Heading To China This Summer

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Deni

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Just scored a really nice price on plane tickets from Chicago to China in July for my wife, daughter and me. Will try to throw Mongolia in to the mix as well. I've been to Taiwan before but not China.

Anyone here who has done the trains there any pointers would be awesome. I've looked through a lot of the info on Seat61.com and know how to book high speed tickets but people who have been on the ground there often have some nice specific quirks to point out.

I guess the big thing I'm wondering how easy/hard it is to traverse the system without being able to speak/read Mandarin.

Plan to start in Beijing then go to Mongolia (want to take the Trans-Mongolian Railway I'm told they won't sell you tickets for Beijing-Ulaanbaatar in the summer peak season), then down to Xi'an, then to Xingpingzhen/ Yangshuo, and back to Beijing. With a few cushion days in there to hit maybe one more location.
 

flitcraft

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In the Beijing railway stations, they have a window for English speakers, so that makes buying your ticket easy. This isn't true in the smaller cities, though, but Xian and Yangshuo are big foreign tourist destinations, so you'll be fine there. Ulaanbaatar doesn't see as many foreigners, so I would recommend that you have your Beijing hotel front desk staff write out your ticketing request in Chinese. In fact, you might as well have them create slips of papers in Chinese for all of your anticipated train ticket purchases.

And be sure to have your passports--these days you need them to buy rail tickets. I learned this the hard way--I went via the Metro to the Shanghai highspeed rail station, which took me over an hour, only to discover then that I couldn't buy a ticket to Suzhou (less than an hour away by high speed rail) without my passport. Being unwilling to just turn around and retrace by Metro unless I absolutely had to, I pulled out my Global Entry card and explained in my limited Chinese that it was like a passport identification. One long consultation with two supervisors later, I had my ticket. While enroute to Suzhou, though, it occurred to me that I was going to have to have the same discussion all over again when I returned to Shanghai. (As it turned out, having the outbound ticket and explaining that the Shanghai ticketing staff accepted the Global Entry card as ID made the situation go away.) Still, I wouldn't rely on anything but a passport, now.
 

Deni

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Good to remember. Even though I travel quite a bit I often forget which countries you really need to remember to keep your passport on you.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Still, I wouldn't rely on anything but a passport, now.
I rarely carry my actual passport when I'm not crossing an international border, and find such rules impractical and insecure for daily use, but I do normally carry a color laser photocopy of the primary information pages. This doesn't help in cases where the staff expect to scan your details by OCR or RFID, but being able to make a photocopy of a photocopy seems good enough in many cases. Personally I think it would make more sense to allow an A/B system where the formal entry document (A) is allowed to be stored in a secure location while a day-to-day verification card (B) fits in a normal sized wallet sleeve. There are forms of this solution available for limited regional use, including here in North America, but not for global intercontinental travel (at least insofar as I am aware).
 
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Deni

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I rarely carry my actual passport when I'm not crossing an international border, and find such rules impractical and insecure for daily use, but I do normally carry a color laser photocopy of the primary information pages. This doesn't help in cases where the staff expect to scan your details by OCR or RFID, but being able to make a photocopy of a photocopy seems good enough in many cases. Personally I think it would make more sense to allow an A/B system where the formal entry document (A) is allowed to be stored in a secure location while a day-to-day verification card (B) fits in a normal sized wallet sleeve. There are forms of this solution available for limited regional use, including
here in North America, but not for global intercontinental travel (at least insofar as I am aware).
I do the same usually but there are countries (usually oppressive regimes) where you are required to have your passport on you at all times and can be spot checked by authorities at any time. Russia still has that rule leftover from the Soviet days and also legally required in China. I hate having mine on me and usually leave it in a hotel safe when I travel most places (I even forgot our passports once when crossing in to Sweden from Denmark and back for a day trip. No problem) but not an option in China.
 

flitcraft

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I've never been asked to show a passport in China (except for changing currency and buying train tickets!), and I travel to China frequently. Things are definitely tighter than they used to be, though. When I renewed my passport recently, I gave serious thought to getting a passport card in addition to the passport, for using as ID when out and about in countries like China. I didn't, in the end, but I did think about it.
 

v v

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flitcraft, have you ever visited SW China?
 

Devil's Advocate

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I do the same usually but there are countries (usually oppressive regimes) where you are required to have your passport on you at all times and can be spot checked by authorities at any time. Russia still has that rule leftover from the Soviet days and also legally required in China. I hate having mine on me and usually leave it in a hotel safe when I travel most places (I even forgot our passports once when crossing in to Sweden from Denmark and back for a day trip. No problem) but not an option in China.
I believe carrying documentation as a non-citizen without permanent resident status is a legal requirement in most countries, including the US.

