For thousands of years China has been shrouded in mystery and intrigue, and foreigners still find it difficult to penetrate the inner depths of this fascinating and enigmatic nation. However, since the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing showcased some of its most spectacular attractions, there has been a major increase in travellers exploring this vast and exotic destination. There is a great deal to discover in the Middle Kingdom, the world's most populated country (over 1.3 billion citizens), and also the third largest in the world.
What makes China attractive as a travel destination, particularly for Western tourists, is its unique culture and ancient antiquities. Ruins and relics from Neolithic settlements and the dynastic reigns of the mighty emperors await exploration and there are plenty of adventures to be had along the legendary ancient trade routes, such as the Silk Road. The Forbidden Palace, Great Wall of China, and the Terracotta Army of X'ian are just some of the incredible attractions to be seen in this ancient Eastern empire.
The People's Republic of China has been under a communist government since 1949, but is currently undergoing a boom in social and economic development with a great emphasis placed on tourist facilities and infrastructure. Now China is opening the doors to its wealth of historical and cultural treasures and visitors are flooding in to be amazed and awed.
Organised tours are still the favoured way to explore China, but independent travel is slowly becoming easier. The major cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, are modern metropolises offering fast food and glitzy stores alongside centuries-old historical buildings and traditional eating houses. Archaeological wonders vie with amazing architecture in the interior, while majestic mountains and remote monasteries crown the northern areas. With all to marvel at, this country would take several years' worth of holidays to explore properly!
China's attractions are so many, and its landscapes so vast, that travellers will need a lifetime to fully explore this fascinating and impossibly diverse country. That said, the must-see sights are fairly obvious and highly accessible, and, as previously restricted areas open up, the list of world-class attractions keeps growing. In addition to big draw-cards like the Great Wall, the Xi'an Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City, travellers can choose from a huge range of cultural treasures, traditional temples, incredible landscapes, national parks, and festivals. Travellers should choose areas that they would like to explore wisely, especially if travelling on a budget, because the country's vastness can make travelling from place to place considerably expensive.
One of the most amazing sights in China can be seen in every Chinese city every day: the incredible pace of modernisation reflected in the energy of the people, frenetic urban development, and the relentless embrace of capitalism, with all its virtues and vices. These impressions are likely to leave the deepest mark on visitors to China. The contrast between the ancient and the new is intriguing and makes exploring China a joy for both history and culture buffs as well as the more modern tourist interested in technology and development.
China is a year-round destination, although visitors might want to plan around Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in late January and early February, when much of the country shuts down for a week and public transport is completely booked up.
Though there are many collections of steles (stone tablets) in China, only Xi'an's is large enough to warrant being called a forest. There are more than 3,000 ancient steles in this library, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Beilin Museum itself is nearly as old, having been established in 1087. The steles are divided into seven exhibition halls, and display classic examples of traditional Chinese calligraphy, painting, and historical records. It is a scholarly museum, and perhaps not as thrilling as some other sites, but travellers interested in history, writing, calligraphy, poetry, or philosophy will be enthralled by the ancient collection. It is recommended that visitors hire one of the library's excellent English guides, as without some assistance, a lot of the interesting history and the cultural relevance of the inscriptions will be inaccessible. Apart from its impressive collection, the museum building has lovely grounds with fountains and pagodas, making it a great place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. It is also one of the less crowded tourist attractions. Ink rubbings of some of the most famous tablets are for sale in the gift shop.
No trip to Shanghai would be complete without a walk along the famous Bund. This picturesque street, Shanghai's waterfront promenade, stretches for one mile (2km) along the bank of the Huangpu River, and was once the most famous street in Asia. It is still renowned for its strip of Art Deco buildings. One of the grandest of these buildings, formerly the City Communist Party headquarters, is now the home of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. On the skyline, visitors can see the Jin Mao Tower, one of the tallest buildings in China. The wide riverfront promenade on the east bank of the river provides a captivating view of Shanghai, particularly at night.
From the Bund visitors can take a river trip down the Huangpu to the mouth of the Yangtse. Boats leave regularly from the Shiliupu Pier south of the Bund and the trip takes about three hours. Those preferring to see an aerial view with a drink in hand could visit Char Bar of the Indigo Hotel for an astounding view of the Bund. However it's done, this area promises incredible photo opportunities and is a good way for travellers to familiarise themselves with what Shanghai has to offer.
The new Shanghai Museum is situated on the People's Square, the political and cultural centre of Shanghai. The square boasts a giant musical fountain and several attractive green recreational areas where locals dance and fly kites. It is surrounded by the City Hall, an underground shopping centre, and the Grand Shanghai Theatre. However, the Shanghai Museum, opened in 1996, draws the most interest from tourists. The building is shaped like a giant bronze urn, and the museum contains a collection of about 123,000 cultural artefacts in 21 categories. The permanent galleries of this impressive museum include: Chinese Ancient Bronze, Chinese Ancient Ceramics, Chinese Paintings, Chinese Calligraphy, Chinese Ancient Sculpture, Chinese Ancient Jade, Chinese Coins, Ming and Qing Furniture, Chinese Seals, and Chinese Minority Nationalities' Art. There is a restaurant and an art store within the museum. If visitors do not speak Chinese, they should look out for the museum's advanced audio tour, which is offered in eight languages. As the lines can get rather long, it is worth getting to the museum early. If it is a hot day, visitors should enter via the south entrance rather than the north, as it is possible there to queue undercover.
The Yuyuan Gardens or the Gardens of Contentment, date back to 1559 during the Ming Dynasty, and are the best example of Chinese classical gardens in Shanghai. While Yuyuan is a popular tourist attraction, it is still a peaceful refuge from the city, with koi ponds amidst the trees and pagodas. The relatively small gardens are laid out in an intricate design with pavilions, rockeries, ponds, and a traditional theatre arranged in an ornate maze. The gardens consist of six sections: The Grand Rockery, the Hall of Heralding Spring, the Hall of Jade Magnificence, Ten Thousand Flower Pavilion, Inner Garden and Lotus Pool.
The gardens are on Yuyuan Street in downtown Shanghai and can be reached via the Town God Temple Market, a warren of shops and stalls that is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist bazaar. The market boasts both international staples like Starbucks and Dairy Queen, as well as unique local stalls. After the bustle of the market, the gardens provide welcome shade and calm. It is best to visit the gardens during the week because they are very busy during weekends and the crowds can detract from the spirit of the place.
In 1974, a group of peasants digging a well north of Mount Lishan in Lintong county, about 18 miles (30km) from Xi'an, unearthed fragments of a life-sized warrior figure. Because the site of the discovery was just one mile (2km) from the as yet unexcavated tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who ruled between 246 and 210 BC, archaeologists grew excited. Further excavation revealed several timber-lined vaults filled with thousands of greatly detailed terracotta soldiers and their horses and chariots: an entire army assembled in position to follow Emperor Qin into eternity. The pits containing the army are now open to public viewing and thousands of visitors flock to gaze at the stunning array of figures with their vivid facial expressions.
The Terracotta Army Museum consists of the original pit that was discovered in 1974, which has been enclosed within a hangar-like building to preserve the ranks of 6,000 soldiers found there. A second pit, containing 1,400 figures of cavalrymen, horses and infantrymen, and 90 wooden chariots, is also part of the museum. Visitors can also see Qin's Mausoleum and view almost 100 sacrificial pits containing the skeletons of horses, complete with hay, that were buried with him. There are also about 20 tombs holding the remains of his counsellors and retainers. The emperor's tomb itself is under a 249-foot (76m) high mound that has not yet been excavated, but is believed, according to historical records, to have contained rare gems and other treasures.
