Planning a Trip to China with 10-Step Guide
Planning a trip for your vacation, and have no idea about where to go? China can be one of the best places for you to explore in the world. With the world's richest breadth of culture, the most impressive ancient heritage, most varied and spectacular natural wonders, rich and diverse ethnic cultures and customs, as well as the world’s greatest variety of food and cuisines, no matter if you are looking for a classic culture tour, landscape sightseeing tour, adventurous trekking tour, foodie tour, etc., China has everything fantastic to match all your desires.
In addition to its culture and nature wonders, with the continuous improvement of the transport infrastructure of China, particularly the construction of high-speed trains between the most touristy cities and the metros in the bigger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, etc, making it quicker to travel in China and greatly maximize the use of tourists’ time. Furthermore, more and more direct international flight routes have been opened to connect major cities around the world with Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chengdu…, making China easier to access.
While planning a trip to such a vast country, it seems to be very sophisticated, especially for first-time travelers making a tour to China. However, you don’t need to worry about it, and in fact, it is not as tough as what you may think. Following the step-by-step guide below to plan your China tour at home.
- Step 1: Choose where to go in China
- Step 2: Decide when to visit China
- Step 3: Decide how long to stay in China
- Step 4: Traveling independently or with a tour package
- Step 5: Book hotels, flights, and trains in advance
- Step 6: Know how to access your money in China
- Step 7: Traveling with children
- Step 8: Make sure your travel documents read
- Step 9: Pick what to pack for China
- Step 10: Organise your international travel insurance for China
Step 1: Choose where to go in China
As one of the 4 ancient civilizations and the current 3rd largest country in the world, China has the most diverse and eye-catching cultural and natural wonders scattered throughout its regions. Here you can admire the age-old cultural heritage and relics, exotic ethnic cultures and customs, enjoy the spectacular mountains, turbulent rivers, picturesque Karst landforms, fabulous rice terraces, beautiful countrysides, vast grasslands, dense forests, and have a pleasant interact with rare animals such as the adorable pandas.
For those who are a fan of Chinese culture and history, a trip to Beijing and Xi’an is the most recommended. There are many cultural and historical wonders including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses at both cities.
For those who want to experience the traditional ancient towns, Pingyao Ancient Town in Shanxi, Langzhong Ancient Town in Sichuan, Lijiang Ancient Town in Yunnan, and Huizhou Ancient Town in Anhui are the best to discover the similarities and differences of the age-old buildings in different regions.
For those who prefer to explore the modernized cities together with picturesque water towns, a trip to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou is absolutely the best choice. Here you can not only admire the skyscrapers but also enjoy the beauty of the ancient water towns and classic gardens.
If you are a big fan of the exotic ethnic cultures and trekking enthusiasts, then you shouldn’t miss Guizhou, Yunnan, western Sichuan, Qinghai, and Tibet, these regions are home to many featured ethnic groups like Miao, Dai, Bai, Yi, Naxi, Tibetan with unique folk customs, together with outstanding landscapes to view and wonderful trekking routes to trek.
If you are a panda lover and also interested in the religious culture, Chengdu should be included in your must-go list. It offers the most options to interact with the cute giant pandas, and from here, you can have a 2 days’ excursion to Buddhist mountain Emei and the world’s biggest sitting Buddha in Leshan.
For nature lovers, you shouldn’t miss the picturesque Jiuzhaigou Park, the mysterious Kanas Lake, the splendid Three Gorges of Yangtze River, the Karst landscape of Guilin, the steep Mt Huashan, the magnificent Mt Huangshan, the stunning Mount Siguniang and Minya Konka, the spectacular Zhangjiajie peaks.
Step 2: Decide when to visit China
Deciding when to go to China really depends on where you would like to visit in China and which season you would prefer to. China enjoys four distinct seasons, however, the climate in its different regions is different. Generally, the much closer to its north and west, the winter is longer and colder, the spring is later, the summer is shorter, the autumn is earlier.
As the 3rd largest country in the world with a vast territory, it is always easy for you to find suitable destinations to travel in every season or even every month. In general, it is absolutely fine to make a trip to the metropolis as well as the historical and cultural cities such as Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Hongkong, etc. all year round. However, for the regions most famous for its natural wonders, it is recommended to design a trip to China between April and October.
As a rule of thumb, Spring (Late March to May) and Autumn (September to October) are considered to be the best seasons to travel to China, the weather of these seasons are adorable, neither too cold nor too hot; there are fewer tourists so as to avoid the crowds more efficiently; the most important is that the scenery of Spring and Autumn is really beautiful and charming, with flower blossom and everything vivid in Spring, and colorful fall foliage and bright days in Autumn.
