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China National Tourist Offices (www.cnto.org):

In the United States -- New York office: 370 Lexington Ave., Suite 912, Empire State Building, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212/760-8218; fax 212/760-8809; ny@cnto.gov.cn). California office: 600 North Brand Blvd., Suite 910, Glendale, CA 91203 (tel. 818/545-7507; fax 818/545-7506; la@cnto.gov.cn).

In Canada -- 480 University Ave., Suite 8 06, Toronto, ON M5G 1V2 (tel. 416/599-6636; fax 416/599-6382; www.tourismchina-ca.com).

In the U.K. -- 71 Warwick Rd., London SW5 9HB (tel. 020/7373-0888; fax 020/7373-9989; london@cnta.gov.cn).

In Australia -- Level 11, 234 George St., Sydney, NSW 2000 (tel. 02/9252-9838; fax 02/9252-2728; sydney@cnta.gov.cn).

Hong Kong Tourism Board (www.discoverhongkong.com):

In the U.S. -- New York office: 115 E. 54th St., 2nd floor, New York, NY 10022-4512 (tel. 212/421-3382; fax 212/421-8428; nycwwo@hktb.com). California office: 10940 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2050, Los Angeles, CA 90024-3915 (tel. 310/208-4582; fax 310/208-2398; jeffs@hktb.com).

In Canada -- 3rd floor, 9 Temperance St., Toronto, ON M5H 1Y6 (tel. 416/366-2389; fax 416/366-1098; yyzwwo@hktb.com).

In the U.K. -- 6 Grafton St., London W1S 4EQ (tel. 020/7533-7100; fax 020/7533-7111; lonwwo@hktb.com).

In Australia -- Level 4, Hong Kong House, 80 Druitt St., Sydney, NSW 2000 (tel. 02/9283-3083; fax 02/9283-3383; sydwwo@hktb.com).

Macau Government Tourism Office (www.macautourism.gov.mo):

In the U.S. -- 501 Fifth Ave., Suite 1101, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 646/277-0690; fax 646/366-8170; macau@myriadmarketing.com).

In the U.K. -- 11 Parkshot House, 5 Kew Rd., Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2PR (tel. 44/20-8334-8325; fax 44/20-8334-8100; macau@humewhitehead.co.uk).

In Australia -- Level 17, Town Hall House, 456 Kent St., Sydney, NSW 2000 (tel. 02/9264-1488; fax 02/9267-7717; macau@worldtradetravel.com).

In New Zealand -- Level 5, Ballantyne House, 101 Customs St. E., P.O. Box 3779, Auckland (tel. 09/308-5206; fax 09/308-5207; macau@aviationandtourism.co.nz).

Planning Your Trip

The mainland travel industry as yet provides no truly reliable official sources of information either within China or via its overseas operations. The branches of the China National Tourism Administration in foreign countries are called China National Tourist Offices. Nominally nonprofit, they used to be little more than agents for the state-owned China International Travel Service (CITS), but they now offer links to a variety of operators. However, don't expect them to be accurate about even the most basic visa or customs regulations, or to update their websites, which sometimes give conflicting information and can't even get the names of tour operators right.

Hong Kong (Hong Kong Tourism Board; www.discoverhongkong.com) and Macau (Macau Government Tourism Office; www.macautourism.gov.mo) have their own tourism agencies, which are vastly more professional. The Hong Kong Tourism Board is a source of endless quantities of free literature, maps, and helpful advice, and its website is comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date. The Macau Government Tourism Office is the same on a smaller scale.

Finding Maps

Even though few are bilingual, purchasing city maps as you go is a good idea. These are available at bus and railway stations for ¥5 or less. Get your hotel staff to circle the characters of your hotel and the main sights you plan to see, and note which is which. Now you can jump in a taxi at any point, show the driver the characters for where you want to go, and keep an eye on the route he takes.The tourist boards of Hong Kong and Macau are liberal with bilingual and trilingual free maps.

Outside of China good quality maps are more difficult to find. One good source is International Travel Maps in Vancouver, BC, Canada (tel. 604/879-3621; www.itmb.com). Their China map has a scale of 1:3,800,000, costs around $13, and comes highly recommended. Characters are in both English and Chinese and everything is large and clearly marked. It is very detailed, and even small towns are shown.

I also like the maps produced by Nelles Verlag (www.nelles-verlag.de), which come in a set of four (northeast, north, central, and southern China), are English only and have a scale of 1:1,500,00, each one costing around $11.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.