Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

29.9-30.9: Munich -> Bangkok -> Guangzhou
1.10: Guangzhou -> Shenzhen
2.10: Shenzhen -> Urumqi
3.10: Urumqi -> Turpan -> Xiaohe -> Urumqi
4.10: Urumqi -> Kashgar
5.10: Kashgar
6.10: Kashgar -> Karakul lake -> Tashkurgan
7.10: Tashkurgan -> Khunjerab pass -> Kashgar
8.10: Kashgar -> Urumqi
9.10: Urumqi -> Dunhuang

10.10: Dunhuang
11.10: Dunhuang -> Chongqing
12.10: Chongqing -> Wanzhou
13.10: Wanzhou -> Yichang

14.10: Yichang -> Shanghai

15.10: Shanghai -> Hangzhou
16.10: Hangzhou
17.10: Hangzhou -> Qingdao
18.10: Qingdao -> Dalian
19.10: Dalian -> Beijing
20.10: Beijing
21.10: Beijing -> Bangkok
22.10: Bangkok -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
China is currently a country with a very dynamic economy going through a high growth phase. The country in on track to becoming the next economic superpower. At the same time China has a big pollution problem, with heavily polluted skies. The situation is very bad especially in the centre and east of the country, while it is acceptable in the west. China has a huge number of interesting sights, both historic, cultural and natural sites. Overall the Chinese people are hard working, efficient and honest, but sometimes need to improve their manners (they are unable to queue up for instance).

This trip has has been possible due to the availability of cheap flights within China, bookable on short notice. In Europe flights are more expensive and if you book them on short notice, you have to purchase a business class ticket.

Pre-departure plan
This is the pre-departure plan for the overall  trip:

Sep 29
Sep 30
BKK - Guangzhou
Arrive in Guangzhou at 7:15pm; find hotel and take a rest
Oct 1
Guangzhou - Shenzhen by bus
Arrive in Shenzhen by noon with the express bus; explore Shenzhen
Oct 2
Flight CZ6882  15:40-22:15
Oct 3
Urumqi-Turpan-Urumqi by private car
Oct 4
Flight CZ6813  19:05-20:40; spend day exploring Urumqi
Oct 5
Kashgar Explore Kashgar
Oct 6
Kashgar-Karakul lake-Kashgar -Urumqi By private car to the Karakul lake; back to Kashgar; Flight CZ6802   23:10-00:45 to Urumqi; option to spend one more day in Xinjiang by spending the night at the Karakul lake
Oct 7
Flight CZ6949  09:20-12:45 to Chongqing; Chongqing sightseeing; maybe take a later flight arriving in Chongqing in the evening
Oct 8
Chongqing to Yichang Flight 3U8721 10:15-11:05 to Yichang; visit the Three Gorges dam (option to spend one more day in Chongqing)
Oct 9
By bus or train? perhaps skip Wuhan??
Oct 10
Wuhan Wuhan sightseeing
Oct 11
Wuhan - Nanjing
By plane? Explore Nanjing
Oct 12
Explore Nanjing
Oct 13
nanjing - suzhou - zhouzhuang - nanjing - shanghai
Do everything in one day with a private car.
Oct 14
Visit Hangzhou?

Oct 15
Shanghai - Qingdao?
Does it make sense to visit Qingdao or would it be better to invest the time visiting the Huangshan mountains?
Oct 16
By plane; explore Shenyang
Oct 17
Shenyang - Dalian?

Oct 18

Oct 19

Oct 20

Oct 21
Beijing - Bangkok
Flight TG615  17:25-21:10
Oct 22
BKK-MUC Flight TG924  12:50-19:10

The trip is ambitious, but doable. In the end however I end up skipping a number of locations and modify the itinerary.

While the strong Euro made the trip more affordable, this was in not a low cost journey, mainly because of the large distance I covered and because the standard of living in China is rapidly rising.  Costs in the cities in the developed east and south of the country are higher than in the rest of the country.

Hotels in China are good value if compared to hotels in Europe, with four star rooms available for 200-600 yuan depending on the location. Flights are cheap and  cost around 1 yuan/km or less. While it is possible to have a meal in some places for less than 10 yuan, most of the time you will spend in the 20-50 yuan range for a meal. Taxi trips in major cities are cheap, costing around 5 - 15 yuan for a short trip (up to 3km).

Money  / Exchange rate (October 2006)
1 Euro = 10.1 yuan; largest note is 100 yuan.
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

It's easy to get cash with a Maestro/Cirrus ATM card all over China, except in Xinjiang, where you (October 2006) can only get cash from ATMs with a credit card and PIN number in Urumqi (Bank of China). But you can always get a credit card cash advance in branches of the Bank of China.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
Prepaid cards (GSM) are available everywhere, and can be bought without showing a passport or ID card. Costs have come down recently and it is no longer necessary to pay 100 yuan only for the telephone number (part of these 100 yuan can be used for calls). The network of China Mobile is very good and there is coverage almost everywhere. International calls cost 8 yuan/minute and you have to pay 1 yuan/minute for incoming calls if you are outside your home city (where you bought the prepaid card).

Internet access
While Internet cafes are everywhere, I mostly relied on hotel rooms with fast Internet lines. Well, sort of fast and actually painfully slow sometimes, as some hotels probably share a dialup line among all rooms. Where the hotel rooms had no Internet line I used to connect via dialup (telephone number, used id and password are all "16300"). This ISP did not work in Qingdao and Dalian.

October is overall the best month to visit China, as it is no longer hot, still not cold and the weather is stable. During these three weeks it only rained once in Dalian and on the day I left in Beijing.

Health / Vaccinations
I didn't do any additional vaccinations, relying on the immunity gained from the vaccinations in the past years. Overall China is a quite safe country (which does however not mean that you don't have to refreshen your vaccinations).

VISA / Entry requirements
A valid VISA is required for nationals of most countries.

The country overall is very safe, as Chinese people are very honest. I felt a bit unsafe in Urumqi (Xinjiang) on an evening when suddenly heavily armed Chinese police forces showed up on the square.


Getting around
I covered the large distances with flights - cheap and easily bookable on short notice everywhere in China. Chinese airlines mainly use e-tickets, which reduces the costs. There is a discont system: for each flight there is a list price on which discounts are applied (up to 65%) which depend on the time of the day.

Train tickets are easily bookable. Simply buy the ticket at the train station. The same holds for long distance bus tickets, also easily bookable. The road infrastructure is good, allowing you to travel around fast.

Taxis are cheap and should be used to travel around in cities. A car+driver can be rented for around 400 yuan/day.

Copyright 2006 Alfred Molon