The graceful complex of buildings that constitute the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum in Xi'an's southern suburbs is built in the style of a Tang Dynasty pavilion, and is itself a sight worth seeing. The museum's exhibits, however, are even more breathtaking, consisting of about 113,000 artefacts unearthed in the province and chronologically arranged in three exhibition halls. The exhibits cover the Han, Wei, Jin, North and South, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Quing dynasties, as well as the prehistoric and bronze period. Shaanxi province was a vital region for the cultural development of China; it was the capital of 13 glorious dynasties. The Shaanxi Provincial History Museum stands as testament to the area's importance: it is a treasure trove of Chinese civilization. The museum is China's premier history museum and everything is world-class. The lines at the entrance can be extremely long, so travellers are advised to get there early to avoid the crowds and to get a free ticket (4,000 free tickets are available every day, visitors must just present their passport to get one).
On the outskirts of Xi'an city, on the bank of the Chanhe River, are the remains of the ancient settlement of Banpo, dating from about 5000 BC. The remains were discovered in 1953 by workers laying the foundations for a factory. Upon further investigation, the site proved to make up one of the most complete example of an agricultural Neolithic settlement in the world. The site contains the ruins of more than 40 homes, 200 cellars, numerous storage pots, a collection of pottery and tools, a pottery-making centre, and more than 250 graves belonging to a matriarchal community of the Yangshao culture. There is an on-site museum constructed over the excavation site with two smaller exhibition halls displaying the archaeological artefacts that have been unearthed. More than 400 archaeological sites similar to Banpo have been discovered in and around the Yellow River Valley in China, giving the area the reputation of being the birthplace of ancient Chinese culture. Banpo is an essential visit for those interested in archaeology and ancient history.
The Huaqing Hot Springs, located about 22 miles (35km) east of Xi'an city, at the base of the Lishan Mountains, is where the ancient emperors bathed and relaxed in scenic surroundings. Huaqing is one of the Hundred Famous Gardens of China and the setting of the baths is very beautiful. The spa has been operating since the days of the Tang Dynasty, and its warm (109°F/43°C) mineral waters, containing lime, sodium carbonate, and sodium sulphate, are still enjoyed by locals and visitors today.
The waters are particularly recommended for the treatment of dermatitis, rheumatism, arthritis and muscular pain. The ancient imperial bathing pools can be visited, including the Hibiscus pool, dating from the year 712, which has been restored and is open to the public. There is also a fascinating museum at the site containing building materials from the Tang Dynasty.
Another attraction at the springs is the Hovering Rainbow Bridge, which reflects the sunset in such a way that it appears to be a rainbow. Visitors can take a cable car up the mountain to experience the aerial view. Huaqing is the setting for a famous Chinese love story about the Emperor and his lover and this romance is the central theme of the attraction. Visitors will only need a few hours here, but it makes for a good side excursion on their way to the Terracotta Warriors.
The Great Mosque is the pride of China's Islamic community and is a popular tourist attraction. The mosque is near the Drum Tower in the Islamic residential area. Islam came to China along with Arab merchants and travellers in roughly the year 600. The Great Mosque in Xi'an is the best-preserved ancient mosque in China, having been built in 742, during the Tang Dynasty. It is built in traditional Chinese style with platforms, pavilions and halls, and is rectangular in shape, divided inside into four courtyards. Visitors can explore the passages, courtyards and archways and admire the furniture and fittings, most of which date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The main prayer hall can accommodate 1,000 and its ceiling bears more than 600 classical scriptures in colourful relief. The Great Mosque is a rewarding travellers destination, particularly because the mix of Islamic and Chinese architecture and design is interesting and unique. It is surrounded by landscaped gardens which make for a quiet sanctuary and are worth strolling around. It is a place of worship though, so visitors should dress appropriately and behave respectfully.
The vast Potala Palace stands on a cliff top above Lhasa, considered the greatest achievement of Tibetan architecture. The palace was originally built in the 7th century by the then emperor for his bride. It was later partially destroyed by lightning, and war, but restored and extended in 1645 by the Fifth Dalai Lama when he became political and religious leader of Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama took up residence in the palace in 1653, and it remained the Dalai Lamas' official residence until the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959.
The palace is renowned for its interior splendour. It consists of two main sections: The White Palace is the secular section containing offices, dormitories, a Buddhist seminary and printing house; The Red Palace is the sacred sanctuary dedicated to religious study and Buddhist prayer. The Red Palace contains chapels where the mummified remains of three Dalai Lamas lie, and the Great West Hall famous for its rich murals. The only remaining structures dating from the 7th century are the Dharma Cave and the Saint's Chapel but the palace houses many ancient cultural treasures and relics. In fact, the palace contains over 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues.
The Jokhang Temple lies in the heart of old Lhasa. It was built nearly 1,300 years ago but remains the spiritual centre of Tibet, drawing pilgrims from all over the region who come to demonstrate piety to the Buddha. The original structure was enlarged under the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama and it now stands as the product of Han, Tibetan and Nepalese architectural design. It is a four-storey timber temple with a golden roof and it contains numerous valuable cultural relics and sacred sculptures, and features some magnificent murals in the main hall. Possibly the most special statue is the site's original sculpture of Buddha, called Jobo, which is richly decorated with jewels and silk. An annual prayer festival is held in the temple, which is also the venue for the initiation of the Dalai Lamas. The Jokhang Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is generally considered to be Tibet's most sacred and important temple. It is certainly one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lhasa. By all accounts, Jokhang Temple is a profoundly special place and it is said that travellers who stay long enough will discover that they are a Buddhist.
Tashi Lhunpo is one of Tibet's most revered and influential monasteries, lying about a mile (2km) to the west of Shigatse at the base of Drolmari Mountain. It dates from 1477, having been founded by the first Dalai Lama, and became the seat of the Panchen Lama (Tibet's second most important spiritual leader) in 1713. The monastery today houses about 800 monks in its 3,229 square foot (300 sq m) buildings. The oldest section of the monastery is the main chanting hall that houses the throne of the Panchen Lama. The tallest section is the Maitreya Chapel, which contains the world's largest brass statue of Maitreya. The seated figure is 86 feet (26m) high and has been decorated with gold, pearl, amber, copper, coral, diamonds, and many other precious stones. It is said that it took 900 craftsmen nine years to complete the statue. The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery boasts many other treasures, including the remarkable Thanka Wall, which is nine floors high and was built by the first Dalai Lama. The wall is used to display massive images of Buddha on important days in the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. There are also exquisite wall paintings, or murals, to be found within the monastery.
The Shigatse prefecture is the gateway for climbers to the North Col climbing route of the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest. The ultimate climber's challenge, Mount Everest towers at 29,028 feet (8,848m) on the border between Tibet and Nepal. The Tibetan name for the peak is Mount Quomolangma, which means 'the third goddess'. Access to the Everest Base Camp is via the town of Tinggri. About 20 miles (30km) from the town hiking tracks take climbers on a 48-mile (78km) trek to the first camp.
About six miles (10km) from the base camp is the highest monastery on earth, Rongbuk Monastery, at an altitude of 16,728ft (5,099m). The monastery is being restored and offers hostel accommodation. Just south of the monastery is the world-renowned Rongbuk Glacier. Because of its height, adventurers wishing to climb Mount Everest will need to allow several weeks simply to acclimatise to the thin atmosphere. Climbing Mount Everest is not to be entertained without the aid of a guide, and should only be attempted by extremely experienced climbers. Many have died attempting to reach the summit - about 280 people are thought to have perished on the mountain and fatalities occur almost every year. However, it is an awe-inspiring area to explore even for travellers not intending to climb the peak.
