The Terracotta Warriors, Forbidden City, the giant panda and the flowing Yangzi – China is home to some of the world’s most prized possessions. And as you venture deep into the cityscapes from Shanghai to Beijing, float past Yangshuo's limestone karsts and explore the tranquil monasteries in Emei Shan and Lhasa, you’ll be struck by how diverse this land can be. The rich tapestries of history, the charm of local villagers, the diversity of regional culinary traditions and the surprising natural beauty, all coming together to create an experience like nothing else. Welcome to China – one of the world’s oldest and most enduring cultures; all yours to explore.
From the rugged mountain interior of Emei Shan to the glittering coastal city of Sanghai, China is home to a diverse range of landscapes. We recommend checking out our regional breakdown to help you figure out the best time for you to visit China.
Tourism is generally at its peak in summer, so if you’re not into crowds you may want to avoid June, July and August. If you’d still like the weather to be somewhat warm, a shoulder season month like November or May might be best – you’ll usually only need a light jacket or fleece, but the bulk of the crowds are gone.
Visitors from most nations are required to obtain a visa for trips to mainland China. Be sure to apply before leaving your home country – if you don’t, your applications might be denied.
For most travel plans, you will need a single-entry tourist visa valid for 30 days. Generally, a standard 30-day single-entry visa can be issued in four to five business days, and at a higher cost for an express application. Once issued, the visa must be used within three months.
For immigration purposes, Hong Kong is not considered part of mainland China and most nationalities, including EU, Australian, US, Canadian and South African citizens do not require a visa to visit for varying periods of stay.
Please check with your local embassy for specific requirements for Hong Kong and mainland China, as requirements and conditions continuously change. Check with your Chinese embassy or a registered Visa Application Service Centre about what you need to do to apply well before your departure date.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. Entry requirements can change at any time, so it's important that you check for the latest information. Please visit the relevant consular website of the country or countries you’re visiting for detailed and up-to-date visa information specific to your nationality. Check the Essential Trip Information section of the itinerary for more information.
Generally, tipping is not expected on mainland China, although leaving spare change at restaurants and giving a small amount to tourists and hospitality staff is becoming more commonplace (although not mandatory). For example, tipping porters and bartenders a small amount is no longer unusual. The culture of tipping is different in Hong Kong, where taxi drivers and restaurants will usually round up the bill, and service staff like porters will generally expect a tip.
Internet access is generally good at hotels and internet cafes in large cities and tourist areas but is limited in rural and remote areas. Some fast food chains, restaurants and cafes do have free wi-fi options available, but may require a Chinese phone number to receive the login code. Otherwise, the login prompts may be in Chinese.
Chinese governments and authorities keep strong controls over internet access and many Western websites, including social media and news outlets, are censored. Sites and apps including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google products (YouTube, Maps, Gmail, Drive), WhatsApp, Snapchat and Dropbox, as well as many international news outlets, will not work.
You may wish to download the WeChat app during your visit, which is the country’s most popular method of communication. It’s like WhatsApp crossed with Facebook, kind of.
For many expats and travellers, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is used to limit this censorship. If you are insistent on using certain websites abroad, look into purchasing a reputable VPN – keep in mind most of the free ones, and some of the paid VPNs will not work. If you do decide to go down this route, still consider what you search for online or access while in China, as some of this content could land you in hot water with authorities if found out.
With all this in mind, you’ve got the opportunity to switch off and enjoy the sights around – that’s one way of looking at it!
Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent in China's cities, and still very good in remote and rural areas.
If you have an unlocked phone, purchasing a local SIM on arrival is probably the cheapest and most reliable option to use your phone on the go.
If you wish to use global roaming while in China, be sure to contact your service provider to understand how much this will cost, as it is often extremely expensive.
Squat toilets are most common in China, though Western-style flushable toilets can sometimes be found in modern hotels and restaurants. Be sure to carry your own toilet paper or tissue and hand sanitizer as these are rarely provided, especially in public places.
China’s unit of currency is the Renminbi (CNY), or yuan. Prices here are approximate and shown in US dollars for ease of comparison.
While water quality is improving, drinking tap water still isn't recommended in China due to the presence of pollution and natural contamination of water supplies.
For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water. Ask your leader where filtered water can be found; some hotels we stay in may have drinking water available, often boiled to use for tea. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and to peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Major credit cards are accepted by large hotels, stores and restaurants, but may not be accepted by smaller vendors and market stalls. Be sure to always carry some cash in case credit cards are not an option.
