China Travelogue 2004
Overview and overall impressions
This is a report of a 17 days trip across China, which I started and finished in Hong Kong. During these 17 days I visited a number of locations and because of the limited time and the long distances, I used flights to get from one place to the next. Despite the limited time it was possible to visit all places without rushing. Here are some impressions about China (from a first time traveller):
- I'm surprised at how developed the country is.
- The infrastructure is in excellent state - the roads are well built and smooth with no holes or bumps; you see no wire trees spoiling the view in towns, meaning that all wires except the high voltage ones run underground. Compare that with Thailand for instance, where there are poles everywhere with a multitude of wires.
- People are doing well. You don't see many poor people on the streets and the average seems to be reasonably affluent. In Yangshuo I saw a girl, the cashier in a food store, wearing a teeth prothese to straighten the teeth. Such a thing is actually quite expensive, at least here in Germany.
- In Guilin the youth seems to gather at the Internet cafe which I visited. There are 100-200 computers and the kids are very computer-literate.
- The young people seem to have a good time everywhere. Perhaps they are all spoilt single kids (?), pampered by their parents (?).
- People are very friendly - everybody smiles at you and is helpful.
- People are honest. The taxi drivers don't try to cheat you and always use the meter - compare that to Malaysia, where the taxi drivers frequently refuse to use the meter or even fake the meter. Nobody also seemed interested in stealing my things (but another guy reported having caught a pickpocket in-flagranti who had already opened the zipper and put his hands inside the belt bag).
- In Shanghai on Saturday afternoon and evening the girls in Nanjing road are so OPEN and want to make your acquaintance. They could be prostitutes, but maybe not all of them are and some are really interested into making your acquaintance (instead of grabbing your money).
- Overall China seems to be a pretty safe place to travel.
- So far nobody has tried to cheat me (except for some tour/travel opeator trying to sell me an overpriced tour).
Travelling in China was reasonably cheap, because of the convenient exchange rate (the Euro traded at over 10 RMB while I was travelling there). I stayed in mid-range hotels spending between 100 and 400 RMB per night, on average around 200. For a meal I used to spend arounf 30-40 RMB. Taxi trips in town were inexpensive, mostly between 10 and 30 RMB. For internal flights I payed between 500 and 1100 RMB, depending on the distance.
Money / Exchange rate (December 2004)
1 Euro = 1.32 US $
1 Euro = 10.9 Yuan (RMB)
1 Euro = 10.27 HKD (Hong Kong dollars)
1 Euro = 57.9 INR (India Rupees)
1 Euro = 2.18 SGD (Singapore dollars)
1 Euro = 5.01 RM (Malaysia Ringgit)
1 Euro = 51.7 THB (Thai Baht)
The cheap dollar (all the above currencies were more or less tied to the USD exchange rate) made our holiday less expensive. For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.
Mobile phones / Prepaid GSM cards
In Shanghai I bought a China Mobile card. The card itself, with no airtime, cost 100 RMB. Then you could charge it with 50 and 100 RMB increments. I used it mainly to call my wife in Malaysia. A call to Malaysia was 8 RMB/min. Calls within China are around 1 RMB/min, local calls probably less than that. For incoming international calls from Malaysia I had to pay RMB 1.90/min. But I was told that there is a card from China Unicom, where you don't have to pay for incoming calls.
By the way, I bought the card at one booth in an underground station in Shanghai. No questions asked and I didn't have to show my passport. It just took me some time and a couple of calls to my (Chinese) wife in Malaysia, who acted as a translator since the girl selling the card only spoke Mandarin, to get the card working. The phone I was using was a Siemens S45i bought in Germany (no need to use a Chinese phone).
Good network coverage in all places where I've been.
Internet access is cheap and available everywhere in China. Costs are in the region of a few RMB/hour. There are no restrictions to the web sites you can visit (at least I was able to access all sites I was looking for), an indicator that there is no censorship.
Overall fresh; cold in the north and in Yunnan, warmer in the south. No rain during the 17 days I was in China.
Hetitleh / Vaccinations
I took the usual set of tropical vaccinations (polio, tetanus, diphteria, Hep A + B, typhoid). I didn't take any anti-malaria pills (not even as a standby medication) and had no rabies shot. The latter however might have been a good idea. I didn't catch SARS by the way.
VISA / Entry requirements
A visa is necessary for nationals of most countries. I got mine at the Chinese consulate in Munich (30 Euro, one entry, valid 30 days). Obtaining a visa for China in Hong Kong would have cost 900 HKD (= 90 Euro) in a travel agency (for a multiple entry one year visa).
I felt safe all the time and nobody tried to steal anything from me or cheat me.
As I said I used internal flights to travel around. Given the time constraints and the long distances this was the only option. I booked all flights in the Shoestring travel agency in Hong Kong, paying the lower price for Chinese nationals + a 100 HKD profit per flight for the travel agency. In Dali I rented a car + driver for two days, to travel to Zhongdian and Lijiang, paying 900 RMB for two days. Taxis are cheap everywhere and Shanghai has a good cheap underground network.
This is the plan for the trip to China:
||HKG -> Shanghai
||Boot Guilin-Yangshuo, 6 hours|
||into Hotel; organise Tour for Kunming|