Numerous travel agencies offer package multi-day hikes around the area and up to the Everest base camp.
The unique Palkhor (Baiju) Monastery is situated about 143 miles (230km) south of Lhasa and 62 miles (100km) east of Shigatse, at the foot of Dzong Hill. It has an unusual structural style and houses a collection of pure silk costumes worn in Tibetan opera, all richly embroidered, that date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The architecture of the monastery is diverse, incorporating Han, Tibetan and Nepali styles. The monastery is also unique in that it is the only one known to accommodate monks from three different Buddhist orders: the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Kahdampa monks all get along famously. The main hall of Palkhor Monastery is about 500 years old. This famous monastery is a popular pilgrimage site and houses a number of shrines and frescoes: the 18 Arhat clay sculptures in the Arhat Shrine are renowned throughout Tibet. The most famous attraction of the monastery, however, is the Bodhi Dagoba, a building consisting of nine tiers, with 108 gates, that houses 76 shrines to Buddha. The views in the area are phenomenal and visitors will be enchanted by the location and the devotion of the pilgrims who flock to the site.
The impossibly majestic Forbidden City is a historical precinct situated in the heart of Beijing. Almost a city in its own right, the UNESCO World Heritage Site has been declared the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. The Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is the biggest and best preserved complex of ancient buildings in China, and the largest palace complex in the world. Construction of the palace complex began in 1407, and for 500 years this inner sanctum was off-limits to most of the world as the emperors lived in luxury, secluded from the masses, and surrounded by their families, court officials, servants, eunuchs, concubines, and other members of court. The Forbidden City and its centrepiece, the magnificent palace, have a permanent restoration squad that works continuously to keep the 800 buildings and 9,999 rooms inside the Forbidden City complex in perfect condition. The once Forbidden City is now open to all visitors, and is home to the Palace Museum, home to a priceless collection of ancient artefacts. The complex can get very crowded so it is best to go early in the morning to fully appreciate the layout of the place.
This famous square at the heart of Beijing attracts tourists not only with its pleasing design and views of numerous landmarks, including the famous painting of Chairman Mao, but also because it was the scene of so many historic events and is said to be the largest city square in the world. In the ancient imperial days, the square was a gathering place and the site of government offices, but more modern history, particularly the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators, has made it a site of great political significance. Major rallies took place in the square during the Cultural Revolution when Mao Tse Tung reviewed military parades up to a million strong.
The square is surrounded by several monuments, some ancient and some modern, including the former gates to the Forbidden City, the Gate of Heavenly Peace and Qianmen (the front gate), the Chinese Revolution Museum, and the Mao Mausoleum, where China's former leader lies preserved. There is also an underground walkway connecting Tiananmen Square with the Forbidden City. Like most big tourist attractions in China, it is best to try and go early in the day to avoid the masses (the square opens to visitors as early as 5am). Visitors in summer are advised to wear sunscreen or a hat, as there is little shade to be found.
The magnificent Summer Palace at Kunming Lake, in northwest Beijing, was built in 1750 by the Emperor Qianlong, and continued to be an imperial residence until the Empress Dowager Cixi died in 1908. It is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace and stunning gardens are open to visitors, who enter through the East Palace Gate, pass through a grand courtyard into the Hall of Benevolent Longevity, the Hall of Jade Ripples, and the Hall of Joyful Longevity. Empress Cixi's private theatre in the Garden of Moral Harmony is a must-see, as is the long corridor that skirts Kunming Lake's northern shoreline to reach the marble boat, an elaborate two-storey structure of finely carved stone and stained glass. All in all the Summer Palace boasts not only famously beautiful grounds but also 3,000 man-made ancient structures, including mansions, temples, pavilions, bridges and towers. Once a place for weary royals to relax, the Summer Palace is now a sanctuary for travellers and, although it can get crowded, it always seems calmer and cooler than the rest of the city.
The Chimelong Group is the leading park operator in China, offering a variety of attractions including a circus, a waterpark, and a theme park. Chimelong Paradise Amusement Park is one of China's largest theme parks and it is recognised internationally as a quality establishment, with one of its rollercoasters even being featured in the Guinness Book of Records! The park has more than 100 rides and is guaranteed to delight thrill seekers and kids of all ages. The water world section boasts one of the largest water stunt shows in the world and is a famously enjoyable place to spend a sunny day.
The Chimelong International Circus is said to be the world's largest permanent circus and the theatre can hold nearly 7,000 people. This show is endlessly popular and it is recommended that visitors book their tickets in advance, especially if going over the weekend. This can be done online. The Chimelong International Circus includes award winning acts from all over the world and its set, lighting, and costume design is fantastic. The Chimelong Park and circus top the list for families when it comes to things to do in Guangzhou.
Although Chairman Mao Zedong of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China requested to be cremated, it was decided hours after his death in 1976, that he would be instead be embalmed. It is said that after his death, doctors pumped him so full of formaldehyde that his body swelled excessively. After draining the corpse and getting it back to a suitable state, they created a wax model of Mao Zedong, as a backup. It is unknown today which version of the Great Helmsman is on display at the Mausoleum at any given time.
The Mausoleum itself was built in 1977 on the prior site of the Gate of China, the main gate of the Imperial City during the Ming and Qing dynasties. On the first floor people can visit the tomb of the leader himself, and on the second floor there is a museum of sorts dedicated to six great communist leaders, including Mao himself. Those interested in visiting the Mausoleum can join the long line of visitors outside the building every day. Visitors should remember to dress respectfully and maintain silence in the mausoleum, as the site is a place of worship more than a tourist destination. Those dressed in casual wear like vests and flip flops may be denied entry.
A place of tranquillity and grand imperial beauty, the Beihai Park is one of the great attractions of Beijing. The park is centrally located and close to the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park, providing a peaceful, natural haven after a long morning of busy sightseeing. Beihai Park is one of the oldest and best preserved imperial gardens in China; its history extends over 1,000 years to the ancient Liao dynasty, which ruled between 916 and 1125. Built up through five dynasties, the park is an emblem of old-world China, designed according to the ancient Chinese art of landscaped gardens with artificial hills, colourful pavilions, and intricate temples. Kublai Khan lived in what is now the Circular City of Beihai Park, and the Tibetan-style White Dagoba, built in 1651 on Jade Island, is a landmark for both Beihai Park and Beijing, having been constructed on the suggestion of a famous Tibetan Lama priest, NaomuHan. Apart from the famous White Dagoba and the Circular City, landmarks within Beihai Park include Hao Pu Creek Graden, the Quiet Heart Studio, Nine-Dragon Screen, and the Five-Dragon Pavilions. The Fangshan Restaurant, on the northern shore of the lake, is also worth a visit.
Beijing's prominent art district is home to 798 Space, an art gallery housed in a former electronics factory that built components for China's first atomic bomb and early satellites. The gallery is large and airy, capable of comfortably holding more than a thousand people, providing an unusual and stimulating background for the modern art on display. Exhibiting the latest in contemporary Chinese art in its lofty viewing rooms, 798 Space is a visual delight for any traveller. Besides regular national and international exhibitions, 798 Space also hosts corporate and commercial events like fashion shows, product launches, conferences, and fairs. Within the gallery there is a film and video viewing area and a tempting gallery bookshop. There is also space for eating, relaxing and socialising, in a colourful little restaurant within the gallery.