Travellers will be able to access ATMs in China's large cities and regional centres. Rural and remote areas will have less ATM access so ensure you have other payment methods before venturing out of the city. Not all Chinese ATMs will accept foreign cards.
For ease of getting cash out, use Bank of China or HSBC ATMs, which are widely accessible around the country. These are the most reliable. ICBC ATMs do function but can be unreliable in less touristed areas.
China is huge – and so, its weather is super diverse. Depending on what time of year you visit China and where you go, you can experience unrelenting heat and humidity in summer and thick snow cover throughout winter.
China’s northern regions have hot and dry summers, and destinations on the eastern coastlines and in the south are more humid with a larger chance of monsoon rains and typhoons.
There’s a chance of snow across most of the country; however, this is much more likely in the northern reaches (Beijing and surrounds). Late winter and early spring can often bring a dust storm rolling in from the Gobi Desert to Beijing and northern China. Rainfall in Shanghai and the east coast is abundant between April and September, but almost non-existent for large chunks of the year in Central and Western parts of the country.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance.
For a current list of public holidays in China, including those with moveable dates, go to: timeanddate.com/holidays
China is generally a safe country to travel to, as long as you know where you’re going and stay alert. China is visited by travellers from all around the world and is of no danger to any person who understands local cultures and obeys local laws.
In saying this, China’s government does keep quite a tight lid on foreign influences, such as websites and news coverage, with internet censorship and public surveillance a common occurrence all over the country. Demonstrations and protests are prohibited in public places in China, and if you find yourself in one, or you take a photo or video of the event, this could land you in trouble.
Equal rights have a long way to go in China. The government heavily censors portrayals of same-sex relationships and, up until 2001, homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Same-sex couples are unable to marry or adopt in China, and discrimination laws and legal protections are not equal between LGBT and non-LGBT identifying citizens.
That being said, China is a relatively hassle-free destination for LGBTQIA+ tourists who travel with discretion. Chinese people are generally tolerant and homophobic-related violence is incredibly rare. Low-key gay scenes/communities can be found in larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. While it’s common for friends of the same sex to hold hands, keep in mind any further displays of affection are frowned upon for both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
As with any public display or protest in China, there is much resistance from authorities and the government for any form of mass demonstration organised within China. Various LGBT events have been banned in recent years, not because they are promoting LGBTQIA+ rights, but because they are publicly promoting anything at all.
If you are travelling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travellers who do not wish to share a room.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
Accessibility varies in China depending on where you are. Things are improving every year but given the vast size of China and varying rates of growth, you may find that old areas are a lot more difficult to travel through than modern cities. In Shanghai, for example, most public transport is wheelchair-friendly, as are a lot of the sights, whereas Beijing is a lot more difficult to navigate.
In Chinese culture, disability has traditionally been seen as something to overcome rather than something to accommodate, which has hampered efforts to improve both cultural acceptance and access. This is changing, which is fortunate not only for travellers, but also the 80+ million Chinese people living with physical and mental limitations.
If you do live with a visual, hearing or other impairment, let your booking agent or group leader know early on so they’re aware and suitable arrangements can be made. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
When you’re planning what to wear while you’re travelling in China, it’s very important that you’ve got a good idea of what to expect from the weather during your trip. China is massive and as such the climate can vary a lot between destinations. What you need to pack for a week-long July holiday in Yangshuo is going to be totally different from the stuff you’ll need if you’re hiking the Great Wall in November.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind no matter when or where you’re going. Dust storms are common in the interior and north (even in cities), which means you should avoid light-coloured clothing or anything you don’t want to get dirty. While you can buy disposable dust masks almost everywhere in China, including at the airports, we recommend buying a washable cloth version before your trip as they are better for the environment. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must for anyone travelling to China, as many of the ancient landmarks and attractions will require you to be on your feet for long periods of time.
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
In China, we stay in locally run accommodation including guesthouses, smaller-scale hotels and homestays in an effort to support the local economies. We also visit locally run restaurants and markets where travellers will have opportunities to support local businesses and purchase handicrafts created by local artisans.
We have a variety of similar destinations, trips and routes that you could consider! Tie another trip into your holiday, or, see how we can help you get from A to B. We have tours departing from a range of locations in China. The options below may be of interest: