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Enter Exotic China

A colossal country of contrasts and contradictions, there never seems to be enough time to explore China. Discover bustling futuristic cities, tranquil rural villages, golden deserts, verdant waterways and vibrant markets that swell with alluring smells and sounds of the orient.

Follow smoky, spicy aromas off neon strips and get acquainted with the capital through its food and the people who gather to cook and eat it. After tasting contemporary culture, people-watch in Tiananmen Square and slip back in time with a visit to the ancient Forbidden City. It’s a short hop, skip and jump to the Great Wall from here, where lyrical landscapes will steal your heart.

Regional Highlights

  • Walk the unforgettable Great Wall of China that snakes its way up rugged mountains and rolling hills.
  • Visit the world's largest palace complex, The Forbidden City, which was the Imperial Palace for Ming and Qing Dynasties with almost 600 years of history. The emperors' residence in earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven and was forbidden to commoners without the emperors' permission, hence its name.
  • The Temple of Heaven where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasty held the Heaven Worship Ceremony and would pray for a year of rich harvest. Retrace the footsteps of the emperors, regarded as the 'Son of Heaven'. It was forbidden for any commoners to catch a glimpse of the annual procession, they had to bolt their windows and remain indoors in silence throughout the event
  • Wander the enormous Tiananmen Square. You will find Tiananmen Tower, Monument to the People's Heroes, Great Hall of the People, Mao Zedong Memorial Hall (where the Chairman’s mummified body rests) and the National Museum of China
  • Follow the footsteps of the emperors before visiting the Summer Palace. Built as a royal playground for Emperors living in the Forbidden City this is an absolute feast for the eyes. This landscaped paradise surrounds a stunning lake and is filled with pavilions, pagodas bridges and more!
  • Camping at the base of the Great Wall of China will provide you the incredible opportunity of experiencing the wall in its natural, unrestored state away from the crowds. Witness the sun rising and setting over this ancient monument! You will leave with an everlasting imprint in your mind of beauty and tranquillity, as well as some incredible photos!
  • After pounding the pavement of the Great Wall visit the massive 500 year old tomb complex of the Ming Emperors where you will find the best-preserved Chinese Imperial tombs. See Dingling Tomb that is the final resting place of Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563-1620) and his two empresses. His tomb is the most elaborate of all Ming emperor tombs.
  • Explore Beijing’s hutong area on a rickshaw. Dating back a thousand years, these neighbourhoods of narrow, twisting streets represent 'real life' Beijing. This is a step back in time; you could quite easily forget that you are in one of the busiest cities in the world!
  • Witness one of China's national treasures with a history of over 200 years in Beijing's prestigious Liyuan Theatre. Peking Opera tells stories through a combination of singing, dancing, mime and acrobatics with magnificent, elegant costumes and unique make up providing a creative and fascinating traditional performance.
  • Gasp at a must see Chinese acrobatic performance! You will witness some utterly amazing stunts from China's National Acrobatic Troupe often referred too as the Dream Team of Chinese Acrobatics.
  • Escape the bustle of the city; travel approximately 85 km to the gorgeous gorges, gardens, caves and tunnels of Longquing Gorge.
  • Between mid January and February Longquing Gorge is transformed into a winter wonderland during the Ice Lantern Festival, filled with colourful lanterns, glittering ice carvings and snow sculptures.
  • Take a day trip to Double Dragon Gorge. It is known for its beautiful scenery throughout the seasons. See an array of blossoming flowers during spring, waterfalls in summer, maple trees around the hills in autumn plus spectacular ice displays of frozen rivers, streams and waterfalls in winter.
  • Join a morning session of Tai Chi with some locals at one of the cities parks.
  • A visit to Beijing is not complete without a night spent at Dong Hua Men Night Market with vendors offering everything from scorpion skewers and smelly tofu to duck pancakes and crab cakes!

As the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the city is endowed with a rich Chinese and Islamic heritage. Marvel at the mysterious Terracotta Army in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang and the fascinating tomb of Taoist Emperor Jingdi. Stroll the City Wall for a vantage over the patchwork of old and new.

Heading west along China’s Silk Road route, you will leave behind exotic notions of ‘traditional China’ for an otherworldly adventure that few tourists ever see. Watch the setting sun turn singing desert sands rose-gold, relax in a picturesque crescent shaped oasis, and explore the captivating art shrine at Magao Caves.

