The objective of this trip was to see the primary tourist sites of the country, using four different cities as bases – any birds would then be seen as a secondary consequence to this, with little or no time devoted to birding per se. I did prepare with a list of potential birds, but was also aware that some reports had indicated that less variation in species were encountered than would be expected for the land covered. This was certainly true in the city bases, although I would suggest that the numbers seen in suitable habitat were perhaps also on the low side (although this could also have been a function of the amount of time and focus which could have been attributed to the task).
The focal points visited were of no particular surprise, since they offered the wonderful mix of a new and fascinating country:
This is one of the difficult arts to master when planning a trip to a country as large and diverse as China. The problem is that any one time of year will offer varying climates from the different weather zones. We chose May mainly for the best balance in the North – Beijing and Xi’an are freezing in Winter and oppressively hot and humid in the Summer. It isn’t actually the ideal time to visit Guilin, since the wet season is from April to June, although we only had one wet day there. Chengdu tends to be wet at any time of year, which is why the pandas are there in effect – they like wet and lush bamboo forest.
I have no doubt that many visitors to the country do so under their own steam, but China is one of those countries which makes it difficult for independent travel, due to language barriers, only recent opening up to the outside world, and a bar on hiring cars. The latter is a moot point, since the driving in China is chaotic, resulting in an every man for himself attitude. In addition, some English signs do exist, but possibly not enough to guarantee arriving at the given destination. Various companies offer both packages and tailor made tours – we chose a smallish company called China Direct (www.chinadirect-travel.co.uk), who I can unreservedly recommend. As opposed to another company who we contacted, they offered a tailor made holiday for just the two of us in the true sense of the phrase (including our own driver and guide at all locations), for a very reasonable cost.
Flights outside of the London hubs can be very convenient. We flew from Newcastle, which hosts both Emirates and KLM. The latter was chosen since it offered flights from Chengdu as well as Beijing. Internal flights were also the norm within the country, due to the large distances between points of interest. There seem to very various Chinese airlines to choose from, all with a more than adequate service. The booking of these was left to the agent, as was the train from Beijing to Xi’an. The soft sleeper, arranged in four beds to a compartment, is fairly modern and a different way to cross the miles.
The currency in China is the Renminbi, of which the Yuan is the main denomination. We had been told that the $US was widely accepted, and to take $US travellers cheques. In reality, the Yuan rules – I took a small amount with me, and this was the standard currency, with no $US seen in the two weeks we were there. We were told that not all hotels will change $US travellers cheques, so I relied on withdrawing Yuan from cash machines – this worked, but only on ones owned by the Bank of China.
The food we encountered was excellent, and so much more varied than the Chinese food from back home. The Chinese have a very much more liberal view of what can be eaten than in the West, and this is often reflected in the menus encountered. We found the restaurants with English subtext (and even pictures) helped sieve out the choice.
is interesting, since there are often several types of socket in hotels. The
standard is similar to the US style two flat pin, but the adapter must have
these angled, and a flat pin earth must be included to access the socket. In
some hotels, there was also a UK style 3 pin socket included.