An insider’s self-help guide to China, including when to go, the best places to stay, the ideal tour operators, things to pack and recommended reading. By our expert, Michelle Jana Chan.
Having its high-octane energy, can-do drive, teeming population and challenging language barrier, China is surely an exhausting destination for the 1st-time visitor. Common complaints I actually have heard from tourists include: “it’s so crowded – everyone’s pushing and shoving”; “we couldn’t make ourselves understood”; and “we needed another holiday after that trip”.
The ideal piece of advice I could give would be to avoid seeking to cram a lot of in. There are very few china tour who visit the US and combine Manhattan, Disneyworld, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood in a trip yet the equivalent journey in China will not be unusual. Classic itineraries often rush visitors in between the Forbidden City, The Truly Amazing Wall, the Terracotta Army, Chengdu’s panda sanctuaries as well as a Three Gorges cruise, finishing up in frantic Shanghai.
2 decades ago, this sort of route might have been more palatable. There were virtually no domestic tourists during those times. But now it seems like the entire country is traveling eager to explore their homeland. International visitors face long queues at key attractions after which a jostle among heaving crowds. But approached wisely, China is just as uplifting since it is intriguing. It is additionally a crucial stop for anybody hoping for additional details on the direction the entire world is to take this century.
Attempt to avoid cramming excessive in; classic itineraries often rush visitors from the Forbidden City
Some journey to China to marvel in the skylines of cranes, innovative architectural projects and the country’s artistic endeavours. They need to visit the financial and commercial hub of Shanghai, or even Beijing’s Olympic Village and the capital’s contemporary art district, housed in the former munitions factory, and called 798.
Others will probably be keen for additional details on China’s 5,000-year-old civilisation. That is best viewed with the country’s museums and monuments, through the first emperor’s Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an to Beijing’s Forbidden City, which served as the imperial palace in the Ming dynasty before the end of the Qing dynasty. However, keep in mind these must-see attractions, including Beijing’s Summer Palace and also the parts of the excellent Wall closest to the capital (notably Badaling), tend to be probably the most crowded.
For that adventurous, you will find less well-known – and much less crowded – sites, like the Buddhist caves at Dunhuang, the charming former capitals of Luoyang and Kaifeng, and also the great Taklamakan Desert within the far north-west. Some of China’s exceptional but less frequented museums include Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an Museum along with the Museum of Han Yangling (the 3 have been in or in close proximity to Xi’an), in addition to Zhejiang Provincial Museum.
For that adventurous, there are actually less well-known – and much less crowded – sites, for example the great Taklamakan Desert within the far north-west
People who come seeking glimpses of daily living should plan a slower-paced itinerary building in time to walk the city’s backstreets and explore the public parks, beijing tour or a quiet temple. This may naturally provide for unplanned pauses: at, say, the threshold of moon-shaped gateways leading into courtyards of plum blossom; to learn a street busker playing the haunting two-stringed erhu; and to watch children cycling to school in immaculate blue-and-white uniforms. Furthermore these activities offer some respite from sight-seeing but they are also the opportunity to witness daily Chinese life (instead of the life of a Chinese tourist).
Yet another excellent choice is to incorporate travel by train as opposed to take internal flights in order to mix with locals, catch up with a travel journal and gaze out from the window. It can be experiences like these which might make for enduring memories of all.
The ideal weather conditions are during spring (March until May, but avoid Easter) and autumn (late September to early November) but hotel rates are higher at those occasions. Prices are lower inside the shoulder seasons: February/early June and September/late November/December.
Most will choose to prevent the three main Chinese public holidays: Chinese New Year (otherwise known as Spring Festival, usually falling in late January or early February), May holiday (the initial week of May) and National Day (the initial week of October). Tourist attractions become very crowded at this point.
The annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival may be the largest from the kind on earth Credit: analysis121980 – Fotolia
Some trips are seasonal, such as those to catch the rhododendron valleys of Shangri-La in bloom, birdwatching in Napahai Lake and, as an example, the Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival.
You will find direct flights taking approximately 12 hours from Britain to China on Air China (Beijing), British Airways (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chengdu), China Eastern (Shanghai), Virgin Atlantic (Shanghai, Hong Kong), China Southern (Guangzhou) and Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong). In addition there are connecting flights from the Gulf. Expect 55dexqpky pay from £700 for any return ticket in economy. It is possible to generally fly into one city and out of another for no extra cost. Fares are
British Airways provides the best direct flight choices to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Chengdu. From Heathrow it flies daily to Beijing and Shanghai, with 14 flights a week to Hong Kong. Return fares to Beijing start at £731.76 in economy; from £1,169.76 in premium economy and from £2,661.76 in flat-bed business class. Return fares to Shanghai start at from £1,169.76 in premium economy and from £3354.76 in running a business class. Return fares to Hong Kong start at £1,264.26 in premium economy and £3,376.26 in operation class. The shanghai tour 3 x every week. Return fares on that route start at £621.76 in economy, £1,059,76 in premium economy and £2,757.76 running a business class. All fares include taxes, fees and charges.