China

by Laura, 22 April 2009

Introduction

China is such a fascinating and diverse country! Travel here can be complex and confusing at times, however that’s what makes it such an adventure; Where else can you marvel at skyscrapers in metropolitan cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, ride on horseback through sprawling countryside, sail on a bamboo raft through rivers flanked by mountains that appear like out of a dream sequence, cuddle a panda and stand on the spectacular Great Wall. This country really does have it all.

Travel Budget/Daily Costs

China is a relatively inexpensive country and by staying in hostels and eating in local restaurants you can get by on a budget of around £15 a day or less.

When to go

China can be visited all year round; however it is most pleasant during April-May (spring) and September-October (autumn). During these times the temperature is pleasant and comfortable and there is little rain. As a rule Southern China is far more pleasant during the winter, and at this time areas of high altitude should be avoided as it will be a little too cold!

Things to do and see

Where do I start?!! The sheer diversity and breadth of opportunity in China is quite staggering! Below I list a few personal favorites:

Beijing

Chinese military on Tiananmen Square

Such a great city to visit, and in my opinion the best starting point for a trip to China. Stand in the middle of the awesome Tiananmen Square, the largest urban square in the world and background to many historical events. Go just as the sun is setting and watch the Chinese military honor guards take part in a ceremony where they march and lower the national flag.

While you are there do not miss out on sampling the famous Peking duck in of the many specialty restaurants dotted around the city. It can be a bit touristy but the experience is fun and the duck is delicious!

The Great Wall

To travel to China and not stand on the Great Wall is a real shame, for many this is an unforgettable experience. You have a few options for seeing the wall, and this depends on how adventurous you are! The most popular place for a visit is at Badaling, 70 kilometers North West of Beijing. The scenery is beautiful and you have wonderful views of the wall snaking off into the hills in the distance. Be prepared however for the crowds, especially during the weekends! It is for this reason that many people choose to visit another part of the wall which is less busy and not so touristy! It may mean a bit more of a trek to get there, but in my opinion it’s well worth it!

Another option for the Great Wall is the section at Mutianyu, which is 90km northeast of Beijing and tends to be a less commercial experience than Badaling. Here you also have the opportunity to take a cable car ride at the end which is supposed to be quite fun!

Those that don’t mind quite a long hike can visit the Great Wall at Jinshanling, which remains relatively undeveloped. This is the starting point for the 10 kilometre hike to Simatai, The hike takes around 4 hours but you will be rewarded with spectacular view of the wall, often in an un-restored (and sometimes crumbling) state but minus the tourists!

Xian

This city has so much more to offer than the Terracotta Warriors for which it is famous. An ancient capital of China, the city is dominated by one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese City Walls, which are wide enough to cycle along, giving you great views over the city. Wander the streets in the Muslim quarter, sampling some of the great foods at the snack stalls along the way and wind your way over to one of the nightspots within the city, where you’re likely to be one of the few Westerners there, so be prepared to feel a bit like a celebrity at times!

Chengdu

Giant panda

Many travelers flock here to get a glimpse of the giant pandas. The Panda Research centre is just outside of Chengdu, and could technically be described as a zoo; the pandas live in large enclosures within a large bamboo filled park. The city of Chengdu itself is also quite nice, and here you can sample the famous Sichuan hotpot or visit the Chinese Opera which is always entertaining!

Tiger Leaping Gorge (Near Lijiang)

Tiger Leaping Gorge

The most famous trekking spot in China, great for travelers looking for an adventurous Himalayan trek. At an altitude of about 2500 meters, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is a steep gorge, you’ll walk along the top of the gorge and on the trail you’ll see the Yangtze River on one side and steep mountain walls on the other, and hardly any people along the way which is great! Most people do the trek in two days, and there are cosy little guesthouses dotted along the route.

Yangshuo

A popular backpacker haunt, this city, idyllically located on a river in the Karst mountain region is probably the most well known natural environment in China and rightly so. The scenery is quite spectacular and it’s very easy to while away your days here. Hire a bike and explore, sail on a bamboo boat across the river, hike through farm land, go hot air ballooning or just relax and take in the surroundings. In the evenings you can enjoy a magical laser show or visit one of the bars on 'West Street'.

Bits ’n Pieces

  • The distances in China are huge, but thankfully the train network is very good! The longer routes run overnight, which is great as it saves on a nights’ accommodation! You can choose between a soft sleeper and hard sleeper (essentially 1st and 2nd class - both have soft beds despite the names!) The Chinese just do not use a class system, so describe it differently.
  • In the South, there are less trains running, therefore the journeys take longer and they usually mean taking the bus instead.
  • The language barrier can be a bit of a problem at times! Ask the staff at your hotel/hostel to write down instructions for you in Chinese if you would like to book a train ticket etc, it really helps! ‘Point it’ picture books can also be a really handy way to communicate when all else fails!
  • Although it is possible to visit China all year round, it is far more pleasant during spring and autumn. The North can get cold in the winter; this also applies to areas at a high altitude.
  • Find & book hostels in China.

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