Vast with awe-inspiring landscapes, diversity in its ‘never seen before’ avatar and mystical in its unique way, China—the world’s oldest continuous civilisation and the world’s most populous country—is a feast to your senses. With an abundance of history, plenty of overwhelming, momentous structures and the idiosyncrasies of its natives, the land of wonders will never cease to amaze you The face of the country is changing so rapidly that it almost turns out be an adventure to explore the land of exemplary commerce on one side and the lush rice terraces, quaint villages, the Great Wall meandering across mountains, beautiful bamboo forests, and sublime Buddhist cave statues on the other. China is so huge a country that it may take months or even years to explore the country in its entirety. If you are heading to the most incredible country in the Orient, you are about to expose yourself to the most extraordinary experience of your life.
China Travel Guide
Places to Visit in China:
With so many things on its platter, China has more than enough places to visit and if you are wondering what to do in China, the answer is: ‘Eat & Explore’. Here are some must-visit sites in China.
The Forbidden City: At the heart of Beijing city, this largest palace complex in the world is as exciting as its name—the Forbidden City. Locally known as Gu Gong or the ancient palace, the Forbidden City is a glimpse of China’s glorious past. China’s most alluring and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings, which was once home to the imperial dynasties, is now one of China’s most famous landmarks.
The Great Wall: If you have not climbed the Great Wall, you haven’t completed your trip to China. Believe it or not, the entire wall with all of its branches is 21,196 km long. The wall, which was built in due course of time under several dynasties, is made of bricks, stones, tamped earth, wood, and other construction materials for the purpose of fortification. Listed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, the Great Wall meandering across mountain peaks, is China’s most exemplary engineering triumph and despite your best efforts, you cannot prepare yourself for the awe to strike you, when the Great Wall comes into sight.
Temple of Heaven: Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the Temple of Heaven, which literally means the Altar of Heaven, is also UNESCO’s would heritage site and the tranquil Confucian structure has been defined as “a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilizations…” Don’t miss the Echo Wall, wrapped around the Imperial Vault of Heaven where a whisper can travel from one end to the other.
Travel Tip: Get here early to experience the Echo Wall and avoid the cacophony of tour groups.
The Bund: The Bund or Waitan is the waterfront area in central Shanghai. Symbolic of colonial Shànghǎi for almost a century, the Bund has numerous historical buildings that once housed trading houses and banks of various countries along the banks of Huangpu River. Today, the Bund is an ideal place to be, if you are looking to shop in exclusive boutiques or fine dine in expensive restaurants. Coming to Shanghai and not visiting the Bund is similar to a trip to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
Army of Terracotta Warriors: One of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, the Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses is the subterranean army of thousands of life-size sculptures, which was meant to guard the first Emperor of China in his afterlife. The fascinating fact is, the terracotta Army of more than 8,000 soldiers, 520 horses, 130 chariots and 150 cavalry horses were buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huang and remained there for more than 2000 years. It was in 1947, a well-digging by the peasants led to the fortuitous discovery of the army of warriors.
The Li River in Guilin: As per America’s National Geographic Magazine Li river is one of the “World’s Top Ten Watery Wonders” and rightly so, because the riverside not just offers mesmerizing landscape with steep cliffs, startling hills, bamboo groves and farming villages, but transports you into a different world of poets and artists with its stunning splendour.
The Potala Palace: The highest ancient palace in the world—Patola Palace was once the winter residence of the Dalai Lama, and now is the cardinal landmark of Lhasa in China. Currently, a World Heritage Site and a museum, the Patola Palace is a sheer architectural brilliance and a wonder with 13 storeys and more than a thousand rooms, that too on the top of a hill.
Grand Buddha: Conceived and initiated by a Chinese monk named Haitong, the Grand Buddha is one of the largest stone Buddha in the world. It is also by far the tallest Pre-modern statue in the world. Haitong believed that the statue of Buddha overlooking the confluence of the Dadu, Minjiang, and Qingyi rivers would calm the turbulent waters and protect the shipping vessels traveling on the river.
Shaolin Temple: Thanks to all those Kung Fu movies, but you just cannot return to your homeland without visiting the 1500 years old Shaolin temple. The temple located in a forest mountain is one of the four holy Buddhist temples in China. As the Chinese proverb goes: “All martial arts under heaven arose out of Shaolin.”
Old Street, Shanghai: Much to a shopper’s delight, the Qing-dynasty stretch of Middle Fangbang Rd in Shanghai has shops offering exciting range of products from jade jewellery, kites, embroidered fabrics, horn combs, zǐsh teapots, chopsticks, old advertisements posters, Tibetan jewellery, bank notes, repro 1930s posters, the Mao trash to be knocked off, calligraphy manuals and old illustrated books to 3-D pictures of kittens. Not to be missed, if you love bazaars.
