Category Archives: China

Travel News Update: Hong Kong and E-Cigs

 

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If you’re entering Hong Kong with e-cigarettes containing nicotine, you’ll need a medical prescription indicating that they’re for personal use. If the e-cigarette is nicotine-free and for personal use, no medical prescription is needed. So travelers, be aware: you should either show proof that the e-cigarette is without nicotine, or show prescription. Nicotine is considered a Part 1 poison in Hong Kong, and the possession of a nicotine e-cigarette without a prescription faces a penalty up to $100,000 fine and 2 years’ imprisonment.

This order follows recent efforts by officials, headed by Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan, to step up on e-cigarette control and its possible carcinogens. Take note that in Hong Kong, cigarette smoking, including e-cigarettes, is banned in no smoking areas, including all indoor public areas, and some outdoor areas like school campuses and parks.

Other entry requirements remain unchanged; US citizens can visit Hong Kong for up to 6 months without a visa. If you visit mainland China via Hong Kong, you must obtain a Chinese visa before arrival at the Chinese border.

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Happy Year of the Rooster!

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Chinese populations all over the world will be celebrating lunar New Year’s Festival, from this Saturday, 28 January, and continuing for two weeks. Dozens of countries, and countless Chinese communities across the globe, come together to lion-dance, explode fireworks, and be merry. On the 15th day of the New Year—this year on February 11—is the pinnacle of festivities, the beautiful Lantern Festival. Lucky for you if you’re in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, or Vietnam during this fortnight!

According to the Chinese zodiac, it’s the Year of the Rooster—so don’t be surprised if you see images of brilliant yellow and red roosters all over.

Traditionally, families get together and munch on specially prepared dumplings. They clean the house, sweeping away ill fortune and making way for incoming good luck. Relatives exchange red paper arts, light firecrackers and gift money to children. You may catch a dragon dance on the street or a martial arts performance. It’s a great time to visit China and its neighbors!
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Popular Greetings:
1. 新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo) ‘New Year goodness!’
/sshin-nyen haoww/
2. 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐ fācái) ‘Happiness and prosperity!’
/gong-sshee faa-tseye/
3. 步步高升 / 步步高陞 (Bùbù gāoshēng)  A steady rise to high places! — “on the up and up”
/boo-boo gaoww-shnng /

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Read more from around the Web:
How to Celebrate Chinese New Year
Non-Touristy Ways to See the Great Wall of China
China’s massive Lunar New Year rush

Interested in a Vacation to China or Taiwan but not sure where to start? Give our agents a ring! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Ice Festivals around the World

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From the Desk of Wailana, Social Media Correspondent based in Stockholm

Glacial Artscapes

It’s freezing in my adoptive home of Sweden, about -10 C (that’s 14 F!), and venturing outside puts me knee-deep in snow. Coming from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, it’s not something I’ll ever be used to!

But ice and snow has its charms. Sweden just opened its Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi for 365 days of the year (previously it was only in winter season), so that puts me in the arctic spirit! And the rest of the world seems to agree. From December to March each year, cities and towns all across the globe host beautiful Ice Sculpture Festivals and transform their streets into a glacial winter wonderland.

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World Ice Art Championships — Alaska

Since 1989, Alaska is THE destination for worldwide ice art competition. Bringing together more than 100 sculptors and upwards of 50,000 visitors each year, the Ice Art Championship is a place to see masters excel at their craft. Judges break down the competition by Single Block (one block of ice) and Multi-Block, and Abstract and Realistic artworks. These “Olympics of Ice Carving” are a fantastic way for artists to demonstrate strength, vision, and feats of engineering. Usually held between February in March, giving youth carvers a chance to challenge each other during Spring Break. The theme tends to be up to interpretation, with topics ranging from pop culture to folklore; but many artists do favor naturalistic motifs, celebrating local Alaskan fauna or indigenous culture.

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Harbin Intl Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival — China

The magnificent and luminous International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China (whew what a title!), holds the title of largest ice festival in the world. Originating way back in 1963 (albeit interrupted for some years during the Cultural Revolution), it typical runs from January to February. This is one crazy festival–featuring ice lanterns, carving competitions, a fireworks show, converts, water swimming and other ice sports. Sculptures reach their peak in 2007, when a Canadian-themed sculpture was awarded a Guinness Record for biggest snow sculpture (a whopping 820 feet long and 28 feet high!). Tourist packages often combine winter travel in China with a stop in Harbin. (Call Willamette Intl Travel for the scoop!) Come at night for the best multicolored illuminations!

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Sapporo Snow Festival — Japan

The world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival attracts 2 million people to Hokkaido in early February. Its humble beginnings start all the way back in 1950, when a group of high school students challenged each other with a mere six snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it’s been growing, and the festival garnered international attention during Sapporo’s Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Guests can enjoy still sculptures in Odori Park, where lights illuminate the frozen dragons, flowers, supernatural beings, musicians, (and so on!) until 10pm.