Summer, especially July and August, although the scenery is still in good shape, it is the monsoon season with the hottest and the most humid weather and the summer vacation for students, making it the busiest time of China travel. Winter is supremely cold and dry, however, it is a budget-friendly travel season with the cheapest tour cost and the fewest tourists, and the best season to enjoy the snow views/activities in China and soak up the sun on the beaches of Sanya.
Crowds Alert: Chinese Public Holidays
It's advisable to avoid traveling on the major Chinese public holidays, only if you would like to join in the celebrations. During the public Chinese public holidays, millions of Chinese will travel around the popular travel destinations, making the traffic jams overwhelming, the trains hard to book, everything like hotels, tourist vehicles, etc. at a higher cost.
These major holidays include Chinese New Year (usually lasts for a week between late January and February), Ching Ming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day, a special Chinese day for the remembrance of ancestors, usually lasts for 3 days in early April), Labor Day (May 1st to 3rd), Dragon Boat Festival (usually a continuous 3 days’ break in June), Mid-Autumn Festival (another 3 days’ important holiday for Chinese for a family reunion, usually happens in September) and National Day (October 1st to 7th).
Step 3: Decide how long to stay in China
China is a vast and interesting country with a rich and fascinating culture blended with dynasties, emperors, and the Buddha, well-protected natural wonders, and big modern cities. Usually, we would recommend our clients to spend 3-10 day in every single city to visit its highlights and explore its surroundings, and 9-15 days if you want to travel to a few cities. If traveling around the country, it could be between a week and a year. If you want to have a comprehensive understanding of Chinese culture, it is highly recommended to stay in China for no less than 2 years. It is not advisable to spend less than 5 days in China given the cost and length of the international flights unless it’s a visa-free transit point on a trip around Asia.
For those on their first time to travel to China with limited time, a 9 days trip to Beijing-Xi’an-Shanghai to see the essence of China (the outstanding Great Wall, the solemnly Forbidden City, the magnificent Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses, and the unique combination of the Chinese and Western-style at the Bund) should be the best option, which offers a chance to have a quick understanding of China's past and present. If sufficient in time to discover more of China, such as the adorable Giant pandas, the picturesque Karst landforms in Guilin and the view of thousands of steep peaks in different shapes in Zhangjiajie, the diverse unique customs of ethnic groups of China like in Yunnan, more days are required. See our China private tours to get some inspiration.
Step 4: Traveling independently or with a tour package?
Traveling independently or with a tour package? It really depends on your requirements and interests. Traveling independently will give you more freedom in every aspect and you can decide what to see, what to eat, how to travel, where to stay and how long to spend in each place on your own. However, for first-time visitors, it is not easy to plan smooth tours in China: you need to do lots of hard work, study, research, planning, and bookings prior to the trip; once you are in China, you may waste lots of time to get to places and attractions, in the end, you will see less.
In general, it is not very difficult to travel around the developed cities/regions, such as Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou, etc. However, for those planning a trip to the remote areas of the southwestern, southern, northeastern, and northwestern of China, traveling with a tour package should be the best option, as, if traveling independently, there will be numerous problems to overcome including finding a hotel with competitive prices, transportation between different destinations, unfamiliar language and lack the sense of security. In addition to the problems to overcome, sometimes, independent travel costs even more than a tour package.
While traveling in a country like China boasting splendid cultures, it is strongly recommended to travel with a local China travel agency for those wanting to explore the very essence of China in a comfortable and worry-free way. As an experienced local travel agency, WindhorseTour offers both group tours and private tours. To join a group tour, you can spend less money to visit key sights of China, however, you will lack flexibility and only can have a taste of the surface of Chinese culture. Honestly speaking, to do a private tour is the best way to understand China in-depth, with our guides and drivers’ service.
Step 5: Book hotels, flights, and trains in advance
After your tour itinerary worked out and confirmed, you can start the arrangement of hotels, flight and train tickets booking. We always suggest travelers make an early booking, especially when you are traveling during the peak season, as a country with a large population, the train tickets to popular travel destinations like Huangshan, Tibet, etc. and the hotels in these places will be in very high demand, increasing the possibility to fail to book a train ticket or find a suitable hotel without pre-booking.
Usually, the earlier to make a booking, the better prices that you might get, as the fares of the hotels and flights are not fixed. If you are flexible, checking flights to and from China often to find flights at their best price, as, in our experience, there are no hard and fast rules on when is the cheapest time to travel to China. To be more convenient, we would suggest you ask your travel agency to help you with hotels, flights and trains booking, as they know which hotels offer greater service and facilities and which flights or trains can match your itinerary best, to some extent, they may offer better prices of flights and hotels.
