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China Travel Guide

In China, the skylines offer dazzling shows of lights and modern architecture, while the countryside is peaceful and at times, even surreal. It’s a country of contrasts, where old traditions mix and mingle alongside packed cities that open into lush, vast landscapes before meeting with xenocentric buildings. And the result is simply astounding.

The Highlights

  • Beijing

    You’d be hard-pressed to spend a few days in Beijing and tick off all its highlights. It is, after all, one of the biggest cities in the world and attractions are everywhere. A good mix of the old and new is best, visiting Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Ming Tombs along with the Bird’s Nest, the Botanical Garden and the National Centre for the Performing Arts.

  • Shanghai

    Do yourself a favour and look up. Shanghai’s modern skyline is like no other, peppered with futuristic looking skyscrapers that look just as radiant in the daytime as they do at night. But once you’ve had your fill of its urbanscape, carve out some time to visit its other attractions as well. Visit the Yu Garden and the Longhua Temple, and navigate the alleyways in Tianzifang and the Old City.

  • Longmen Caves

    The appeal of Longmen Caves is in its grandness and its intricacies. This exquisite Chinese Buddhist art, encompassing tens of thousands of effigies and some 2,000 caves that line both banks of the Yī River, is as epic as it is historic. It’s certainly worth travelling to Luoyang in Henan for. The west side is more spectacular, as it is home to the Losana Buddha Statue Grotto among others.

  • Yuanyang

    There are many beautiful rice terraces in Asia, but none of them is as beguiling as the ones in Yuanyang – or at least, they’re hard to contend with, what with their changing of colours depending on the time of the day and the season. See the sun rising over them in Duoyishu, enjoy them in their golden glory at sunset in Laohuzui or Bada, or stray off the beaten path and head for Laoyingzui.

  • Zhangjiajie

    Whether or not you’re a fan of Avatar is hardly a factor. Zhangjiajie’s breathtaking and mysterious land formations, nestled in Wulingyuan Scenic Area, are the stuff of legends and an otherworldly experience you shouldn’t miss. Herculean quartz-sandstone pillars, some more than 1,050 metres tall are dotted through the area and they’re like nothing else in the world. Get your cameras ready.

  • Chengdu

    Chengdu may not be on your radar, but it most definitely should be. Existing as the capital of China's Sichuan province, the city is also home to the notable Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Here, visitors can explore the city, but most importantly, visit the conservation centre and view endangered giant pandas.

The Basics

When to Visit

when to visit
  1. Peak Season

    May to September

    China essentially has several peak seasons, especially during the summer from June through September when the kids are out of school and during major holidays like Labour Day, National Day or the Spring Festival when everyone’s off work and out celebrating. Prices are steep, crowds are thick and it’s rather difficult to secure tickets and accommodations unless you’re booking very early. In the summertime, temperatures also soar so it can get quite uncomfortable. If you don’t mind the high rates and the throngs of people, going during the vibrant Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) might just offer such elevating experiences.

  2. Low Season

    October to April

    If you’re looking for bargains and thinner crowds, China’s less busy seasons are ideal. However, they’re not necessarily the best time to visit for all of China. The country is massive and the weather can vary depending on the region. Xinjiang, Heilongjiang and the other northern parts might not be ideal to visit from April through early June; however, the rest of China is. Just know that it is the rainy season and flight cancellations are expected. For a destination-flexible season, come in the fall from September to October when the weather has cooled, there are fewer tourists and the landscape colours are quite enchanting to behold.

China Tours

FAQs about China

  • Do you tip in China?

    While tipping isn't part of the culture in China, tour guides are the exception to the rule, as are very high-end establishments used by foreigners. It's recommended to tip around 80 RMB per day per guide and half that to the driver. Porters may also expect a small tip.
  • What is the internet access like?

    Internet access is widely available and free in many cafes, as is 4G and Wi-Fi. However, the Internet is censored in China so not everything will available, particularly social networks like Facebook.
  • Is the tap water safe to drink?

    No. Buy bottled water, boil the tap water or use water purification pills. Most restaurants will serve tea for free.
  • Can I use my credit cards?

    No, credit cards are not widely accepted in China. Outside of chain or high-end hotels and restaurants, cash is still king.
  • What are the public holidays?

    China has five major holidays: Chinese New Year (Jan/Feb), Qingming Festival (early April), Labor Day (May 1), Dragon Boat Festival (5th day of the 5th lunar month), mid-Autumn Day (15th day of the 8th lunar month), and National Day (Oct 1).
  • What are the toilets like?

    While Western toilets are available in most tourist places, hotels and airports, squat toilets outnumber them considerably. Public restrooms don't stock it, and can't handle toilet paper so bring your own and throw it in the rubbish bin.
  • Is pollution that bad in China?

    In the big cities, air pollution is bad. However, the country is cracking down on the problem and the air quality in these areas is improving but wear a face mask or avoid going outdoors for long periods of time on particularly smoggy days. 
  • What are things you must not do in China?

    Don’t stick your chopsticks in your food so they’re upright and don’t tap into your bowls with them. Don’t wear revealing outfits. And don’t be offended by their lack of personal space and blunt comments.
A TRAVEL MAGAZINE BY TOURRADAR