Frequently Asked Questions

Before You Get Here

Which injections should I be getting for my trip?

Since our area of expertise is travel (and not medicine), it’s best that you visit your local international travel clinic for advice, or read the Center for Disease Control’s advice, here. But don’t panic, there’s no scary weird diseases lurking in Beijing, just take precautions and you’ll be fine.

Do I need a visa for China?

Yes sirree. Please, please, please don’t forget this. Unless you like being publicly humiliated at airport border controls.

How hot is it going to be during the summer months? Will it rain?

By mid May both Beijing and Shanghai are very hot (24-40°C / 75-100°F). Located close to the Gobi Desert, Beijing has a very dry climate and no ‘rainy season’ as such, but heavy downpours are more likely in July. Shanghai, on the other hand, is a more humid city and rainfall is heavy and frequent (but by no means continuous!) in June – ‘known as Plum Rain’ season – and in July and August.

How cold is it going to be during the winter months? Does it snow?

By mid November both Beijing and Shanghai have cooled down considerably. Temperatures in Shanghai never drop below around 5°C / 41°F, though it can be overcast and chilly. Beijing on the other hand, gets extremely cold (around -10°C / 14°F), but stays mostly dry, meaning that snow is rare but beautiful when it does arrive! Don’t underestimate how cold -10°C is though. Dress as if you’re going skiing, not simply with a warmer coat – proper gloves, thermal underwear, ski socks, the lot. Walking tours especially can be ruined if you’ve been blasé with your wardrobe when packing for the capital. You have been warned!

Planning Your Trip

Where’s the best area to be, hotel wise?

In Shanghai the French Concession or Bund are prime spots, with Pudong being the most hassle to get to and from. In Beijing it’s Sanlitun or Gulou. Need help choosing the right hotel for you? Just get in touch – Bespoke will source one according to your needs, preferences and budget.

We want to stay in the hutongs in Beijing but The Orchid is booked!

Sadly there is a lack of good boutique courtyard hotels in Beijing, largely due to the difficulty in running one. Independent businesses are beset by difficulties (local politics, corruption, electricity and hot water issues) and few survive or thrive compared to the five stars. Rest assured, however, that if a new hutong hotel opens up, Bespoke will be on top of it.

Will my Bespoke driver speak English?

Bespoke does have drivers that speak basic English, so please let us know as soon as possible if you require this. However if you need to make your day up as you go along, you’ll need to hire an English-speaking tour guide in addition to a driver, since only they are degree-level fluent. We do not employ drivers that double up as tour guides. This is because our drivers work for car companies that have the official paperwork to take tourists around, likewise with local Chinese tour guides, who must have an official tour guide license to operate in the PRC. Rarely does a single person have both!

Can I do a day trip out of town?

Yes, we can tailor day trips outside of Beijing (to Cuandixia or more rugged parts of the Wall) and Shanghai (to the water towns). Please be aware, however, that transfer times can be lengthy (2-3 hours plus), and you won’t find those amazing rice paddy terraces outside of these cities (that’s much further south, in provinces such as Guizhou) – but what you will get is a charming, green and rural experience that gives you a taste of another side of China.

Can we squeeze in a trip to the Great Wall on a 72-hour visa?

Yes, absolutely! There are several sections of the Wall within 2 hours’ drive of Beijing city center, which means you can easily see the Wall (and more!) within one day.

Can I hire a car to Great Wall and a few more places within one day?

Yes you can! But only if you go to a section of the Wall that is relatively close to downtown (we recommend Mutianyu) so that you can hit up another sight in the afternoon. It’s worth keeping in mind that each major tourist attraction takes around half a day to see, including transfer time, so you can do the Great Wall plus one more sight in the space of an 8-hour day.

Can I hire a car and driver for Jinshanling, and not take a tour guide?

Due to the fact that this is a ‘wild’ section of the wall, far away from downtown and with multiple drop-off and pick up points, we don’t allow our clients to hike the Jinshanling section of the wall without a tour guide.

What time should I visit the major tourists sights in order to avoid the crowds?

Each sight tends to have a different peak time for visitors, but generally speaking it’s best to hit the main sights in the afternoons and the Great Wall in the early morning. This is where Bespoke’s Trip Customization service comes into its own, carefully piecing together your chosen sights into an itinerary that means you’ll avoid the crowds as much as possible.

What can I do in the evenings?

There’s plenty to do in each city come nightfall, and both Beijing and Shanghai boast fantastic restaurants. When it comes to post dinner activities, however, Beijing is stronger on cultural activities such as Peking Opera, acrobatics and classical music concerts, while Shanghai has dozens of exciting, world-class bars. With Bespoke’s Trip Customization Service, you’ll be able to make the most of all of them.

Does Bespoke offer services outside of Beijing and Shanghai?

Since we are City Specialists, we can only arrange overnight or day trips to places nearby these major cities such as Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and others. If you're heading anywhere further afield, such as Xi'an, Yunnan or Tibet, just let us know by emailing info@bespoketravelcompany.com and we'll put you in touch with other local providers depending on what kind of experience you're after.

Can I get a Spanish/ French/ German speaking tour guide?

Yes you can, but please give us plenty of notice as exceptional European-language guides are few! We currently have French, German, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Chinese guides on our books, subject to availability.

Where should we go for Peking Duck?

