With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, the Yellow Sea, and the South China Sea, it borders 14 nations. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam are south. Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are west. Both Russia and Mongolia are north. North Korea is east.
It built its first civilizations around the same time as both the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. For many centuries, it stood out as a leading nation. It is famous for the production of technologies that others were not able to match until much later. Both paper and gunpowder are ancient Chinese inventions. They are still widely used today.
From 1949 till 1974, China was closed to foreign visitors. However, since the late 1970s, the country started to develop the tourist industry, increased the number of hotel facilities, renovated major tourist attractions, trained professional guides, and other tourist service personnel. Nowadays, China is a major tourist destination in the world. Approximate numbers of visitors are billion and a half domestic tourists and sixty million foreign visitors annually. By the year 2020, China can become the largest tourist country in the world.
Places to See in China
Among popular natural attractions, China boasts of mountains, waterfalls, and lakes. The Five Sacred Mountains, the Huangguoshu Waterfall, the Li River and the Tianchi Lake, which means “Heavenly Pool”, attract millions of tourists every year.
China’s long history has left it with many cultural and historical relics. The Great Wall, the most recognizable tourist site in the country, is a major tourist attraction. Along the ancient Silk Road, in Gansu, there are grottoes, where you will find numerous precious murals and sculptures. The most popular are the Mogao Caves. Also, the Shaolin Temple in Henan is famous for being a birthplace of Chinese Zen Buddhism.
The capital of the country is the place you can’t miss. It is popular not only for its grand monumental buildings but also for the traditional hutongs (alleyways). Here, you will get a nice glimpse into the daily life of the locals, which can’t be seen on large avenues. Also, in hutongs, you will find multiple micro breweries and cafes.
One of the greatest historical treasures in the world, the Forbidden Forest is also located in Beijing. It’s a large palace complex, which consists of numerous ancient buildings. The interesting fact is, for over 500 years, the place was off-limits for mere mortals, as it was the residence of the Emperor. Also, the world’s largest public square, Tiananmen Square, is situated very close to the complex.
Marco Polo described Hangzhou as “the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world”. The ancient capital of the country is great for shopping for silk and tea. Also, the most popular destination among visitors is West Lake area, highly scenic and great for taking pictures.
Suzhou is often called the Venice of China. Its Grand Canal and water gardens have attracted artists, painters, and scholars for centuries, as well as now it draws numerous tourists. Also, find an opportunity to visit the IM Pei-designed museum.
The economic hub of China, Shanghai combines skyscrapers and the European-style water-front within its borders. Also, art deco laneways, the remains of the French Concession, as well as top-end boutiques and galleries will serve your pleasant vacation in this 24-million-people city.
- Along the Yangtze River
- Along the Yellow River
- Along the Grand Canal
- Hong Kong to Kunming overland
- Yunnan tourist trail
- Overland to Tibet
- Long March
- Silk Road (partly in China)
- Karakoram Highway (partly in China)
- On the trail of Marco Polo (partly in China)
The big part of the southern and southwestern China is covered with strangely eroded rock formations. They are known as Karst formations, made of limestone, and named after a region in Slovenia. These areas of China were highly popular among the traditional Chinese artists.
Beneath the mountains, there are numerous sinkholes, channels, and underground rivers. The most famous examples of Karst formations you will find in the Stone Forest, near Kunming in Yunnan, Guilin, and Yangshuo in Guangxi, and in the province of Guizhou.
Mountains with high religious significance are quite common in China. During the Chinese history, they played important roles during the dramatic periods. Often, they have also been associated with various Chinese martial arts sects. Today, these mountains house Taoist and Buddhist temples. And also, they are popular tourist destinations for great views.
