Exploring CHINA: A Primer to the Land of the Awakened Giant

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA. Undoubtedly the most popular travel destination in this massive country is this magnanimous 21,196-kilometer wonder!

The third largest country and the world’s most populous nation, China is undoubtedly one of the present superpowers of the world. This nation, with its long history, well-regarded traditions and culture and numerous people, polarizes the whole world all over. It is first and foremost, a communist country. The Communist Part of China (CPC) has been ruling over the country for 70 years after they emerged as the victors in the Chinese Civil War in the year 1949. CPC’s take on various issues concerning its people and the world over has divided nations to either support China or not ― and I think it would remain as such for quite a long time. Nevertheless, no matter what your political inclinations are, there’s no denying that this country has some of the most incredible places to explore. From the Great Wall of China to other astonishing man-made structures in Beijing and Shanghai, from Mt. Everest (yes, China is one of the countries bordering the Himalayas) to the Hallelujah mountains that inspired the movie, “Avatar,” this huge country seems to have an endless list of natural and man-made wonders from border to border.

This blog post is going to focus on how you can go to China, and what you can explore around its capital city, Beijing. Time to get ready!

GEOGRAPHY OF CHINA

Map of China
Map of China (courtesy of The Proto City)

China is located in the East Asia region, along with Mongolia, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan and Japan. As it covers a land area of about 9.6 million square kilometers, its landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from the deserts of the north, the alluvial plains of the east, the mountain ranges of the west, to the subtropical forests of the south. Beijing, its capital rests in the North China Plain, allowing a climate characterized by hot, humid summers and cold, windy and dry winters.

CHINESE ROYALTY. Some Chinese visitors in the palaces of the Forbidden City wear royal costumes while touring the place.

I’m giving you these nuggets of information to help you decide and think about which part of China you’d want to visit, which month of the year you’re going to travel here, as well as what to prepare before your travel. Furthermore, let me help you with this list I have prepared.

WHAT TO PREPARE

Going to China can be intimidating. What do you do first? Of course, plan ahead. Think about which part of this huge country you want to explore. Do you want to visit the mountains of the Himalayas? How about the cityscapes of Shanghai, or the capital city of Beijing? These things and more are important to think about before heading here.

  1. MONEY. The currency used in China is yuan, which is why it’s important that you have your pesos or dollars exchanged before going into the city. My friend who currently lives in Beijing says the only way you can convert pesos/ dollars to yuan is through their banks (e.g. Bank of China). This is the reason why we already converted our dollars in the airport (not in the forex that you can see immediately after getting your luggages there, but the one outside because it has a better exchange rate). I also tried withdrawing from their ATM, but the rate is a bit higher than the forex.

As of November 2019, 1 US dollar is equivalent to 7.03 yuan. Meanwhile, 1 Philippine peso is equivalent to 0.13 (1 yuan = 7.23 pesos).

Regarding travel expenses, your budget should depend on what you want to do in China. Let me give you a glimpse of what we have spent in Beijing, its capital.

TRANSPORTATION IN BEIJING. The cheapest way to travel around Beijing is by using their trusty subway. You can ride the taxis or private cars but they are a lot more expensive.

TRANSPORTATION. If you’re going to stay in Beijing, transportation isn’t that expensive especially when you’re traveling around. The subway ride only costs at least 3 yuan (around P21) for near destinations, and can go up to 8 yuan (about P58) for the farthest parts. Buses are said to be relatively cheap, too. Taxis, on the other hand, are expensive especially during the wee hours of the morning. I know because we’ve experienced it!

WHEN IN BEIJING
WHEN IN BEIJING, you got to eat Peking Duck! Pecking Duck is a dish from the Chinese capital of Beijing that is formerly called Pecking. It has been prepared since the imperial era, during the times when China was still being ruled by emperors. This dish stands out from other roasted meat because of its tender and thinly sliced duck meat and crispy skin, served with hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce. The delicious duck meat is often eat with spring onion, cucumber and pickled radish with pancakes rolled around the fillings.

FOOD. The price of the food in China varies. Dishes can range from 15 yuan (Old Beijing noodle dish, Peking duck soup), to 79 yuan (Peking duck). Meat dishes can range from 25 to 35 yuan. Eight pieces of filled-bun dumplings or baozi can cost 50 yuan. Milk tea is about 22 yuan. Meanwhile, a bowl of rice is 2 yuan. Yes, rice is a bit cheaper in China!

SUPERBLY DELICIOUS!
SUPERBLY DELICIOUS! I can honestly say that Pecking Duck is the most scrumptious meal I’ve had during my stay in Beijing! Kain!

ACCOMMODATION. If you’re a budget traveler, then you have nothing to worry about accommodations because Beijing has hostels that are relatively cheap. And mind you, they are decent ones. The one we’ve booked in Beijing only costs 200 yuan per night. If you’re the type of person who wants a premiere stay in the city, prime hotels can fare from 1,000 to 3,500 yuan (or more).

STREET ART.
STREET ART. The hostel we were staying in is located on a street with these artworks on walls. Such a fancy thing to look at while roaming the streets of Beijing!

