What you need to know about traveling during Chinese New Year
THE Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, is one of the biggest celebrations in Asia and a major holiday as it marks the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar.
A festival that has a history of over 3,000 years, it is also the cause of the largest annual mass human migration in the world.
During this time, traveling to countries which celebrate the Chinese New Year can be rewarding, although it does require some careful planning and scheduling.
In destinations such as China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, it is the best time to experience the festive mood and the Chinese culture as there will be a plethora of activities.
Visitors will also be able to observe Chinese New Year customs which have been widely observed for thousands of years, such as the lighting of firecrackers and fireworks, high energy lion and dragon dances, a display of vibrant and colorful lanterns, devotees flocking to temples to pray to deities and honor ancestors, and the merry-making all around.
Celebrations last up till two weeks and because of that, some disruptions are to be expected.
Here are some tips to ensure you have the best time during the Chinese New Year holidays:
Make early reservations
It is important to note that the Chinese New Year period attracts travelers from everywhere including locals as they make their way back home to enjoy a lovely reunion with their families. Travel bookings, especially for hotels and train, will fill up months in advance.
Rail travel is the preferred mode of transportation in China because it is cheap and efficient and with everyone on the move, it would be hard to find train tickets at the very last minute.
Hotels also generally increase their rates for this period so it is best to make your reservations as early as possible.
Travel by air
Want to visit the large cities and popular tourist destinations in China? Get there by air instead.
Because even if you manage score train or bus tickets, there will be large crowds in transit at all the major ground transportation hubs such as railway stations and bus terminals, and you will be extremely tightly confined alongside these people in the cramped space of a train cabin or a bus.
Although air travel is hardly affected by the Chinese New Year travel rush, it is still advisable to book your flights at least two months prior, especially if it is on a popular route.
It is oh-so-quiet
This year, the Chinese New Year rush will start from the last week of January until mid-February.
Shopping malls teem with life as shoppers make a dash for promotions and deals, while sidewalks burst at seams with stalls selling striking red deco and Chinese New Year treats such as Mandarin oranges and a variety of cookies – perfect for picking up a souvenir or two.
And then, nothing, as silence falls over businesses from Chinese New Year’s Eve till the second day of Chinese New Year.
Of course, activities will slowly recover as businesses reopen a week into the celebrations but you should expect limited eating and retail options.
It is always a good idea to pack enough warm clothing when visiting East Asian destinations such as China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan during the Chinese New Year period. This is because it is still winter in February.
North China, where the sprawling capital city of Beijing is, is usually bitterly cold (average low and high temperatures of -6 °C and 5 °C) while South China enjoys a more pleasant winter (average low and high temperatures of 6 °C and 14 °C).
Hong Kong and Macau, on the other hand, will experience warmer weather (average low and high temperatures of 13 °C and 19 °C).
If you are going to be checking out the aforementioned destinations, jackets with removable linings are your best friend.
Patience is a virtue
Remember, the Chinese New Year period attracts both international and local travelers, so you can expect throngs of people are popular destinations and tourist attractions.
The general rule of thumb is to plan well but also be flexible i.e. avoid popular visiting hours.
For example, Beijing’s The Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace or Xi’an’s The Terracotta Army are sure to draw huge crowds. The same can be said about Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui and any of Taiwan’s street markets.
You will definitely have way too many people around you so it is best you find a way to escape and manage your stress, such as visiting a sauna or a spa for an invigorating, full body massage.
More importantly, exercise your patience, smile through it all, and have the best time.