  Chapter 

Why to come?

China has a myriad of places of interest, a fascinating culture and a very diverse landscape ranging from tropical rainforests in the south to the breath taking peaks of the Himalayas in the west. A country with a turbulent past, from Confucius to Genghis Khan, which was cut off from the west for years. It has a history of prolonged, strict, communist rule and the government is probably the most controversial in the world. All of this makes China a very interesting destination.

Johighlights

China is a huge country with countless sights and attractions. Be prepared to be pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by the extraordinary nature of Chinese culture, people, cities and environment.

  • You can follow the historic Silk Road by train, via the Karakoram Highway towards Pakistan.
  • Admire the terracotta army found in the pleasant town of Xi’an. This archaeological find of 9099 terracotta figurines, was a burial gift to Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China
  • Visit the Great Wall of China. The 6259 kilometre long defence wall was built to protect the Chinese empire against enemies. It was named one of the seven new world wonders in 2007.
  • Explore the Tiger Leaping Gorge. This twenty kilometre long gorge is only thirty meters wide at its narrowest. A big rock in the river marks the narrowest point. According to legend, a tiger was seen leaping across the canyon using this rock, hence the name.
  • Enjoy seeing the giant panda in the wild, for example in Jiuzhaigou National Park in the north of Sichuan Province or the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Wenchuan County, in the centre of Sichuan Province. Or visit Sichuan’s capital Chengdu, home to Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Base, a research facility open to visitors.
  • Chengdu is also a good base to visit Leshan, a little village where you can find one of the tallest, 71 meters, sitting Buddha’s in China.
  • Travel from Guilin to the beautifully vast and unspoiled Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces (also known as Longji Rice Terraces) in Longsheng. You can book a daytrip but also explore the area on a scooter on your own.
  • Peking Opera: a visit to a traditional Peking Opera is a very special experience. The costumes, make-up, music and combination of vocal, acrobatic and mime performance are a sensory delight.
  • Visit Tibet: Tibet’s sovereignty is disputed. Since the invasion in 1950-1951, China claims Tibet as part of its territory. Tibet challenges this claim and considers itself occupied by China. The much revered Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan people, is an outspoken advocate for independence which has kept the discussion very much alive and current. The conflicted status makes visiting Tibet relatively hard but the effort is worth it. The region is home to the world’s highest mountains (Mount Everest’s northern face most notably), many deep blue lakes and an abundance of beautiful monasteries. It has its own culture, language and people. Do make sure you organise your visit well. The political situation is changing rapidly so check for the latest travel restrictions (such as filing for a permit and signing up with an organised tour) before you go. The region has its own culture, language and people.

JoHotspots

  • Beijng: there is plenty to explore in China’s capital. Visit the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace which, contrary to its name, is now open to visitors. Set foot on historic Tiananmen Square (Gate of Heavenly Peace), known for the student revolt in spring 1989 and home to the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Escape the skyscrapers and the crowds in one of the many parks where the Chinese play Mah-Jong and card games and relax. Walk through the picturesque Hutongs, narrow streets and alleys connecting the traditional courtyards and full of restaurants and bars.
  • Stop by Hong Kong: let yourself be blown away by the impressive skyline, take a breather on one of the beached and party in one of the many clubs.
  • Pinyao: a walled in architectonical paradise where historical buildings, streets and houses from the Ming and Qing dynasty have been well preserved.
  • Xian: the original starting point of the Silk Road and the city connecting China with the Roman empire. The 14 kilometre long and 12 metre high city wall dates back to the seventh and ninth century and is mostly still intact.
  • Hangzhou: one of the biggest tourist attractions of China, this city is known for its natural beauty and cultural heritage.
  • Suzhou: known for its abundant and classical gardens. Visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lingering Garden and take a tour on one of the many canals.
  • Lijiang: one of the prettiest cities in China. Explore the historic centre and enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside and Lijiang Valley. Built where the river Jade forks three ways, the city’s many waterways and bridges have earned it the moniker Venice of the East.

JoHorribles

  • Travelling through China can be challenging because the Chinese either can’t or are afraid to speak English. Traffic signs, menus, street signs, are all in Chinese. However, Chinese are very willing to help but are traditionally unwilling to lose face, so may send you the wrong way rather than admit they don’t know the route. Be patient, allow for extra travel time and keep an open mind.
  • Pollution is a pretty serious problem in China. Be prepared if you suffer from allergies, skin problems or have problems with your airways or eyes.
  • If you don’t like crowds, it’s best to avoid travelling in China altogether or do your research well to find proper off the beaten track destinations. The economic growth has increased people’s mobility so the Chinese now also have the change to travel around and see their country. You will inevitably be faced with crowds and big groups of tourist, especially at popular tourist spots.
  • Don’t exchange money on the black market, you’re bound to be scammed.
  • Don’t bad-mouth the government. You never know who’s listening in and anti-government speech can result in severe prison sentences.

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  • Use the crossroads to follow a connected direction

 

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