The art precinct itself is dotted with avant-garde statues, charming coffee shops and noodle bars, and a plethora of other wonderful art galleries to visit. Art lovers will need at least a day to explore the trendy neighbourhood.
The Qing Temple is home to the Ancient Bell Museum (Gu Zhong Bowuguan) and is a great stop for travellers en route to the Summer Palace. The temple, originally known as 'Awakened Life Temple', apparently wasn't experiencing enough 'awakening' and a 47-ton bell, with a height of 22.7 feet (6.9m) was transported to the temple on ice sleds in 1743. The bell is inscribed with Buddhist Mantras on both the inside and outside of the body and features over 227,000 characters in all. The bell was often chosen by the emperors to pray for rain and blessings for the people of China and was one of three projects that Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) commanded after re-establishing Beijing as the capital; the other two were the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. The bell is considered as an auspicious article in Chinese tradition and nowadays it is rung 108 times to begin the celebrations at grand ceremonies. There are a further 31 bells on display in the Ancient Bell Museum, most with tributes to various emperors inscribed on them. Like many tourist attractions in China, the written material in English is limited, but the temple is definitely still worth a visit.
For more than 20 years, Beijing's Underground City, a bomb shelter just beneath the ancient capital's downtown area, built in case of nuclear attack, has been virtually forgotten by Beijing locals, despite being rather famous among foreigners since its official opening in 2000. A sign near the entrance announces this rarely visited attraction a 'human fairyland and underground paradise'. Aside from some rather odd recent additions, the Underground City features factories, stores, guesthouses, restaurants, hospitals, schools, theatres, reading-rooms, a roller-skating rink and many other curious features, like a mushroom farm to provide food easily cultivated in darkness. On Mao Zedong's orders, it was built from 1969 to 1979 by more than 300,000 local citizens including school children, mostly by hand. The tunnels were initially intended to accommodate all of Beijing's six million inhabitants upon completion. Winding for over 18 miles (30km) and covering an area of nearly 53 square miles (85 sq km) from eight to 18 meters under the surface, the underground City includes more than 1,000 anti-air raid structures.
Located within the Beijing Zoo, the Beijing Aquarium is one of the world's largest inland aquariums. Its interactive exhibits provide an immersive experience that cannot fail to delight, such as an imaginative Amazon rainforest, complete with piranhas and pandas, as well as an exquisite shark aquarium where the brave can plunge into the tank with these infamous predators. Other attractions include whales and a number of rare or endangered fish. Families flock to see the dolphin shows at 11am and 3pm but, although these displays are a consistent favourite with kids, they are conducted in Chinese only.
A boat from the canal south of the aquarium runs to the Summer Palace, giving visitors the opportunity to sightsee while en route to the attraction. The Beijing Aquarium offers a great mix of entertainment and education and is the perfect departure from more traditional cultural and historical tourism. For those travelling with children in Beijing, the aquarium is sure to delight the whole family. The fact that it is wonderful no matter what the weather also makes it a useful venue to have on the travel itinerary.
The Beijing National Stadium, also known as The Bird's Nest due to its appearance, was the hub of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, hosting all of the track and field events as well the opening and closing ceremonies. The unique-looking steel support structures framing the stadium, weigh in at 110, 000 tons (99,790kg), making the stadium the largest steel structure in the world. The colossal structure was created using a web of steel frames converging in a grid formation. The visual effect is unique and impressive and it was designed to symbolise harmony between technology and nature. The stadium has reopened as a tourist attraction, and the public can tour the facilities, or visit the ski resort now housed inside during the Happy Snow season (ticket prices go up during the skiing season). The area surrounding the stadium complex comes alive in the evenings with music, hawkers and vendors. Even if visitors only go to have a look from outside, and decline to do the tour, it is well worth visiting The Bird's Nest. The best time of the day to visit is late afternoon to evening when the lights come on, creating an incredible effect.
The Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou is one of the top 10 most famous Buddhist temples in China, and it consistently ranks even higher when voted on by tourists who have been there. It was built in 326 AD, at the foot of Lingyin Mountain, and in its heyday housed around 3,000 monks. Today, it is still one of the largest and wealthiest temples in China and is situated in the breathtaking Lingyin-Felai Feng Scenic Area.
The walkway to the temple, which winds through a beautiful forested area, is strewn with hidden grottos, alcoves and sculptures and this collection of ancient art work is a highlight for visitors. The Laughing Buddha sculpture, jovial and beautifully carved, is particularly beloved. The temple's name can be translated as Temple of the Soul's Retreat, or Temple of Inspired Seclusion, both of which aptly illustrate the wondrous atmosphere, and its situation in a lovely wilderness area.
Although you can view the famous statues carved into the mountain by gaining admission to the scenic area, the Lingyin Temple complex is definitely worth exploring. One of the many treasures Lingyin displays is a Sakyamuni statue 82 feet (24.8m) tall, which is one of the largest wooden statues in China, and has been covered in gold leaf. The temple also stores an important collection of Buddhist literature that makes it popular with scholars.
This amusement park, which opened in 2006, is a fantastic place to spend the day with the little ones, or even without little ones! Happy Valley features about 40 rides, such as the Energy Collector, Trojan Horse and the Crystal Wing Rollercoaster, an IMAX Theatre and even a shopping centre. It is very similar in style and layout to Disneyland, featuring six theme parks: Firth Forest, Atlantis, Ant Kingdom, the Aegean Sea, Lost Maya, and Shangri-La. Atlantis is probably the favourite of these, with a massive palace built in its centre. There is a mini train that circles the outer rim of the park offering scenic tours. Kids of all ages will have a screaming good time at the Happy Valley Amusement Park, and in the right conditions it is a wonderful way to spend a few hours for the whole family. However, Happy Valley gets very crowded on the weekends, with queues of up to three hours for rides; during the week, when it is much quieter, not all the rides stay open. Therefore, to avoid disappointment, visitors are advised to find out ahead of time whether the state-of-the-art roller coasters will be running when they visit. Happy Valley is best when it is warm and sunny.
The fascinating Sony ExploraScience museum is an interactive educational centre that encourages children to take an interest in science. The museum features live science shows and interactive educational exhibits combined with Sony's latest digital technology. The museum is divided into four themed sections, covering illusion, refraction, light and sounds. Attractions include robotic dogs that play soccer, musical sculptures, soap bubble rings, and much more. All small enquiring minds will love a trip to the Sony ExploraScience, but it is probably an experience best-suited to kids aged five to 12. Tickets can be purchased from the Sony booth outside the south gate of Chaoyang Park, to avoid paying for park admission separately. Profit made from ticket sales goes towards supporting rural education in China, so it is money spent for a good cause. The Sony ExploraScience museum is located in Chaoyang Park, the largest park in Beijing, which boasts multiple attractions including lakes, swimming pools, a bungee jumping tower, sports fields, a wetland area, fountains and a funfair. It is a beautiful area and a fun place to spend the day, especially for those travelling with children in Beijing.
The Beijing World Park is must see on the itinerary of those traveling with children through Beijing. The park features about 100 miniature models of some of the world's most famous tourist attractions from over 50 countries across the globe, and is designed to let visitors experience a trip around the world without ever having to leave Beijing. It has become such a popular spot for taking photos that many couples have used it as a backdrop for their wedding photos. The sights include Egypt's Great Pyramids, France's Eiffel Tower, India's Taj Mahal, England's Stone Henge, and even New York City's Manhattan Island, complete with landmarks like the Empire State Building. Although the park can be a bit empty, depending on the season, it is a great place for kids to learn and enjoy naming the attractions as they stroll through the replicas. Summer is the best time to visit Beijing World Park, as it is a venue designed for sunny weather.
