China can offer one of the planet's most overwhelming culture shocks. But is doesn't have to. The Manual contains an overview of the important information you need to start planning a China guided tour. It's based on more than two decades of experience arranging bespoke travel in China. And it's supplemented by reviews and information that past clients have shared.
This information doesn't not pertain to be conclusive. All our clients received more detailed, personalized pre-departure notes based on their itinerary, including dining recommendations, local contacts and detailed arrival notes.
April 29-May 5: Golden Week*
April: Cherry Blossom (Sakura)
September Sumo Festival
Giants Baseball Season
September Sumo Festival
April Cherry Blossom
September Sumo Festival
* Avoid travel
- Japan is the most expensive travel destination in the world.
- Finer hotels can fill up to a year in advance
- English is not widely spoken
- Credit cards are not wdely accepted
- Japan is the safest travel destinations in the world
- Mount Fuji is not visible much of the year
Arrive and Depart Tokyo's Narita Airport, or Osaka, by Japan, United, American, and ANA Airlines. Contact us for specific routing and a quote.
No visa is required for Japan. Visitors are permitted a stay of 90 days.
Private trips from US$500 per day, per person
First time in Asia, History, World Heritage, Rituals, Festivals, Culture, Cuisine, Honeymoon, Arts, Pottery
China, Hong Kong, Taiwan
Best: April & May, September & November
Good: December - March
Avoid : July & August (heat & humidity)
- Japan is a country of four seasons, although it's important to recognize the regional diversity, with the archipelago stretching from subtropical islands in the southwest to the snow and ice of Hokkaido in the far north.
- Cherry blossom ushers in the season of spring, an ideal time to visit. Although there's a four-week rainy season across parts of Japan in June, the summer is warm and humid, with many festivals and special events taking place.
- Fall is cool, made especially beautiful by the autumnal colors. Southern Japan is mild and pleasant in winter but you can expect cold temperatures and short days throughout most of the rest of the country.
- Mid-March through to early May is Japan's iconic cherry blossom season. Destinations in the south and west bloom first; Tokyo's first bloom is typically around the end of March. Places like Sapporo in the north bloom later, extending the season into May. Note that the cherry blossom season is the most popular time to visit Japan and accommodation is booked up long in advance.
- The Takayama Spring Festival (April 14 – 15) and Autumn Festival (October 9 – 10) transform a traditional wooden town with festival floats and a vibrant insight into traditions, Karakuri dolls among the things you'll get acquainted with.
- Gion Matsuri is Japan's most famous festival, filling Kyoto with additional enchantment throughout the entire month of July. July 17th and July 24th are the two most important dates.
- Hundreds of ice sculptures fill the northern city of Sapporo during the Sapporo Snow Festival, which typically takes place in the first full week of February.
- For a really local experience, consider the Chichibu Night Festival on December 2nd and 3rd, featuring lots of traditional flute music and many artistic floats.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
An engaging realistic historical novel set during a period of Japanese history known as Sakoku when the Dutch held a trading concession with Japan in the late 18th century. The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay. [SEE MORE TRAVEL BOOKS FOR JAPAN]
Kurosawa's masterpiece, Ran. 1960s' international art-house sensation, Woman in the Dunes. Miyazaki's wonderful animated films, including Academy Award-winner and Japan's highest grossing movie of all time Spirited Away.
- Japan is the most expensive travel destination in the world.
- Finer hotels can fill up to a year in advance
Our comprehensive pre-tour cover every detail of your trip and travel in Japan.
English is not widely spoken
Japanese Travel Myths
"The Japanese practice a refined culture and care must be taken not to offended". Relax, there are certainly some no-nos to avoid when traveling in Japan (such as touching people) but even if you speak impeccable Japanese and are unfailing polite, you are and will always be gaijin (foreigner).
Japan is very modern. You will be surprised in many ways Japan remains very low-tech. For example, credit cards are not widely accepted, ATMs are scarce, there is no Uber and yet taxi drivers do not often use GPS.