I've never been asked to show a passport in China (except for changing currency and buying train tickets!), and I travel to China frequently. Things are definitely tighter than they used to be, though. When I renewed my passport recently, I gave serious thought to getting a passport card in addition to the passport, for using as ID when out and about in countries like China. I didn't, in the end, but I did think about it.
Maybe China is different, but I would not expect most Asian countries to recognize or accept a North American passport card as legal documentation.
 
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TiBike

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I did a Mongolia/China trip in 2018. Booked my rail tickets through a service. I used china-diy-travel.com but there are others. They were very careful to tell me to double and triple check my information, so it matched my passport exactly. I needed the passport to pick up the tickets at the station. They also gave me directions in English and Mandarin to show to cab drivers and at the station when I picked up my tickets. I took the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, a 24-hour train in a four berth sleeper compartment from Nanjing to Guangzhou, and standard trains elsewhere. No problems.

In Mongolia, I flew. The train schedule didn't work for me.

I needed my passport as I walked around Beijing, particularly in the Tiananmen Square area -- they even had checkpoints set up on the street. IIRC, there were also checkpoints in metro stations elsewhere in China. I don't know if a passport card or something else would have worked. I keep my passport with me when I travel out of the U.S.

I mostly used the metro to get around Chinese cities, with an occasional cab ride here and there. Rode on the Mag-Lev in Shanghai, too – that was fun. It's a technology demonstration more than practical transportation, but no less cool for it. I booked my hotels mostly on booking.com, which let me print out confirmations in English and Mandarin, which was very helpful when I needed to take a cab from the train station. Chinese cabbies do not speak any English – I've yet to come across one who does, in either the PRC or ROC. I also picked up a business card or similar when I checked into hotels, and kept it with me just in case I took a cab home.

Enjoy the trip! And in case you need a spa treatment while you're in Mongolia...

destroy.jpg
 

flitcraft

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Speaking of spas, don't miss having foot massage while in China. It's cheap and wonderful. Actually,, massage in general is one of the best things to do in China. For full-body massage, a lot of places advertise "blind man massage," which I think is intended to make the recipient feel that their modesty is being preserved. Though, I've heard from Chinese friends that, while traditionally, this was a way for blind folks to have a business, these days many of the "blind" massage providers aren't.
 

flitcraft

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flitcraft, have you ever visited SW China?
Not for quite some time. I visited Lijiang in Yunnan Province back in around 2004. It's a fantastic place, tucked into an area of snowcapped rugged peaks. The town itself has a well-preserved old town, with a lot of unique non-Han Chinese culture. It's small and walkable, laced with canals and streams. It's one of the best places to visit in China I know--although keep in mind that it is almost certainly a lot more touristy today--the Chinese middle class has gotten tourist fever! Still, I suspect it is no more touristy than places like Venice.

When I went, the only way to get there was to fly to Kunming and then train to Lijiang--as I recall, it was a long train ride, maybe eight hours or more. I assume that now there are flights from Kunming, though.

I've been to Chengdu in Sichuan, too, though mainly for work, so not much touristing for me there.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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Speaking of spas, don't miss having foot massage while in China. It's cheap and wonderful. Actually,, massage in general is one of the best things to do in China. For full-body massage, a lot of places advertise "blind man massage," which I think is intended to make the recipient feel that their modesty is being preserved. Though, I've heard from Chinese friends that, while traditionally, this was a way for blind folks to have a business, these days many of the "blind" massage providers aren't.
Blind massage is not about preserving modesty so much as converting a disability into a marketable benefit. The theory being that a substantial reduction in sensory input leads to a deeper appreciation and understanding of your remaining senses. Increased sensitivity to tactile feedback supposedly allows for a more advanced method of massage. I'm not sure if this theory has been tested in scientific research, but on a casual level it makes sense.
 
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TiBike

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Many of my last few trips to Asia have taken me through Taipei airport (I'm a fan of EVA Air), and I've done the blind masseuse thing on my layover every time: outstanding. It's a tradition in many Asian countries that goes back centuries. It's a job where sight offers no advantage, and the lack thereof might.
 

west point

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Get our China visa now ! Your passport will need a full empty page for it unless that has changed. The Corona virus problem you will just have to wait. Make sure you will not be quarantined when back in the US !
 

v v

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Not for quite some time. I visited Lijiang in Yunnan Province back in around 2004. It's a fantastic place, tucked into an area of snowcapped rugged peaks. The town itself has a well-preserved old town, with a lot of unique non-Han Chinese culture. It's small and walkable, laced with canals and streams. It's one of the best places to visit in China I know--although keep in mind that it is almost certainly a lot more touristy today--the Chinese middle class has gotten tourist fever! Still, I suspect it is no more touristy than places like Venice.

When I went, the only way to get there was to fly to Kunming and then train to Lijiang--as I recall, it was a long train ride, maybe eight hours or more. I assume that now there are flights from Kunming, though.

