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Russia/ Trans-Siberia express

General
Churchill's 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' remains an apt description of Russia; most outsiders have only a hazy idea of its realities. A composite of the extravagant glories of old Russia and the drab legacies of the Soviet era, it's a country that both befuddles and beguiles.

This is a land of snow and deadly winters, but also of rivers that meander across meadows and a midsummer sun that never sets. Its people, in the words of a Russian proverb, 'love to suffer', yet they also love to party and can be disarmingly generous and hospitable.

The unfolding effects of a deregulated market economy are surrounded by rumours of rampant crime and prostitution, relentless drug-trafficking, mile-long queues for nonexistent food and a general end-of-the-world aura. But with countless cultural treasures having withstood the tribulations of history and economics, and an artistic legacy running the gamut from Karenina to Zhivago, Russia remains a must-see destination.

Language
Russian

Highlight

Society and conduct
Russia has a rich stew of cultures, and a myriad of ethnic groups. Hospitality is a delightful tradition.And is mostly seen in the country ( not close to the cities ), even if people are not rich they wil share everything with you and give you both physically as mentally a bear hug of an embrace. There are at least 30 % of the russian people who has a dacha ( this is often not more than a little hut, usually with no running water or electricity ) It is used as a refuge from the citie life, in warm summer weekends and go to the country, they grow fruits and vegetables and also flowers, even if people donít need it, becouse the contact with the soil works as a balm for the Russian soul. If you are luckey enough to be invited in a Russian home bring a gift such as wine, confectionary ore a cake are all appropriate.Flowers are allso popular but make sure thereís an odd number because even numbers are for funerals. Also be prepared to take of your shoes, and refuse drink or food can be a greet offence, and itís common if you are in a room with people, even if you donít know them to offer them anything you have to smoke, drink ore eat. Men will find it gentlemanly behaviour ( and is expected ) to open a door for a woman ore give up your seat in a train or bus.

Climate
The central fact of the Russian climate is a long, dark and very cold winter, wich has a deep effect on the national psyche, the temperature lays about - 15 / - 20 C Around Moscow and St Petersburg. The summer is from mid-May until early September with much daylight, at midsummer thereís no real darkness, temperature is around 20 C. Autumn is brief, and by the end of November Moscow is frozen most of the time. Serious snow arrives in December and stays till late March/early April.In midwinter daylight is murky and for 5 hours a day.With the beginning of spring people become a touch crazy. Thousands of extra cars emerge from winter storage onto city streets. July and August , the warmest months, are also the wettest months in most places, with as many as one rainy day in three

Time difference
GMT/UTC +3 ((+4 Summer) Moscow and St Petersburg), GMT/UTC +2 (Kaliningrad region), GMT/UTC +4 (Samara and Izhevsk), GMT/UTC +5 (Orenburg, Perm, Ufa and Yekaterinburg), GMT/UTC +8 (Irkutsk), GMT/UTC +10 (Vladivostok), GMT/UTC +12 (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky)

Documents/ visa
All visitors require a visa.

Money

Currency
Rouble

Meals
  • Budget: US$4-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-15
  • High: $US15+
Lodging
  • Budget: US$10-45
  • Mid-range: US$45-100
  • High: US$100+
If you're really frugal, avoiding plane trips, taxis, overseas phone calls and decent restaurants, as well as always looking for the very cheapest place to stay, you should be able to get by on US$30 a day. If you always stay in comfortable hotels and eat in restaurants two or three times a day, you're looking at more like US$85 a day. If you prefer to spend your day eating in Moscow's finest restaurants and sleeping between their crispest sheets, plan on around US$350 a day.

It's best to take your money as many ways as you can. US dollars cash are easiest to change; although carrying cash is dodgy in this increasingly dangerous environment, your chances of changing travellers cheques are slim to non-existent. You should also be able to get a cash advance on your credit card in the big cities, but it will be difficult elsewhere.

Very few places in Russia expect you to tip. Top-end hotels and restaurants add 5% to 15% to your bill, while porters expect around US$1 a bag. Shops have fixed prices, but in markets you'll be expected to bargain.

