Whether it’s China’s breath-taking ancient heritage etched in its architecture or its stunning natural beauty, this vast country presents plenty of opportunities to indulge yourself on your vacation. Here’s Skyscanner’s brief selection of cities and provinces for first-time visitors to China and a basic survival guide to take you around:
The largest attraction in China’s capital city, Beijing, is without a doubt the sprawling expanse of the Forbidden City, which was the imperial residence of the Ming and Qing dynasties over five centuries. Full of quiet temples and long-forgotten chambers the palace is still shrouded in a touch of mystery and seclusion that is a stark reminder of this city’s past glory. As you wander around, do pay attention to the blending of ancient architecture with modern skyscrapers that are taking over the cityscapes of all of China’s major metropolitan areas. Old neighbourhoods stand side by side with trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes. Drop by Dadong Roast Duck restaurant to try the Crispy duck, a must-have specialty while you are in China. Don’t miss trying out a tea ceremony. From the city, you can also book yourself a tour of the Ming dynasty’s Great Wall of China.
Visit the imposing rows of Terracotta warriors unearthed in Xi’an in Shaanxi province in 1974 by farmers who discovered the ancient figures while digging a well. The Terracotta army, as it is commonly referred to, is a collection of sculptures consisting of 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. Each figure is at least six feet high and the sculptures were created as part of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, forming a massive mausoleum that is now an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site.
3. Sichuan province
Mystical mountains, deep forests, and lush countryside dotted with villages that have stood the test of time; that’s Sichuan province for you. Visit the largest stone Buddha carved into a steep cliff face. Take in a show of Bian Lian – a sub-genre of Chinese opera that involves a method of ‘face-changing’ that originated here. For animal-lovers, the Panda Research base near Chengdu gives visitors the chance to see the giant Panda up close.
4. Hainan province
For something completely different, escape to China’s island province of Hainan where the palm-fringed beaches and tropical climate turn up the chill-out factor. Explore the beaches along Sanya Bay or Yalong Bay, where you can do everything from surfing to relaxing on the beach while reading a good book. Eat fresh crabs at the local seafood restaurants. When you are bored of lazying around, rent a mountain bike and cycle around the rural highlands to explore waterfalls, jungles, and native villages.
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About 1,200 kilometres south of Beijing is the city of Shanghai, exuding China’s modern facade through it’s brightly lit neon skyline. This city of skyscrapers is home to one of the world’s tallest buildings, the Shanghai Tower which at 632 metres high is the world’s second-highest building. For a touch of old-style glamour, try the martinis at Glamour bar, one of the city’s cultural institutions that host interesting events. Drop by the Jade Buddha temple or check out the Chinese calligraphy gallery in the Shanghai Museum for a view of the city’s rich cultural heritage.
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Top travel tips:
Visas: A single-entry, 30-day visa to China takes about four working days to process and costs just over INR 5000 including a service fee. Visas are valid for use within three months of issue. For further information visit here.
Money: The currency is Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY) and the exchange rate is roughly INR 10.31 per CNY.
Getting around: Beijing and Shanghai have excellent public transport infrastructure including high-speed trains. To get around the countryside, use taxies and private minibuses.
Best time to visit: March to May is when the weather is at its most pleasant though the weather is highly variable across the country. Summers are too hot and winters can be freezing.
Who should go: It’s hard to find English-speakers outside of the metros so only experienced travellers should wander farther outside the main cities. Mandarin and Cantonese are the most commonly spoken languages.
Food: Vegetarians might struggle to find suitable food in certain parts of the country. Keep in mind that original Chinese food will be different from the type usually found in India. High end restaurants can charge a 15% service charge on their bills.
Beware: Besides watching out for pick-pockets in popular tourists areas, beware of these popular scams:
– Take official metered taxis in the big cities as unofficial taxis can change the agreed price at the last minute or take you on unscheduled stops to shops.
– Do not follow strangers who seem to befriend you and invite you to take part in some local ceremonies, for example. You could end up paying a heavy bill. Only go to places you have decided to visit.
– Watch out for counterfeit money/bills circulating. ATMs and bank money are safe.
-Sign up with licensed tours only. Others might take you past shops where they get a commission while you end up wasting your day instead of taking in the sights.
– Don’t pay designer brand prices for fakes, which you’ll find readily available from plenty of suppliers and in genuine-looking shops too.
– Try to buy known brand bottled water and don’t buy groceries from supermarkets without knowing what you are buying as you could end up with things like plastic rice!
Travel smart and nothing will stop you from having a wonderful visit to China, a country that has so much to offer!