At 200 feet below sea level, the area is known as China’s ‘Death Valley’ thanks to its extreme temperatures. It’s surprisingly fertile due to ingenious irrigation so browse the markets for bountiful fresh produce like melons and grapes. Visit one of the world’s oldest (1600 years), largest (6,500 residents) and best preserved ancient cities at Jiaohe or the ruins of a Silk Road city at Gaochang.

Awaken your senses in this sleepless city. The imposing steel skyline sprouts from the iconic harbour waters, enveloped by mountains and parklands. Take in the view from Victoria Peak to get a sense of the scale, then venture into the animated labyrinth of colour, cuisine and cultures.

Regional Highlights

  • Home to three religions (Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism) the Wong Tai Sin Temple claims to ‘make every wish come true upon request’. The beautifully ornamented building is a scenic attraction and important religious centre.
  • Hong Kong is shopping metropolis filled with bargain buys and swanky shopping malls with brand name boutiques. Famous for clothing, accessories and souvenirs the Ladies Market or Temple Street Market is must for anyone looking for a bargain. Alternatively, when on Hong Kong Island Stanley Markets have an enormous selection of jewellery, ornaments and knick-knacks.
  • Embark on a tour of Lantau Island in Hong Kong to visit the Giant Buddha Exhibition Hall at Po Lin (Precious Lotus) Monastery. The Ngong Ping 360 cable car is the ideal springboard to Lantau Island and offers a spectacular view.
  • Admire one of Hong Kong’s oldest temples Man Mo Temple dedicated to the God of Literature. The temple is famous for its rows of earth coloured spirals suspended from the roof.
  • With sweeping views of the city and standing 552m high, Victoria Peak (The Peak) offers the best lookout in Hong Kong. To reach the top a gravity defying tram gives you a spectacular perspective of the city.

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Inspiration and advice

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How to prepare for overland border crossings


Capital city: Beijing
Population:  1.371 billion
Language:  Mandarin
Currency:   Yuan
Time zones: GMT+08:00 (Beijing, Hong Kong, Urumqi)
Electricity: Standard voltage is 220V, 50Hz AC. The Chinese standard socket is the same as used in Australia & New Zealand.
Dialing code: +86

Most nationalities require a visa for China and you must apply for it in advance. Visas are not available on arrival and can be difficult to obtain outside your country of residence.

Sundowners Overland will provide the necessary documentation including your Cover Letter and Proof of Travel Arrangements from our Local Partner in China, which are required to support your visa application. Please note that we can only include the travel arrangements that Sundowners Overland has booked on your behalf. If you have organized any independent travel outside of your Sundowners Overland arrangements, you will need to provide your own proof of these arrangements.

Your Chinese visa is valid for entry within 90 days from the date of issue; you cannot apply for your visa outside of 90 days prior to your intended date of entry into China.

Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information on the cost and method of payment. Cash is generally not accepted and often payment will need to be arranged before you apply with the embassy/consulate. The actual application process will vary depending on your nationality and the consulate/embassy at which you will be applying. Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information.

Travel Insurance is mandatory for all group journeys and Sundowners Overland strongly recommends travel insurance for all other journeys. You must ensure that your insurance policy covers you for the entire duration of your journey, for all activities you will be participating in and that you have purchased the highest level of cover available to you for medical emergencies (including repatriation/evacuation cover) which are relevant to ALL the destinations that you will be visiting. Contact us for further information and quotes.

If you are taking special medication, it is a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor to show authorities if necessary. Since some medications can also be affected by changes in temperature or require special care, we recommend you discuss this with your doctor before departure.

Being that China is such a vast country the climate is extremely varied. Cooler temperatures mean fewer tourists (apart from Chinese New Year) allowing ample, crowd-free time to explore the phenomenal sights on offer in each of the regions. December to February also offers the world’s largest and most famous ice festival in Harbin, showcasing spectacular sculptures of ice and snow, some large enough to walk through.

Spring (March –May) and autumn (September-October) after often regarded as the most comfortable time to visit China. Autumn brings a vibrant amber and golden colour palette to the trees and mountains surrounding China’s Great Wall, while spring produces an explosion of colourful blooms and blossom trees. The summer months can be extremely hot and sometimes a bit wet. Depending on the regions you are visiting. However the days are long and the nights are warm making it a great time to soak in Chinese culture.

