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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

China: The North

The Forests of Chinese Mongolia

Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to China: Inner Mongolia. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they took this tour. Although we do our best to make sure what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.

ENTERING CHINA: United States citizens need both a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry into China and a tourist visa. A letter of invitation is also required and we will send you this, along with our ground agent’s details, when we issue the final invoice for the tour.

Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest China embassy. If required by the embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.

At the current time no health certificates are required to enter China.

COUNTRY INFORMATION:You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/china.html  and the CIA World Factbook background notes on China at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html 

PACE OF THE TOUR: While this is not a strenuous tour, a modest amount of fitness and mobility will still be required. There is a fair amount of travelling and a couple of the days are long and tiring. There is a reasonable amount of walking involved on this tour, although again none of it is particularly strenuous. Although we are not in mountainous areas for most of the tour there will be a few uphill walks and these will be taken at a gentle pace. We reach altitudes of about 3600 feet near Wu’erqihan (see below). If you have any questions about your ability to take part in any of the walks, please contact the WINGS office.

Sunrise in Nei Mongol at this time of year is at about at 06h30 and sunset at around 17h00. On a clear and cloudless day, there is sufficient light to birdwatch for 20 minutes either side of these times. Due to the early morning bird activity, we will want to be out in the field early each day. 

Several of the roads around Wu’erqihan are poorly paved, but driveable and quiet. On many of them we will be the only vehicles. On several day excursions we will park up before walking away from our vehicles – these should then be able to catch us up at intervals and, since there will often be only one road out and it’s the same way back, anyone wishing to take a longer break in the vehicle will easily be able to do so. The sections of road that we’ll walk on are almost invariably flat though on occasion we might walk as much as two or three miles before re-joining our vehicles.

 

The emphasis will be on flexibility and we try to make optional as many of the birding excursions as possible so that anyone who is tired, or who fancies a break, possibly to pursue other interests, can do so. However we are frequently moving on and it is not always possible to take an entire day off. We will also cater for those who wish to enjoy dawn to dusk birding.

We usually have dinner together in one of the hotel’s restaurants at about 19.00 and will have a meeting and log call after that.

The Local People: Westerners are still something of a novelty in China and Western birdwatchers even more so. China is very safe and almost all local people are very friendly but will often be intrigued by someone peering into a bush with a pair of binoculars, and may often stand and watch to see what is going on. In addition China is a country where some things don’t happen quickly. Sometimes even simple operations like buying something from a shop can become convoluted and, by our standards, take a long time. In order to make the trip as easy and enjoyable as possible it is wise to be prepared for these situations. Patience and a sense of humor will be a great asset at such times.

Souvenirs: There is a wide supply of wood and stone carvings, pottery, lacquerware, silk paintings etc. These are not particularly widely available but the hotel that we will use near Beijing airport offers a fairly wide selection of such items. The prices are usually fixed, except in small private shops, where you may bargain.

HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.

They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid.

Please contacting your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure. Be sure to bring adequate supplies of all medications, as it may be difficult to obtain them during the trip. 

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations for China can be found on the CDC’s Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/china. 

Drinking Water: Tap water is not safe to drink anywhere on the tour. Bottled water and soft drinks are widely available, and your room will normally be supplied with either a large thermos of boiled water or a kettle with which you can make tea or coffee. We suggest bringing anti-diarrhea medicine such as Imodium in case of an upset stomach, as well as some packets of re-hydrate solution (such as Gatorade in powder form). 

Elevation:  Much of our birding will be between 2500 and 3000 feet. Our maximum elevation will be about 3600 ft. 

Smoking:  Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail. 

Note: Many Chinese men, and an increasing number of women, smoke heavily. We will not permit our drivers or locals guides to smoke in our vehicle or in close proximity to the group but we have no control over anyone else and inquisitive strangers may come up to us and smoke nearby. While we can and will ask them not to smoke near us we cannot stop them doing so. Moreover while we will eat many of our sit down meals in private dining rooms, very occasionally this is not possible and we might have to eat in the common dining hall where there might be smokers. This does not happen on every tour, or even on every other tour, but it can happen.

None of the hotels that we will stay in have designated non-smoking rooms and the rooms that we stay in might have been previously occupied by a smoker. While the bed linen will certainly be clean, unused cigarette odors in the bed rooms are fairly common. This has never proved to be a serious problem on any of our tours but if you are hyper-sensitive to cigarette smoke it could be. 

CLIMATE: The weather in Nei Mongol (Chinese Inner Mongolia) at the time of our late autumn - early winter visit will be cold, perhaps even very cold. Paul Holt has visited this site at this same time of year and experienced temperatures that typically ranged from about minus 5 C to a pleasant +9 C (23-48 F) though it was often fairly windy and therefore occasionally felt significantly colder than that. The skies were almost invariably clear and cloudless. On his very last day around Wu’erqihan at the end of October 2015, the temperature dropped significantly and it was a decidedly cold at minus 21 C (-6 F) shortly after dawn. It soon warmed up however and was a bearable minus 10 C (14 F) by 09h30. Fortunately such temperatures in late October are very unusual. During our time around Wu’erqihan we will do some of our bird watching from inside our fleet of 4-wheel drive vehicles and even when outside we will never be very far from these. We will also carry several large thermos flasks of hot water suitable for making hot drinks of tea or coffee.