A trip to Tianmen Mountain National Park, located in neighbouring Hunan Province, is the ideal weekend excursion from Guilin. This area boasts some of the most beautiful, and most photographed, natural landscapes in China. From Guilin, it is a 265 mile (426km) drive to Zhangjiajie city, which nestles within the famous mountain park. From the centre of town, visitors can take one of the world's longest cableways up into the mountains, enjoying breathtaking scenery along the way.
The Tianmen Mountain National Park can easily occupy visitors for a whole day, as there is so much to see and do. Tianmen Cave, a massive archway created by an ancient cliff collapse, is known as heaven's gate because it looks like a doorway into another world. Travellers have to climb 999 steps to reach this natural phenomenon, but it is well worth the effort and is said to bring happiness and health (999 is a lucky number in Chinese culture).
Other attractions in the park include various scenic areas, some impressive temples, and the Walk of Faith. This appropriately named mountain pathway is constructed of glass, so that as visitors edge along it they can see the ground 4,690 feet (1,430m) below. The 197 foot long (60m) transparent pavement is a uniquely thrilling sightseeing experience; those brave enough to walk it will be rewarded by truly heart-stopping scenery. The mountains can get cold, so the best time to visit Tianmen is during summer and autumn (May to October).
A must-see attraction in Guangzhou is the impressive Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. This ancient Buddhist temple was built around the year 537, during the Liang Dynasty, and still attracts many local and foreign visitors. The three Buddha statues in the temple are famous, but one of the temple's best features is the magnificent statue of Kuan Yin. Kuan Yin is the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion and mercy. Interestingly, perhaps due to the temple's proximity to foreign consulates, it has become traditional for foreign families adopting Chinese children to come to this statue and receive a blessing for their new families. The nearby six-story pagoda is a beloved landmark, and the view from the top is spectacular. It is called the Flower Pagoda because of its distinctive petal-like layers, and is used to store a rich collection of cultural treasures. The temple is surrounded by some lovely gardens which add to the impression of it being a centre of serenity in a bustling city. The temple still feels very authentic and quiet and it doesn't have a gift shop, but souvenirs, like replicas of the pagoda, can be bought at nearby shops.
The South China Botanical Garden, formerly known as the Institute of Agriculture and Forestry, was founded in 1929. Apart from being a botanical garden of stunning beauty and variety, it is one of the most important botany research centres in China. The garden is one of the largest in China and is divided into three regions: a nursery and arboretum area, housing modern conservatories and over 30 specialised gardens; a research and residential zone; and Dinghushan Nature Reserve, which was the first national nature reserve in China. The South China Botanical Garden has a plethora of local flora for visitors to admire, including collections of magnolias, orchids and medicinal herbs. Various examples of bonsai, as well as bamboo and endangered plants, are also featured in the gardens. Long Dong Magic Forest is a particularly special attraction, as it is one of the top eight scenic spots in Guangzhou. Non-botanical attractions at the gardens include the Science Education and Information Centre and Guangzhou's Oldest Village, which was rebuilt on Neolithic ruins. There are also entertainment areas in the garden with several restaurants and various activities on offer, including paintball and fishing.
Baiyun Shan (White Cloud) Mountain is a popular tourist attraction just outside of Guangzhou, with the lofty heights providing phenomenal views of Pu Valley, the Nengren Temple, and the sprawling cityscape of Guangzhou. The mountain lies just north of Guangzhou and on a clear day visitors can see the whole city. There are cable cars running for just over a mile (1.7km) between Yuntai Garden and Peak Park, a fun and exhilarating way to see the area. The park consists of 30 peaks and covers over 17 square miles (28 sq km). It is a stunningly beautiful scenic area that includes well-maintained gardens, numerous temples, a Sculpture Park, a golf course, and what is said to be Asia's largest bird cage. However, the majority of time in the park is spent walking along the winding paths up in the clear mountain air and relishing a break from the city. Unfortunately though, as with most monitored nature areas in China, visitors are not really given the freedom to wander, hike, or picnic beyond the paths. It can also get very crowded, but with a little effort travellers can find the more peaceful areas. While there are a few stalls and vendors, visitors are advised to take their own drinks and snacks.
The Grand Canal in China is the largest man-made canal in the world, eclipsing the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. It once ran from Hangzhou all the way to Beijing, covering a stunning 1,115 miles (1,794 km). The canal played a vital role in Chinese history, not just as a trade route for the transportation of foods and goods, but also as a military asset, and an important cultural and economic link between the north and the south of the country. Unfortunately, today the only section of this 2,000-year-old waterway that is still functioning and navigable is the route from Hangzhou to Jining. The Grand Canal was built section by section over many centuries but the majority of it was developed during the Sui Dynasty, around the 7th century, as a major transportation development. Today it is used mainly for water diversion and tourism. Boat trips along the Grand Canal are a popular way to see scenic river towns in southern China, with many beautiful views and some attractive bridges and old buildings on the riverbanks. It is also lovely to walk or cycle along the canal through central Hangzhou.
This limestone cave, about three miles (5km) outside of Guilin, has earned itself a place on almost all travel itineraries for the area. Reed Flute Cave is named for the verdant reeds growing outside, which the locals use to make flutes, but it is famous for what is inside: impressive rock formations that resemble everything from lions and monkeys to the skyline of Guilin itself. Each formation has a name and story. These myths and tales, combined with fantastical lighting, add to the atmosphere of mystery and magic within these ancient caves. Guides take visitors on an hour-long tour through the cave and point out the various formations as well as inscriptions on the wall that date back to the Tang dynasty. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the cave, and visitors should be prepared to wait for more people if they are in a group of less than 20. The cave is situated in a park, with ponds, bridges, and pavilions, which is a beautiful place to relax and wander either before or after the tour. For those travelling near Guilin with children, this is a wonderful attraction for the whole family.
The Stone Forest of Shilin, about two hours' drive from Kunming, is a breathtaking and eerie landscape which is a must-see for tourists in the area. It is called a forest because the limestone pillars and stalagmites poking out of the green hillsides look like petrified trees. The rock formations are believed to be over 270 million years old and were formed by the slow erosion of the limestone over time. The Shilin National Scenic Area includes seven areas: the Greater and Lesser Stone Forests (also called Lizijing Stone Forest), Naigu Stone Forest, Zhiyun Cave, Lake Chang, Lake Yue, Dadie Waterfall and Qifeng Cave. The Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village, also within the scenic area, are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It is a distinctive, and highly unusual landscape and is definitely worth seeing, but can be crowded with tourists at peak times (over three million people visit every year). Visitors can avoid the masses by going in the morning or early evening, and avoiding weekends and Chinese public holidays. Another good reason for getting there early is that very few of the hundreds of guides speak English. Visitors are advised to wear sensible walking shoes and pack for the weather: the stone forests are actually quite wonderful in rainy weather if in possession of an umbrella or waterproof clothing.
