing materials anywhere on the planet. It can grow up to 2.5 meters a day! That's nearly 100 inches! However, in general it doesn't grow that fast in places like China where it is cultivated. The normal rate of growth for the bamboo you see in Chengdu is more likely to be a couple of inches a day; which is still pretty impressive.

One thing we can't guarantee that you'll see on your China vacation is bamboo flowers. Why not? Well, bamboo only flowers once every 60-100 years. It's interesting that all the bamboo plants of one species will flower during a short period of 2-3 years no matter where they are in the world. Nobody knows why the flowering cycle is so long or so precise.

Animals and Bamboo

Both the Giant Panda awaiting you on your Yangtze River Cruise and the Red Panda (which you might see on a trip to Nepal) depend on bamboo for their food. Outside of China bamboo is also an essential component of the diet of lemurs in Madagascar. You may also find that restaurants in the local area serve bamboo borers (a type of caterpillar) as a delicacy. You are not obliged to try any of these on your tour!

Uses for Bamboo

Bamboo is particularly valuable for timber in areas with a lower rate of forestation. In China bamboo is normally harvested every 5-7 years. After harvesting it is then leached (a process which removes the sugary sap and lets the bamboo harden so that it can be used for construction). It can be used to build homes and even suspension bridges. It is often used to create scaffolding (particularly in Hong Kong).

It may also be grown for ornamental purposes and many a piece of Chinese bamboo has made the trip overseas to someone's living room where it sits in a vase. If the bamboo flowers at this point – it will soon die off but thankfully as we've already seen it might take a while for it to flower. Bamboo can also be cooked and eaten though you should know that if you cook up the bamboo sprouts yourself – they're poisonous (they release cyanide in your stomach) so they need proper treatment prior to cooking.

It's also a common ingredient in Chinese medicine and its used to treat a wide variety of conditions.

Rayon contains bamboo fibers but in general bamboo doesn't make particularly good fabrics and you won't find many clothes made from bamboo.

The other common use for bamboo in China is making paper from it. It produces reasonably high-quality paper as long as the right strain of the plant is chosen to do so.

So when your Yangtze River Cruise stops in Chengdu, spare a thought for the humble bamboo as well as the incredible Giant Panda.

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Posted by: CS
A Cruise on the Li River

One of the highlights of a China vacation is a trip to Guilin and Yangshuo to admire the Karst scenery and enjoy the simpler side of life in China. If your China tour is heading out to this incredibly beautiful area you might be wondering what to expect. The best way to travel is by boat down China's Li River and here's a quick guide to what you may see on the way.

Elephant Trunk Hill

Looking out to the West of the boat you will see a hill that has a passing resemblance to an elephant (with a trunk stuck in the river). Like many of these sights in China and elsewhere in the world, you may need to squint a little to see the resemblance clearly. Your tour guide will let you know when you get there so you can get a photo in.

Pagoda Hill

Travel a little farther downstream and you should find the Pagoda Hill; so called, unsurprisingly, because it has a pagoda on the top. It's from China's Ming Dynasty era and its official name is "the Longevity Buddha". It looks best during the autumn when the shade of the leaves on the trees complements the coloring of the pagoda.

Daxu Town

If you stop here you'll find one of the warmest welcomes on your China vacation; with this ancient town very much depending on tourist revenue – they don't want anyone leaving unhappy. It's quite a pretty little place and if you explore a little you'll see some lovely Ming Dynasty architecture which is surprisingly well preserved for somewhere a long way off the usual tourist path. The town is also famous for its Jaozie (dumplings) and they make a pleasant mid-day snack.

Crown Cave

A genuinely thrilling place with incredible stalactite and stalagmite displays. Your trip should allow enough time you to wander round this area of outstanding natural beauty. China's not always quite high-tech enough and you may find the emphasis on lighting and sound a little irritating at times. Grin and bear it though – this really is a lovely place.

Mural Hill

This is one of the more striking karst features as the side of the hill appears to be painted in a myriad of colors (they are in fact minerals leaching out of the rock face). Your China tour guide will almost certainly be able to tell you a few folk tales about this.

Local Wildlife

When you're taking a trip down the river – don't miss out on the wildlife. It's one of the best places in China to see cormorants swooping into the water to seize fish for their dinner. The birds can swim so don't worry; they are coming back up again!

You may also see fishermen using tame cormorants to catch fish for them; a sort of natural fishing road if you like.

There are also plenty of buffalo wandering the banks and other river fauna to be spotted by the eagle-eyed.

Yellow Cloth Shoal

The last major sight on the river is the most famous of all. This is where many of the most famous movies in China are shot and you'll almost certainly feel like you know the place as soon as you see it. The yellow flagstone under the water is the giveaway to let you know you've arrived. Travel down the Li River is never forgotten.

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Posted by: CS
Top 5 Tourist Attractions in China

You may be wondering what the most popular tourist attractions in China are while you're planning your vacation. You might want to see how many you can include on your China tour or alternatively you might want to take a couple of trips to see if you can tick them all off your list. China travel is always extraordinary but here are the 5 things people most want to see in China so that you can better plan your visit.

Number 5 – The Terracotta Army in Xi'an

We're surprised that this one's not a little higher up the list. It really is one of the most spectacular locations you can visit on a China tour. Constructed over 2,000 years ago this army of ancient warriors is still be excavated today. They were discovered in a field when a farmer took a trip out to plough his field and instead pulled up a relic. Today they are a firm favorite of every visitor to China.

Number 4 – Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong

From the ancient to the modern this bustling harbor front may be the busiest in the world. With nearly all freight leaving China to travel overseas being moved through the port here you might expect it to be more hectic than it feels. In fact the real star of the show is the incredible number of skyscrapers packed along the shore. If your China vacation passes through Hong Kong you absolutely have to see this.

Number 3 – The Forbidden City, Beijing

The home of the Last Emperor of China and many of the emperors before him is truly mind-blowing. Visitors can't help but be blown away by the incredible architecture and displays of ostentatious wealth held within. There may no longer be a royal presence in China but it's amazing how little damage was done to this site during the revolution. People travel from all over the world to spend some time here and you'll never forget seeing it.

Number 2- The Potala Palace, Tibet

High above Lhasa is perhaps the world's most famous Buddhist temple. The Potala Palace is an incredible sight and dominates the landscape below. Once the palace was home to the Dalai Lama today the site operates as a museum to Tibetan and Buddhist culture.

If your China vacation can accommodate a side trip to Tibet we'd urge you to go. The Potala Palace has to be seen to be believed.

Number 1 – The Great Wall of China, Beijing

You may not be able to see it from outer space with the naked eye (it's a common misconception – the wall isn't wide enough to be seen from space though it is certainly long enough) but the Great Wall is still the world's most astonishing man-made artefact. It protected China from attack for nearly 2,000 years and is an absolute must on any trip to China. The good news is that it's easy to fit this in with the Forbidden Palace as they're both in Beijing.

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