China Travel Logistics
Securing a visa
Now that Olympics Fever is over, China’s visa policies are back to normal. Americans are eligible for single, double or multiple entry visas, valid for between 3 and 12 months. You will need to get your visa before entering China. Details can be found on the Chinese Embassy’s website. For American travelers, a Chinese visa costs $130 per person.
If you are entering China from elsewhere in Asia, the best place to get your visa is Hong Kong. Americans do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong or Macau.
Domestic Transportation in China
For my money, trains are the best way to travel long distances in China. They are cheap, convenient and extremely reliable. For more information on train travel in China, see my guide to Chinese train travel.
Flying in China
But China’s vast size may make train travel impractical for some travelers. In particular, the train system in western China is not nearly so well-developed, with fewer and slower trains. Fortunately, domestic flights remain relatively cheap. Ctrip and Elong offer some of the best deals. Both have English-language websites (though the search functions can be a bit buggy) and accept foreign credit cards.
Unfortunately, domestic flights from China are often late. Airlines may change flight times or even cancel flights on short notice. If there is an acceptable train option, I would generally prefer to take a train over the hassles involved in air travel.
Information for local transportation, including taxis, buses and subways, is included on individual destination pages. If you have a little bit of knowledge of Chinese characters, Mapbar is similar to Google Maps for the Chinese public transportation systems, including subways and buses for major cities. I’ve used it with a lot of success in Beijing and Changsha.