Step 6: Know how to access your money in China
Before you go for your China trip, it is important to get acquainted with the Chinese currency. Renminbi, abbreviated as RMB or CNY (Chinese Yuan), is the official currency of China, used throughout mainland China. Locals often call it kuai. Notes frequently used in China are 1 Yuan, 2 Yuan, 5 Yuan, 10 Yuan, 20 Yuan, 50 Yuan, 100 Yuan. Most fake bills are in denominations of 50 and 100 Yuan, even though it is not frequently to encounter fake money, you should be aware of that while traveling.
Usually, 1 US dollar can buy about 7 Renminbi, and 1 Euro can buy about 8 Renminbi, and you should note that the exchange rates often fluctuate up and down. You can exchange currency at hotels, China arrival and departure areas in airports, branches of Bank of China, ATMs, and the exchangers. Not too many places accept payment by foreign cards like Visa and MasterCard, hence, you should bring some cash with you for daily payments of food, taxi, shopping, etc.
However, as China has entered its digital era, cash-free travel is available, nowadays, the locals often pay bills through very practical and convenient payment Apps, Alipay or WeChat, among them, payment by WeChat is the most popular used. The good news is that international travelers can use Alipay or WeChat payment by binding them with their Visa/MasterCard. Related reading: The currency in China.
Step 7: Traveling with children
A family trip in China with children can be educational and helpful for the character-building of your children, which can significantly promote the mutual understanding and interaction between you and your children as well as help your family to deepen the understanding of foreign culture. As a vast country with a profound culture, splendid history, breathtaking landscape, and unique food, China has many perfect destinations for family trips, which are safe, and fun with interesting and child-friendly activities. Besides, thanks to the transportation development of China, it is easy to travel in China with children, as lots of travel destinations are connected by flights, high-speed trains, and fast buses.
In addition, there are lots of interesting things to do for your family trip, including seeing the cute giant pandas in Beijing or Chengdu, having a rickshaw ride in the old Hutongs and a toboggan ride at the Great Wall of Beijing, having fun in the amusement parks, learning some traditional Chinese handicrafts, such as paper cutting and Chinese calligraphy, having a Kung Fu class, etc. While traveling in China, you don’t need to worry about anything if you have well-prepared in advance. However, before you go, it is always very good to do some research and make sure that you have everything you absolutely need but haven’t over-packed, as many of the necessary stuff for children and infants can be found in China.
Step 8: Make sure your travel documents ready
Generally speaking, foreign passport holders are required to hold a passport valid for at least 6 months after the duration of your intended stay and a valid China visa upon their entry into China, but there are some exceptions, overseas travelers are able to transit via some cities or regions of China without a visa under certain circumstances:
1) 24-Hour Direct Transit is applied for travelers from all the countries to stay the transiting city no matter arriving in China via flight, ship, or train.
2) 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit and 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit are applied for travelers from 53 countries and regions: 24 Schengen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland); 15 other European countries (Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, UK, Ukraine); 6 American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, US); 2 Oceanic countries (Australia, New Zealand); 6 Asian countries (Brunei, Japan, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, UAE).
72-Hour Visa-Free Transit
144-Hour Visa-Free Transit
Ports of Entry
Changsha, Guilin, Harbin
Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Nanjing, Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Qinhuangdao, Qingdao, Dalian, Shenyang, Wuhan, Chengdu, Kunming, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xiamen
By flight, ship, or train
Areas Allowed to Stay
The transiting city
The transiting city or region
Step 9: Pick what to pack for China
We always recommend our clients to pack light and only take useful and essential items, especially when traveling with children, as it is really easy to buy most items when you are in China. In addition, we definitely believe that you’ll be picking up a lot of treasures along the way, making your baggage fuller and heavier. Before packing, you should be aware of and understand the luggage restrictions of your airlines to and from China. Contact the airlines directly to clearly understand the restrictions.
Remember to bring your passport and China visa with you and keep them well! You will be in trouble if losing any of them. Just in case, you’d better duplicate several copies of them and keep the originals and the copies separately. In terms of clothing, we strongly suggest you wear and bring according to the specific season and destination. You may check the weather forecast of China or ask your travel advisor for recommendations. It is advisable to bring bags in different sizes to make a classified packing: large bags for clothing and rarely used items, and small bags for carry-on and frequently used items.
Step 10: Organise your international travel insurance for China
When making a trip to China, of course, you'll have to get your international travel insurance in advance, just in case things are going the opposite way including the unexpected expenses caused by flight delay or cancelation, medical emergencies, etc. Having travel insurance to cover all these expenses will give you a peaceful mind, and let you stop worrying about what could go wrong, make you explore freely, and that is what a China trip should be like!