Welcome to China
China. The name alone makes you want to get packing.
It’s going places, so jump aboard, go along for the ride
and see where it’s headed.
Its modern face is dazzling, but China is no one-trick pony. The world’s
oldest continuous civilisation isn’t all smoked glass and brushed aluminium
and while you won’t be tripping over artefacts – three decades of round-theclock
development and rash town planning have taken their toll – rich seams
of antiquity await. Serve it all up according to taste: collapsing sections of the
Great Wall, temple-topped mountains, villages that time forgot, languorous
water towns, sublime Buddhist grottoes and ancient desert forts. Pack a wellmade
pair of travelling shoes and remember the words of Laotzu: ‘a journey
of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.
Few countries do the Big Outdoors like the Middle Kingdom. China’s
landscapes span the range from alpha to omega: take your pick from the
sublime sapphire lakes of Tibet or the impassive deserts of Inner Mongolia,
island-hop in Hong Kong or bike between fairy-tale karst pinnacles around
Yángshuò; swoon before the rice terraces of the south, take a selfie among
the gorgeous yellow rapeseed of Wùyuán or hike the Great Wall as it
meanders across mountain peaks; get lost in green forests of bamboo or,
when your energy fails you, flake out on a distant beach and listen to the thud of falling coconuts.
The Chinese live to eat and with 1.4 billion food-loving people to feed,
coupled with vast geographic and cultural variations in a huge land, expect
your tastebuds to be tantalised, tested and treated. Wolf down Peking duck in Běijīng, melt over a Chóngqìng hotpot or grab a seasoned ròujiāmó
(shredded pork in a bun) before climbing Huá Shān. Gobble down a steaming bowl of Lánzhōu noodles in a Silk Road street market, raise the temperature with some searing Húnán fare or flag down the dim sum trolley down south.
Follow your nose in China and you won’t want to stop travelling.
China is vast. Off-the-scale massive. A riveting jumble of wildly differing
dialects and climatic and topographical extremes, it’s like several different
countries rolled into one. Take your pick from the tossed-salad ethnic mix of the southwest, the yak-butter-illuminated temples of Xiàhé, a journey along the dusty Silk Road, spending the night at Everest Base Camp or getting into your glad rags for a night on the Shànghǎi tiles. You’re spoilt for choice: whether you’re an urban traveller, hiker, cyclist, explorer, backpacker, irrepressible museum-goer or faddish foodie, China’s diversity is second to none.
China’s Top 6
1 Forbidden City
Not a city and no longer forbidden, Běijīng’s enormous palace is the be-alland- end-all of dynastic grandeur with its vast halls and splendid gates. No other place in China teems with so much history, legend and good oldfashioned imperial intrigue. You may get totally lost here but you’ll always find something to write about on the first postcard you can lay your hands on. The complex also heads the list with one of China’s most attractive admission prices and almost endless value-for-money sightseeing.
2 Great Wall
Spotting it from space is both tough and pointless: the only place you can
truly put the Great Wall under your feet is in China. Select the Great Wall
according to taste: perfectly chiselled, dilapidated, stripped of its bricks,
overrun with saplings, coiling splendidly into the hills or returning to dust.
The fortification is a fitting symbol of those perennial Chinese traits:
diligence, mass manpower, ambitious vision and engineering skill (coupled
with a distrust of the neighbours).
3 The Bund, Shànghǎi
More than just a city, Shànghǎi is the country’s neon-lit beacon of change,
opportunity and modernity. Its sights set squarely on the not-too-distant
future, Shànghǎi offers a taste of all the superlatives China can dare to dream up, from the world’s highest observation deck to its fastest commercially operating train. Whether you’re just pulling in after an epic 44-hour train trip from Xīnjiāng or it’s your first stop, you’ll find plenty to indulge in here. Start with the Bund, Shànghǎi’s iconic riverfront area.
4 The Lí River & Cycling Yángshuò
It’s hard to exaggerate the beauty of Yángshuò and the Lí River area,
renowned for classic images of mossy-green jagged limestone peaks
providing a backdrop for tall bamboo fronds leaning over bubbling streams, wallowing water buffaloes and farmers sowing rice paddies. Ride a bamboo raft along the river and you’ll understand why this stunning rural landscape has inspired painters and poets for centuries. Another popular way to appreciate the scenery is a bike tour along the Yùlóng River.
Where China starts transforming into a lunar desertscape in the far west, the handsome oasis town of Dūnhuáng is a natural staging post for dusty Silk Road explorers. Mountainous sand dunes swell outside town while Great Wall fragments lie scoured by abrasive desert winds, but it is the magnificent caves at Mògāo that truly dazzle. Mògāo is the cream of China’s crop of Buddhist caves, and its statues are ineffably sublime and some of the nation’s most priceless cultural treasures.
6 China’s Cuisine
Say zàijiàn (goodbye) to that Chinatown schlock and nǐhǎo (hello) to a whole new world of food and flavour. For Peking duck and dumplings galore, Běijīng’s a good place to start, but you don’t have to travel far to find that China truly is your oyster, from the liquid fire of a Chóngqìng hotpot to the dainty dim sum of Hong Kong. You’ll see things you’ve never seen before, eat things you’ve never heard of and drink things that could lift a rocket into orbit.