China opened up to the outside world decades ago. But even now, the country remains somewhat of a mystery for Western tourists.
The problem is that the country doesn’t have a heritage of tourism. People know why they go to places like Bali, or Majorca, or the Seychelles. But China? Not so much.
Of course, the lack of tourism heritage doesn’t mean that the country doesn’t have much to offer. It does. It’s just that finding its hidden gems is slightly more of a challenge than in other parts of the world.
Why Go To China Anyway?
Tourists haven’t been sold the right image of China. It’s still presented by the West as a communist country in recovering, wracked by pollution. But the truth of China is very different to that. The country is arguably less communist today than that bastion of capitalism, the United States. Nearly 35 percent of the US economy is controlled by the government. That figure is just 20 percent for China.
China is a dynamic, bustling place. It’s fast becoming a centre for the world’s high-tech industries. It’s moving towards development faster than pretty much any major country in history.
There are several recurring complaints about China. The biggest is probably the fact that it’s so crowded. Here is a country of more than 1.3 billion people where every year, millions more migrate to the cities. It should be pointed out, however, that this is a feature of just about any major populated area on Earth. Take a trip to Hollywood or to Disneyland, and you’ll find much the same situation.
China is a vast, continental country. It’s area rivals that of the US. And, as a result, it has vast areas of open space where you could theoretically get lost for days. China is a place where you can go to relax, you just need to know where to look.
The other major complaint about the country is the language barrier. It can be exhausting for Westerners visiting the country for the first time even to order food. China has multiple languages, and its languages are spoken in a different way to Western language. Pitch, not phonetics, is what matters here.
Getting around the language problem is difficult if you’re planning to strike out by yourself. Not every street corner food vendor is going to be able to speak English. But China touring holidays offer a potential solution. Touring holidays conduct tours in English and manage all the annoying details, like booking hotels and ordering food. If you’ve been putting off a visit to China because of the language barrier, this might be the right option for you.
Once the initial hurdles have been bypassed, the reasons for travelling to China are seemingly endless. Some people go just to marvel at the scale of the economic development in the country. Shanghai is home to some of the highest skyscrapers in the world, as well as hundreds of cranes. Then, of course, there is the country’s artistic heritage, the 2008 Olympic Village, and 5,000 years of history.
Most tourists take a whistle-stop tour of China’s most iconic landmarks. This includes the Terracotta Army, preserved in Xi’an, the famous burial complex. Also, there’s Beijing’s Forbidden City, the incredible Qing Dynasty palaces. And finally, there is the Great Wall, thousands of miles of masonry protecting China from Mongols to the north.
What About The Adventurous?
For some, though, China’s historic monuments just aren’t their cup of tea. They go to a country in search of adventure and exciting new experiences. The good news is that China offers these people something to look forward to too.
Some of the best places in China revolve around the country’s ancient Buddhist culture. Adventurous tourists can make the journey to the country’s Buddhist caves near Dunhuang. They can also check out the mysterious Taklamakan Desert in the far north and west of the country. Here, they’ll find an unspoilt wilderness, far from the maddening crowds.
There are also several less frequently visited museums that the discerning tourist might want to visit. These include the Xi’an Museum, close to the site of the Terracotta Army, and the Shaanxi History Museum.
What About Those Who Want To Experience The Culture?
For yet others, the allure of China is to see how the other half lives. What is it like to be Chinese on a daily basis?
If you want to check out what life is like, there are plenty of ways to do this. The best is to find local cafes and restaurants that serve up traditional cuisine. You’ll find these family owned businesses all over the main cities like Shanghai and Tientsin. You can also check out local temples and get involved in the religious life of the community.
When Should You Go?
Peak times in China differ from peak times in other places. Here the best time to go is in the Spring between March and May. During this period, the weather is best. The weather is also good the other side of the summer from September to early December. Prices tend to be lower around these periods too, which is a bonus. But be careful if travelling around the Easter weekend. Prices tend to be higher.
You may also want to avoid Chinese public holidays if you don’t like crowds. There are three major holidays in the Chinese calendar. The first is the Chinese New Year, also called the spring festival. This usually kicks off in late January or early February. The second major holiday is the May holiday. In the first week of May. And the third is the so-called National Day. This is held during the first week of October. During these periods, tourist attractions become very crowded.
And What About The Local Etiquette?
Let’s start with photographs first, as this regularly gets tourists into trouble. Photographs should only be taken with a person’s express consent. Taking photos is prohibited at museums, airports and, not surprisingly, military bases. You may also encounter tourist “video fees.” These are fees charged by tourist site operators for people who want to film their sites. These fees should be minimal.
What about food? The food in China is varied depending on the region. Generally, the north of the country eats a diet based around wheat. In the south, the diet is based around rice. In the north, you’ll find dishes like Peking duck, noodles and spring rolls. In general, the food in the north is heavier than the food in the south.
As you move further south, the food begins to change. Shanghai is home to some of the best seafood in the whole of China. And if you go to the west of the country, you’ll encounter Sichuan cooking. Sichuan food is spicy and centred around the unusual flavour of Sichuan pepper. To the south, you’ll find Cantonese food, made famous by dim sum.
If you have a tour guide, it is customary in China to tip. Tour guides, porters and drivers depend on tips to supplement their income. Experts suggest tipping tour guides around 100 Yuan per day, drivers 50 and porters 5 Yuan.
Tipping elsewhere, like at hotels, is often discretionary. But to grease the wheels, most travel guides suggest making a tip of around 10 Yuan. Just beware that, like most places, credit cards might not be accepted.
Finally, it’s worth noting that in some rural Chinese communities spitting in public is not seen as rude. Prepare yourself accordingly.