Five Great Mountains:
- Mount Heng, the Northern Mountain, Shanxi Province
- Mount Heng, the Southern Mountain, Hunan province
- Mount Tai, the Eastern Mountain, Shandong Province
- Mount Hua, the Western Mountain, Shaanxi Province
- Mount Song, the Central Mountain, Henan Province
Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism:
- Mount Wutai, Shanxi Province
- Mount Emei, Sichuan Province
- Mount Putuo, Zhejiang Province
- Mount Jiuhua, Anhui Province
Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism:
- Mount Wudang, Hubei Province
- Mount Longhu, Jiangxi Province
- Mount Qiyun, Anhui Province
- Mount Qingcheng, Sichuan Province
You may be surprised, but China has some fascinating tropical beaches. Hainan Island is one of the most popular international resort areas in China. Sanya, located on the southern coast of the island, offers its visitors white sandy beaches, high-quality golf courses, large coconut palms, and numerous opportunities for water sports.
China is known for its spectacular landscapes. However, the area of Zhangjiajie in Hunan province boasts the most incredible. Its sharp sandstone pinnacles look like they came alive from some movie. In fact, the legend says, James Cameron found his inspiration for the Avatar movie right here.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 11th century BC and has been a sacred place for the Chinese since then. The locals consider heading to Shandong and climbing Tai Shan the rite of passage. However, in the recent decades, the place has become more civilized. The main route of 7000 steps between the bottom and top is paved, and you won’t have to scramble rocks.
Yangzi is not only the longest river in China but also a very popular tourist spot, which offers the most fascinating views and activities. The best way to explore the area is to go on a river cruise, an activity popular with not only visitors but the locals themselves. Isn’t it the best praise?
Tiger Leaping Gorge
China offers some great sceneries, which are best explored on foot. Tiger Leaping Gorge, situated in the northwest of Yunnan, is one of the most incredible examples. Here, you will find huge snow-capped mountains and fascinating hiking trails. It is one of the world’s deepest and most spectacular gorges.
The province of Sichuan, particularly its western part, gives a great and rare opportunity to see pandas in the wild. The large Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, located nearby Chengdu, is not a traditional zoo. It’s a bamboo forest, which reflects the natural environment, in which these pretty animals usually live.
Located nearby the city of Xi’an, clay Chinese warrior sculptures date back to the 2nd century BC. The collection was created for Shih Huang-Ti, the first emperor of unified China, and entombed with him after he died. It was discovered in 1974 and became a very popular tourist attraction.
The ancient trade route is a famous travel destination in China. It once ran from Xi’an to the Caspian and the Mediterranean seas, via numerous deserts and mountains. Major sites on the way include Dunhuang’s Buddhist grottoes, Kashgar’s Sunday market, and the ruins of Jiaohe city.
Things to Do in China
If you have a long-time trip to China, you might consider learning some of the traditional Chinese arts. Many cities have academies, which accept beginners. Also, if you don’t know Chinese, it’s not a problem.
There is a wide list of activities to choose from. Calligraphy is a popular national hobby. You can also learn to play traditional Chinese instruments, cooking Chinese dishes, or sing Beijing Opera.
The prices are not usually extreme. The only requirement is showing sufficient respect and staying in the same place for a long time.
Along with the traditional arts, martial arts are also rather famous. In English, martial arts are called “kung fu”. On the other hand, in Chinese, the general name is wu shu, while kung fu is used as a term for the particular skill.
There are a lot of schools throughout the country, where you can learn martial arts. And some, such as tai chi, can be studied by simply visiting any city park in the early morning. Most likely, you will find many eager teachers. Also, Shanghai has a martial arts museum at a Physical Education University.
If you want to get a massage, this service is available all over the country. Generally, it is high quality and reasonably priced. Fares usually vary between ¥15 and ¥80 per hour. The most expert massages are given in massage hospitals and general medical hospitals. The price is approximately ¥50.
Foot massage is widely available, indicated by an image of a bare footprint on the sign. The prices vary from ¥15 to ¥60. Whole body massage price usually starts from ¥15 per hour. And you can get a head massage from any hairdresser, along with a hair wash. Many places offer all three at the same time.
Be aware, as some massage places are actually secret brothels. “Additional services” are usually available in hotels, hot spring and sauna establishments. For smaller places, the general rule applies: if you see a pink light in the window, you are not likely to get a good massage, because the facility specializes in other services.