Elephant Trunk Hill is one of most iconic sites in Guilin. This hill, on the banks of the Li River, has a large natural arch cut into it, faintly resembling an elephant drinking water. This natural limestone monument rises over 180 feet (55m) above the water. The opening of the arch is called Water Moon Cave as the reflection of the moon at night appears as though it is both in and out of the water. Inside this cave there are more than 50 inscriptions dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Visitors can explore the hill and the cave by hiring one of the traditional bamboo rafts that paddle around the base, making for a peaceful excursion that allows for some truly magnificent photo opportunities. At the top of the hill is a two-story pagoda built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), intended to resemble a vase on the elephant's back when viewed from afar. The hill is part of a beautiful park with lovely, lush hills, winding paths, and a number of sculptures, many of which are elephant-themed. The park also gives visitors impressive views of the Guilin cityscape. Dusk is possibly the best time to visit, as this is when the scenery is at its most dramatic.
The Jiuxiang Scenic Area near Kunming is only 7.7 square miles (20km sq) but packs a big punch in terms of important sights with five very popular tourist attractions: Diehong Bridge, Alu Long, Dasha Dam, Mingyue Lake and Sanjiao Cave. Diehong Bridge, Dasha Dam and Sanjiao Cave all have picturesque 'stone forests' with China's distinctive karst limestone formations, while Diehong Bridge also has twin waterfalls with a large natural stone dam cluster, and Dasha Dam has lush green forest.
Jiuxiang is the home of the aboriginal Yi people, and Alu Long is home to the excavated Yi cliff paintings of the Qin (221 BC - 206 BC) and Han (206 BC - 220 AD) dynasties. Yi customs and culture are still evident today in the many legends and folk stories. These stories come to life in the magical subterranean world of the Jiuxiang area, which includes more than a hundred caves, featuring natural underground waterfalls, bridges, valleys and rivers. Jiuxiang Scenic Area is located 55.9 miles (90km) from Kunming, and makes an excellent day trip. Visitors should bring warm clothes, as the interior of the caves can be quite cool. It is also recommended that travellers bring water and comfortable shoes, because all the climbing and walking (and paddling if seeing the caves by boat) can be tiring.
The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre is a must-see for animal lovers and wildlife conservationists. The largest centre of its kind, Chengdu is part zoo, part lab, and part habitat. The centre was founded with the aim of increasing the population of giant pandas in captivity so that more may be released into the wild; with this in mind, the Chengdu centre is the best place on earth to see ridiculously cute panda cubs. Research focuses on the advancement of wildlife conservation and, as it is impossible not to be enchanted by these seriously endangered creatures, visitors will leave the centre with a new passion. The park is also a home to other endangered Chinese animals, like the South China Tiger, red pandas and golden monkey, though the famous giant pandas are the main attraction. The Giant Panda Museum has interactive exhibits designed to teach visitors about the fascinating creatures, and the work of the centre.
It takes about two hours to walk the grounds, alternatively, visitors can ride in a tour cart. It is best to go for feeding time (9am-10am) which is when the animals are most active. Also, if travellers get there nice and early they are more likely to get the chance to hold a baby panda. People have to pay extra to cuddle a cub, although it is expensive, it is a very special experience and the donation goes towards a worthy cause.
Lhasa is a holiday destination set in a marshy valley and dominated by surrounding mountain peaks. It is the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region and one of the highest cities in the world, at an elevation of 12,000ft (3,658m). Lhasa has long been the religious, cultural and political centre of Tibet, sheltered from the harsh winds of the Tibetan plateau in a spot that has been inhabited from at least 1500 BC. Today Lhasa has a population of more than 400,000. Being the religious centre for Lamaist Buddhists since ancient times, flocks of pilgrims have made their way to Lhasa over the centuries to worship at the feet of the Dalai Lama. Now tourists on holiday are following in their wake to explore the surrounding mountains and investigate Tibet's unique culture and long history.
In 1959 Lhasa saw several days of warfare in a revolt against communist reforms being imposed by the Chinese administration. The Dalai Lama fled to India and communism was instituted in Tibet. Many historic and religious buildings were destroyed, and Tibetan traditional culture discouraged. With political reform having taken root in China, however, economic progress has reached Lhasa as well and the city is currently enjoying a period of rapid modernisation, while retaining its importance as a holy city for Lamaist Buddhism. The remaining historic buildings are drawing more and more holiday visitors to Lhasa.
As a tourist attraction, Mount Qincheng really does have something for everyone. It is located approximately 41 miles (66km) from Chengdu. The mountain is one of the most famous Taoist mountains in China, and is a popular destination for international travellers and locals alike. It is usefully divided into two sides, which provide very different experiences. The front side of Mount Qincheng (anterior) is the more touristy side, and boasts an impressive array of cultural and historical landmarks. A number of temples to be visited include the Jianfu Palace, Shangqing Palace, and the Tianshi Cave. However, for those who prefer to travel off the beaten track, the back side (or posterior) is relatively quiet and unspoiled, offering a stunning hiking route along narrow mountain passes, past waterfalls and through wooded areas. This trip is a must for those interested in the flora and fauna of the area.
Whether travellers are keen on the more frequented front route, or the adventurous trail at the back, the views from the summit are spectacular. Although the paths are very well-maintained, the hike is pretty demanding on both sides; nevertheless, there is a cable car which can be taken half-way or all the way up. The mountain is the ideal travellers escape from crowded urban sightseeing and makes for a delightful excursion from Chengdu.
Kuanzhai Ancient Street is one of three historic preservation areas in the city and scores highly on most visitors' lists of things to see and do in Chengdu. It is formed by the confluence of three alleys: Kuan Alley, Zhai Alley and Jing Alley. The area once boasted 45 Qing Dynasty (18th-century) courtyards, and Kuanzhai contains the only three which remain well-preserved.
Kuanzhai is now trendy and artistic and is an entertaining cultural experience for visitors, with ancient Chinese architecture contrasting with modern restaurants and art galleries in a captivating way. It is particularly interesting to walk this street in the evening when the ancient attractions are juxtaposed with a lively modern nightlife and bright city lights. There are lots of souvenir shops and craft stalls selling ceramics, silk and embroidery. There are also a number of restaurants, pubs and food vendors to sell you a variety of local cuisine; and places like Starbucks to provide international staples.
Another good reason to visit Kuanzhai in the late afternoon or evening is the entertainment provided by cultural displays, dancing groups, and locals doing their daily aerobics. The area is intended to be a cultural hot spot and often even the walls display photo exhibitions. Kuanzhai is a great casual tourist attraction in Chengdu, a place where you can wander freely and just absorb local flavour.
An area famed for its natural beauty, West Lake in Hangzhou is, in many ways, the landscape most representative of ancient China due to its immortalisation in art. This is where visitors will recognise those dainty 'willow pattern' scenes of waterscapes, bridges, and gardens. The lake itself is sheltered on three sides by mountains where travellers can truly feel that they have escaped the city.
West Lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of historical points of interest, including the various temples, pagodas, and museums. Visitors can easily hire a boat to take them to the islands in the centre of the lake, which is a lovely way to view the area. Many visitors hire bicycles and ride all the way around West Lake, a trip of about six miles (10km) depending on which route is taken.
There are so many things to see and do in West Lake that visitors will need at least a day to explore. Famous scenic spots worth seeking out include Broken Bridge (the most romantic spot in West Lake), Su Causeway, Crooked Courtyard and Flower Pond.
Unsurprisingly, the ancient Yuantong Temple in Yunnan Province, with its unique setting and architecture, is easily one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kunming. The temple is situated in a natural depression at the foot of Yuantong hill, in northern Kunming, and was built in the late 8th century. Today it showcases an interesting mixture of architectural styles, mainly from the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. It is an active temple, where visitors can hear chanting and classes being conducted as they explore; monks and pilgrims can be seen going about their daily business in the complex, which makes the experience truly authentic and allows some insight into the functioning of a Buddhist temple in the 21st century.