- Japan combines tradition with hyper-modernity and nowhere is this better explored than the accommodation. Stay in authentic ryokans and temples, or discover some of the world's most elaborate luxury hotels.
- Tokyo is a typical starting point with a variety of direct connections from cities across the US and Europe. Osaka is a good alternative for incoming flights, another major city with a detailed network on onward domestic flights. On many Japan private tours it's worth investigating a multi-stop flight using both Tokyo and Osaka.
- Traveling around Japan is a major part of the experience. While domestic flights are required to reach the outlying islands, most travel is done by train, with high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains zooming through the country, and deliberately slow trains offering beautiful journeys through rural landscapes. This rail network enables ambitious itineraries to be realized, with a chance to stop in destinations all across the country.
- Visitors of most Western countries do not require a visa to visit Japan, including those with EU, US, Australian or Canadian passports.
- Upon arrival, visitors are given a 90-day visa-free stay.
- Japan is one of the world's healthiest nations, something that partly emanates from the incredible cleanliness that the country is well known for. Health facilities are groundbreaking, at least on par with what can be found in major Western nations. Ensure travel / health insurance is up to date before travel.
- Our private Japan tours start from US$500/day, including transport, accommodation, private guided tours, and lots of extras.
- There is no single best time to go in a country of such dramatic climatic diversity, except the busy lunar new year
- Overall, April & May, and Late September to Mid-november are best months for weather. July and August are hot, with December through March being chilly.
- As a general overview: summers are warm, winters can be cold and some rural areas become inaccessible, spring and fall are ideal for accessing the breadth of China's destinations.
- Chinese New Year – late-January to early-February (exact date varies each year). It's a great local experience but there's a huge surge in local tourism, making attractions busy.
- Lantern Festival – spectacular displays as the Chinese New Year period comes to a close.
- Dragon Boat Festival – tradition and color throughout the country.
- China has a 3000 year history of hosting guests in the most regal of styles.
- The Accommodation can mingle history with modernity and it always complements the travel experience.
- Luxury Chinese hotel brands complement major Western hotel names, particularly in the cities.
- There's also a whole array of inimitable accommodation, like guesthouses in heritage buildings, tea houses, sleeping at the Great Wall and huts in bamboo forest.
- There's been an exponential growth in the network of flights into China, accompanying the major development of airports across the country.
- The three eastern cities continue to offer the widest choice for arriving travelers: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong.
- Indochina Travel can arrange international airfares as part of a China luxury tour.
- A modern, world-class transport infrastructure has made all of China accessible, allowing ambitious itineraries to be realized.
- High-speed trains connect many major destinations. Our private China tours predominantly use the wide network of domestic flights, maximizing your time in the country.
- A pre-arranged Chinese visa is required for visitors of most countries, including US, Canadian and EU citizens.
- Indochina Travel can arrange your China visa in advance.
- No visa is required for a visit to Hong Kong.
- China has developed an excellent medical infrastructure, with the care moving from imitating to innovating. Ensure your travel insurance is up to date before travel.
- In the event of emergency, we have local contacts on the ground who can assist.
- We supply all our clients with 24-hour emergency contact numbers.
- Our private China tours start from US$400/day, including transport, accommodation, private guided tours, and lots of extras.
- You can also call us in San Francisco at (415) 680-3788. Or leave your contact details and we'll get back in touch.
Time Zone: GMT + 8 (entire country)
Country Code Prefix: +86
Mobile: 3G and 4G compatibility
Electrical: 220 volts AC, slanted three-prong outlet (three-prong UK style in Hong Kong)
Emergency Numbers: Police 110, Ambulance 120, Fire 119.