Health and safety

Health
Diphtheria, Hepatitis, Rabies, Typhoid

Safety
Travellers are strongly advised against travel in Chechnya and Dagestan. It is currently not safe to travel in these areas, as well as in neighbouring Ingushetia. Military clashes, kidnapping of aid workers and foreigners, violent crimes and muggings are prevalent. Other neighbouring areas of concern include North Ossetia, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Kabardino-Balkariya. Events in all these places are difficult to understand and can change rapidly. On-the-ground consular support can be negligible or non-existent.

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CHINA

General
You can talk about China for ages, because it has never been influenced by western cultures. Their roaring past from Confuction to Djenghis Khan makes China a very interesting destination. You can follow the historic silk route by train, over the Karakoram Highway or taking a boat trip over the Yangze river.

Language
Chinese

Highlight

Society and conduct
Calligraphy has traditionally been regarded as China's highest form of visual art - to the point that a person's character was judged by the elegance of their handwriting! Decorative calligraphy is found all over China, in temples and adorning the walls of caves and the sides of mountains and monuments.

Chinese cuisine is justifiably famous, memorably diverse - and generally not for the squeamish. The Chinese themselves like to say they'll eat anything with four legs except a table. 'Wine' is a loose term which can cover oxidised and herb-soaked concoctions, rice wine and wine containing lizards, bees or pickled snakes.

In most of China people don't speak English and your chinees probably isn't much better. Beware when asking the way. Even if they don't have the foggiest, they'll pretend to know the way. And before you know it, you've seen the whole city, accept the bus or train station.

Climate
  • The northeast around Peking ( Beijing) has a land climate with hot summers and cold winters. In July and August is much rainfall. Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit this part of the country.
  • In the area around Shanghai the weather can change very quickly. Be prepared for rainfall all the time. The summer is long, hot and moisty. Between July and October there can be tropical storms. The winter can be very cold.
  • In the Jangtse-valley the weather is softer.
  • In the south around Kanton (Guangzhou) there's a tropical climate. The hot and moist summer is ruling from April until September. There's a lot of rainfall between June and September and tropical storms near the cost.
  • The winter is soft and short but there's a risk for very low temperature.
  • Northwest China has a dessert climate with hot summers (+40) and cold winters (-10).
Time difference
GMT/UTC +8 (The whole of China is set to Beijing time.)

Documents/ visa
A visa is necessary. There's no visa required for Hong Kong and Macau. You can enter China for 24 hours if you have an onward ticket.

Money
Currency
Renminbi ('People's Money')

Meals
  • Budget: US$1-2
  • Mid-range: US$5-10
  • High: US$10+
Lodging
  • Budget: US$25-35
  • Mid-range: US$35-100
  • High: US$100+
Generally, eastern China is much more expensive than the western part of the country. Visitors to eastern China could budget around US$50 a day, but it would be a challenge. Budget travellers in western China should be able to keep costs down to US$25 per day. The main drain on savings tends to be long train journeys. Food is cheap throughout China, and if you're careful you won't have to spend much more than US$7 a day on meals. However, the bottom line is that you'll be charged the 'tourist price' a lot of the time - it's a practice encouraged by the government.

Foreign currency and travellers' cheques can be changed at the main branches of the Bank of China, the tourist hotels, Friendship Stores and some department stores. Hotels usually charge the official rate. You will need to keep your exchange receipts if you want to change any of your remaining RMB at the end of your trip. Travellers' cheques are useful because the exchange rate is more favourable than that for cash; Thomas Cook, American Express and Visa are most commonly accepted.

Cash withdrawl systems are still in prehistoric stage, the renminbi is the currency for foreigners. Credit cards are gaining ground in China, with Visa, MasterCard, American Express (branches in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xiamen), JCB and Diners Club the most common. Cards can be used in most mid to top-range hotels, Friendship and department stores, but cannot be used to finance your transportation costs. Cash advances can be made at head branches of the Bank of China (4% commission). Tipping is not really expected in mainland China - but bargaining is definitely OK. You can bargain in shops, street stalls, and hotels - but not in large stores.