For a remarkable panoramic view of the temple complex, travellers can climb Yuantong Hill by taking one of the stone staircases carved into the mountain on either side of the main hall. These stairways boast the most ancient inscriptions in Kunming, carved into the stone wall and still readable after centuries of exposure to the weather. There are also some impressive statues and carvings within the temple, including two ferocious dragons carved into pillars dating from the Ming Dynasty.
Green Lake, a lovely scenic area, is a ten minute walk from the temple and there is a popular vegetarian restaurant just outside the complex.
Chinese Phrase Book
|ni hao||hello||nee how|
|zai jian||goodbye||zai jee en|
|xie xie ni||thank you||shay shay nee|
|shi/bu shi||yes/no||shr/boo shr|
|wo jiao||my name is||waw jeow|
|zai na li||where is||zai na lee|
|Ni shuo ying yu ma?||do you speak English?||nee shoo-oh ying yoo mah|
|wo bu dong||I dont understand||woe boo dong|
|yi, er, san, si, wu||one, two, three, four, five||ee, are, san, see, woo|
China covers extensive territory and has a complex topography, therefore the weather differs substantially from region to region. The southeast, below the Nanling Mountains, tends to be very wet with high temperatures all year round. In the central Yangtze and Huaihe River valleys there are four distinct seasons with very hot summers and extremely cold winters, and rain all year round. The dry north experiences a short but sunny summer, with long, bitterly cold winters (between December and March), with temperatures in Beijing dropping as low as -4ºF (-20ºC). The coast is humid and experiences Typhoons during summer. Travellers are advised to research the climate for the specific region they are visiting.
The word is that this modest looking little courtyard restaurant has an impeccable menu and flawless delivery. Everything from their (water spinach) to the spicy signature dish, the Kapitan chicken, is exquisite as their Malaysian chef takes great pride in his work.
This fine-dining restaurant, located on the Bund, is part of a highly respected international chain, serving exceptional Chinese fusion cuisine. There are three different dining spaces: the Ling Ling Lounge offers a stylish setting for cocktails with beautiful views; the main dining area, known as the 'Cage', is enclosed in delicate woodwork; and there is a set of luxurious private dining rooms which can be reserved. Reservations are essential and smart casual dress is encouraged, though dress jackets are not required.
Chinese royalty were renowned picky eaters and ate only specialty dishes with carefully selected ingredients and even more carefully selected names. Such dining gave way to its own culinary tradition, which can be enjoyed at Fangshan's enormous banquet-style dining hall with such imperial classics as 'jade phoenix returning to the royal'. Choosing from a huge selection of dishes is a perfect way to go back in time and eat like an emperor.
Providing top-notch international cuisine in a uniquely Chinese setting, TRB is set in a 600-year-old temple which has been tastefully renovated to create a modern fine-dining haven. The food is mostly European but with a bit of local flavour thrown in. The restaurant is open for lunch and supper on weekdays and brunch, lunch and supper on weekends. Reservations are recommended.
Sixty six floors above the sparkling city makes any dish seem dazzling, but the views aren't the only reason to eat at China Grill. The international menu is a simple selection of fine dining with both Chinese dishes and grilled western classics. The romantic ambiance is set by a surprisingly cosy interior surrounded by floor to ceiling windows for a 360-degree view of the city.
Centrally located near Tiananmen Square, the lovely outdoor terrace at Capital M is a popular place to have Sunday brunch in Beijing. The menu offers modern European food including Crispy Suckling Pig, Hot House-Smoked Salmon, and the restaurant's famous Pavlova. They offer a special afternoon tea as well, with a selection of fresh-baked scones, finger sandwiches, and pastries that add up to a perfect mid-afternoon break for tired sightseers. Open daily 11:30am-10:30pm.
Scena is located within the glitzy Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong Hotel and serves authentic Italian cuisine. The restaurant is on the 52nd floor of the hotel, with floor to ceiling windows and provides spectacular views over the city. Although comparatively expensive Scena gets consistent rave reviews from travellers and the service is known to be of a very high standard. Reservations are recommended.
This Shanghai restaurant serves Chinese staples like wonton soup, sweet-smoky fried fish, and braised bamboo shoots, but what it's known for is the best xiao long bao (steamed soup buns) in the city. They're roughly ten times what you'd pay at a street stall, but most who have tried them say they're worth it. Located in the Super Brand Mall, the walls are covered in watercolour sketches of famous Chinese celebrities. Din Tai Fung is a child-friendly restaurant, and even has special Mickey Mouse cutlery for kids.
For those looking for a sports bar in Shanghai to have a pint and watch the game, The Camel is the best place in town. The restaurant is broken up into three viewing areas, so multiple games can be seen simultaneously on the 14 flat-screen televisions. The menu is standard gastropub, serving classics like fish and chips, steak, burgers, and pies, and there's a good selection of beers and cocktails to go with them.
China's currency is the Renminbi Yuan (CNY), which is divided into 10 jiao or 100 fen. Make sure you exchange your leftover Yuan before returning home because you may have difficulty exchanging the currency outside China's borders. Foreign cash can be exchanged in cities at the Bank of China. It is not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes. Banks are closed weekends. The larger hotels and the special 'Friendship Stores' designed for foreigners will accept most Western currencies for purchases. Major credit cards are accepted in the main cities, but acceptance may be limited in more rural areas. ATMs are scarce in rural areas.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but there are hundreds of local dialects.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plug types vary, but the two-pin flat blade and oblique three-pin flat blade plugs are common. Adapters are generally required.
US nationals require both a valid passport and visa for entry into China.
UK nationals require a passport valid on arrival and a visa for entry into China. Passports endorsed British National (Overseas) are not recognized and holders should carry a Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macao Residents together with their Hong Kong ID.
Canadians require a valid passport and visa for entry into China.
Australians require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China. Visa exemptions include passengers with an APEC Business Travel Card valid for travel to China for stays up to 60 days.
South African nationals require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China.
Irish nationals require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China.
US nationals require both a valid passport and visa for entry into China.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid on arrival, and a visa for entry to China.
Persons holding an APEC Business Travel Card do not require a visa, provided that it is valid for travel to China. Travel to Tibet will also require a special Tibet Entry Permit. There are a few complex exceptions to Chinese visa requirements, which will not apply to the majority of visitors, but all requirements should be confirmed with a Chinese embassy before travel. All documents necessary for further travel and sufficient funds to cover intended period of stay are required. Period of validity is stated on visas, and care should be taken when reading dates on visas for China as they are written in year/month/day format. We always recommend that passports be valid for six months after intended period of travel.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers coming into China from infected areas. There is a risk of malaria throughout the low-lying areas of the country, and it is recommended that travellers to China seek medical advice about malaria before departure. Vaccinations are recommended against hepatitis A and hepatitis B, typhoid (not necessary if eating and drinking in major restaurants and hotels), Japanese encephalitis (usually only recommended for rural areas), and rabies (only recommended for travellers at risk of animal bites). Tap water shouldn't be drunk unless it has first been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected. Street food should be treated with caution. High levels of air pollution in major cities and industrialised areas in China may exacerbate bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions. There is generally a high standard of health care in major Chinese cities, but it is not provided free of charge; travellers are advised to have comprehensive travel health insurance.
