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Travelling to China: Full guides to Beijing, The Great Wall, Xi’an and Shanghai

When Katie Roberts and Monica Pitrelli took an epic trip to China with their families over the summer, they decided that it was only right to provide handy, colourful guides to each city they visited (along with the Great Wall, of course). Consider this your directory with the separate guides below, plus a whole host of tips when it comes to travelling to China underneath.

China guides by city

Head here for Beijing
Head here for The Great Wall of China
Head here for Xi’an
Head here for Shanghai

A lion statue guarding the Forbidden City
A lion statue guarding the Forbidden City

Tips for travelling to China

China may be mind-bogglingly huge and the highest populated country in the world, but travelling through it is a breeze once you’ve committed some essential tips to memory. If you fancy going, read on for everything you need to know, from air quality to traffic conditions…

1. Visa
Citizens of Singapore, Brunei and Japan don’t need a visa for a stay of less than 15 days. All others require a visa. The simplest way is to book an appointment time online (visaforchina.org), print off the application form and present it with all supporting documents at the China Visa Application Service Centre located at 80 Robinson Road, #16-01/02/02A. Call 6226 2358. Fees vary according to nationality, visa type and processing times.

2. Air quality
There are several smartphone apps that give real-time PSI readings of air quality in major Chinese cities. High levels of air pollution can aggravate bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions. A pollution reading of 300 and above is considered extreme; several cities including Beijing regularly exceed this number. For more information, visit www.aqicn.info.

3. Water
Buy bottled water; don’t drink from the tap.

4. Internal travel
Even the Chinese recommend avoiding internal flights in favour of comfortable and safe train travel. For tourists, the fastest options are the bullet trains which crisscross the country at speeds of up to 300kph. Beijing has four enormous train stations; make sure you know which one your train departs from, and allow plenty of time for the airport-style security checks. The high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai arrives promptly (to the minute, in fact) in five hours. An adult ticket in economy class is about S$150. Kids under 150cm are half-price. Foreigners need to buy tickets through a train-ticketing agency, or in person at a station. Check this website for tips.

5. Transfers
To avoid hassle when arriving at or leaving a city, whether at an airport or a train station, book as many transfers ahead of time as you can.

6. Traffic
Congestion in major (and many minor) Chinese cities can be a bit of a mind-boggle, especially in Beijing (the worst traffic jam in world history is said to have occurred here in August 2010, when a 62-mile-long jam took a full 12 days to clear). Plan plenty of travel time, especially to airports and train stations.

7. Internet censorship
Can’t live without Facebook? You’ll learn to here, as this site and many others, such as Google (including Docs, Maps and +, though email works sporadically), YouTube, Yahoo, Twitter, The New York Times and many others, are completely blocked on the mainland. Censorship like this is why the 1989 Tiananmen Square “Tank Man” photo – one of the most iconic images of all time – remains largely unknown in China.

8. Crowds
Get to tourists spots early. China’s population is 1.2 billion, so don’t expect too many moments of quiet contemplation. Try to avoid the annual “Golden Weeks” (national holiday periods) of Chinese New Year, and the first weeks of May and October, when most Chinese are travelling, either to home to be with their families, or to visit famous sites.

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