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Introducing China

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Southwest Kunming © babasteve

China Travel Guide

After years of hiding from western eyes, China has transformed itself into a true heavyweight on the global tourism scales. Welcoming nearly 56 million visitors each year, China is by a long way the most-visited country in Asia. According to statisticians, it might well eclipse France as the world's most popular tourist destination by the year 2020.

China is also one of the most ancient civilisations on earth, the historical home of neolithic structures, the Silk Road, and more than 2,000 years of Dynastic reign. The country's long and proud cultural heritage is reflected by the fact that it is home to no fewer than 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are more 'must-see' cultural attractions in China than you could ever hope to experience in a single visit, including fascinating sights like the Summer Palace, the Stone Forest and the Beijing National Stadium.

Tourists to China looking to explore some of its incredible natural bounty will be blown away by the Five Sacred Mountains, and the Jiuzhaigou Valley, which is an astonishing example of the varied nature of China's landscape, a natural wonderland filled with snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal-blue lakes, cascading waterfalls and lush vegetation.

China is an enigmatic, mysterious country, where modernity and tradition, and progress and conservatism, co-exist in a seething morass. It is one of those countries that leads tourists to return home filled with a far greater sense of the inexhaustible variety of life, and a renewed appreciation for the many walks of life this planet has to offer.

Best time to visit China

Due to its enormous size, deciding on the best time of year to visit China will depend largely on the areas you wish to explore. In general, however, spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are probably the best months to visit China, as temperatures are mild, there is not too much rain, and you'll be avoiding the peak tourist season (which is in summer, from June to August). More about China's Climate and Weather.

What to see in China

-The Imperial Palace (or Forbidden City) is the best-preserved ancient structure in the whole of China.

-Every visitor to China should see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an.

-The Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama, is a wonderful window into the richness of Tibetan culture.

-Exploring The Underground City is a surreal and intriguing experience. Read more about China Attractions.

What to do in China

-Join the thousands of annual cultural pilgrims for a walk along a section of the Great Wall of China.

-Visit China's most famous animal at the Chengdu Panda Center.

-Experience the juxtaposition of old and new Shanghai by walking along The Bund.

-Take a trip to the Huaqing Hot Springs to bathe like an emperor.

Getting to China

There are cheap direct and indirect flights to China available from the United Kingdom and the United States. The most popular entry-points into China are Beijing (Beijing International Airport) and Shanghai (Pudong International Airport). Get more information on China Airports.

Read

Rice: A Novel by Tong Su, Empress Orchid by Anchee Min, Iron and Silk by Mark Saltzman, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

Listen

Cui Jian, Rynn Lim, Andy Lau, and Wang Lee Hom.

Watch

The Painted Veil (2006), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hero (2002), and The Inn of the 6th Happiness (1958).

Drink

Sample as many tea (cha) variations as possible. If you're looking for something a bit stronger, rice wine (jiuniang) is worth a try.

Eat

Duck (kaoya) is generally a favourite among westerners, as are chive dumplings (jiucai jiaozi).

What to buy

Porcelain products and jade jewellery make for very popular gifts.

What to pack

If travelling in spring or summer, be sure to take a lightweight rain slicker along; if travelling in autumn or winter, make sure you pack a good coat or jacket. Anti-bacterial hand soap is a great idea, helping to stave off diseases which can spread from using public toilets, or eating in local restaurants.

What's on in China

The Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival is a spectacular winter celebration, featuring fun activities, ice sculptures, ice lanterns and a dazzling fireworks display. Chinese New Year is a raucous affair, with fireworks and loud music going on late into the night, especially in Beijing. The Great Wall Marathon is worth taking part in for its beautiful setting, even for the tragically unfit. More information on Events in China.

Did you know?

-One in every five people in the world is Chinese.

-Ice cream, gunpowder, cross bows, paper, kites and the compass are all Chinese inventions.

-Toilet paper was also invented by the Chinese, in the late 1300s, but it was only used by emperors.

-In the 1930s and 40s, Shanghai was the only port in the world to accept Jews fleeing the Holocaust without entry permits.

A final word

A land full of mystery and wonder, where ancient history and hyper-modernity exist side-by-side, China is a challenging and deeply rewarding place to visit.

Become our China Travel Expert

We are looking for contributors for our China travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to China or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.

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