China is as vast as it is diverse; the fastest-moving nation on the planet may have space-age technology and architecture, but it hasn’t lost sight of its roots. Ancient and modern cultures are on display in all their vibrant glory, testifying to a delicate balance between China’s sprint to the future and its 4,000-year history. The country’s geographic diversity is matched by its culinary and social range, making your trip to China a non-stop adventure.
People visit China for a multitude of reasons: to walk the Great Wall, to cruise the Yangtze river, or to discover the hidden delights of ancient China. And then there are the cities. Oh, what cities! Ever-changing skylines preside in all of their gravity-defying glory over bustling metropolises, which are working hard to maintain China’s impossible pace of progression. The opportunities in China are innumerable; you could travel around the world’s third largest, and most populated, country for a lifetime and still find that you have more to discover. If you are planning your first trip to China, try to squeeze in a cross-section of activities, from temple visits to city breaks; this will give you a taste of what China has to offer so you can decide where to go next. Because one thing is for sure, once you go to China once, you will be desperate to return again, and again.
Direct flights to China will bring you to one of many of China’s international airports, the busiest of which is Beijing Capital International Airport, followed by Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Guangzhou Baiyan International Airport, Chengdu Shuangliu Airport and Shenzhen Bao’an Airport.
Due to its vast size, the best time to visit China depends largely on where you are going and your preferences. Summer can be incredibly hot, and winter bitterly cold; spring can be unpredictable, with varied temperatures and the odd shower, whereas autumn proves a refreshing break from the summer heat and a final hurrah before the cold winter days set in. If you don’t mind freezing temperatures, plan your trip for November, when you will find cheap flights to China. Alternatively, the shoulder months of May/June – September/October are quieter, with pleasant weather – there are a few cheap deals to be found, too, if you book early. Just avoid the first week in October, when the Chinese celebrate National Day and the beginning of May, when Labour Day is celebrated.
A trip to Beijing will help you to get well acquainted with ancient China. Here, you will find some of China’s most popular attractions; the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
For six centuries and 24 emperors, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace, with its role at the centre of the Ming and Qing Dynasties coming to an end in 1911. As can be expected from such an important building, the Forbidden City is vast – at 74 hectares, it is, in fact, the largest palace complex in the world. The perimeter is protected by a 10-metre-high wall and a 52-metre-wide moat. Once within the grounds, you will encounter an eerie tranquillity, as though the walls themselves are holding their breathes, listening for the echoes of long-forgotten people. The massive complex is painted predominantly yellow, the colour of the royal family, the interior architecture lavishly decorated to emphasise the magnificence of the architecture and the treasures held within the palace walls.
Halfway between Beijing and Xi’an, the former political centre of China, you will find Pingyao, home to China’s first bank. Today, Pingyao gives a good insight into the China of yesteryear, with classical architecture, teahouses and traditional hotels. If you continue on to Xi’an, you will find the Terracotta Army, a host of exquisite pagodas, Buddhist and Daoist temples, and the Muslim Quarter.
There is no shortage of examples of ancient Chinese architecture and culture; even in the more built-up areas, you will find remnants of the country’s prosperous and hard-working past. It is not unusual to see stone statues originally built hundreds, even thousands of years ago to protect temples, standing guard at the doors of soaring skyscrapers.
Sadly, in its bid to modernise, many of China’s ancient buildings have been destroyed. However, they have been replaced with impossibly densely populated, fast-moving, glistening skylines that point irrefutably towards the future. Shanghai is China’s commercial capital, having changed rapidly over the past few decades to become home to one of the most powerful financial centres in the world. Like giant cyber plants, sleek new buildings are shooting up through the ever-changing skyline. Shanghai is undoubtedly home to some of the best hotels and restaurants in China, but beneath the glamour and gloss it is still possible to see evidence of the city’s roots. The impossible architecture of the Park-Hyatt, the 6th tallest building in the world, contrasts exquisitely with the Xintiandi district, with its cobbled streets and sympathetically rebuilt traditional architecture.
Shanghai’s shopping opportunities are some of the best in the world, too; like its architecture it possesses a mixture of the old and new. You can amble through the labyrinthine streets of Bazaar Shanghai, or shop for global designers in glossy, airconditioned malls.
If it is China’s natural beauty rather than urban life that attracts you most to the country, southern and western China are sure to impress. The provinces of Guangxi and Guizhou provide you with stereotypical Chinese landscapes: vast, rolling countryside with enticing caves, limestone gorges and mile upon mile of paddy fields. Although the hotels and inns in these provinces are, unsurprisingly, much less opulent than those in the cities, they possess their own charm. Hire or borrow a bike for the day and explore the countryside, or take part in organised trips which will take you trekking through paddy fields, caving, or sailing down the river on bamboo rafts.
In the Yunnan province, you will find lakes, mountains and plains galore, interspersed with towns and villages of varying sizes. As more and more tourists come to these remote areas to discover the “real” China, there are increasing opportunities for those exploring the countryside. Some hotels offer tours of the area and trips to local markets, while others provide traditional accommodation (with a touch of luxury) and will take residents to visit farmers’ homes and on riverside treks.
There are so many isolated areas of China that you will be spoilt for choice: for every bustling metropolis, there is a rural province waiting to be discovered.
Do you think you love Chinese food? Wait until your trip to China! Chinese food, cooked in China using local produce is a world away from the fare that we typically associate with the country. In fact, there are no fewer than eight different types of Chinese food for you to discover, each associated with a particular region. In the UK, the most common Chinese food you will find is based on the Szechuan or Cantonese styles. Cantonese, or Yue, food is the best known abroad as it is from this region that most people emigrated to America and Europe. Cantonese cuisine features plenty of ginger and soy, with meat and vegetables stir-fried, steamed or roasted. Szechuan food, on the other hand, is hot and spicy, with fresh chillies, garlic and ginger featuring heavily. Whatever your preferences, as you eat your way around China, you will experience the distinct culinary styles of each region, washed down, of course, with tea!
China is multi-faceted: old and new, fast moving, thrilling, and simply beautiful. On your trip to China you will be presented a unique opportunity to discover a country that celebrates its culture and embraces the past, while keeping its eyes firmly on the future.
If you want to go on the trip of a lifetime, Travangelo can help you find cheap flights to China.