If you find yourself in a public park, square or plaza in the large city, you will, most surely, see groups of older women, doing what looks like low-impact aerobics to music in the early morning. These events are called guangchangwu, which is translated as “square dancing”.
It’s interesting to watch and some tourists even join. If you are interested to join, stand in the rear row with the beginners. Then watch the leader and follow the moves. In some parks, you will also find ballroom dancing groups.
Traditional Chinese games are often played in tea gardens, public parks, and even in the street. You can watch or engage in one of the games:
- Chinese chess
- Chinese checkers
When to Go
China is a big country, and its weather varies. However, its climate and seasonal timings are similar to Europe and the USA. Summers in the Northeast are hot and dry, while winters are cold and harsh. In the northern and central regions, rainfalls are very frequent, summers have medium temperatures, and winters are cool. The southeast can be rather humid, with very hot summers and mild winters. Central, southern and western regions have a high risk of flooding, as well as periodical seismic activity.
Early autumn is considered the best time to visit China. Temperatures are pleasant, and rainfalls are quite rare. The other popular season is spring. Many tourists come during March and April. Keep in mind, that if you want to come for Chinese New Year, it will be rather busy here. However, many businesses can be closed during the holidays.
What to Wear
Your clothing depends on the season when you are visiting. During the winter, take some heavy weight clothes and boots. On the opposite, summer time requires lightweight clothing. Medium clothes will be perfect for autumn and spring.
The official language of the country is Mandarin Chinese. There is a large variety of different dialects. The most popular are Cantonese, Fuzhou, Shanghainese, Hokkien-Taiwanese, Gan, Xiang, and Hakka. Also, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet have their own languages.
English is generally spoken by the tourism industry employees. However, keep in mind, that taxi drivers generally don’t speak English. It is better to have your destination written down in Chinese if you want to get there without troubles.
The official currency is Yuan. The approximate exchange rate is ¥6.95 for US$1. The currency exchange is available at branches of The Bank of China. You can also exchange Yuan outside China, mainly in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. All major credit cards are widely accepted in big cities, though not so much in rural regions. ATMs are also plentiful in urban areas.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Mobile connection is extremely popular in China. There is a mass production of smart phones. You can even be judged on your model if it’s too old or basic. A local SIM card can be purchased upon arrival in one of the major airports. However, your phone should be unlocked, to use it.
China Unicom offers the most reliable service and the best coverage. China Unicom and China Mobile outlets sell prepaid SIM cards for a price between ¥60 and ¥100. Usually, they already include ¥50 credit. It is recommended to choose a phone number without number 4, as it is considered to be unlucky in China. Charging cards are also available from outlets, newspaper kiosks and all shops, where you see the China Mobile sign.
If your phone is locked or you just want to get a new one, consider buying one in China. They are relatively cheap. But you should get one with W-CDMA and not TD-SCDMA, which works on China Mobile exclusively.
Wi-Fi connection is readily available in hotels, cafes, bars, and restaurants. However, you may need a Chinese phone number to get a login code in a café or a restaurant. Also, the censorship is rather harsh in the country.
Approximately 10% of international websites are blocked by the authorities. The list includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, and Dropbox. Some of the US Internet media are also forbidden. You can avoid the blocking, however, by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
Large cities and towns generally offer Internet cafes. However, while readily accepting visitors with Chinese IDs, they ban foreigners. If you see an Internet icon in a hotel review, it usually means, that the hotel has an Internet café or a computer, which you can use.
Officially, China is an atheist country. However, the most popular religions and philosophies are Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. There also around 60 million of Muslims and approximately 10 million of Christians.
Cultural differences between the Chinese and visitors from the Western world can sometimes cause misunderstandings on both sides. If you want to know something, ask questions, as the Chinese may not be talkative voluntarily. The full name of the country is “The People’s Republic of China”, which should be used in all formal communications. Handshaking is the common form of greeting. However, visitors can often be greeted by applause as well. The polite response is to applaud back.