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Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival — Netherlands

The Netherlands have thrown a few Ice Sculpture Festivals (including one in Bruges!) over the years, but it’s this year (2016-2007) that one is at last coming to Amsterdam. Forty-two expert ice artists will transform the Arena Park into a magical ice-scape from December to February. The theme: Music Inspires, so expect Mozart, Elvis, and maybe even Prince to make an appearance.

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Quebec City Winter Carnival — Canada

More of a parade than an exhibition, Quebec’s City Winter Carnival is a time for the whole city to shake off winter hibernation. Masquerade balls, winter sports, snowmen pop up here and there, and the parade hosts a fair share of ice sculptures to admire and applaud. Don’t forget your glass of Caribou, a hot melange of red wine, whiskey, and maple syrup!

 

Flickr CC images: art_inthecity, RageZ, Jay Cross, Fredrik Rubensson, Thomas Wanhoff

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Christmas in Asia

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Christmas is a widespread holiday, celebrated in countries all over the world. Did you know that it’s a popular holiday even in the Far East?

Though many people don’t associate Christmas with Asia, this holiday is celebrated all the way from Japan to the Philippines. Depending on where you go, it can be a religious holiday or a secular time with family and friends.

In Japan, Christmas is widely popular as a holiday for friends or lovers. Cities decorate their streets and halls with Christmas trees and illuminations, and pipe out Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on the radio. Japanese people may eat Christmas cake, a sponge cake with whipped cream and fruit toppings. December 25 is a romantic holiday, with many Japanese preferring to spend a romantic day with their significant other.

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In Hong Kong, locals go all out with a festive Christmas. December 25 is an official holiday in Hong Kong, and the city dresses up in massive Christmas Trees, German-style Christmas markets and beautiful light shows. The ballet does a yearly Nutcracker that is a delight. You can get your photo with Santa, known in Hong Kong as Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren.

In China, the New Year usually overshadows Christmas as the most important holiday. Still, many Chinese people like to get into the holiday spirit just for fun. Children can get their photos with Santa (known as “聖誕老人 shèngdànlǎorén”) at department stores, and people give out cellophane-wrapped Christmas apples as gifts.

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In Korea, where 30% of the population is Christian, Christmas is a holiday for families and lovers. This official official holiday is a time for families to get together and eat traditional dishes like barbecued beef, kimchi and rice cake soup. Santa Haraboji is a traditionally dressed grandfather with a top hat (gat) and blue robe, who hands out gifts to children. Like Japan, it can also double as a romantic night with your significant other!

In the Philippines, thanks to Spanish influence, Christmas is a huge holiday. Filipinos decorate their homes with candles, lights and wreaths, and dress up a bamboo pole with a lighted star. Christmas Eve is a big deal—people don’t generally sleep this night, instead they hold the Feast of Noche Buena, which begins after midnight. The dinner consists of delicious oxtail stew, stuffed chicken, pudding and sticky rice. Children line up in front of an elder family member, who passes out coins as gifts.

Vietnam also gets into the secular spirit with decorations and light shows all over Ho Chi Minh City. People throw confetti and eat out in fancy restaurants.

Next Week is Christmas! Where are you spending the holidays? Let us know in the comments!

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Xi’an: China’s Historic Heartland

After Beijing and Shanghai, Xi’an is the top destination for travelers in China. No trip to the countryside would be complete without a few days in China’s former capital. Far from a shell of its former glory, Xi’an draws thousands of travelers every year to get a glimpse of its amazing historical and archaeological attractions. Xi’an served as the home for several dynasties in the past millennia, including the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and T’ang Dynasties. So it’s no surprise that the vibe there is more authentic and culturally vibrant than the bustling metropolises of the coast.

Visitors should spend a few days in the city and check out ancient architecture like the Bell Tower and Wild Goose Pagoda. A short bus ride will take you to natural wonders like impressive Mt. Hua and Huaqing Hot Springs. Here are our top four recommendations for Xi’an and beyond:

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WIT Agent Barb with the Terracotta Army!

– Terra Cotta Warriors

No stop in Xi’an would be complete without a visit to the Terracotta Army. Buried for nearly 2,000 years, the army is a collection of 8,000+ of life-sized clay figures. The army of chariots, warriors, horses, acrobats and more were built and buried to safeguard Qin Emperor Shihuang (260-210 b.c.e.) on his journey in the afterlife. It was rediscovered in 1974 and has since been dubbed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

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flickr CC Richard Fisher

– Beiyuanmen Muslim Street

The Beiyuanmen Muslim market is an impressive expanse of 500 meters of succulent snacks and souvenirs. The street, located in the muslim district, has a long history as one of the main starting points of the Silk Road. Here Arab and Persian merchants settled and married local girls. Their descendants, the Hui people, still sell their wares along this street. But the best investment by far is the hot and fried treats sold on the street by Hui vendors. Stroll down the long promenade and try local favorites like lamb skewers, gravy dumplings and mutton-soaked flat bread.

