You could take cheap flights to China every year for 20 years and still not even scratch the surface of this fascinating country.
The vast People’s Republic of China, one-and-a-quarter times bigger than Australia and with 65 times as many inhabitants, borders 14 countries. Its landscapes take in forest steppes, deserts, rugged mountains, jungle, subtropical forests and soft-sandy beaches, and then there are those cities.
Synonymous with hyper-growth, parts of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong appear to be under an almost permanent canopy of cranes. The population in cities and towns accounts for only about a third of the Chinese population however, about 70 per cent live in rural areas. While the global cities climb higher and higher, in the small villages life carries on much as it has for hundreds of years.
China’s vast size and different landscapes mean that the climate varies from region to region. The country lies mostly in the northern temperate zone, influenced by monsoons. Between September and April, monsoons blow cold (but dry) down from Siberia and the Mongolia Plateau. During the summer months, monsoons blow in from the ocean bringing warm and wet weather.Beijing has four, distinct seasons – a long, hot summer, a cold winter and a short spring (with lots of rain) and autumn. July is the hottest month and January is the coldest.Shanghai has a subtropical maritime monsoon climate. Within the four, distinct seasons, July and August are the hottest months and January/February the coldest.Hong Kong enjoys good weather year-round, the average is 23 degrees.Harbin, home to the Ice and Snow Festival, has long, cold winters and short, cool, summers. Temperatures range between -14 degrees in the winter and 20 degrees in summer.Hainan Island has a tropical climate and temperatures hover between 23 and 26 degrees.
Deciding on the best time to take cheap flights to China depends on where you want to go and what you want to do.
If you are going north, time your trip for spring or autumn. For the centre of the country (Yangtze River Valley for example), the spring and autumn months offer the best weather. This holds true for the south of China too.
Bear in mind that during public holidays, most of China is on the move. The major holidays are National Day (October 1), Chinese New Year (late January/mid-February), Labour Day (May 1), Dragon Boat Festival (May/June) and Mid-Autumn Day (September/October). During these holidays, flights, trains and buses will be packed and accommodation booked up.
May, September and October are high season months.
The winter months are of season (late November – February)
March/April and June/August are shoulder season months.
Lots of travellers taking cheap flights to China will be on package tours – and perhaps visit the most-popular destinations as part of a group (a cruise along the Yangtze River or to see the Terracotta Army in Xi’an for example), but if you are doing a bit of independent travel, there are lots of domestic airlines offering flights, including Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines. Train travel is amazing in China. They’re clean, very punctual, comfortable, cheap and very, very fast. Bus travel is via comfortable coach.
In the cities, there are clean, fast, punctual and reasonably priced public transport networks.
Renting a car is not necessary in China, unless you are planning on travelling around the country. Taxis are cheap, but ensure that you have your destination written down. Most hotels will have taxi cards that you can take with you for the journey back to your accommodation.