Tipping is not officially recognised in China, though the practice is has become increasingly common among tour guides, top-end restaurants, tour bus drivers and hotel staff. Travellers wanting to tip should leave a gratuity of about 10 percent. Large hotels and restaurants often include a service charge in their bills, usually of around 10 percent, so travellers should make sure that they aren't doubling up.
China is generally safe, and there is currently little threat from global terrorism. The risk of terror attacks is higher in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and travellers should exercise caution if travelling to or around Xinjiang. Serious crime against foreigners is rare but does occur, particularly in isolated or sparsely populated areas. There has been an increase in the number of muggings and robberies at Beijing International Airport and around the Jianguomenwai area of Beijing, as well as in Shenzen, bordering Hong Kong.
If travelling alone, including following parts of the Great Wall, it is advisable to leave an itinerary and expected time of return with a third party. Travellers should take extra care in street markets and at tourist sites, which attract thieves and pickpockets, and around the popular expat bar areas at night, where lone foreigners have occasionally been attacked. Travellers should be cautious about using pedicabs in Beijing, as tourists have reportedly been mugged by the drivers; women in particular have been targeted. Disputes over taxi fares can occur. Insist on paying the metered fare and ask for a receipt; this has the taxi number on it.
Seasonal heavy rains and typhoons cause hundreds of deaths in China each year, particularly those areas bordering the Yangtze River in central, southern and western China. Demonstrations have taken place in Lhasa, Tibet, as well as in some Chinese provinces in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. Even though the situation seems to have stabilised, visitors are advised to stay up to date on the situation before travelling to the region and to avoid all protests. The Chinese government sometimes suspends the issue of permits for travel to Tibet due to unrest.
Chinese people usually have three names, the first of which is their surname, or family name. As a result, visitors should be prepared for hotels mistakenly reserving rooms under their first names. For clarity, surnames may be underlined. When addressing Chinese people, the surname should come first and official titles should be used. Chinese handshakes last longer than those in western countries, and it is customary to stand close together when in conversation. Politeness in western terms is often foreign to the Chinese, and they rarely bother with pleasantries. It is considered disrespectful to keep prolonged eye contact, avoiding eye contact is considered reverential rather than rude. All foreigners should carry their ID on them at all times, as spot checks are common. Failure to show evidence of ID when requested by an official may result in a fine or detention.
The Chinese are strict timekeepers and being late for a meeting is considered rude. When meeting people for the first time it is normal to shake hands and say 'ni hao', which means 'how are you'. Note that handshakes generally go on for longer in China than in most western countries. Business cards are commonly exchanged at the start of meetings in China; it is customary to have one side printed in Chinese and one in English. When giving or receiving business cards or a gift, it is customary to hold it with both hands. Chinese consider gifts an important show of courtesy. Decision-making may take longer than expected during negotiations. During a meal or reception, your host is likely to offer a toast; foreigners may be expected to offer them one in return.
Women are generally treated with respect and courtesy when doing business in China and it is increasingly common to find Chinese women in senior positions, especially in the big cities. Businesswomen should, however, avoid showing too much skin. Business dress for both men and women tends to be conservative and plain without much ornament or bright colour.
Business hours are 8am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. A five-day week is more common in larger cities and international companies. Workers usually take their lunch break between 12pm and 2pm and it is not unusual to find offices empty during this time.
The international dialling code for China is +86. In hotels, local calls are generally free or will be charged only a nominal fee. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers to China do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco; 1.5 litres of alcohol; perfume for personal use; and personal articles up to the value of ¥2000. Prohibited goods include arms, ammunition, or printed material that conflicts with the public order or moral standards of the country. Also prohibited are radio transmitters and receivers, exposed but undeveloped film and fresh produce. Strict regulations apply to the import and export of antiquities, banned publications, and religious literature. All valuables must be declared on the forms provided.
Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Guangxi: +86 773 288 5326, www.topchinatravel.com/
Chinese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 495 2266.
Chinese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7299 4049.
Chinese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3434.
Chinese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 431 6500.
Chinese Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6228 3999.
Chinese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 219 6651.
Chinese Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 3514.
United States Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 3000.
British Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5192 4000.
Canadian Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5139 4000.
South African Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8532 0000.
Australian Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 5140 4111.
Irish Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 6200.
New Zealand Embassy, Beijing: +86 (0)10 8531 2700.
The Great Wall of China, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a perennial favourite among tourists, and with good reason. The magnificent Great Wall, stretching 4,000 miles (6,350km), was built in stages from the 7th century BC onwards, snaking its way across the mountains and valleys of five provinces in northern China as a mammoth defence bulwark against the neighbouring Manchurian and Mongolian peoples.
Several sections of the wall, which has become the most prominent symbol of Chinese civilisation, can be viewed in the greater Beijing area. In Yanqing county, in northwest Beijing, is the 600-year-old Badaling Fortification, representative of the Ming dynasty sections of the Great Wall. Other sections can be seen at Jinshanling, Mutianyu, and Simatai. The more popular sections can be very crowded, but generally if travellers walk a little way they can escape the worst of it. There are some wonderful stretches of the wall to hike, such as the roughly six-mile (10km) section between Jinshaling and Simatai, but visitors should be careful about setting off alone as parts of the wall are unstable and unsafe. It is best for visitors to take their own water and snacks and to pack very warm clothes if planning to go in winter, because temperatures at the wall can be freezing. There are countless vendors, but their goods are usually very expensive and of questionable quality. It is illegal to remove stone from the wall and Chinese authorities are clamping down on the practice.
About 25 miles (40km) south of Beijing, in the Fangshan District, is the Zhoukoudian Cave, the source of the largest collection of Homo erectus fossils from any single site in the world. The fossils recovered from the cave represent about 40 individuals, most famous of which is a cranium element commonly known as the 'Peking Man', the world's earliest fire-using primitive man who lived between 200,000 and 700,000 years ago. German anatomist Franz Weidenreich studied the Peking Man remains in the 1930s and recognised 12 anatomical features that he believed Peking Man shared with modern man, a milestone in the study of palaeoanthropology.
Visitors to the Zhoukoudian site on Dragon Bone Hill can view a comprehensive seven-room exhibition of fossils and artefacts depicting human evolution and the lifestyle of primitive man. The exhibits showcase fossils from all over China, allowing visitors to compare the different lifestyles of the primitive communities that have been discovered. They can also explore the cave where the Peking Man cranium and other Homo erectus remains were found. The area surrounding the caves has several animal sculptures and pleasant shady areas in which to relax. Travellers who go early might even have the site to themselves.
Built by the emperors of the Ming Dynasty of China, the majority of surviving Ming tombs are clustered near Beijing and easily reached on short excursions out of the capital. Thirteen emperors' mausoleums, dating from between 1368 and 1644 and collectively UNESCO-listed, can be seen in the Ming Tombs Scenic Area at the foot of Tianshou Mountain.
Currently only three of the tombs are open to the public (Chanling, Dingling and Zhaoling) but this is more than sufficient as all the tombs are similar in design and the three that can be explored are arguably the most interesting. The Changling Tomb is the largest, oldest and best preserved, looming majestically at the end of the Sacred Way. The Dingling Tomb is the only one which has been properly excavated but tragically many of the artefacts and the remains of the emperor and empresses entombed in the mausoleum were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Even so, the excavated Underground Palace in Dingling is fascinating and some magnificent artefacts can still be viewed.
Many operators in Beijing offer tours to the Ming Tombs, often combined with trips to the Great Wall and other nearby attractions. Visitors travelling independently will need to pay entry to each tomb separately.