I invited quite a few people to come and visit me in China this year. If I didn’t invite you then I probably just forgot. It may seem a little daunting at first, but it’s really not as difficult or as expensive as you might imagine. In order to encourage, reassure and coerce, here is a shortish guide for anyone considering coming.
When to come: The winter in Beijing is colder than you can imagine, then in early spring there will inevitably be dust storms coming in from the Gobi. May, June and early July should be nice. Late July and August may be a little too hot and rainy for some people. Autumn is perhaps the best time of all. Other parts of China may differ.
How to get here:
There are three ways: The easy way, the fairly easy way, and the fairly difficult way.
The easy way – A return flight from London to Beijing is currently being offered at £469.50 by Emirates, £403 from Aeroflot and £412 by Qatar airways. These may sound quite expensive, but remember that this is your only major expense, and that there is a cheaper option;
The fairly easy way – It used to be possible to get a return flight to Hong Kong for £150, but since Oasis Hong Kong went broke prices have gone up a bit. Nevertheless, it’s still a way to save money. Air New Zealand have been good recently, but the best price I can find right now is £336 from Qantas. Once you arrive in HK you can book a train ticket to Beijing from the airport. You don’t need an extra visa, and it’s pretty easy to get around by yourself. I love Hong Kong and you might too, so it’s worth considering. If you take the train I advise going for a “hard sleeper” compartment and go for the middle bunk!
The fairly difficult way – Why not take the train? Ok, it’s quite a long way, but it’s an interesting trip by itself, and definitely worth the surprisingly low price. The main issues to deal with are Russian visas (not expensive but a bit of hassle) and booking train tickets. If you are interested then e-mail me and I can give you a lot more information.
These are much easier than you might think, but will involve a trip either to London or Manchester. If you live in one of these then this shouldn’t be too much trouble. If you don’t then you can always apply online. Either way you need to use this website. First make an appointment, then fill in the form, turn up at the office with your passport, and come back a few days to collect it. The office is here and the price should be £30 per person, plus £35 “application service fees” (which I think is a scam personally, but that’s just how it goes).
You can get a visa for any amount of time up to 60 days and it always costs the same amount. Don’t worry about being refused, I have literally never heard of this happening.
If you’re just one person then we’ll have room for you in our new house, I hope. Otherwise it might be better to book a hotel. Prices for these are surprisingly cheap, ranging from a cheap but passable dorm bed at £2 per night up to a good quality hotel at £30. Don’t worry about this until about a week before you get here. Unless you’re arriving during Chinese New Year or the national holiday in September there will be beds available, and booking three months in advance just means they are guaranteed to have forgotten about your reservation.
What to do when you’re here:
In Beijing there’s the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, etc, but aside from these there are a thousand things to do like cycling round the hutongs, the 798 art district and lots of shopping if that’s your thing. There are also very many good bars and endless great restaurants to try, even if you don’t eat meat.
If you’re here for a week or more you might like to go to Xi’An, home of the terracotta warriors, or if you’re thinking of a few weeks I’d advise you to get down to the southwest to visitYangshuo, Chengdu or (best of all) Yunnan.
But I don’t speak Chinese!
I would be lying if I said that everyone here can speak English, but there always seems to be someone around who can help (while practicing their English of course). Certainly if you’re just staying with me, going to hotels, etc, you may not need to speak any Chinese at all. I find that the only time I’m really stretched is in restaurants, which is probably why I can remember the names of 5 different Aubergine-based dishes but seem to have forgotten how to say “how old are you?”
If you want to learn a bit of Mandarin I can send you some very useful mp3s.
So, there’s no excuse then. See you soon.