However good quality, warm clothing is essential for our time in Nei Mongol and as a guide the leader will be wearing multiple layers including warm boots with thick socks, thermal underwear, a thick down jacket, thick gloves, a scarf and a very warm hat. Although rain is unlikely anywhere on this tour the leader will be taking some waterproof over trousers and expects to use these only if it’s windy. If there is any precipitation in Nei Mongol it will definitely fall as snow while the three other sites that we will visit (Beijing, Hengshui Hu in Hebei and Shanxi) are all rather dry at this time of year. There will be snow on the ground around Wu’erqihan but we do not expect this to be particularly deep – perhaps no more than four or five inches (10-12 centimeters).
Daytime temperatures elsewhere on this tour can range from as low as minus 8-9 C (16-18 F) to possibly as warm as plus 8°C (46 F). Humidity is usually low and conditions for birding are often ideal. 

ACCOMMODATION: We will spend the first three nights of the tour in a 2-star equivalent hotel in the centre of Miyun town. The hotel rooms are very clean with clean bed linen and clean towels. They are all equipped with two beds, an efficient wall heater, a kettle, numerous electric outlets (sockets) and a TV. The en suite bathroom has a shower with ample hot water, a western toilet and a wash basin. There is also wifi in hotel lobby and in the rooms.

Moving on from Miyun we’ll fly up to Hailar. The guest house that we will spend our next four nights in is in Wu’erqihan. It is the best guest house available in town and again is of about a western 2-star equivalent. All the rooms are again clean and are equipped with a bed, a kettle, numerous electric outlets (sockets) and a TV. The en suite bathroom has a shower with ample hot water, a western toilet and a wash basin. The rooms have very efficient central heating and are warm. There is also wifi in these rooms. We will either walk a very short distance to dinner or be driven if it’s more than a few hundred meters.

We will have a late evening flight from Hailar back to Beijing and will stay in a comfortable 4- star equivalent international style hotel close to Beijing airport. This hotel has all the amenities that you would expect from a hotel of this standard such as a bar, a business centre, internet access in the rooms, a gym and an indoor swimming pool. There are also facilities for changing money here and many of the staff speak English. We expect to have a hearty breakfast in this hotel before driving south from Beijing to Hengshui Hu the following morning. This is also at the hotel we will use for our last night in Beijing before everyone flies home.

Moving on from Beijing we will spend one night in another 4-star hotel close to Hengshui Hu. Here all the very attractively and well-appointed rooms have on suite bathrooms with western toilets, showers and 24 hours hot water. We will spend just one night here and our hotel has its own dining room.

Our next overnight will be near the Brown Eared Pheasant site in Shanxi. We will spend just one night here and this perhaps the poorest place that we will stay. The rooms are clean but simple - each has two beds, 24 hours electricity and an en suite bathroom with hot showers and western toilet. The hotel restaurant is good and the food tasty and in ample supply. There was not internet here the last time we visited.

After one night in Shanxi we will return to Beijing and stay in the same airport hotel described above. We will have dinner in the hotel’s superb Chinese restaurant. 

Internet Access:  Wi-Fi is available at all our hotels except (perhaps) at Shanxi. 

FOOD:Chinese cuisine is well known and widely appreciated. Beer, soft drinks and green tea will be served with the food. The Chinese often also drink hard liquor, bai-jiu, with the food. Western brands of alcohol are not always easily obtainable (and where they are available, they are usually expensive), so you may wish to consider bringing your own supply.

Hot water, or a kettle, and often even loose green tea are normally readily available in Chinese hotel rooms and restaurants. Coffee and real tea are still uncommon in China so you may wish to bring your own, plus perhaps some drinking chocolate, cocoa or tea-bags (and powdered milk and sugar, if you like). Some people also take packets of soup, Oxo cubes or other items that only need to be rehydrated with water.

The Chinese way of eating differs from that in the west in that those sitting at the table share selections of different dishes. Food is almost always plentiful. Only a small number of the restaurants that we will visit provide knives and forks. Instead chopsticks, often disposable wooden ones, are used. If you are not used to eating with chopsticks, we suggest you start practising right away or bring your own cutlery.

A variety of Chinese sweets can be bought in some shops in the larger towns that we will visit. They are certainly available from a shop just across the road from our guest house in Wu’erqihan. Chocolate is now also fairly widely available, but few other western sweets are so again you may wish to bring a supply of goodies to enliven your diet.

In contrast to evening meals typical Chinese breakfasts are disappointingly poor and unappealing to most westerners. They consist mostly of cold dishes – soya milk, steamed dumplings and rice porridge. Consequently, away from the international style hotels near Hengshui Hu and Beijing where a variety of more western style dishes are available, we will have very few hotel breakfasts opting instead to have picnic breakfasts. These will usually consist of items such as cereal (often muesli or cornflakes), yoghurt, fruit juice, instant noodles, biscuits, muffins, bread with jam or possibly honey, peanuts, sausages and boiled eggs plus tea and coffee and supplemented, where possible, by fruit, chocolate and steamed local bread. On quite a few days we will also have picnic lunches and these will consist of similar items.

Drinks: Bottled water, a soft drink or a beer (or wine if appropriate) are provided at meals, as is tea. In addition we keep a supply of bottled water on the tour vehicles. Bottled or filtered water may also be provided in some rooms where we stay. As it can get hot and dry, we recommend you bring a large, good quality canteen and keep this topped up.

Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

TRANSPORTATION: At the start of the tour we’ll spend three nights and parts of four days to the north of Beijing city. We’ll use a minibus or small coach during this period. We’ll then fly up to Wu’erqihan. Once there we’ll use a fleet of four-wheel drive vehicles to negotiate the potentially icy, old logging tracks around the town. The drivers of these vehicles are local, know the roads very well and are sensible drivers experienced in these conditions. We’ll fly back to Beijing after our time around Wu’erqihan and will use another minibus or small coach to take us from there south to Hengshui Hu.

From there we’ll take an express train and it’s about a four hour journey. We will use another minibus or small coach during our time in Shanxi and will return to Beijing by one of China’s new high speed trains.

Updated: 02 December 2016