The concept of a country promoting itself by giving out tourist information for free has not yet taken hold in China outside the biggest cities. There is a very thin uttering of tourist promotion offices in foreign capitals, though these government organizations are officious and generally unhelpful – their only function seem to be recommending possible tour operators and advising telephone liens to listen to long, useless and expensive recorded messages. A more promising source of immediate information is the Internet.
Similarly, inside the People’s Republic, there is no such thing as a tourist office. CITS (www.cits.net), the state-accredited tour operator with a special responsibility for foreigners, was originally dressed up such, but now it is just one of a large number of competing local operators who have no function other than selling tours and tickets, and renting cars. However, it may still be worthwhile dropping in on the local branch of CITS, or an affiliated organization (CTS. @ www.ctsho.com; or CYTS, @www.chinatour.com/cyst) especially in out-of-the-way places, as it is sometimes here that you will find the only person in town who can speak English. You should assume that most leaflets, brochures and lips from these places will not be free. Other sources of information are your own hotel staff (in upmarket places), or any local English-speakers you happen to meet. Otherwise, in certain tourist centers, restaurant proprietors have taken it upon themselves to act as the local information office, giving advice in exchange for custom.
In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou you’ll find English-language magazines with bar, restaurant and other what’s on listings, aimed mainly at the resident expatriate population. These are usually distributed free in bars and upmarket hotels. The local English language newspaper, the China Daily, also as a few listings of forthcoming major cultural events in Beijing and one or two other large cities. In Hong Kong and Macau you are beset with information on all sides.
Street maps are available in China for almost every town and city. You can nearly always buy them in street kiosks, hotel shops and Xinhua bookshops, or from vendors in the vicinity of train and bus stations. Unfortunately the vast majority of maps are in Chinese only, which is a pity because the maps are a mine of information, showing bus routes, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. You’ll nearly always find local bus, train and flight timetables printed on the back as well. The same vendors also sell pocket-sized provincial road atlases, again in Chinese only.
Cities most commonly visited by foreign tourists do produce English-language maps for foreigners. You’ll find these on sale in upmarket hotels, at the principal tourist sights, such as big museums, or in CITS offices. In Beijing and Shanghai you’ll find various editions of such maps, issued free in smart hotels and paid for by advertising. The situation is similar in Hong Kong and Macau, where the local tourist offices provide free maps which are adequate for most visitors’ needs. For very detailed street maps of
Countrywide maps, which you should buy before you leave home, include the excellent 1:4,000,000 map from GeoCenter, which shows relief and useful sections of all neigh boring countries. Also worth considering is the recently published Collins map of the country, at 1:5,000,000. If you want very high-resolution maps showing details of terrain, especially useful for cyclists and trekkers in the wilderness parts of western China, the Operational Navigation Charts (Series ONC) – actually designed for pilots – are worth having a look at. One of the best maps of Tibet is Sfanfords Map of South-Central Tibet ; Kathmandu-Lhasa Route Map.