For information on Tibet please see the Tibet Country Profile
China is the third largest country in the world, just behind Russia and Canada. It borders Mongolia and Russia to the north and, SE Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar to the south, Nepal, India and then Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan and Kirgistan to the west. There are many border disputes which put into question the actual landmass of China. Official figures by the People's Republic of China put it at 9.6 million square kilometres (but this includes Mongolia). The People's Republic of China also claims territories such as Taiwan, Aksia Chin, Trans-Karakoram Tract and South Tibet.
China is a very diverse land including deserts, mountains and fertile river basins. Much of western China is mountains with the Himalaya, Tian and Pamir ranges. Northern China and Mongolia also lie host to the Gobi Desert. The major rivers are The Yellow River, Yangtze and the Pearl River. Rivers play a major role in China, both for transportation and for irrigation. Much of the northern wheat fields and southern rice fields are irrigated from rivers.
The Great Wall of China started being built in the 5th Century BC to protect against invaders from the north. Troops would patrol the wall to defend China against attack. Once over 10,000 km (6,000 miles) long, the remaining walls now stretch for approx 6,000 km (3750miles).
Although China is a massive country which by the rule book should span 5 time zones, China maintains only one time zone: China Standard Time or Beijing Time, which is GMT +8 hours.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese. Although there are many local dialects, with large groups speaking Cantonese, Shanghaiese and Tibetan, to name but a few. English is often spoken by those in the tourism industry. We do recommend that you take a pocket phrase book and learn some basics such as common greetings. Any attempt to speak the local language is usually warmly appreciated and is all part of the fun of adventure travel.
Northern China is known for its hot summers and cold winters. During the summer, temperatures average around 25 degrees Celsius but can rise to over 30 degrees with only slightly cooler evenings. There is more rainfall during the summer months of June to August. This most often as sudden downpours which last just a short time. Spring is a very pleasant time to visit this part of China with cooler temperatures (12 - 15 degrees), less rain and with beautiful blossoms everywhere. During the Winter months it is very cold -Beijing's daytime temperatures are usually around freezing, but the sky is usually clear blue and there won't be many other tourists around at this time. Southern China has a more subtropical climate with precipitation spread out over each month. The summers are hot and humid, and the winters are cool, ut quite short.
The currency in China is the Yuan Renminbi. For up to date exchange rates see www.xe.com
It is not necessary to obtain local currency prior to departure. Sterling, US Dollars and Euros are equally acceptable for exchange in the major towns. We recommend that you carry your travel money in the form of cash. If you prefer not to carry all of your spending money in cash, it is possible to withdraw money from ATMs in using your debit or credit card - however ATM's are only available in major airports and cities.
A valid passport (with at least 6 months remaining validity), together with a Chinese Visa are needed for this trip. Most nationalities, including citizens of the UK, US and most EC countries, need a visa and this must be applied for ahead of your trip from the Chinese Embassy in the country whose passport you are travelling under.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. In general we recommend vaccinations against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis ‘A'. Malarial prophylaxis advise varies over China, please check with your doctor on the area and the altitude you are going to. A very good online resource is the National Health Travellers website at fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
China's Southwest. Lonely Planet.
China - Yunnan Province. Bradt Travel Guides.
Yunnan. Odyssey Guides.
Yunnan Province. China: Matu Publishing.
Lonely PLanet - www.lonelyplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com