The People’s Republic of China can be a daunting place to visit, with its enormous population, sprawling cities and almost endless options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
If you’re thinking of booking a trip to China, but keep asking yourself;
- Where do I start?
- What shouldn’t be missed?
- How do I pay for stuff?
- How will I communicate with the people?
- How do I get around?
Then check out our quick guide below and forget your worries!
Where to start
The first steps are often the hardest on any adventure or new experience. This will often be based on how much time you have but I would definitely state that Beijing is a great place to start! The capital, located in the north east, is not to be missed, and is home to some of the biggest sites; The Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China for starters.
Whether you’re looking for culture, food, adventure, wilderness or city-scapes, or all of the above. China has a lot to offer. Here’s 10 of the top locations to give you an idea;
- The Great wall of China – Beijing
- The Terracotta Army – Xi’an
- The Li River – Guilin
- The Yellow Mountains – Huangshen
- The Forbidden City – Beijing
- The Bund – Shanghai
- Victoria Harbour – Honk Kong
- Giant Pandas – Chengdu
- The Potala Palace – Lasa, Tibet
- West Lake – Hangzhou
The Chinese currency is the Renminbi, the basic unit of which is the Yuan. Yuan is generally how it’s the referred to, especially in international context. ATMs that accept international cards can be found in most places and cash is the easiest way to pay for anything, especially in the smaller cities. It’s often best to make sure you have enough cash on you before heading out though, in case you find yourself in a less touristy area. International airports are a great place to get cash when you first arrive. Train stations also!
It’s recommended to stick with the major banks such as;
- Bank of China
- China Construction Bank
Despite being a cash-based society, more and more places are beginning to accept international credit cards. Especially hotels, foreign brand name stores and up-scale restaurants. A credit card is great for making larger payments so it’s always worth carrying one with you.
China is very advance when it comes to mobile payment systems. Unfortunately, it is only serviced by local companies such as WeChat or Alipay who do not accept most international credit cards. If you ever encounter a shop that only accepts mobile payment, you can ask your guide to pay with their service and then give them the cash in exchange.
The current exchange rate is roughly: 5 yuan to 1 Australian dollar. Making it nice and simple to convert prices. 50 yuan is $10, 1000 yuan is $200 and so on. It’s often a comforting feeling knowing what you’re spending in your home currency!
Mandarin Chinese is the official national language of the mainland, accounting for a majority of the population.
English is the most common foreign language and is generally enough to get by in tourist areas.
It’s always worth learning a few words and phrases in Mandarin Chinese to use on your travels, just putting in the effort is always well received! It can also be very useful when looking for directions, shopping and ordering food.
Here’s a few useful phrases to get you started;
- Nǐ hǎo (Nee-haoww) 你好
- Nǐ hǎo ma? (Nee-haoww-mah?) 你好吗
How are you?
- Xièxie. (sshyeah-sshyeah) 谢 谢
- Duìbuqǐ. (dway-boo-chee) 对不起
- Yǒuméiyǒu …? (Yoh-may-yoh …?) 有没有 …?
Do you have …?
- Duōshao qián? 多少钱 (Dwor-sshaoww chyen?)
How much money?
- … zài nǎlǐ? (… dzeye naa-lee?) …在哪里
Where is …? (location said first)
- Wǒ xiǎng qù… (Wor sshyang chyoo …) 我想去 …
I want to go to …
- Cèsuǒ. (tser-swor) 厕所
All tours will include modern air-conditioned private vehicles, with pick-up and drop-off right from the hotel lobby. Private transfers chauffers are also available between airports and hotels. When not on organized tours, or when you’re looking to venture further on your own, transport is no issue in China. With an incredibly modern network of airports and trains to link cities, alongside fantastic subway and taxi services in the metro areas.
Almost all services will have signage in English also, and the subway systems are very intuitive, with easy to read maps (also very cheap!) Avoid peak business hours and you’ll have no trouble, a fast and easy way to get around town!
Taxis are generally safe and reliable in China, and definitely the easiest way to get around. Make sure to carry cash, smaller notes are better. Where ever you’re heading, the best thing to do is get your hotel to write the place in Mandarin Chinese and then show this to the taxi driver to save time and avoid communication issues.