In China, the family name is used first. If you are invited somewhere, it is polite to arrive a little early. When visiting someone’s home, you should bring a treat, such as fruit, some kind of dessert or a souvenir. If those are your close friends or relatives, you can also give some money to kids. When invited to dinner, wait until your seat is allocated. You shouldn’t begin eating until invited to as well. When you use chopsticks, don’t put them upright in your rice, because this gesture means death.
If you visit a school or a factory, they will appreciate a gift from your home country, particularly something, that is unavailable in China. Stamps would also be a good gift because stamp-collecting is a popular hobby in the country.
Conservative casual wear is generally suitable in all situations. Revealing clothes should better be avoided. Public expression of political and religious opinion is also not appreciated. If you want to take a picture of a military or government building, you should get permission first, not to get into any troubles.
If you expect to see in China what you usually see in your local Chinese restaurants, don’t. The Chinese cuisine is extremely broad and flavorful. The regional cuisines are Beijing, Imperial, Cantonese, Shanghai, Hunan, Fujian, Teochew, Guizhou, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang, Hainan, and Sichuan.
They are named after the regions of their origin. Some are very spicy, while others are not at all. There are dishes, which contain dozens of ingredients and date back to the imperial times. The most common staples are noodles and rice. On the other hand, dairy products are quite rare.
Top Dishes to Try
- Peking duck
- Mongolian hot pot – Chinese version of fondue
- Jiaozi – steamed dumplings, filled with meat and chopped vegetables
- Kung po chicken
- Dim sum – small portions of food served in steamer baskets
- Stinky tofu
- Shanghai hairy crab
- Oyster omelette
- Hainanese chicken rice.
A 10% tip is usually appreciated in restaurants in tourist areas.
- Jasmine tea – the most popular non-alcohol drink
- Baijiu – sorghum wine
- Vinho Verde – white wine from Portugal
- Zhian Jing – rice wine, usually served hot
- Liang Hua Pei – Chinese plum brandy
- Bai Jiu – very strong white spirit
- Tsingtao – the most common kind of beer
The minimal drinking age is 18.
China is a very big country, so the plane is the best choice for long-distance travel. Numerous domestic flights connect major cities and tourist spots. Airlines, which operate domestic flights, are Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, and Shanghai Airlines. There are also several small regional air companies.
Keep in mind, that flights between mainland and Macau, as well as Hong Kong, are considered to be international flight, so can be rather expensive. It will be much cheaper to fly from Shenzhen, Zhuhai, or Guangzhou.
For traveling around China, it is better to buy tickets via high street travel agents, or directly on Chinese websites. If bought abroad, the prices will be much higher. Also, tickets with discounts can only be purchased within the county. Keep in mind, with Chinese airlines, the earlier you buy tickets, the more you pay, as the discounts increase closer to the flight date. On the other hand, during the high season, such as the Chinese New Year, it’s wiser to book flights in advance.
You should be prepared for delays and flight cancellations without reason. Check on a flight status a couple of days before the trip. For short distances, you might even consider other options, such as a train or a bus. Most Chinese airports have hot water machines. If you bring a travel mug and a couple of tea bags, you can make yourself tea, as you can’t bring water through the security.
Railway connections in China are relatively cheap, safe and in good condition. Trains operate between major cities, such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Harbin, Chengdu, and Urumqi. After planes, the railway is the second most popular Chinese way of transportation.
There are three main types of trains. Express is the best and most favorable. There are also four types of fares: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. In China, kids’ discounts depend on the height and not the age. Children under 1m (3ft) travel for free, while those under 1.3m (4ft) pay a quarter of the price.
There are local state railway ticket agencies throughout the country, even away from train stations. Watch out for the sign “Booking Office for Train Tickets” in English and Chinese. In this places, you can buy the ticket as early as ten days in advance. Keep in mind, the staff usually doesn’t speak English. Neither do they at station cash desks, even in big cities.
You can write down the name of your destination, train number, date and time of departure, and required class on a piece of paper. Then, hand it to a cashier. You will be required to show an ID when buying a ticket. Your name will be printed on the ticket, and you need to be present in person when picking up a ticket.