Travel Tip: Bargaining is China’s national pastime.
Dongtai Road Antique Market: An ancient land without antiques? Unimaginable. China is no exception. When there are antiques, there has to be a market selling them. Your search for antiques in China can only lead you to Dongtai Road Antique Market in Shanghai. The market street with a character of its own has more than 100 stalls selling miniature terracotta warriors, imperial robes, Guanyin figures, twee lotus shoes, walnut-faced luóhàn statues and helicopter pilot helmets too. However, only a few contemporary items such as, the art deco and ornaments are genuine.
Travel Tip: If you manage to bargain and get a fair price of something you like, don’t buy it as an antique but for the fact that you like it.
Wushan Lu Night Market: In Wúshan Lù night market you can find all those goodies Hángzhōu is famous for such as tea, silk, Chinese fans and, of all things, scissors. You can find fake ceramics and ancient pewter tobacco pipes side by side and the pirated CDs jostle with silk shirts. If something catches your attention, put your bargaining hat on.
Hongqiao (Pearl) Market: The pearl market in Beijing—Hongqiao—has an unbelievable range of pearls from seawater, and freshwater, to white and black. The prices of the pearls are generally high and it may vary depending upon the quality. The vendors can speak some English, but the bargain is tough.
Food: If anything stands parallel to the country’s magnificent history, it’s the gastronomic delights that China has presented to the rest of the world. The culinary exploration of the Middle Kingdom is a feast to taste buds and a soulful experience to the senses. Peking duck, sizzling lamb kebab in Kaifeng, a bowl of Lanzhou noodles on the Silk Road, spicy Hunan or Sichuan dishes or Guangdong’s very own Dim Sums, flavours to savour for the rest of your life, are China’s return gift to you. Night time food markets are the best destination for street food adventures. Explore Snack Street in Beijing’s Wangfujing district to dig your teeth deep into lip-smacking fast food. China is so vast a nation with cultural diversity that the food palate varies significantly from one region to another. Enjoy a breakfast early in the morning at a street behind your hotel, and unless you are fine-dining in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing or any other big city, avoid seafood. Be a little cautious as some speciality restaurants also serve dogs and snakes and when the menu mentions ‘meat’ assume it to be pork.
For street food, the hygiene level can vary from stall to stall, so look for a vendor where locals have lined up and make sure your food is properly cooked to avoid sickness. While it is customary to tip the porters, drivers and guides, tipping at restaurants, hotels and taxies is at your own discretion. Rice is not a staple in China and is regarded as a cheap way to fill up. In case, you wish to have rice, state it clearly while placing the order.
Entertainment: China’s entertainment scene is majorly about Discos, Bars and Karaoke. Although, there are plenty of western style pubs, Karaoke is the most popular form of entertainment. The fancy bars with bar girls is China’s unique way to entertain you. These girls will consume a lot of alcohol and will get you to play drinking games for obvious reasons—they are commissioned to get you boozing.
Don’t expect these bar girls to accompany you out of the bar, they are just professional flirts, nothing else. Also, never, mind you, NEVER accept an invitation to a bar or a restaurant from a woman, who randomly approached you in the street after sundown. It’s a scam and you may be forced to pay exorbitant amount for a meal worth pennies.
Where to stay in China:
Although China has various accommodation options from five stars to shared dorms, there are some extremely cheap staying options too, if you are travelling on a shoe-string budget. However, cleanliness and security are major issues with such accommodation options. Hostel, dorms and extra rooms called Zhusu are the most preferred staying options for budget travellers.
All foreigners must present the original passport with visa to check into a hotel or a hostel, or you will be denied an accommodation. Finding a hotel on arrival is a daunting task in a hugely populated country, therefore book a hotel through the internet in advance. Don’t hesitate to ask for extra beds for children as the Chinese are extremely friendly people.
Local Transport: Trains are the best options to commute long distance in China. To explore within the city, opt for taxis, cycle around or just test the sturdiness of your footwear. Taxies are metered and the fare is reasonable.
Points to remember: A Chinese taxi driver will prefer the jingle of coins to small bills of 1 yuan or 5 jiao. Don’t place the chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice as it can be interpreted as wishing death for those around you. Instead, place it on the chopstick rest or across the bowl. China is not bothered about its beggars, you too avoid them. Internet in China is censored and you need VPN to access Facebook or for that matter a blog.