U.S. Embassy Beijing: 010-8531 3000
After hours: 010-8531-4000
Embassy of Canada Beijing: (86 10) 5139-4000
British Embassy Beijing: 86 (10) 5192-4000
Canadian Cons. Shanghai: (86-21) 3279-2800
After hours: 10-800-140-0125
U.S. Embassy Shanghai: 021-3217-4650
After hours: (86-10) 8531-4000 (Beijing)
U.S. Embassy Hong Kong: (852) 2841-2211
Climatic regional differences are more pronounced n China than any other country in the world. So while one region is enjoying its prime visitor season, another is inaccessible due to mountains of show. Rural China will be -40ºF in winter. Hong Kong midsummer hovers around 100ºF. So think less about the ideal time to visit China and more about the ideal time to visit the destinations you're most interested in.
As a general rule, summers in China are hot. Even the snowy summits can't disguise temperatures that roast in the 80's and 90's. Summer is also the peak travel season due to local student holidays. Winter is obviously colder. That makes some destinations inaccessible, but also brings central and southern China into pleasant and dry weather. Spring and fall are somewhere in between.
Beijing experiences four distinct seasons. The best weather is September through November when it is sunny and dry. Spring runs from March through May and also brings pleasant temperatures. Winter can be cold with temperatures below 0°F, but seeing the Great Wall and the Summer Palace under a white cloak of snow is a magical experience on a China guided tour.
The eastern coast and destinations around Shanghai can be very humid during summer. Winter is pleasant but bring a raincoat. Spring and fall are ideal.
With its tropical climate, the cooler winter months are perfect for travel to Hong Hong and southern China. Spring and fall are more than bearable but summer is hot and tropical.
Xi'an and central China is good to visit throughout the year. Most of Chengdu and southeastern China can be visited during any month; winter snow makes some destinations inaccessible.
In Yunnan Province, a tropical climate makes for sticky sweaty summers and plenty of mosquitos. With long sleeves and repellent, it's still a good time to visit. Winter is warm and the remaining months are ideal for visiting this beautiful corner of the country.
Obtain adequate cancellation insurance. Each year, we have several clients who must cancel trips for the most unexpected reasons. Cancellation insurance also covers trip delay, invaluable for booking alternative flights and hotels on the spot. We can provide a competitive quote through our partner, CSA Protection.
Similarly, ensure you have adequate emergency medical insurance, which covers urgent care and emergency air evacuation. Please ask us for a quote through our long-time (since 1996) in-country partner International SOS, which unlike intermediaries like TravelGuard, does not require time-delaying calls to international agents for services.
Your passport must have at least six months remaining validity from the date you intend to leave China.
You will need to renew your passport if it expires less than six months after the end of your trip.
Almost all travelers require a visa for stays in excess of 72 hours. This process can be done in person at the Chinese Embassy, or by sending your passport and completed forms to the Chinese Embassy. Or through Indochina Travel.
A standard tourist visa will be valid for 30 days and must be used within three months of the date of issue. A double entry visa will usually be valid for two visits of up to 30 days within a six month period.
There are some nuances to the visa system. Hong Kong and Macau are not part of mainland China. Most visitors can visit these states visa free for up to 90 days. However, when arriving from the mainland, travelers are stamped out of China and into Hong Kong. To return to the mainland you'll need a double entry visa.
The other exception to requiring a visa is 72-hour stopovers in one of five cities. Visitors can now stopover in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Chongqing, without having a visa. You're limited to staying within the metropolitan district in question and must have an onward flight. Note that a return flight is not eligible. This new rule provides opportunities to see a bit of China on a wider trip through Asia.
Indochina Travel can apply for your China visa. We do this for thousands of clients and it can save significant time and hassle when dealing with the Chinese embassy.
Regional and domestic airlines restrict luggage to one piece with a weight of no more than 20 Kilograms (44 pounds) per person. Your passport, travel documents, jewelry, money, camera, fragile items and any medication should be hand-carried and not checked in.
On domestic flights, each passenger is allowed one piece of hand luggage.
Our China guided tours often connect a wide variety of destinations in just one or two weeks. You'll want to pack lightly for mobility and convenience as well as having a day pack for excursions.
Indochina Travel can provide a detailed packing list before arrival, based on your destinations and time of travel.
