Population: 1.3 billion
Currency: Renminbi (RMB)
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese and regional dialects.
Religion: Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, usually practiced in combination with one another.
Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 119 (fire), 120 (medical).
Who needs one?
Citizens of Singapore, Brunei and Japan don’t need a visa for a stay of less than 15 days. Tours groups are also sometimes exempted. All others require a visa.
Getting it sorted in Singapore
The Chinese Embassy does not directly accept ordinary visa applications. Go to the China Visa Application Service Centre located at 80 Robinson Road, #16-01/02/02A. Call 6226 2358 or visit www.visaforchina.org. Fees vary according to nationality, visa type and processing times.
Although part of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong retains autonomy in many areas, including visitor entry. Most countries are exempt from visa requirements for short visits. Check the complete list at www.immd.gov.hk.
• The high levels of air pollution in major urban and industrialised areas can aggravate bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions. Check pollution index levels at www.aqicn.info. A reading of 300 and above is considered extremely polluted, and several cities including Beijing regularly exceed this number
• Rabies occurs throughout China, so you’re best to avoid contact with animals – even the cute ones
• Buy bottled water, don’t drink it from the tap
Learn the Lingo: Mandarin
Hello – ni hao
Thank you – xiexie
Too expensive – tai guile
I don’t understand – wo tingbudong
Where’s the toilet? – cesuo zai nali
Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Macau, Xi’an, Sanya, Lijang and Tibet
• The big three: Beijing – Shanghai – Xi’an (terracotta warriors)
• Natural beauty: Shanghai – Hangzhou – Huangshan – Guilin
• The West: Beijing – Urumqi – Kashgar
• Sichuan & Yunnan: Chengdu – Shangri-La – Dali – Lijiang
• The South: Guangzhou – Shenzhen – Hong Kong – Macau – Sanya
Times & Dates
From four to seven hours
Time difference from Singapore
None. China actually straddles five time zones and, from 1912 to 1949, each zone went by a different standard time. Now there is one unified standard time, though both Xinjiang and Tibet in the far west use an unofficial time that is two hours behind Singapore.
When to go
Visit during the spring and summer seasons, though weather varies enormously depending on the location. It can be bitterly cold between December and February, especially in the north, where temperatures can get down to -40 degrees Celsius. In the south, Hong Kong’s best weather is generally from March to May as well as November to December.
January/February: Chinese New Year. From the first to the 15th day of the lunar New Year, it’s a time for visiting friends and relatives. It’s the biggest migration of people in the world, so be prepared for overwhelming crowds, noise, fireworks.
12 June: Dragon Boar Festival. Try a zongzi rice dumpling whilst watching the dragon boat racing.
19 September: Mid Autumn Festival. Another family reunion holiday; admire the full moon and sample mooncakes.
Before you go, watch…
1911, starring Jackie Chan and Li Bingbing. The movie was produced as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. Plus, Skyfall, for a view of Shanghai and Macau through James Bond’s eyes.
Before you go, read…
Country Driving by Peter Hessler. Detailing the author’s several long journeys by car through rapidly changing China. And Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian. Nobel-prize winner’s fictionalised memoir about a journey along the Yangzi River.
While you’re there, please don’t…
Leave your chopsticks sticking upright in your rice bowl. Doing so is likened to a shrine with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it, and is the equivalent of wishing death upon the person at the table. Instead, lay them on your dish.