The average maximum daytime temperature in China in May is a warm 27°C (81°F) with low heat & humidity. There are usually 9 hours of bright sunshine each day, which represents 65% of the 14 hours of daylight. Expect 29mm (1.1 inches) of rainfall across the whole of May with 6 days with some rain falling.
However, in the desert and in Lijiang and Shangri La, it will be cooler, even chilly at night. Before we leave, check these websites for latest weather information.
Check this website for a more general description of weather in China month-by-month, with suggestions for what to take, as well as for current weather:
What to pack
We encourage you to travel as lightly as possible. We strongly encourage you to take only carry-on bags and a day pack. That avoids losing bags and potentially long waits at baggage claim. Because China is a huge country, we are flying a lot and will have to haul our own bags at most airports and the railroad stations. You will be able to get laundry done everywhere. For sightseeing, you will want comfortable clothes such as hiking pants and shirts. China is pretty casual, so don't bring dressy clothes-we won't need them anywhere. And please do not bring expensive jewelry or watches. China is very safe, but better not to tempt fate.
If you do check a bag, which we hope you won't, please make sure you have everything you need, such as medications, in your carry-on bag. Please do not pack anything valuable in a checked bag. Pack 2 days of underwear and 1 change of clothes in your carry-on bag. At the risk of being overly repetitive, much better to have all carry-on!
- 1 pair casual, very comfortable, shoes for sightseeing-strong enough for hiking if you want to do a hike in Shangri La
- 1 pair sandals or lightweight shoes
- 2-3 pairs hiking pants or similar
- 1-2 pairs slightly dressier pants or a skirt for evening
- 3-4 T-shirts or short-sleeved hiking shirts
- 2 long-sleeved shirts, also lightweight (hiking shirts are perfect)
- 1 fleece jacket (good for the plane if it'
s cold on the flight)
- 1 down sweater or light weight down jacket or similar for the Tibetan Plateau and desert (something that packs into a tiny blob)
- 1 pair lightweight fleece gloves
- 1 lightweight sweater for cool days and evenings
- fleece ski hat for the Plateau
- Gore-tex rain jacket
- plastic poncho (optional, but nice if you have the backpack variety that folds into a tiny pack)
- underwear and socks
- travel alarm clock
- small flashlight
- prescription or reading glasses if you use them, plus an extra pair
- all your standard medications
- Imodium or similar in case you get a stomach bug
- standard toiletries (hotels will have hair dryers, so you don't need to bring those)
- hand wipes and hand sanitizer
- 2 to 3 small packages of tissues (most hotels will have tissues)
- mosquito repellant-may not need it, but just in case
- several zip lock plastic bags
- sun hat with broad brim
- camera with extra disk and batteries and battery charger
- adaptor kit (China uses several different plugs, so you'll
need a variety of adaptors-there are kits with all the different adaptors in a small package)
- whatever you like to read
- small travel pillow if you like a soft pillow (here's a website: http://www.royalpillow.com/travel-pillow.asp. Amazon also has them.)
- copy of passport information page)
- 2 passport photos
- phone and charger-buy an international phone and data package from your wireless provider before you leave
- iPad or tablet if you use one for internet access (available most places for a fee)
- Day pack
Books about China:
John Pomfret, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present, 2016
From the clipper ships trading between China and the US to the US warships facing off against China in the South China Sea; from Yankee missionaries who brought Christianity and education to China to the Chinese who built the American West, the United States and China have always been intertwined. John Pomfret reconstructs the fascinating ways Americans and Chinese have engaged with one another through the centuries. Excellent reviews.
Adam Brown, China: A History of China and East Asia: Ancient China, Economy, Communism, Capitalism, Culture, Martial Arts, Medicine, Military, People including Mao Zedong, Confucius, and Sun Tzu Kindle Edition, 2016
Comprehensive history of China from its ancient days through the imperial dynasties to communism and capitalism, covering history, culture, art and much more. Excellent reviews.
Gordon Kerr, A Short History of China: From Ancient Dynasties to Economic Powerhouse,, 2013
Just what it says—a short, comprehensive history of China. Well-reviewed.
Eddie Flores, Jr., 108 Tips on Business, Travel, and Culture in China, 2015
The author balances history, personal anecdotes and humor to guide the reader through all the do's, don'ts and everything in-between. A must-have reference for anyone interested in Chinese culture, travel and business. Good reviews.
Kathy Flower,, China - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture,
The Culture Smart! guides provide excellent information about local customs and culture. There is a new version of this book coming out May 1, 2017-a little late for us, but you can pre-order on Amazon if you'd like to get it. Otherwise, this version, though a little old, will be just fine.
Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China 2007
Though a little out of date, this book captures the huge changes in China over the last generation with stories of ordinary Chinese learning to live and cope in a vastly different economic, social and cultural landscape.
Peter Hessler, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze,, 2006
A book about his 2 years in the Peace Corps teaching English in a Yangtze River town.
Rob Gifford, China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, 2008
Also a little out of date, but a fascinating and personal account by NPR reporter, Rob Gifford, of his trip along Route 312 from Shanghai to Kazakhstan.
