30 April 2008

China: now even more difficult

Reforms in China years ago made travel to the Middle Kingdom easier than ever, and certainly easier than to almost any other closed society. Tourists only had to show an air ticket and the intention of staying in a hotel. The embassy did not even care to know the hotel. But that was before the 2008 Olympics and the protests over Tibet.
Now China is in full clamp-down, and visas for regular tourists, visitors, and Olympics watchers are harder and harder to acquire.
Basic tourist visas can now only be issued to passengers with a confirmed itinerary detailing all travel arrangements and a confirmed hotel with full contact data.
Visitor visas are far more difficult. People wanting to visit family must show a copy of the official PRC identity card for their contact, as well as a kinship certificate and a personal invitation letter. They also need confirmed travel arrangements.
Multiple entry visas are now almost impossible to arrange, and this is not likely to change between now and the Olympics.
The only good news in all this is the prices remain the same; with a visa rock-bottom priced at only $50.
So my best advice to you is to apply early and be prepared for your initial application to be rejected for lack of some detail not needed in the past.
China visa details
China visa FORMS

15 April 2008

Trans-Siberian Express

It is one of the greatest, and almost certainly the longest single train journey on earth: the Trans-Siberian.
In reality the Trans-Siberian is three different trains on three different routes. The proper Trans-Siberian train (the Rossiya) leaves Moscow every other day for the 9258 km, seven day, journey to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast near Japan. The problem with this train is you have to either begin or end in Vladivostok, which is not really on the tourist map. The whole journey costs between $500 and $850.
The slightly more popular route takes you to Beijing China. The Trans-Manchurian (train #20) leaves Moscow once a week, and costs between $500 and $700.
For touists the most popular route, and the best journey between Moscow and Beijing, runs through Mongolia. The Trans-Mongolian (train #3/4), leaving Moscow on Tuesdays, is a 7621 km, 6 day journey which crosses the Gobi desert and affords spectacular views. The trip costs between $450 to $700.
Yes, you need a visa or visas for these great trips. The Trans-Siberian trip stays inside Russia, so a Russian visa is all you require.
The trans-Manchuria train rides the rails in both Russia and China, and you will need both Russian and Chinese visas.
The Trans-Mogolian train takes you through Russia, China and Mongolia, and all three countries require visas.
For those of you who like trivia, the true longest single train journey on earth is a Russian train which runs from Donetsk, Ukraine, through Mowcow towards Vladivostok, then on to Pyongyang in North Korea.