TRAVEL DESTINATIONS. You can opt to avail travel tours for less hassle, but if you’re on a tight budget, you can always commute via bus or train! Entrance fees to must-see travel destinations vary. Tickets to Great Wall can range from 25 yuan (Gubeiko), 40 yuan (Mutianyu, Badaling, Simatai) to 65 yuan (Jinshanling). These fees can go down during non-peak season (November to March). Meanwhile, Mutianyu has cable cars that you can ride in, and a two-way ride costs 120 yuan. The rates (non-peak/peak entrance fees) for other travel destinations are: 40/60 yuan (Forbidden City), 20/30 yuan (Summer Palace), 80 yuan (National Stadium), 2 yuan (Jingshan Park).

DAINTY PICTURE IN SUMMER PALACE
DAINTY PICTURE IN SUMMER PALACE. One of the most beautiful travel destinations you can go to in Beijing is the Summer Palace.
  1. PASSPORT and CHINESE VISA. China is one of the countries wherein Filipinos are required to present a visa before they can enter their territory. You can apply for China visa in the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines, located on the second floor of the World Center, Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenue, Makati City. It is open from 9 to 11 AM only, Mondays to Fridays. Before going to their embassy, prepare the requirements needed for a China visa.

Here are the basic requirements needed to avail a China visa:

  1. ORIGINAL COPY of your current (and old, if applicable) PASSPORT. It must have at least 6 months validity.
  2. PHOTOCOPY of the passport’s bio page and emergency page.
  3. ACCOMPLISHED APPLICATION FORM
    • This must be filled out digitally. Handwritten forms are not accepted.
    • Type in uppercase letters
    • Don’t leave any field blank. If an item doesn’t apply to you, type N/A.
    • You can download the application form here.

4. TWO (2) RECENT PHOTOS

Provide two (2) recent colored pictures of yourself taken within the last 6 months. The photos should be front view, taken with a white background and in 48 mm x 33 mm size without head covering. Affix one of the photos on the printed application form. DO NOT staple, tape or clip the photo in the application form because it will not be accepted.

5. TRAVEL ITINERARY. This doesn’t need to be very detailed, but it is important that it matches the travel dates you indicated in your application form. Write down the specific dates and, your activities for each day. It is also recommended that you write down the hotel where you would be staying, as well as the outbound and return flights that you’d be taking (if you already have booked, that is.).

6. Name of ACCOMMODATION in China. If you’re worried about booking a hotel and not getting a visa, do not. Use travel apps or websites such as booking.com wherein you can book an accommodation beforehand and cancel it a week before your travel, should you not get a China visa. Bring a printout of your booking accommodation and present it with the other documents.

7. FLIGHT RESERVATIONS OR TICKETS. If you have already booked your flight to China, submit the confirmed flight itinerary. If you don’t have tickets yet, you may consider submitting a flight reservation instead. Travel agencies can reserve flights for you, and if you end up not getting a Chinese visa, you can just cancel them.

If you are a first time Chinese visa applicant, there are additional requirements:

  1. Bank certificate and the bank statement of the past 6 months. Don’t also forget the receipts you obtained for the payment of these certificates.
  2. BIR-stamped Income Tax Return (ITR)
  3. Certificate of Employment (should detail your salary and the length of employment)
  4. Business Registration Certificate (if you are the owner of your business)
  5. Professional ID/ Student ID (if applicable)
  6. Other relevant documents proving your economic condition, employment/ study, or supporting your travel to China, or explaining your travel purpose

If you have past Chinese visa, these are the requirements:

  1. Photocopy of your past Chinese visa.
  2. Old passport that contains your Chinese visa.

If you are invited by someone in China, an invitation letter is a requirement.

  1. The invitation letter must include the following:
    • The applicant’s information (full name, gender, date of birth, etc.)
    • Information on the inviting individual (name, contact number, address, official stamp, signature)
    • Information on the planned visit (purpose of visit, arrival and departure dates, places to visit, financial source for expenditures and the relations between the applicant and the inviting individual – may require proofs of kinship like birth certificate, marriage certificate, certificate of kinship issued by the Chinese Public Security Bureau or notarized certificate of kinship)
  2. The invitation letter may be in the form of fax, photocopy or computer printout, but the consular may require the original copy of the invitation letter.

Additional reminders:

  1. These are the visa fees:
    • Single entry: P1,400
    • Double entry: P2,100
    • Multiple entry within 6 months: P2,800
    • Multiple entry for over 6 months: P4,200
  1. Regular processing time is four (4) working days. If you pass your requirements on a regular Monday, you may go back to the Chinese Embassy on Thursday to pick up your passport. Let’s hope attached in it is your China visa!

