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Telephones

To call China, Hong Kong, or Macau:

1. Dial the international access code (011 in the U.S. and Canada, 00 in the U.K., Ireland, and New Zealand, or 0011 from Australia).

2. Dial the country code: 86 for China, 852 for Hong Kong, 853 for Macau.

3. For China, dial the city code, omitting the leading zero, and then the number. Hong Kong and Macau have no city codes, so after the country code, simply dial the remainder of the number.

To call within China: For calls within the same city, omit the city code, which always begins with a zero when used (010 for Beijing, 020 for Guangzhou, and so on). All hotel phones have direct dialing, and most have international dialing. Hotels are only allowed to add a service charge of up to 15% to the cost of the call, and even long-distance rates within China are very low. To use a public telephone you'll need an IC (integrated circuit) card (aaisei ka), available in values from ¥20. You can buy them at post offices, convenience stores, street stalls, or wherever you can make out the letters "IC" among the Chinese characters. A local call is typically ¥.22 for 3 minutes. Phones show you the value remaining on the card when you insert it, and count down as you talk. To call within Hong Kong: In Hong Kong, local calls made from homes, offices, shops, and other establishments are free, so don't feel shy about asking to use the phone. From hotel lobbies and public phone booths, a local call costs HK$1 for each 5 minutes; from hotel rooms, about HK$4 to HK$5. To call within Macau: Local calls from private phones are free, and from call boxes cost MOP$1.

To make international calls: From mainland China or Macau, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area or city code, omitting any leading zero, and then the number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial tel. 00-1-202/588-7800. Forget taking access numbers for your local phone company with you -- you can call internationally for a fraction of the cost by using an IP (Internet protocol) card, aaipii ka, purchased from department stores and other establishments -- wherever you see the letters "IP." Instructions for use are on the back, but you simply dial the access number given, choose English from the menu, and follow the instructions to dial in the number behind a scratch-off panel. Depending on where you call, ¥50 can give you an hour of talking, but you should bargain to pay less than the face value of the card -- sometimes as little as ¥70 for a ¥100 card from street vendors.

To use a public phone, you'll need an IC card to make the local call. In emergencies, dial 108 to negotiate a collect call, but again, in most towns you'll need help from a Mandarin speaker. From Hong Kong dial 001, 0080, or 009, depending on which of several competing phone companies you are using. Follow with the country code and continue as for calling from China or Macau.

It's much cheaper to use one of several competing phone cards, such as Talk Talk, which come in denominations ranging from HK$50 to HK$300 and are available at HKTB information offices and convenience stores.

For directory assistance: In mainland China dial tel. 114. No English is spoken, and only local numbers are available. If you want other cities, dial the city code followed by 114 -- a long-distance call. In Hong Kong dial tel. 1081 for a local number, and 10013 for international ones. In Macau dial tel. 181 for domestic numbers, and 101 for international ones.

For operator assistance: If in mainland China if you need operator assistance in making a call, just ask for help at your hotel. In Hong Kong dial tel. 10010 for domestic assistance, 10013 for international assistance.

Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 800 within China are toll-free, but calling a toll-free number abroad from China is a full-tariff international call, as is calling one in Hong Kong from mainland China, or vice versa.

Cellphones

All Europeans, most Australians, and many North Americans use GSM (Global System for Mobiles) cellphones. But while everyone else can take a regular GSM phone to China, North Americans, who operate on a different frequency, need to have a more expensive triband model. International roaming charges can also be horrendously expensive, so it's far cheaper to buy a "pay as you go" SIM card on arrival in China. These are available at airports and train stations, and you can buy top-up cards from the service provider shops, as well as some news kiosks and post offices in larger cities. China Mobile tends to have the best coverage, but there are plenty of other options, including China Unicom. SIM cards generally cost around ¥100 and include a limited amount of talk-time. Getting the shop that you buy the SIM from to install and activate it makes life easier. If you're going to be traveling extensively around the country, bear in mind that calls will be cheapest in the "home zone" where you bought the SIM card, so if you have any choice about it, buy the SIM where you will be spending most of your time (or where you expect to make and receive the most calls). If your phone doesn't work in China (or if you don't want to risk losing your expensive phone while away), buying a local cellphone is a good option; the cheapest models are available for under ¥200, although they are unlikely to work in North America on your return.

Renting a phone is another alternative, although this is expensive, and best done from home, since such services are not widely available in China. That way you can give out your new number, and make sure the phone works. You'll usually pay $40 to $50 per week, plus air-time fees of at least $1 a minute. In the U.S., two good wireless rental companies are InTouch USA (www.intouchglobal.com) and RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1616 or 905/272-4934; www.roadpost.com).

Internet/E-Mail

Despite highly publicized clamp-downs on Internet cafes, monitoring of traffic, and blocking of websites, China remains one of the easiest countries in the world in which to get online.

