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China's travel industry, though ostensibly controlled by a central authority, is generally quite mired in misinformation and obfuscation, so that it is often difficult for visitors to get truly reliable and accurate information either inside or outside the country. The all-controlling China National Tourism Administration has branches in foreign countries known as China National Tourist Offices (CNTO); their purpose is supposedly to provide tourist information and services. Traditionally, however, CNTO has usually funneled visitors to the agency handling all travel within China, China International Travel Service (CITS or guoji luxingshe). There are more tour operators inside China now, but don't expect the information CNTO provides to always be accurate or up-to-date. For a list of CNTO office addresses, see below.

Shanghai online: The best way to receive fairly up-to-date information on Shanghai before departure is to use the Internet, though it's best to surf a variety of websites so you can compare information. Treat with some skepticism "official sources" of information, including the official city website (www.shanghai.gov.cn), which is not always up-to-date either. Also beware of unofficial Chinese-run sites, especially those that also sell travel services -- they are a dime a dozen on the Web and there is no guarantee of reliability.

Shanghai's English-language newspaper, Shanghai Daily (www.shanghaidaily.com), offers both Shanghai and China news, albeit of the highly filtered and uncontroversial variety.

Of the online editions of the English-language magazines, the best of the lot are the long-running bi-weekly City Weekend (www.cityweekend.com.cn) which offers news and features, along with its restaurant, bar, and arts reviews and listings; the 2010-launched Time Out Shanghai (www.timeoutcn.com/tosh); and the monthly that's Shanghai (www.shanghai.urbananatomy.com), with longer feature articles and listings for just about everything the visitor or even expat can want to look up. "Smart Shanghai" (www.smartshanghai.com) is an urban webzine on local nightlife, dining, and culture, while "Shanghaiist" (www.shanghaiist.com) is one of the best blogs on the latest happenings in Shanghai. Other Shanghai blogs include www.sinosplice.com and www.wangjianshuo.com.

The Oriental-List offers an ad- and spam-free discussion of issues relating to travel in China, and is a good place to ask questions that may not be addressed in this guide. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: subscribe-oriental-list@list.datasinica.com.

In Shanghai: The best source of visitor information is the 24-hour Shanghai Call Center (tel. 021/962-288). Staffed by very helpful English- and Chinese-speaking university graduates, it's the first of its kind to offer such a service in the country, providing information on culture, entertainment, medical services, the economy, tourism, dining, transportation, entry-exit issues, and other related topics on Shanghai.

Otherwise, Shanghai has an official Tourism Hot Line (tel. 021/6439-8947 or 021/962020) with the occasional English speaker who can be helpful. You can also try the 24-hour Tourist Information Line maintained by Spring Travel Service (tel. 021/6252-0000). Hotel staff and concierges can be a font of information as well, though even the most friendly and knowledgeable guest-relations officers at the top hotels can sometimes still be in the dark about any options off the beaten path. Also, beware of those who would try to sell you expensive tours.

There are about a dozen Tourist Information Service Centers (Lu[gum]you Zixun Fuwu Zhongxin) around Shanghai. They appear to exist mainly to sell various city tours and to book hotels but, depending on who is sitting behind the desk, they may be able to offer some guidance. You can also pick up city maps, postcards, brochures, and information on local sights, shopping, and restaurants here. The main office is at Zhongshan Xi Lu 2525, Room 410, Changning District (tel. 021/6439-9806), with smaller branch offices at Nanjing Xi Lu 1699, Jing An District (tel. 021/6248-3259); Nanjing Dong Lu 561, Huangpu District (tel. 021/5353-1117); Chengdu Nan Lu 127, Luwan District (tel. 021/6372-8330); and Lujiazui Xi Lu 168, Zhengda Guangchang first floor, Pudong (tel. 021/6887-7888).

The best sources for current information about Shanghai events, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife are the free English-language newspapers and magazines distributed to hotels, shops, and cafes around town.

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

  • In the United States: 350 Fifth Ave., Ste. 6413, New York, NY 10118 (tel. 212/760-8218; fax 212/760-8809; ny@cnta.gov.cn); 600 W. Broadway, Ste. 320, Glendale, CA 91204 (tel. 818/545-7505; fax 818/545-7506; la@cnta.gov.cn).
  • In the U.K.: 71 Warwick Rd., London SW5 9HB (tel. 020/7373-0888; fax 020/7370-9989; london@cnta.gov.cn).
  • In Australia: 44 Market St., Level 19, Sydney NSW 2000 (tel. 02/9299-4057; fax 02/9290-1958; sydney@cnta.gov.cn).
  • In Canada: 480 University Ave., Ste. 806, Toronto, ON M5G 1V2 (tel. 416/599-6636; fax 416/599-6382; www.tourismchina-ca.com).

Online Traveler's Toolbox

  • ATM Locators: Visa ATM Locator (www.visa.com) provides locations of PLUS ATMs worldwide; MasterCard ATM Locator (www.mastercard.com), gives locations of Cirrus ATMs worldwide.
  • China Digital Time (www.chinadigitaltimes.net) is a U.C. Berkeley-based website that delivers the best collection of China-related news stories from media sources around the world.
  • C-trip (www.english.ctrip.com) is a Chinese consolidator hotel and airplane booking site that is very popular with many Chinese. English-speaking agents are available to help with bookings.
  • eLong (www.elong.net) offers excellent prices on both domestic and international flights, which can be booked online or via telephone. Credit cards are accepted (with a 3%-5% surcharge), or pay in cash when the tickets are delivered. English-speaking agents can help with the booking process.
  • Foreign Languages for Travelers (www.travlang.com) provides a lexicon, with pronunciation guide, of basic useful traveling terms in English, Chinese characters, and pinyin.
  • Online Chinese Tools (www.mandarintools.com) has Chinese dictionaries for Mac and Windows users, and also provides conversions between the solar and lunar calendar.
  • The Oriental-List is a spam- and ad-free moderated mailing list focusing only on travel in China, and is an excellent location to post questions not already covered in this guide. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to subscribe-oriental-list@datasinica.com.
  • Travelchinaguide.com (www.travelchinaguide.com) is an online tour operator in China. While it offers both package and private tours, the information (especially on train travel and getting around locally) and community sections are the most helpful.
  • Travel Advisories are available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html, www.fco.gov.uk/travel, www.voyage.gc.ca, and www.dfat.gov.au.
  • Universal Currency Converter (www.xe.net/currency) provides the latest exchange rates for any currency against the yuan.
  • Weatherbase (www.weatherbase.com) provides month-by-month temperatures and rainfalls for individual cities in China.
  • The Weather Channel (www.weather.com) provides current temperatures in Shanghai.
  • World Health Organization (www.who.org) and the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) both provide information on health concerns that may affect travelers around the world, including in China.

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.