Other Things to Prepare

  1. MAPS. Download map apps in your phone so you would have an idea on where you currently are while in Beijing. This is especially helpful if you’re planning for your itinerary, as well as how long it would take you to go to your travel destination by vehicle or walk.
  2. ACCOMMODATION. There are lots of hotels or hostels that you can stay in various Chinese cities. One requirement that I look for in an accommodation is its proximity to the train/ subway (it should be within walking distance), restaurants (for easy dining out before or after touring) and shops. It should also be, of course, within budget!
  3. APPROPRIATE CLOTHING. First and foremost, you have to determine which part of China you are planning to visit. After that, you can determine which clothes you should be preparing when traveling here. Generally speaking, the northern part of China (including Beijing) experiences four seasons: cold and dry winter, hot and humid summer, spring and autumn. The subtropical south experiences mild winter, and warm summer. Meanwhile, the western part (Tibet and nearby areas) experiences cold temperatures all year round.
WINTER CLOTHES.
WINTER CLOTHES. Here I am donning a red puffer jacket, shirt and black pants. Typically, these are not enough to withstand the cold air of Beijing. Thankfully that day, it wasn’t that cold that would compel me to wear an additional coat!

As this blog post will focus mostly on Beijing, I’d list down here its four seasons.

  • Spring happens from April to May. You may wear your hoodies, thin sweaters or shirts. Average temperature during spring is 14 to 20 degrees Celsius.
  • Summer is from June to August. You might want to wear comfortable, summer clothes. Shirts, short sleeves may do. Average temperature during summer is 24 to 28 degrees Celsius.
  • Autumn happens from September to October. Autumn here is already cold, so do not forget to bring a jacket or coat. Average temperature during autumn is 13 to 20 degrees Celsius.
  • Winter is from November to March. You won’t last here without your winter clothes! Bring two or more! Why? The average temperature during winter is -4 to -5 degrees Celsius!

Okay, done with the preparing! Let’s move on to the places you can explore when you go to Beijing, China’s capital city!

WHAT TO EXPLORE IN BEIJING

1. The Great Wall of China

The nearest parts of the Great Wall in Beijing are Mutianyu and Badaling so if you’re in a hurry, you can just go here to marvel at China’s best manmade structural wonder. Besides, Mutianyu has the most magnificent fully-restored section of the Great Wall!

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL places I have ever been in the Great Wall of China, which is a real standout among all of this country’s travel destinations!

However, if you are like me who wants to avoid the crowd, head to other sections of the Great Wall. Traveling here would require longer hours and probably more expensive transportation rates, but you’d be rewarded because they are less touristy. Meaning, you can expect that there are not too many crowds! These parts of the Great Wall include Jiankou (the most challenging), Jinshanling (pictured here in this blog), Simatai (the only section opened at night), Gubeiko (described as “wild,” it has the ancient battle sites) and Shanhai Pass (this is where the Great Wall meets the sea).

2. The Bird’s Nest/ The National Stadium

THE BIRD'S NEST.
THE BIRD’S NEST.Also called the Beijing National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest is one of the symbols of China’s burgeoning superpower. This $428 M- stadium is 69 meters high, and can accommodate about 80,000 spectators.

This is a must-see at night when you’re in Beijing! A symbolic structure of China, the $428 million-structure hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Currently, it is used for sporting events as well as concerts.

THE BIRD'S NEST AT NIGHT
THE BIRD’S NEST AT NIGHT. Such a splendid thing to look at, isn’t it?

3. The Water Cube/ The National Aquatics Center

BUBBLY DESIGN.
BUBBLY DESIGN. I just so love the design of the Water Cube, which resembles a crystal piece of architecture with LED-lit bubbles.

Located at the west side of the National Stadium, the National Aquatics Center contains the official swimming facilities for the 2008 Olympics. This structure’s design combines modern technologies with Chinese traditional values. It is said that the Chinese conceptualizes a square earth and a round heaven. It is often referred to as the Water Cube because of its look as a huge blue box.

4. The Forbidden City

THE FORBIDDEN CITY.
THE FORBIDDEN CITY is a palace complex where the emperors and their families resided for about 500 years. It’s also the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government back then.

The Forbidden City is said to be the largest and the best preserved imperial complex not just in China, but in the world. For about 500 years, this palace functioned as the administrative center of the country.

5. Jingshan Park

JINGSHAN PARK.
JINGSHAN PARK. If you want to overlook the city of Beijing, go in this park that is just beside the comple of Forbidden City.

If you’re looking for a good view of the whole city of Beijing, you may want to head here at night. It was an imperial garden during the ancient times.

6. Summer Palace

THE SUMMER PALACE
THE SUMMER PALACE is a huge royal park that has lakes, palaces and gardens. This imperial garden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Summer Palace is a good site to visit because of its beauty and history. It used to be a place of retreat for the royal family during summertime. And as such, it is one of the best examples of Chinese imperial gardens.

7. Wangfujing Street

WANGFUJING
WANGFUJING is comprised of upscale stores and flea market shops. This colorful store in Wangfujing sells yummy nougats and other Chinese food products. Perfect for pasalubong!

The go-to place for shopping and eating, Wangfujing Street consists of upscale stores and flea market shops. This is the place where we bought some of our pasalubong!

***

How did this blog post about traveling in China fare? I hope it has helped you decide to go here, considering the vast number of beautiful destinations you can explore. Write a comment below if you need some more help! Thanks for reading, guys!

LOVELY BEIJING.
LOVELY BEIJING. With all the lovely experiences I had in Beijing, I can say it has definitely captured my explorer heart.

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