I've been to Chengdu in Sichuan, too, though mainly for work, so not much touristing for me there.
Thanks for your ideas flitcraft, I put both of the places you mentioned on our schedule but the Coronavirus has put paid to our journey through China this year, we decided this 3 days ago. It was a combination of the risk? of a health problem and what would happen flying into LAX from Shanghai and how US authorities would view us arriving from China, not worth it in our view.

When we reach Tashkent or more probably Almaty we will turn left up to Nur-Sultan then Omsk in Russia. We'll visit a couple of cities on the route to Vladivostok and spend a week in Japan before flying to LAX for the Gathering.

It's a great shame as we were very much looking forward to our first real visit to China and in particular the desert of Inner Mongolia in the north west, and the whole of SW China down to the Vietnam border. Still, Japan and Tokyo in particular will more than make up for it in a different way so we have heard, thank you again.
 

jis

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You could possibly throw in a side trip to Outer Mongolia i.e. the country Mongolia (Ulan Batar) from Irkutsk perhaps, without running into the Chinese nCoV-2019 mess?
 

Devil's Advocate

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Many of my last few trips to Asia have taken me through Taipei airport (I'm a fan of EVA Air), and I've done the blind masseuse thing on my layover every time: outstanding. It's a tradition in many Asian countries that goes back centuries. It's a job where sight offers no advantage, and the lack thereof might.
I only tried it once but thought it was pretty good. I'm also a fan of EVA, both in terms of service and schedule, but I'm not a fan of connecting through TPE. Spending 17 hours gate-to-gate on a single flight is also a bit much as I get older and less resilient.

Still, Japan and Tokyo in particular will more than make up for it in a different way so we have heard, thank you again.
One of my earliest overseas visits was a short trip to Tokyo. Most people tend to focus on the touristy stuff, and I did too at first, but I think Tokyo's deeper appeal is found while exploring random areas that aren't part of any tourist map or travel guide. At first glance it looks a lot like any other big city, but if you slow down and take a closer look you'll see all sorts of quirks and curiosities. Quiet shrines and gardens tucked around corners, vehicles suddenly driving out of car-sized elevators, kids dressed up for 7-5-3 (special photos), hidden construction zones with decibel meters, and weird vans blasting political messages. Following your nose through a larger train station or subterranean market can lead you to amazing culinary discoveries. Japanese food is very nice and the presentation is usually top notch, but Japanese interpretations of Western food can be utterly mind-blowing.
 
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v v

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You could possibly throw in a side trip to Outer Mongolia i.e. the country Mongolia (Ulan Batar) from Irkutsk perhaps, without running into the Chinese nCoV-2019 mess?
jis, did actually work out that exact trip once we had decided to divert around China, very do-able as you write. Plus for several years we have had a hankering to visit the Genghis Khan complex outside Ulan Batar and take a look at the Outer Mongolian desert too, but not certain how US authorities would view Mongolia in respect of this virus so after a lot of debate decided not to visit this time.

We have set out minds on reaching the Gathering this year so don't want more obstacles than long distance travel creates naturally, this journey is starting to feel a bit like Around the World in 80 Days, ha ha ha.



I only tried it once but thought it was pretty good. I'm a big fan of EVA, both in terms of service and schedule, but I'm not a fan of TPE. Spending 17 hours gate-to-gate on a single flight is also a bit much as I get older and less resilient.


One of my earliest overseas visits was a short trip to Tokyo. Most people tend to focus on the touristy stuff, and I did too at first, but I think Tokyo's deeper appeal is found while exploring random areas that aren't part of any tourist map or travel guide. At first glance it looks a lot like any other big city, but if you slow down and take a closer look you'll see all sorts of quirks and curiosities. Quiet shrines and gardens tucked around corners, vehicles suddenly driving out of car-sized elevators, kids dressed up for 7-5-3 (special photos), hidden construction zones with decibel meters, and weird vans blasting political messages. Following your nose through a larger train station or subterranean market can lead you to amazingly culinary discoveries. Japanese food is very nice and the presentation is usually top notch, but Japanese interpretations of Western food can be utterly mind-blowing.
Thank you for that DA, completely with you on your view of travel... beautifully described if I may say. We will keep all this in mind once we arrive but the Japan section of the journey may start in Tokyo arriving by plane or in Sakaiminato by ferry, we are yet to decide on that.

I also wish to either visit Nagasaki or Hiroshima having visited the White Sands Atom Bomb Museum a few years ago, that for me was one of the most moving events on my life and want to try to understand the entirety of those events.

Of course there are the Sinkansen Bullet Trains to look forward to too, from photos they are very much like the Spanish 'Duck' HS trains, we'll see.

Thanks to both of you for your inputs, it's why we love this forum it is so diverse.

Edit: For any movie fans out there, in the film Around the World in 80 Days did the wharf for the steam ship from Hiroshima to San Francisco really exist, was this a regular run in the late 1800's ?
 
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