Peak Travel Seasons

Chinese New Year (Spring Festival):

Like many Chinese festivals, this one operates on the lunar calendar. Solar equivalents for the next few years are January 22, 2004; February 9, 2005; January 29, 2006; and February 18, 2007. The effects of this holiday are felt from 2 weeks before the date until 2 weeks after, when anyone who's away from home attempts to get back, including an estimated 150 million migrant workers. Although tens of thousands of extra bus and train services are added, tickets for land transport are very difficult to get, and can command high prices on the black market (official prices also rise on some routes, and on ferries between Hong Kong and the mainland). Air tickets are usually obtainable and may

Union (& 800/325-6000; www. westernunion.com) to many post offices and branches of the Agricultural Bank of China across China, including 49 in Beijing alone, and 18 in Hong Kong. You must present valid ID to pick up the cash at the Western Union office. In most countries, you can pick up a money transfer even if you don't have valid identification, as long as you can answer a test question provided by the sender. This should work in Hong Kong but might cause difficulties in mainland China. Let the sender know in advance that you don't have ID.

even still be discounted. In the few days immediately around the New Year, traffic on long-distance rail and bus services may be light, but local services may dry up altogether. Most tourist sights stay open, although some shut on the holiday itself or have limited holiday hours. Labor Day & National Day: In a policy known as "holiday economics," the May 1 and October 1 holidays have now been expanded to 7 days each (including 1 weekend—most people are expected to work through the weekend prior to the holiday to exchange for 2 weekdays, which are added to the official 3 days of holiday). The aim is to draw out some of China's vast savings and get it sloshing around the economy on leisure spending, a policy which has been spectacularly successful. These two holidays now mark the beginning and end of the domestic travel season, and mark the twin peaks of leisure travel, with the remainder of May, early June, and September also busy. Most Chinese avoid traveling in the summer except specifically to cooler high ground or an offshore island, usually on a weekend. The exact dates of each holiday are not given out until around 2 weeks before each takes place, but it's best, if you're traveling independently, to arrive at a larger destination before the holiday starts, and move on in the middle or after the end. The disposable income to fund travel is more often found in the larger cities, so these tend to become quieter, easier to get around, and less polluted. Noted tourist destinations around the country will be extremely busy, however. In Hong Kong and Macau, these are only 1- or 2-day holidays introduced in 1997 and 1999 respectively. University Holidays: Exact term dates are rarely announced far in advance, but train tickets can be difficult to obtain as the student populace moves between home and college. Terms run for 18 weeks with 2 weeks of exams, from the beginning of September to just before Spring Festival, and from just after the Spring Festival to the end of June.

Local Difficulties: China's main international trade fair occupies the last 2 weeks of April and October, and drives up hotel prices in Guangzhou, where it's held, and as far away as Hong Kong. In the summer, pleasant temperatures in the northeast (slightly cooler than the rest of China) draw students on summer vacation (which makes train tickets hard to acquire), as well as large Chinese tour groups who trample all before them; it may not be the best time for your visit. The northeast's Dalian is also overbooked during the International Fashion Festival in September (see later). Across China, mid-week travel is always better than weekend travel, particularly true at destinations easily tackled in a weekend, such as Wutai Shan and Pingyao (see chapter 5, "Along the Yellow River.") Government-imposed travel restrictions in Tibet tend to increase around the Monlam Festival (sometime mid-Jan to mid-Feb), Saka Dawa Festival (mid-May to mid-June), and around the present Dalai Lama's birthday (July 6). The border crossing between Hong Kong and the mainland at Lo Wu can take a couple of hours at holiday periods.

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