Chinese currency is the Renminbi also known as the Yuan, and more colloquially as ‘Quai’. Access to 24 hour ATM’s in larger cities and tourist hubs is common and convenient. China is still very much a cash based society, although large establishments such as hotels, restaurants and department stores will usually accept credit cards. When you are purchasing from street vendors and markets and travelling to remote/rural areas it is best to be prepared and carry cash.

In Beijing…

  • 2 course meal & a drink in a decent restaurant USD$10-$20
  • Bottle of local beer USD$0.50
  • A Coke USD$1.00
  • Short taxi ride USD$2.00
  • Litre bottle of water USD$0.70
  • Peking Duck dinner USD$15.00 – $35.00

*Prices are approximate average costs based on prices s at 11/03/17 and are based on the equivalent amount of local currency.

Borders are an integral part of our journey – patience, a sense of humour and a positive outlook will ensure you enjoy this experience. Border crossings take a long time due to customs and immigration searching trains – often full of traders – bogey changes (an amazing sight at the China/Mongolia border), and train schedules. Most formalities take place on the train, you should not have to remove your luggage or leave the train.

After collecting all the paperwork both customs and immigration officials can conduct a search of the compartment and baggage. You may be asked to open your bags/money belts for custom officials – although this is rare. Immigration officials will search the wagon and all storage areas for stowaways.

The train’s toilets are locked for the duration of the border crossing. Occasionally there is a 20-minute opening when crossing from one border to the next, however as general rule this is not allowed so it is totally up to the good nature of your train attendant.

On arrival into China you will need to complete a Chinese Customs Declaration Form regardless of whether or not you have anything to declare. Although China is opening up, there are still a number of items considered to be culturally, politically or religiously sensitive and therefore are prohibited in Mainland China. Please check with the nearest Chinese embassy before bringing items of this nature into China. Some items that officials have questioned in the past include pictures and books by the Dalai Lama, anything associated with the Falun Gong movement and literature critical of the Chinese government etc.

Chinese officials are especially wary of travellers taking items of cultural significance out of the country. Anything antique should have a certificate allowing you to export the item or it will be confiscated. Likewise, customs officials are on the lookout for any religious items (Buddhist flags, scriptures, etc.).

  • Respect and manners go a long way in Chinese culture, as they do in any culture.  Learning a little of the language, reading as much about the history and culture of the region and observing local gatherings is a great way to start.
  • Various other forms of behavior perceived as anti-social in the western world are considered perfectly normal in China. The widespread habit of spitting can be observed in public places. A powerful spit can even be delivered while in conversation with a stranger. Smoking is almost common practice among men. As in many countries an offer of a cigarette is an gesture of goodwill, non-smokers should be respectful when declining the offer.
  • Being such a crowed culture, the Chinese comfort zone of personal space is much tighter than that perceived in the western world. Go with it!
  • Whilst your mum has always told you not to slurp your soup, in China this is common practice. Feel free to bring your bowl up to your mouth and slurp away! The biggest food faux-par you can make while here is to stick your chopsticks upright in your rice – it’s considered bad luck. Also don't lick your chopstick, point them at another person or use them to spear food.
  • Like most western countries, a handshake is the typical form of greeting in China, but a slight bow (from the shoulders) won’t go astray. Always stand when you are meeting someone new and refer to them by their full name unless they have told you otherwise.
  • Pointing with your index finger is considered rude in China, gesture with an open hand instead.
  • When all else fails, smile in China. It shows you have no ill intentions and can work wonders in getting better service.
  • When haggling at markets, establish a rapport with the vendor, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's not a price war… it’s meant to be fun!
  • Please ask for permission before taking photos of people and their way of life, including children.

Most toilets in China are traditional squat toilets, although western style toilets can sometimes be found in modern hotels and restaurants. We suggest you carry your own supply of toilet paper and hand wash, as these are rarely provided.

Mobile phone coverage is generally pretty good in large cities (even in the metro), when venturing to more remote and rural areas it can be a bit hit and miss. Some cities in China offer free citywide Wi-Fi, while others offer free Wi-Fi in many public places.

We recommend you activate your global roaming with your mobile phone service provider or purchase a local Chinese SIM card on your arrival, however you must have an unlocked phone for a Chinese SIM card to work. The three main retailers are China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom.

One thing to be aware of is that many of the social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not accessible in China.