By Plane

On direct, nonstop flights, China's own international airlines always offer rates slightly lower than those of foreign carriers. Cabin staff try to be helpful but are never quite sure how, and the in-flight movies may be 40 years old. Air China only recently suffered its first and only fatal accident, and it should not be confused with China Airlines from Taiwan, at quite the other end of the scale.

Cathay Pacific Airlines, Hong Kong's main international carrier, is effortlessly superior to North American airlines in service standards, and should be the first choice for direct flights to Hong Kong where available.

In recent years, a program of building and modernization has left even the airports of small provincial towns often shinier, more modern, and more efficient than those of similar-size

In mainland China, buying a phone is the best option. Last year's now unfashionable model can be bought, with chip and ¥100 ($13) of pre-paid air time, for often around ¥800 ($100); less if a Chinese model is chosen. Europeans taking their GSM phones, and North Americans with tri-band phones, can buy chips (qudn-qiutong) for about ¥100 ($13). Mainland chips do not work in Hong Kong, or vice versa. Recharge cards (shenzhduxing) are available at post offices and the mobile phone shops which seem to occupy about 50% of all retail space. Call rates are very low, although those receiving calls pay part of the cost; and if the phone is taken to another province, that cost increases, making the use of ordinary phones a better deal for dialing out. In Hong Kong recharge cards are widely available at convenience stores and mobile-phone shops, and chips are included free with the cost of initial charge value.

cities in North America or Europe. Flying indirectly with the airlines of other Asian nations opens up a choice of other smaller, less crowded mainland gateways, whose airports may be much closer to the center of town and which provide a gentler introduction to China.

Note that when you leave the country there's a departure tax, currently ¥90 ($11), payable only in cash. Departure tax on domestic flights is ¥50 ($6.25), but note that flights between the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau are treated as international flights. Hong Kong's taxes and fees are usually included in ticket prices, but Macau's are not. See the chapter on Hong Kong and Macau.

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