Health and safety

Health
China is a varieted country concerning health risks. This country contains almost every strange and scary disease, Rabies, Bilharzias, Dengue Fever, Malaria and Cholera. The food is being prepared at such a way the dogs wouldn't eat it, but it ends up in de frying pan. Be prepared for a big hygiene shock and take precaution.

Safety
China is relatively safe. Take care of normal safety precautions. You can find the actual safety situation at the site of the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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VIETNAM

General
Most visitors to Vietnam are overwhelmed by the sublime beauty of the country's natural setting: the Red River Delta in the north, the Mekong Delta in the south and almost the entire coastal strip are a patchwork of brilliant green rice paddies tended by women in conical hats. There are some divine beaches along the coast, while inland there are soaring mountains, some of which are cloaked by dense, misty forests. Vietnam also offers an opportunity to see a country of traditional charm and rare beauty rapidly opening up to the outside world. Despite its ongoing economic liberalisation and the pressures of rapid development, this dignified country has managed to preserve its rich civilisation and highly cultured society. It has discarded its post-war fatigues and the boom in budget travelling, coupled with the softening of government control, have enabled more contemporary and relevant portraits of the country to gain currency in the West.

Highlight

Society and conduct

Climate
  • Vietnam climatically has been subdivided in three zones.
  • In the north the summer lasts from May till October. During this period, tropical storms with devastating power accure. The winter lasts from November till April and is cool and wet. In February and March it'll constantly rain.
  • De coast areas have little burden of the rain, that comes along with the south west-mousson (May t/m okt). The rain that falls there, falls from December till January with the north east-mousson.
  • The highlands are cooler than the Mekong Delta.
  • During the winter it's often foggy and rainy.
  • The south knows a dry and a rain season.
  • The rain season lasts from May till November. The showers that come at noon, are short and violent. April and May are the hottest months.
Time difference

Documents/ visa
Bureaucratic hassles will be your first problem in getting a visa - expect delays of five days or more; Bangkok is the best place to get one. It's usually best to get your visas through a travel agency. Expense is the other problem; tourist visas valid for a single 30-day stay cost about US$40 in Bangkok.

Money

Currency
dong

Meals
  • Budget: US$1-2
  • Mid-range: US$3-8
  • High: US$20+
Lodging
  • Budget: US$3-10
  • Mid-range: US$15-40
  • High: $US50+
Travellers staying in budget accommodation and eating in small cafes should be able to get by on around US$20 to US$25 per day, plus long-distance transport costs. Those wanting to stay in mid-range hotels, eat out at moderate restaurants, charter occasional taxis and enjoy the nightlife should budget on around US$65 a day. Until recently, many upmarket hotels insisted that you pay in US dollars, but now all businesses (except Vietnam Airlines) must accept payment in dong. In practice, many still display their prices in US dollars. It's advisable to bring traveler's checks in US dollars as well as a little US currency. US dollars and travellers cheques are your best bet. There are four ways to exchange currency: at a bank; through authorised exchange bureaus; at hotel reception desks; and on the black market. The best rates are offered by the banks, but the exchange bureaus are generally more conveniently located and have longer opening hours. The black market rate is worse than the legal exchange rate, so if you're offered better rates than a bank it's bound to be some sort of scam. Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB credit cards are accepted in the major cities and towns popular with tourists. It's virtually impossible to exchange travellers cheques outside the major cities and tourist areas. Visitors heading off the beaten track will either need to stock up on dong, or conduct a private cash transaction on the black market. It's a good idea to bring a small calculator with you for currency conversions, unless you're the kind of person who can divide or multiply by large numbers in your head. Government-run hotels and tourist restaurants usually add a 5% service charge to bills so there's no need to tip (although staff may not get any of it). Leaving a small tip in other restaurants will be greatly appreciated by the staff. You should consider tipping hired drivers and guides, and it's polite to leave a small donation at the end of a visit to a pagoda. Bargaining is commonplace but should be engaged in with a smile and considered a form of social discourse rather than a matter of life and death.

Health and safety

Health
Dengue Fever, Hepatitis, Malaria, Rabies, Typhoid, Tuberculosis

Safety
The current safety situation in undefined can be found on the Travel Advice site of the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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