China is one of the most fascinating destinations imaginable, with incredible history, stunning scenery and a modern twist. For the first-time visitor, there’s a list of “must see” highlights that are on most people’s agendas, but there’s so much to see that you could spend months touring the Country and still have only scratched the surface.
Shanghai and Beijing are by far the two most important cities in the Country and are the main gateways to China, and both have a wealth of interest – Beijing is a real assault on the senses so it’s often easier to start a trip to China in Shanghai, which has a more western-orientated outlook. Take a stroll along the Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront boulevard, where the art deco and neoclassical buildings of the colonial era now house the city’s most exclusive boutiques and innovative restaurants, and the view across to the futuristic skyline of Pudong, Shanghai’s new financial heart, is just spectacular. Take the super-fast elevator to the world’s second highest viewing platform at the 492m-high Shanghai World Financial Centre for views back across to the old city.
Beijing itself packs more interest in to one city than most entire countries do, with the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven leading the way. Explore the hutong, Beijing’s old streets that have escaped the city’s rapid development, where a more traditional way of life can be seen. Outside of the city centre, various stretches of the Great Wall of China can be accessed – some sections receive hundreds of thousands of visitors a day and can be choked with domestic tourists, so it’s worth travelling a little further to a slightly more peaceful section to really appreciate it.
Modern-day China is just as fascinating as its past, and the contrast between ancient and modern is most apparent in the big cities such as Beijing, where the Country’s economic rise in recent years is startling. International luxury brands from Prada to Ferrari have really made their mark, with designer shops rubbing shoulders with traditional markets and trendy bars replacing old-world teahouses.
The friendliness of the Chinese becomes more apparent as you get a little off the beaten track, and many visitors end up enjoying the lesser-known places more than the headline locations. In Sichuan province, the small riverside town of Leshan is a friendly place to spend a day or two, and has a major draw in the shape of the Grand Buddha, the world’s largest Buddha statue. Take in some of the teahouses that Sichuan is renowned for and sample local delicacies such as sour cabbage fish soup and Sichuan hotpot – be warned, Sichuan food packs a fiery punch!
China can be quite a daunting destination to deal with, as little English is spoken away from the main tourist areas and communicating can be difficult. Unless you’re familiar with written Chinese characters or can manage a few words of Mandarin, simple things like reading street signs or menus is just about impossible. The Chinese are a very resourceful bunch, however, and have embraced technology to communicate with overseas visitors – be prepared to order food and drinks via a translation app on a mobile phone! Travelling as part of a tour group is by far the most straightforward way to deal with day to day China, where a guide will navigate around the language, the streets and the vast numbers of domestic visitors that the major sites receive.
Many people see a visit to China being for history buffs and culture vultures, and while there’s a huge amount to keep them entertained, the Country offers such a wealth of interest and a real contrast of images that really engage you, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place.
Don’t miss…the world’s fastest train, the Maglev, connecting Shanghai airport to the city centre in around 7 minutes – travel faster than a Formula One car at over 260 mph.
Top Tip…take a business card from each hotel you stay in – taxi drivers rarely speak English, so if you have the name of your hotel written down you’ll be able to find your way back again.
One to avoid…being scammed in to attending an extortionate tea ceremony by con artists targeting visitors in Tiananmen Square, the Bund and other main areas. Don’t be fooled by over-friendly students wanting to practise their English, who want to take you for tea!
We have some amazing holidays to China - http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/far_east/china_holidays.html
Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays