What follows is part 2 of a 2 part article I wrote for a magazine. They ended up not publishing it or paying me, but hopefully it will be of some use to someone.
China is the perfect country to travel to for those who like back-packing or those who want to see a lot in their time there. It’s also convenient for those who are difficult to please as there is such a huge variety of activities, you don’t have to look far to find something for everyone.
1 – Big cities
China has many mega cities, each with its own unique personality. Beijing is filled with ancient sites and buildings and temples. Shanghai is a global financial center, very international and it provides a good insight into modern China. Chongqing is different again, serving as a good base for day trips to ancient sites and mountains such as the Dazu rock garden, Chengdu, or the Three Gorges.
2 – Festivals
There is no shortage of festivals in China. From the astonishing Harbin Ice Festival and the raucous Dalian Beer festival, the Shanghai International Film Festival and the various festivals of Ethnic groups living in China there is always something going on. China also has its own national celebrations such as Dragon Boat festival, Spring festival, and Lantern festival.
3 – Nature
China is a nature-lover’s dream. From the Panda reserve in Southern Chengdu to the wild tiger reserve in Northerly Changbaishan, from the Gobi desert to the stunning karst landscapes of Guilin and Kunming, from the heavenly mountain tops at Lhasa and Tibet to the tropical island of Hainan, China is full of a huge variety of stunning vistas and experiences all within the borders of one country.
4 – Food
Chinese culture revolves around food. There is a variety of cooking styles and it’s worth casting your prejudices aside and sampling everything. Try dim sum, dumplings, chickens’ feet, steamed pork buns, noodle soup, cherry pork, roast duck, green tea, fresh fruit, dog, hot pot, frog, Ma Po Tofu, sea cucumber, ancient eggs, Sichuan fried beans, the list goes on. You’re bound to find something you like.
5 – Mountains
There are many mountains to choose from, fun for mountaineers or just the casual observer. The rainbow mountains in the Gansu province are surreal, as are the oxygen sparse peaks of Tibet. You can climb the grueling soldiers’ path hiking trail at Huashan, or trek up Taishan to watch sunrise on the emperor’s mountain, or visit Wudang mountain to practice some Tai Chi. And if you don’t like climbing, don’t worry, most of the major mountains in China have cable cars to take you up part of them or steps carved into the rock to make climbing much easier.
6 – Ancient sites
History buffs will love China. Visiting the Forbidden City is a must, as is the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Terracotta Warriors, the UNESCO protected ancient city of Pingyao, The imperial city in Shenyang, along with thousands of ancient religious temples and sites such as the Giant Buddah at Leshan or the Shaolin Temple and Kung Fu training school or even Qufu – the birthplace of Confucius.
7 – Relax
Massages, acupuncture and other relaxing treatments are incredibly cheap when compared to the west. It is definitely worth going as often as you can on your trip. If that’s not your style then tea houses provide great spots to relax, sip tea and watch the world go by. (Be careful of anyone asking you to go to a tea house to help practice their English. It’s usually a scam where you’ll be left with an outrageous bill. Only go with people you trust)
8 – Shopping
A huge amount of goods are manufactured in China so it makes sense that it would be cheaper to buy them there. From the elite fashion labels, to the online shopping platform called Taobao (similar to ebay), to night markets and street stalls and shopping centers, you can find anything you’d ever want and more besides. Take your time, and be prepared to bargain.
9 – Rivers
There are several popular river cruises in China, ones that allow you to see the Yangtze and the Lee river, Tiger Leaping Gorge, and all the surrounding scenery. Even one that will take you down the Yalu river which serves as a border between China and North Korea. By far my favourite is the brief cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. It is very peaceful, has beautiful scenery is in every direction and the area is great for swimming or cycling. It also serves as a great base to visit the gorgeous Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.
10 – The people
But the star attraction of China is the people. Never have I experienced a culture that is so friendly, welcoming and eager to help. Their customs, religions and daily lives are incredibly varied and rich. Be prepared to hear them tell incredible stories. They will be curious about foreigners and are very direct, which sometimes can come across as rude. But it is rarely intended that way. Even if they don’t speak English they will do their best to communicate with gestures and any small attempt at speaking Chinese is met with huge delight and excitement.