Revealing clothing is not as much an issue in China as other conservative cultures in the region. When visiting religious shrines and temples, modest dress is required and easily removable footwear is recommended since such sacred grounds must be visited only in bare feet (with no socks). Having a sarong to use as quick wrap may be useful.
In remote areas, Western-style sit toilets may be scarce. Carry extra tissue on you for such stops.
All our private China tours included airport meet and greet services, with chauffeured transfers throughout.
ARRIVAL: No visa is required for Hong Kong. Escorted China tours include a private transfer to city hotels (35 minutes). If you have a stopover in Hong Kong, the airport has ATMs to obtain cash before you transfer into the city.
TRANSIT: No visa is required for Hong Kong although you will pass through a quick immigration and security screening checkpoint. The airport is easy to navigate and efficient, leaving plenty of time to shop and eat. Level 7, the top floor, has noodle and fast food restaurants, including a McDonald's. There are also two Starbucks on level 5 and 6, which open at 7:00 a.m. The airport offers free Wifi Internet access and device charging stations (British-style adapter required).
ARRIVAL: Visa required in advance of arrival. You will meet your escort after exiting baggage hall and take a private transfer to a city hotel.
TRANSIT: No visa is required for transit to connecting international flight or a layover of less than 72 hours. However, you will need to clear immigration before your connecting flight; a copy of your flight itinerary is required for this. The new airport is easy to navigate and efficient, with many places to shop and eat. The airport offers free WiFi Internet access although you must request an access code at any information kiosk.
ARRIVAL: Visa required in advance of arrival. Meet escort after exiting baggage hall for a private transfer to your hotel.
TRANSIT: No visa is required for transit to connecting international flight or layovers less than 72 hours. Note that you will need to pass through immigration before connecting with your onward flight; a copy of your flight itinerary is required for this. Free WiFi is available throughout the airport and there is a food court on the top floor.
Most hotels now provide free WiFi internet. There's been a surge in mobile internet connectivity with 3G and 4G connections available.
Note that China blocks a number of popular Western websites, including Facebook and media sources. This ban isn't applied in Hong Kong.
All top-end hotels and some top-end restaurants add a ‘service charge' of 10% or 15%. Tipping is not customary at these venues as you are already paying the ‘tourist price.' An appropriate tip for guides and drivers ranges from USD 10-20 per person/day.
The local currency is the Yuan or Renminbi.
Major credit cards are accepted in hotels and larger establishments. ATM facilities are found throughout the country but it can be recommended to stock up on cash before visiting rural areas.
US dollars are easy to change although travelers cheques are becoming increasingly difficult to change.
Language is one of China's great challenges. And lovable surprises. In most countries, it's relatively to easy to learn a few basic phrases and combine them with locals' pidgin English. Unfortunately, Mandarin's tonal structure can make ordering a bowl of rice a real learning curve.
Reading often brings the most frustration. Turn up at the train station and a dazzling collection of symbols indicate your destination. So which is Shanghai? And which is Guangzhou? And what do all the strange lines and slants mean on the train ticket? It's time like these that you're always glad of an English-speaking local guide.
In the last ten years there's been a huge move by the Chinese government to incorporating Chinese. This is centered on Beijing and the city was transformed for the 2008 Olympics. Shanghai is even more multilingual, and Hong Kong will pose no problems (it was a British colony after all). In these, and many other major cities in the east of China you'll find signs in English in train stations and on the streets. Rural communities and smaller destinations are where you'll face greater challenges.
All our escorted China tours are led by experienced English-speaking guides. They also act as translators, enabling you to communicate with people across the country. High-end tourist establishments understand the importance of English communication and we only recommended hotels where English is spoken.
China is a very safe and friendly place to travel. Medical facilities are excellent and crime is extremely low.
The following information must be viewed as a guide. It is not intended, nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Indochina Travel does not guarantee the accuracy, currency or completeness of any of this information and will not be liable for any loss, damage or injury directly or indirectly caused by this material or its use.