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The weekends are extra special in Hanoi, arriving here on a Saturday could not be more perfect. The central lake by the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem, is closed to motorised traffic and the city definitely takes advantage of it. The colours and sounds of the weekend night markets stand out and draw the crowds, offering all manner of product. Smells of street food BBQs flood the air, enticing tourist and local alike, while overflowing carts of fresh fruit make their way along the street.
Walking down from the weekend market and joining the milling crowds by the lake, the sounds of street performers take over. Making our way around the lake, entrapped audiences surround performing dance troupes, contrasting the elderly gentlemen, who perched on tiny stools by the water’s edge, play various traditional instruments with calm faces and skilled hands.
With a constant flow of human subjects and the beautiful lights and greenery providing attractive subjects, the lake scenes draw keen photographers.
The city is full of beautiful traditional and modern restaurants offering every variety one could want, but Hanoi street food is something not to be missed! Stopping by a local option with a yellow frontage and settling on the little plastic stools (a very common option in the Old Quarter). The only thing on the menu is Bahn Mi – this Vietnamese delight is famous for a reason! Beautifully baked bread, crunchy and soft, filled with your choice of many options, the most popular being barbequed or stewed pork, along with fresh herbs and chilli. The tastes are wonderful and suit the vibe of the passing street traffic perfectly. A second helping for the road is always a good option!
The surrounding area contains an abundance of rooftop bars, one in particular situated on the Hanoi Pearl Hotel where we are staying, offers fantastic views of the Old Quarter but most importantly Hoan Kiem, the lake alight with the reflections of the cities vibrant but friendly night life. Sitting down to a local Bia Ha Noi or one of the myriad cocktail options, filled with local fresh fruit, is the perfect way to watch the city and the night go by.
The Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem are the beating heart of the city, especially on the weekend and hours can be spent simply taking it all in.
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Our morning starts with the wonderful buffet breakfast served up in the Hotel. Fresh omelettes cooked to order alongside pastries, spring rolls, noodles and piles of fresh fruit (to mention only a few). Everyone is well rested after a night in the comfy rooms here, ready for the 8am bus pickup and full-day tour of the city.
First stop is the Temple of Literature, built in 1070 and home to the Imperial Academy; the country’s first national university. A beautiful structure, full of history; a memorial to its professors throughout time. Alongside its position as a tourist attraction, the temple remains active to local prayers and activity. The smell of fresh incense fills the air, carrying the wishes into the sky, adding to the already devotional atmosphere.
Wandering back through serene gardens that surround the temple, you feel calm and at peace, a great first stop for the day.
Just down the road, and housed in a former Catholic boarding house built in 1937, is the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. The absorbing collection contains art from various periods, the majority of 20th century work focussing on the story of a nation in defence, with the struggles against the French occupation and American war the apparent in many pieces. Intricately hand-worked wood and stone figures fill the halls, the various forms of Buddha, prevalent. Plenty of benches sit amidst the displays, giving time and space for contemplation.
Back into the bus, we head across town to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Opened in 1997, and modern in appearance, the contents of this building focus on 54 nationally recognised ethnic minority groups. The country is full of stunning cultural diversity and this museum displays it beautifully, showcasing how diversely traditional people lived up and down the country.
The large crowds of domestic tourists that this museum attracts, highlights the importance placed on national history by the Vietnamese people. Traditional houses from different ethnic groups surround the modern glass and concrete structure, giving a fascinating contrast, highlighting the nation’s accelerating modernisation.
The weather for our tour and a day on the town could not have been more perfect. Exploring museums can be surprisingly tiring as you try to soak-in the information and history. Perfect time for a lunch stop.
KOTO, standing for ‘Know One Teach One’, is a non-for-profit restaurant chain aimed at helping disadvantaged youth. Started, 16 years ago, by a Vietnamese-Australian, KOTO has trained more than 670 students to this day.
As well as being such a brilliant cause, the food and service here are some of the best I’ve experienced in Vietnam (the coffee and Pho noodle soup particular highlights). We were treated to a wonderful set-menu lunch with plentiful servings and wondrous flavours. The Summer mocktail drink list proved very popular with our group, a refreshing way to recoup energy for the rest of the day. Check out KOTO at the link here;
The bus brought us to our next stop, the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Preserved in a glass case and protected by military honour guard are the embalmed remains of the Chairman. The impressive architecture was influenced by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, yet blends traditional Vietnamese design elements.