– The Song of Unending Sorrow

If you’re lucky enough to be in Xi’an from April to October, be sure to catch a performance of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow. You can buy tickets at the Xi’an railway station and ride a free shuttle bus from there to Mt. Lishan. The historical drama is performed twice in the evening at Huaqing Hot Springs, just below the mountain. Marvel as the performers erupt in an impressive presentation of song, dance, music, lights and and costume, all set against the background of freshwater ponds, willow trees and pavilions. The poem tells the tragic love story between T’ang Emperor Xuanzong (c.e. 685-782) and his beloved concubine Yang Yuhuan (which, like most such stories, ends horribly for our protagonists).

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flickr teflsearch.com/creative-commons

– Day Trip to Mt. Hua

Return to the beautiful trees and dramatic cliffs of rural China by hopping on a train to Mt. Hua. The mountain stands about 75 miles east of Xi’an and 2 kilometers high! One of Taoism’s Five Sacred Mountains, Mt. Hua has five stunning peaks and one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world—thanks to its steep pathways and narrow passes. The risk is doubled in the summertime due to the sheer amount of tourists trying to ascend the mountain all at the same time. But never fear! Proceed with caution, take a lot of water and good shoes—the view is, to understate, worth it.

WIT Agents Barb and Pam have recently been to China with Alexander & Roberts and Viking River Cruises. Read more about their trips on our Destinations: China page. Call us up for some firsthand feedback and other travel tips to China, 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Explore China with Wild China

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Wild China is an exceptional travel company that offers amazing trips of a lifetime in China and southeast Asia. Over the years, Wild China has received numerous awards, including NatGeo’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime and Travel + Leisure’s Trips of a Lifetime. It has also been named one of NatGeo’s Best Adventure Travel Companies (On Earth).

Wild China was conceived by founder and Yunnan local Mei Zhang during a 56km pilgrimage in the Himalayas. During her grueling hike, she had no guide, lodgings or transport. Her challenges inspired her to pioneer a service for other travelers to enjoy China’s stunning cultural and natural landmarks with expertise and comfort.

For those exploring China for the first time, their escorted itineraries take guests to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and other familiar marks on the map. Experience China with an experience team of travel professionals, with just your family or in a small group of 12 like-minded individuals.

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For seasoned travelers, Wild China offers personalized adventures in unique locations, such as the rugged Xinjiang Province or the Tibetan Plateau. Their team of expert adventurers will take you on unforgettable journey through the rich landscape that is East Asia.

Trips are offered as private tours (fully flexible) or small group tours (with scheduled departures). They also lead education tours designed to empower young people to make a difference in local communities.

Upcoming Trips Include: 

4-Day Beijing’s Past & Future

5-Day Escape to Lhasa

10-Day Ancient Tea and Horse Road with adventurer Jeff Fuchs

13-Day Gastronomic Tour of China with food writer Fuchsia Dunlop

and many more!

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Call your agent at Wittravel to learn more about these awesome trips—503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Happy Chinese New Year from Willamette Intl Travel!

photo by screaming_monkey, Creative Commons

新年快乐! Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Happy Chinese New Year from Willamette Intl Travel! January 31 marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse! The official Chinese spring festival launches off with the New Year and ends on the Lantern Festival, February 14!

The Year of the Horse is traditionally forecast to be the year of adventure and romance! Where are YOU going to travel to in 2014? Share with us in the comments!

Planning a trip to China? WIT Agents Barb and Pam have both traveled on land and river through China in the past two years—highlights incluedd the Yangtze Cruise, Suzhou, Shanghai, Xi’an and the Forbidden City in Beijing! We can recommend options for independent travel, or discuss the best guides for an escorted tour! Call 503-224-0180 today to speak with more of our specialists.

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photo by WIT Agent Barb Baumer

In Portland, Oregon? Ring in the New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden downtown. This weekend there are lion dances, calligraphy demonstrations, shaolin demonstrations and opportunities to make your own new year card!

Check out more of our posts on China:

Barb’s Adventures in China
Barb’s Photos
Pam’s Cruise on the Yangtze River with Viking Cruises
The Silk Road, Art Tours with Amy Osaki
Celebrating Chinese New Year around the World

Here’s to another Great Year of Adventure!

photo by photo_gratis, Creative Commons

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