Digestion problems are the most common traveler complaint in China but may come on due to travel fatigue, heat, or other reasons aside from food-borne bacteria. Still, the old travel maxim holds true: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it. Raw vegetables or any other uncooked foods will rarely be served in China, aside from luxury hotels and high-end restaurants. Also avoid dairy products which are not typically prepared or eaten in the region.
Chinese cuisine is typically fresh and safe to eat. Some of the most interesting meals can be had from street vendors, but caution is warranted, especially with dishes such as raw spring rolls, which may contain uncooked greens. For water, drink only bottled water. Locals, you'll notice, typically drink boiled tea, not water (which is not customarily offered). Ice is made from purified water.
In the countryside at dusk, wearing long pants and using repellent around your ankles and other exposed skin will deter bites. Be alert when eating outside (and often inside) — mosquitoes favor the draft-less, dark underside of tables (restaurants may also burn coil repellent).
Please review immunizations recommendations with your doctor or travel medicine clinic at least two months prior to travel.
Various Health agencies recommend the following vaccinations for China (none are required for entry).
Receiving a fuller immunization schedule may be unnecessary, expensive, and time-consuming considering the relatively short length of your trip, travel season, nature of your travel, and area of your stay (typically hotels in urban areas).
Malaria is no longer a concern in China. The whole of China is now rated at low to no risk, with antimalarials not usually advised.
Official Health and Safety Information links:
Medical facilities in China can be excellent, particularly in the modern cities in the east of the country. However, facilities in rural China may be primitive. In an emergency, with your consent, efforts may be made to arrange transport to regional hospitals, or air evacuation to Beijing, Hong Kong, or Shanghai, which have world-class medical facilities.
For minor health issues, local pharmacies are well-stocked with a wide variety of western drugs and medications.
If you are taking medication, remember to bring enough medication to last the entire vacation, as it may be difficult to obtain a prescription for pre-existing conditions once traveling. We also recommend that you pack your medication as part of your carry-on luggage in case your main luggage is delayed. If you have a notable medical condition, please inform us in advance; no one likes surprises. All medical records will be kept strictly confidential.
Despite a tumultuous history, China is among the safest regions in the world for travelers. Aside from petty theft, crime against foreigners is unheard of. Thefts from hotels is very rare — its wise to leave all valuables like passport and cash in your vehicle or hotel safe.
"We were pleased that Indochina Travel was small enough to provide the things larger companies cannot, yet with all the benefits of using a larger one. In Saigon, we were honored to visit our guide's family. The BEST parts of our trip were the PEOPLE we met, especially the real, local people, not just the famous ones (though they were fascinating as well). Cuong made this possible throughout our time with him."
—Ric Haas, Menlo Park
"Chris and I had a wonderful journey. Thanks to you, everything was flawless. All of the guides were superb (especially Thiha in Burma). The accommodations were top-rate in most cases, the special activities and personal service much appreciated!"
—Ann & Chris McMurray, Alexandria, VA
"Overall, we had an excellent trip! Don and I both loved Bhutan and Myanmar. Both countries are beautiful, each in their own way. Our main comment would be to say how wonderful our guides were. As we've discussed in the past, it's really the difference between a good trip and great one. It was really nice to have the same guide for the entire itinerary, you really get to establish a rapport and they get to know us. We thought both guides were very professional, knowledgeable and personable, and we learned a lot from both."
—Irene Ing and Don Ershig, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Boating - "Thank you for an amazing adventure, we were delighted at every turn and the activities and people we met were thoroughly fascinating. We really the appreciated the authentic experiences we shared. Our girls are still talking about the trip, please give Linh and Duc our best!"
—The Anderson Family
Halong Bay Kayaking - "This was our fourth trip with you guys and it couldn't have possibly been any better. Your crew is outstanding in every way-well prepared, attentive, and professional. Again, you planned some very special things for us which we really enjoyed. Thank you for another amazing experience."