My wife and I lived in Hong Kong in the days when travel to mainland China was impossible. After watching last week's handover ceremony on television we have decided to go to China but have no idea where to start. Can you give us some ideas on what there is to see? Is independent travel possible?
Jeremy Atiyah replies: China is far more diverse than most people imagine. It is certainly not all rice and bicycles (though there are a fair few of these).
Basically the east and south of the country are green, wet and extremely crowded. The classic Chinese water-colour landscapes of paddy fields surrounding steep green hills can be seen in Guangxi Province, in the Guilin and Yangshuo area. Other scenically watery parts of China can be found in the Shanghai area. Hangzhou is one of the country's nicest cities; for something smaller try Shaoxing.
Heading north and west on the other hand, you'll find sparsely populated pasturelands, deserts and mountain ranges. To get a true flavour of China you should try to see something of the Silk Road that runs west from Xi'an as far as remote Kashgar, and then right out of the country into Central Asia. In the south-west China runs up against Tibet which is a whole world in itself.
China's two great waterways, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers - both crossing the country from west to east - are also possible themes for your trip. The Yangtze boat trip from Shanghai to Chongqing, deep in the interior, is a classic journey.
Although generally speaking Chinese cities can be horrible places, it would be a shame to miss out on either of the two major cities, Shanghai and Peking, both of which are experiencing an explosion of nightlife, with clubs and karaoke bars galore.
Peking is the ancient heart of China, vast, historic and orderly. Here you'll find the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, as well as awesome signs of Chinese power (Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of the People etc). Shanghai on the other hand is essentially a modern city, offering the fantastic spectacle of 1930s-style European skyscrapers lining the Bund, while an entire city of shining new ones is being built across the water.
As for how to visit - that depends on your stamina. Travelling independently is feasible if you have plenty of time and a good guide-book. This is the best way to meet local people and an epic Chinese train journey can be one of life's great pleasures. On the other hand, simple tasks such as ordering dinner or buying train tickets, surrounded by thousands of staring, spitting peasants can be tiresome.
If your time is short you would do better to resort to a group tour. These include quick "essential China" tours of the sort offered by big tour operators (eg Kuoni 01306 740888 or Asiaworld Travel 01932 211300). The specialist China Travel Service (CTS 0171 8369911) is also worth approaching. The cheapest kind of tour is one week's flight-and-hotel deal to Peking only: these start from pounds 500 per person. More rugged overland expeditions, along the Silk Road for example, are offered by Exodus 0181 675 5550 or Explore Worldwide 01252 319448.
Jeremy Atiyah is travel editor of the 'Independent on Sunday' and co- author of the 'Rough Guide to China'.
We will be driving around Europe in September, and our journey includes several countries outside the EC, including Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Poland. Can we use Eurocheques in these countries?
The travel editor replies: Eurocheques can be used in all the countries you are visiting (though not widely in Czech Republic or Poland) but are probably not the best way to pay for things in Europe these days. Given the internationalisation of credit and debit (eg Switch) cards, you might as well carry on using these as you would use them at home: either to pay for things directly, or to withdraw cash from cash-dispensing machines wherever you are (of course you need to have PIN numbers for these cards). Exchange rate charges and commission are roughly the same between Eurocheques and credit/debit cards.
I am considering driving into Eastern Europe, spending about five nights in each of Berlin and Warsaw. Have you got any ideas for the most convenient way to do this?
The travel editor replies: If taking a car to Germany with a small group, a convenient route is the Harwich-Hamburg ferry on Scandinavian Seaways (Tel: 0990 - 333000). A special return price for a car and four people to share a 4-berth cabin is pounds 430 altogether if travelling in midweek. From Hamburg to Berlin can be as little as two hours to drive. Onwards, from Berlin to Warsaw can additionally be done in a single day.
As for documentation, you will need to carry your normal Vehicle Registration papers. Your British driving license will be valid for both Poland and Germany, though if you are at all nervous it might also help in a crisis to be holding an International Driving Permit, available from the AA. Third party motor insurance is a minimum requirement; your insurer can give you a green card which is an internationally recognised proof of insurance.
CAN A GADGET KEEP MOSQUITOES AWAY?
Given the scares about anti-malarial tablets, can you advise on the best ways to keep mosquitoes at bay? I've seen an advertisement for an electronic mosquito repeller which apparently works as follows: "... it is only the pregant female mosquito which stings and they fly away from male mosquitoes. The electronic mosquito repeller simulates the sound of the male, driving away the females who are wanting to sting you ..." Does this (or any other gadget) work?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: People who travel to tropical areas where diseases such as malaria are endemic should carry a good supply of insect repellent. The mosquitoes which transmit malaria will usually bite at night, so precautions should also be taken on retiring, when repellents applied to the skin will not provide enough protection.
Firstly, don't rely on any electronic device which claims to emit a noise that confuses and discourages mosquitoes. I have yet to see an independent test that shows they are effective and they should certainly not be used if malaria is of concern. If the windows of a hotel room are well screened or the room is air conditioned, then it should be cleared of any mosquitoes using a knockdown spray. If the room has an electric wall socket then the readily available plug-in devices can be used; these heat up a small mat containing insecticide which will be released over several hours. The coils which can be burnt to release insecticide vapour are really only intended for outdoor use.
The best way of avoiding bites at night, and the only practical thing on safari, is to sleep under a mosquito net impregnated with permethrin. I would recommend that these are used by travellers visiting high risk malaria endemic areas, such as some parts of Africa.
Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, Tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.Reuse content