Tom Carter, ed.. Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China, 2013
This anthology is 28 essays from foreigners who live or have lived in China for a significant period of time. Their personal stories illustrate the many sides of Chinese life-the weird, the fascinating, and the appalling-and share what it's like to live, learn, and love as an outsider in a land unlike any other in the world. Controversial in China with good reviews in the US.
Richard McGregor, The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers, 2010
A Financial Times reporter provides insights into the huge and all-encompassing Chinese Communist Party. Excellent explanation of how things work in China. Excellent reviews.
Sidney Rittenberg, The Man Who Stayed Behind, 1989
Sidney Rittenberg stayed in China at the end of WWII, was a close friend of Mao, Chao En Lai, and Deng Xiao Ping, was imprisoned for many years 2 different times. This is the fascinating and incredible story of a man whose contacts in China are still remarkable and whose name is still known everywhere. He is now 95 years old and lives in Seattle with his Chinese wife.
Jung Chang, Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China, 1991
The fascinating story of 3 generations of Chinese women, from a concubine grandmother to a Red Guard granddaughter. Still excellent reading.
David Shambaugh, China's Future, 2016
China's future is arguably the most consequential question in global affairs. Having enjoyed unprecedented levels of growth, China is at a critical juncture in the development of its economy, society, polity, national security, and international relations. The direction the nation takes at this turning point will determine whether it stalls or continues to develop and prosper. The author offers a thoughtful and clear study of China's future for all those seeking to understand the country's likely trajectory over the coming decade and beyond. A bests-seller with very good reviews.
Judy Bonavia and Christoph Baumer, The Silk Road: Xi'an to Kashgar, 2007
Since we'll be traveling part of China's Silk Road, from Xi'an to Dunhuang and the Buddhist caves, this will provide a good overview and history of China's portion of the Silk Road.
Neville Agnew and Marcia Reed, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road, 2016
A little pricey, but with beautiful photos and good commentary on the Mogao Caves which we'll be visiting in Dunhuang.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control website gives you thorough and current information about health issues in China: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/china.aspx. Please take the time to review it. We will not be in any area where malaria occurs. You do not need any special vaccinations to travel to China. We do recommend you make sure all your vaccinations are up-to-date. For any international travel, we recommend having Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. None of these are required for entry to China, but are good health precautions.
Most Chinese cities we visit will have terrible air quality. If you have asthma, be sure to bring a good supply of any medications you use. Many Chinese use surgical masks as a matter of course. We have never done that, but it is not uncommon to see people wearing them. We take various cold medications with us because it is very common to get a cold or cough in such a polluted environment.
China's water supply is not safe. Drink only bottled water. No matter what a hotel says, use bottled water for everything including brushing your teeth. We will have bottled water on our buses for you. Do not eat any fruits or vegetables that aren't cooked or peeled. Do take Imodium or some similar medication with you in case you get a stomach bug and keep it with you at all times. We also suggest you take Cipro (you'll need a prescription from your doctor) with you in case you get travelers' diarrhea. If you are very careful about what you eat and drink, you should stay healthy throughout our trip.
Check out these websites for general information about China:
Take a look at these websites before you leave for China. They give you very good guidance about the unique cultural aspect of good etiquette in China, which is critical to know in order to leave a good impression and "save face".
Some general guidelines to remember:
- Take some business cards if you have them. Chinese like to exchange cards. When presenting your card or a gift or a tip, extend it in both hands and accept cards also with both hands. Take a moment to look at the card when you receive it (don't put it away right away). Hand your card personally to each person you meet, using both hands.
- Use both hands when accepting anything else, such as a gift, as well as a business card.
- Stand up when you are introduced to someone. Introductions are important in China and generally go by perceived rank. Shaking hands is the standard greeting. Don't touch anyone we meet in a personal way, such as a touch on the arm or a backslap.
- Chinese tend to be more formal than Americans. Titles are important in China, as is rank. When possible, use titles and last names to talk to people
- Saying "no" may cause a Chinese person to lose face. You are likely to find many euphemisms to cover a "no" to a request.
- Gifts are standard in China and are given quietly. Rarely will a Chinese open a gift in your presence. We will be taking some gifts in case we need them, and they will be for all of us. If you receive a gift from anyone, open it later unless the giver requests that you open it.
- Keep your feet on the floor. As in many countries, showing the soles of your shoes is considered rude.
- Avoid pointing.
- China is very crowded, so don't be surprised if people jostle you or stand very close to you when they talk to you. Take it in stride, as privacy and personal space are not the realities of their lives.
- Chopsticks are often used for serving from the many plates on the "lazy Susan". Do not use the end of the chopsticks you are eating from-turn them 180 degrees and use the blunt end of the chopsticks to serve yourself. Always lay chopsticks horizontally if you are not using them.
- Chinese usually serve a guest before serving themselves. So, if we are dining with Chinese guests, you may want to do the same.
- Keep your thoughts and opinions about Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan to yourself. These are very sensitive topics in China.
- Tipping is not common in China. We will handle all tips for those who do survive on tips, such as guides and bus drivers. You do not need to tip for personal service, though Westerners often do give small tips.