Without Your Own Computer -- Almost any hotel with a business center, right down to Chinese government-rated two-star level, offers expensive Internet access, and almost every town has a few Internet cafes (wangba), with rates typically ¥2 to ¥5 per hour, many open 24 hours a day. Locations of cafes are given for most cities in this guide, but they come and go very rapidly. Keep your eyes open for the wangba characters. In Hong Kong many coffee bars have a free terminal or two.

Thanks to ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines) many progressive bars and guesthouses are now offering free Internet on the mainland, too. Note that some Internet bars are often noisy and smoky places crammed full of teenage online gamers; you will usually find that the local library is a much cleaner, often cheaper alternative.

Many media websites and those with financial information or any data whatsoever on China that disagrees with the party line are blocked from mainland China, as are some search engines. These days you may also be asked to show your passport before being able to surf the net.

With Your Own Computer -- It's just possible that your ISP has a low-cost local access number in China, but that's unlikely. These days many hotels in Chinese cities (and tourist destinations) offer in-room broadband Internet access. This is often free, and you simply need to ask reception for a cable (wangxin), but sometimes it is chargeable. Typical charges range from ¥10 per day in budget places, to ¥80 or more in five-star hotels. Most of the time you'll connect automatically, but on occasion you might need to input the IP address and password the hotel will provide you with. Some hotels also have Wi-Fi in the lobby, and maybe in the rooms; if you plan to use this, check that you get a decent signal as soon as you check in, and if it's weak, ask to change rooms. Finally, as a last resort, there's free, anonymous dial-up access across most of China, although this is slow, and seldom used these days. Look for "Internet Access" in the "Fast Facts" sections of cities in this book; you can connect by using the number we've provided, and by making the account name and password the same as the dial-up number.

Mainland China uses the standard U.S.-style RJ11 telephone jack also used as the port for laptops worldwide. Cables with RJ11 jacks at both ends can be picked up for around $2 in department stores and electrical shops without difficulty. In Hong Kong and Macau, however, phone connections are often to U.K. standards, although in better hotels an RJ11 socket is provided. Standard electrical voltage across China is 220v, 50Hz, which most laptops can deal with, but North American users in particular should check.

Online Traveler's Toolbox

  • ATM Locator for locations of VISA and PLUS locations worldwide (www.visa.com); or MasterCard ATM Locator (www.mastercard.com), for locations of Cirrus ATMs worldwide
  • Ctrip (www.english.ctrip.com). One of the better Chinese hotel booking sites, this one has a great deal of useful travel information in English as well as a very convenient map of China interface. Ctrip also has a service similar to eLong for domestic and international plane tickets.
  • eLong (www.elong.net). Excellent prices on domestic and international tickets. Book flights online or by phone and pay for tickets in cash upon delivery. You can also pay by credit card (expect a 3%-5% surcharge) after faxing through a credit card authorization form. Both companies have English-speaking agents who can walk you through the booking process.
  • On-line Chinese Tools (www.mandarintools.com). Dictionaries for Mac and Windows, facilities for finding yourself a Chinese name, Chinese calendars for conversion between the solar and lunar calendars, and more.
  • Ticket9588 (www.9588.com). Easy to use online domestic flight booking site with regular discounts.
  • Travelchinaguide.com (www.travelchinaguide.com). Organized by only one Chinese tour company but with an active and informative community section and up-to-date train schedules.
  • Travel Warnings. See http://travel.state.gov for the U.S., www.fco.gov.uk/travelling for the U.K., www.voyage.gc.ca for Canada, or www.dfat.gov.au/consular/advice for Australia.
  • Universal Currency Converter (www.xe.com/ucc). Latest exchange rates of any currency against the yuan, HK$, and MOP$.
  • Virtualtourist.com (www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Asia/China/TravelGuide-China.html). An advertising-supported alternative to Wikitravel, but with some 30,000 travelers tips for China alone, still a very useful resource.
  • Weather in China. Weatherbase (www.weatherbase.com) gives month-by-month averages for temperature and rainfall in individual cities in China. Intellicast (www.intellicast.com), Weather.com (www.weather.com), and Wunderground (www.wunderground.com) give weather forecasts for cities around the world.
  • Wikitravel.org (http://wikitravel.org/en/China) is a project to create a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide, so far with over 16,000 destination guides and other articles written and edited by Wikitravelers from around the globe, and growing all the time.
  • Yunnanexplorer.com (www.yunnanexplorer.com). A fantastically informative set of articles that is a goldmine mine for travelers to this beautiful province.
  • Zhongwen.com (www.zhongwen.com). Online dictionary with look-up of English and Chinese and explanations of Chinese etymology using a system of family trees.

     

  • 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.