We have our favourites, but unfortunately none of them are downright perfect. You’ve got your hotel Peking ducks (reliable, good service but a little dull); your hip independent joints (fantastic food, bad service) or your down and dirty local ones (fun vibe but occasionally mediocre) – so in the end it very much depends what matters most to you. Our default recommendation, however, is to head to one of the hip, independent restaurants – because if you can overlook the poor service, you’ll have a whale of a time.

Can I see/hug pandas in Beijing?

Sadly not! China maybe the home of the pandas, and Beijing the capital, but these black and white bamboo-munchers only reside in the reserves of Chengdu in the southwest of China. (The Beijing Zoo has a couple but we strongly recommend against a visit here, due to the dismal treatment of the animals).

Once You Are Here

What’s the deal with travel insurance or if something goes wrong?

You are expected to arrange your own travel insurance prior to arrival as Bespoke cannot do this for you. Make sure you have the right travel insurance to cover both medical emergencies and cancellation of your trip, and carry your insurance documents with you at all times. All of Bespoke’s services are outsourced to third party suppliers and therefore we cannot be held responsible for any accidents that occur during your trip. Of course it goes without saying that if for whatever reason you are unhappy with an aspect of the service offered by either us or our suppliers, we’ll do our utmost to sort it out super fast so you can go back to having a great time.

Should I tip the guide and driver? If so how much?

A tip would be much appreciated by your local guide and driver. We suggest 100RMB per person per day that you spend with each, but of course in the end it’s up to your discretion.

How can I get a local SIM card for my phone upon arrival? Can we get this at the airport?

Provided your phone has been unlocked/opened to enable you to accept foreign SIMs, yes you can, but keep in mind that SIM card rates at the airport will be poor. Instead we recommend going with your tour guide to one of the numerous China Unicom stores to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM once you get downtown. The cost will be around 100-200RMB including credit. Please note that the PRC requires all foreign citizens to present their passport in order to purchase a local SIM card.

What if we have to cancel our tour due to bad pollution/weather etc.?

If you’re worried about pollution, please read this article first. However if the pollution truly is a deal breaker for you on the day of your tour, Bespoke’s cancellation or last minute change fees will apply. The same goes for bad weather, though in the case of thunderstorms etc, we will always try to find an alternative or rearrange your trip to accommodate a switch up in your itinerary

Can I make last minute bookings?

Of course you can! We pride ourselves on our flexibility, however we hope you understand that last minute bookings and itinerary changes (those made on weekends or within 24 hours of a service commencing) take up a lot of our time, so for bookings/alterations of this nature, a fee of 500RMB will be added to your bill.

Money

Is it easy to change money at the airport once I arrive?

Yes it is. There are Currency Exchange counters in the arrivals area of the Beijing and Shanghai airports. Once downtown, your hotel and the local Chinese banks can also do this for you, but take note that Chinese law requires you to present your passport in order to do so.

What about drawing more money out?

While we advise obtaining some RMB before you fly, or exchanging some at the airport to get you started, it's also easy to withdraw cash from ATMs with an international credit card whilst in China. When you make a withdrawal at an ATM here, it will be dispensed in the local currency (RMB) and both your bank back home and the local one will charge a small fee for the withdrawal. You can withdraw up to 3,000RMB (approx. 480USD) at a time from a local ATM, and around 12,000RMB per day. The most important thing to remember? If you plan on using your international credit or debit cards in China, don’t forget to let your bank know that you'll be on holiday here first – China is a high alert country on many banks’ fraud watch lists and will likely block your card if not.

Where’s the nearest ATM to my hotel/are ATMs easy to find?

Yes, there is usually an ATM within a ten-minute walk of wherever you may be. However to be on the safe side, we suggest always withdrawing money from an ATM located inside or attached to a bank. Standalone ATMs (except for the ones in subway stations) have a higher likelihood of being tampered with.

Getting Around

Is the subway easy/safe to use?

Absolutely! China’s subway systems are some of the cleanest, cheapest and most efficient in the world. Simply buy your ticket on the platform by using the touch screen terminals, and try to have some crisp bills and 1RMB coins with you to speed up the process. A caveat: We don’t recommend using the subway during peak hours, when it suddenly resembles a panicky evacuation scene from the film 2012…

Do you recommend getting between Beijing and Shanghai by plane or the high-speed bullet train?

We generally recommend taking the train. This is because flight delays are extremely common between Beijing and Shanghai due to military restrictions on airspace. If flights run on time, your journey time will certainly be quicker. If they don’t they can in fact take longer than the train (which takes around 5 hours). And don’t forget that taking the bullet train is an experience in itself, whizzing through the Chinese countryside at an astonishing 300km/hr. Don’t expect inspiring views from the train window though…

Is it easy to find a taxi?

If you’re not searching during rush hour, it is relatively easy to find a taxi in Beijing and Shanghai (except when it’s raining of course). Shanghai taxi drivers tend to be more professional than Beijing taxi drivers, but the biggest issue here is the lack of English spoken. What most people don’t realize is that even if you hop in a cab and ask to be taken to the ‘Forbidden City’ or ‘the Bund’ in English – two of the most famous sights in each city – your driver won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Taxi cards and postal addresses help, but if the driver is not familiar with the venue, they may simply drop you in the vicinity, rather than at your destination. Finally, be sure to study the exchange rate and keep an eye on the meter. Even licensed cabbies have been known to cheat tourists when the opportunity presents itself!

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