Keep in mind, that many cities have different stations for normal and high-speed trains. During the high tourist season, tickets are sold out very quickly at station cashier desks. In this case, it is better to use the service of a local agent, although the price will be a little higher.
All major rivers in China have ferry service. Also, the coastal ferries operate between Dalian, Tianjin, Qingdao, and Shanghai. And there is a regular ferry service between Hong Kong and mainland China, although the conditions vary.
Both city buses and long distance buses are a convenient and relatively cheap way of transportation in China. Although you should keep in mind, that city buses are usually crowded, drivers are unhelpful, and there are no English signs.
Long distance coaches also differ in comfort and facilities. Those from the eastern coast usually have air conditioning and soft seats or sleepers. The bus personnel tries to be helpful, although doesn’t always succeed.
Getting a ticket can also be rather difficult. Large bus stations do have ticket counters, which sell printed tickets with fixed prices. Small terminals, on the other hand, have touts, who shout destinations and direct passengers to their buses, where they pay aboard.
Buses in rural areas, on the other hand, will be a totally different experience. Due to the difference in customs and traditions, the staff can seem impolite. Signs are only written in Chinese. And the roads are not of the best quality.
Road conditions throughout the country vary greatly. There are four-lane highways, as well as rural roads with numerous potholes. Also, drivers in China tend to be careless. Accidents on the roads are quite frequent. It is highly advisable to keep a long hold, in case the driver in front of you stops abruptly.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
Taxis are available in most cities. You should check if the cab has a meter. If not, you should negotiate the price, before getting in. Also, you need to have your destination written in Chinese letters, because most drivers don’t understand English. The good idea is to carry your hotel’s business card.
You can also hire a car with a driver on a daily or weekly basis. Renting a self-drive car will be complicated for short-term visitors. You can’t drive without a Chinese driving license. And you will need a three-month residency permit and an examination to obtain one.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
China Trip Cost
In China, you can travel on a reasonable budget. A double room in a hotel can cost as little as US$30 per night and go up to as much as $150 – $200. If you don’t have anything against hostels, you can book a dormitory bed for a minimum of $7 – $10.
A meal in a fine restaurant will cost around $10 – $15. Although, in a higher standard restaurant, be prepared to pay a minimum of $45. If your budget is really tights, try buying food in a market or try street food. It usually costs under $7. As for alcohol, a drink in a bar will cost around $6 – $10. Keep in mind, the imported alcohol, such as Portuguese wine, is rather cheap in China, due to the lack of import taxes.
Taxi is also not expensive. The minimum ride cost is $8. Or you can hire a bike for $3 and move around without traffic jams. As for entertainment, two tickets to Chinese opera usually cost around $45, and many museums are free to enter.
Electricity & Plug Type
China uses types A, C, and I sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 220 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
The main international airports in the country are Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Flights to China are operated by Air China, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, United, and many other airlines from different destinations around the world. It usually takes 14 hours to get to Beijing from New York.
If you fly from Europe, the major airlines you may use are Finnair, Hainan Airlines, KLM, and Lufthansa. Flights are often overbooked, particularly during the high season. It is best to book tickets in advance and re-confirm your reservation several days before the flight.
China can be reached by train from many of its neighboring countries. Two rail lines run from Moscow in Russia to Beijing: Trans – Mongolian and Trans – Manchurian. From Almaty, in Kazakhstan, you can get to Urumqi in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.
From Vietnam, there is a rail service to Nanning in Guangxi province. Regular trains also connect Hong Kong with mainland China. And, of course, there is a regular four-times-a-week service from Pyongyang in North Korea if you are willing to take it.
Due to the fact that China borders so many countries, coming by car is not difficult. However, border crossing points are often closed unexpectedly and the rules are changed all the time. It is advisable to check for the updates, before going on a trip. Also, don’t forget you can’t drive within China, without the local driver’s license. This means you will have to let the local driver take the wheel immediately after crossing a border.