Next door is the presidential palace where Ho Chi Minh refused to live, instead, humbly residing in the maintenance staff quarters where he would also conduct meetings and receive guests. The abode is surrounded by beautiful lush gardens and lakes, creating a calm atmosphere of absolute respect and reverence. Following around the lake we reach the One Pillar Pagoda; one of Vietnams most iconic temples. Built in 1049, the pillar was built amidst a lotus pond, paying respect to a dream of Emperor Lý Thái Tông. It is surrounded by colourful Buddhist flags, flowing energetically in the wind.
The last of the big attractions for the tour, a perfect spot to unwind and take in the tranquil mood.
Back to the wonderful Old Quarter. We pull up on the edge of the main road where 2 Cyclos are awaiting, not enough for our group of 13. A quick phone call and the rickshaw type transports with their bright red canopies and shiny metal frames come streaming around the corner. Whisking one of us away at a time, a lovely way to see the town; as we meander past the hustle and bustle of the city life. The slow pace combined with not needing to watch your step really lets you absorb the atmosphere and see details that one may regularly miss.
The lovely cyclo tour ends close by Hoan Kiem, with a short walk around the corner bringing us to the Water Puppet theatre. Not knowing what to expect, I was awesomely surprised and entertained by the whole show. The puppets, humorous and informative, were accompanied by a live score played with traditional instruments and colourful and fun pyrotechnics right on stage. The show conveyed a mythical history of Vietnam, from farming, hunting, cultural development and war, to shimmering dragons bringing the stage to life.
The end of the show signalled the end of our city tour. A great taste of a fun and historical city. So much has been seen in our quick 2 day stop. For now, our group continues onto beautiful Ha Long bay, but I’m already looking forward to coming back and seeing more of what Hanoi has to offer later in the week.
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Arriving into Hanoi Noi Bai airport, we’re greeted by our local tour guide wearing the Tweet World colours uniform and a beaming smile.
After a very friendly introduction and welcoming, our bus awaits us, just a short walk down the terminal path, its bright and clean with plenty of space for the group to spread out.
It takes us along the new highway across the Red River and into the bustling traffic of the nation’s capital. Arriving at the Hanoi Hotel, the wonderful staff welcome us with complimentary sweet tea and biscuits! While our guide speaks to the front desk and our luggage is whisked away to await us in our rooms.
The rest of the evening has been left to leisure. Let’s see what this city has to offer!
This is the beginning of a multi-part blog on our city tour of Hanoi with Tweet World Travel. Check out the following posts for the full story!
Thank you for reading!
With so many different cruise lines out there you could be wondering which one is right for you. At the end of the day you can’t go wrong with any of the cruising brands, they all have something unique to offer, the idea is just to figure out which brand offers what you want.
I find the best formula for choosing a cruise line is Location + your cruising priorities. The location is one of the most important points when choosing a cruise line, you have to know what sort of travel you are in for to arrive at the ship. To cruise with Princess or P&O you can practically step on to the ship from your own backyard year round, where as other lines may only come to Australia once a year for a short season such as Royal Caribbean or Cunard. If you are feeling more adventurous you can hop on a plane to another country to get on your ship, such as America (to sail the Caribbean) or England (to sail Europe) the possibilities are limitless.
Everyone has different priorities when it comes to their holiday. Some people want the best value for money and others want to make sure everything is included. Then you have those conscious of what they will be doing on this trip, for example an adventure minded traveller might prefer to cruise with P&O as they have P&O Edge, an adventure park at sea where you can climb the crow’s nest, zip down the flying fox or rock climb up the ships funnel. Or a Disney lover such as myself might cruise the Caribbean on a Disney Cruise Line ship just to get the chance to dine with Mickey Mouse or watch the live Broadway style productions featuring Cinderella!
There are some generalizations of choosing a cruise line for your next holiday such as Princess are not really ideal for a group of friends in their 20’s, likewise a senior couple might enjoy their time on P&O but would probably feel more at home with Princess.
– Young people: P&O Australia, Carnival, Celebrity
– Couple: P&O Australia, Princess
– Family: P&O Australia, Princess, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival
– Seniors: Princess, Holland America, Cunard
Thanks for reading!