China has a large number of ports. Over 120 of them accept foreign ships. However, they are mainly used for cargo transportation. The most popular ports among cruise ships, on the other hand, are Shanghai, Qingdao, and Tianjin.
Where to Stay
Even during the high season, you won’t have a problem finding accommodation in China. Hotels are plentiful throughout the country, and major international chains all have representatives in Beijing, Shanghai and some in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Of course, Beijing and Shanghai offer the best choice, although the highest prices. Facilities usually include restaurants, coffee shops, bars, swimming pools and massage rooms. Some also include spas, shopping malls, banks and post offices. The number of boutique hotels is also increasing around the country.
Hostels are mainly present in Beijing, Guangdong, Guangxi, Shanghai, and Yunnan. They can also be found in major tourist areas and offer cheaper, yet simpler accommodations for travelers. Facilities, however, vary from poor to very nice, so choose wisely.
Bed and Breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts, also known as guest houses, can be found in both urban and rural areas. They are generally cheaper, than hotels, but offer better amenities, than hostels.
Camping is not very popular in China. In fact, there are only a few places, where you can pitch up a tent. However, in remote areas and the wilderness, it is possible to secure a permit.
How Safe is China
Generally, China is a safe country. However, in major tourist sites and areas, there is a plenty of thieves and pickpockets. They usually lean towards foreigners’ passports, mobile phones, laptops, and purses. It means, you should be aware of your valuables, when in big crowds. You should also be extremely careful at markets, shops, airports, and popular bars after dark.
Serious crimes against foreigners are quite rare. On the other hand, you should avoid walking alone at night, particularly if you are a single woman. When possible, it’s better to take a cab, but only trust official ones. Of course, you shouldn’t trek alone in isolated areas, including those, which are parts of the Great Wall.
Check carefully, when accepting change or withdrawing money from the ATM, as counterfeit bank notes are quite common. Also, beware of scams, which are plentiful in tourist areas. Keep your eyes open for “tea tasting” and “massage” frauds. Don’t accept invitations to try tea, practice English, meet a girl or get a massage, when coming from strangers.
If traveling to regions bordering Siberia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Laos or Burma, keep in mind, that there is a lack of police. In Yunnan Province, be aware of drug smuggling and other serious crimes. In remote areas, there is also a high risk of armed bandits’ attacks.
Medical treatment is China is offered by local hospitals, as well as private clinics. Tourists are highly recommended to have travel insurance since most medical facilities will expect payment in cash. At local hospitals, prices are reasonable, although the quality of service varies. Medical staff generally does not speak English, so it is advised to have somebody, who can translate when applying for medical help.
If you are going to a remote area, you should have a good medical kit with you, because local hospitals there don’t always have all the necessary facilities and medications. International hospitals in big cities, on the other hand, offer much better service and have most common drugs in supplies.
Traditional Chinese medical treatments, such as acupuncture, meridian massage, cupping, and herbal medicine, are also widely popular.
Before coming to China, you need to have vaccinations against the following disease: typhoid, tetanus, rabies, hepatitis A, diphtheria, and sometimes malaria, tuberculosis, and Japanese encephalitis. If you are coming from an area of yellow fever spreading, you will be required a vaccination certificate about this disease too. In the central Yangtze river basin, the bilharzia is endemic, so you should avoid swimming in fresh water.
Hepatitis B is also highly endemic, so you should think about vaccination against this disease as well. Hepatitis E is widespread in northeastern and northwestern regions of the country. Also, sporadic outbreaks of bird flu (avian influenza) have led to several human deaths.
If you have been bitten by an insect, it is highly advisable to get medical advice. The same applies to animal bites since rabies is present in the country. Keep in mind, that HIV-positive people are restricted from traveling to China.
Food and Water Safety
All water you use for drinking or brushing your teeth should be boiled, filtered or sterilized some other way. It is best to buy bottled water, which is widely available and reasonably priced. Street food is rather common, but you should be careful because the hygiene standards can be quite poor. Pork, salads, scallops, snails, and mayonnaise are considered risky. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled before consuming.
July 11, 2016 12:00 am 1 Comment