China may be an officially non-religious nation but you'll soon see during a China vacation that there's a deeply spiritual heart to the nation. One of the major religions in China is Buddhism and if you get a chance during your tour, you might want to take a trip to the Temple of the Recumbent Buddha in Beijing. It's one of the most important temples you can see during China travels and it's also fairly easy to get to from the capital.
Where is the Temple?
The Wofo Temple (as it is called in China) is about a 12 mile trip outside of Beijing. You need to travel to the Xishan Mountain (it's more like a hill) to find it. That means taking a taxi as there's no easy public transport route to the temple.
What's at the Temple?
The temple was built back in the days of the Tang Dynasty which gives it an estimated age of around 1,300 years (that's pretty old for a Buddhist temple in China). It features the largest bronze statue of the Buddha in China and that statue is recumbent (that's how the temple got its name). The statue makes for a very impressive vacation photograph.
The recumbent Buddha's found in the main hall and this was actually built during China's Jin Dynasty (about 900 years ago) and improved during the time of the Yuan Dynasty (about 700 years ago). The Buddha is over 6 yards long and weighs in excess of 50 tons. The statue itself was case back in the 14th century. Look out for the left hand touching the leg and the right hand that touches his brow; this is the position that the Buddha was reported to assume when he reached Nirvana.
There is also a collection of a dozen more Buddha statues neatly arrayed round the recumbent centerpiece. As you travel round the statues you will see that each of them appears to be in a state of grief.
You should also visit the Three Buddhas Hall; this is used to make offerings today and as with all places of a spiritual nature on your China tour – you should maintain a respectful demeanor and cover your arms and legs before entering. Look out for the 18 Arhats that surround the 3 central Buddha figures; can you guess which one is an impostor? (Caution spoiler: It's the Arhat dressed like a regular Chinese; you're not a proper Arhat without the costume).
The last part of your trip to the temple should be a quick visit to the Four Heavenly Kings Hall which is dedicated to the prosperity of the local folk. Then head out to the peony and bamboo gardens and commune with China in a lovely natural surrounding. As you leave the temple grounds you should keep an eye out for the ancient tree which is said to have been brought from India to consecrate the grounds when the temple first opened.
Venture forth into the streets of Beijing, China during your China vacation and you'll find a near endless supply of historical buildings to investigate. Travel to Ox Street and you can take a tour of one of China's oldest and most venerate mosques. You might not have thought to include Chinese Islam on a spiritual trip through China but you really should; this mosque combines traditional Arabic and Chinese architecture to create a genuinely unique building.
How to Find the Ox Street Mosque in Beijing
The easiest way to find anywhere in China is to take a trip in a taxi but you can also travel to the mosque using the public transport system (it's best to ask advice from your China tour guide or your hotel to plan your route). It sits in the heart of the Xuanwu district of Beijing and is easily accessible.
About the Ox Street Mosque, Beijing
The Ox Street Mosque is one of the largest in China and it covers over 7,000 square yards of floorspace. It was originally built in 996 though little remains of the original as with many buildings you'll see on your China vacation; the mosque has been continuously renovated over the years.
It is constructed in a similar fashion to a Chinese wooden-palace. Yet, the decoration of the building is purely Islamic. This includes a prohibition of animal/human statues, carvings, etc.
As with mosques across the world; the building faces Mecca in Saudi Arabia the most holy city in Islam. This is unusual in China because most temples face the South which is traditional in both Daoism and Buddhism. The building is surrounded by a large white wall which travels for about 50 yards on each side round the complex.
You being your tour of the complex at the entrance gate which leads out to the “Watching Moon Tower”. It gets its name because of the importance of the position of the moon in Islam for calling major festivals such as Eid and Ramadan. It's a two-storey tall structure with a dazzling golden roof.
While you may enter the tower; you should not enter the prayer hall behind it unless you are practicing Muslim. However, it's very easy to see inside the prayer hall through the giant arched gate in front of it. Many thousands of people worship here and it would be disrespectful to them to go inside. It's also worth noting that you should not enter the mosque grounds inappropriately attired (long sleeves and trousers – even for the ladies).
Look out for the calligraphy which is in an ancient Arabic script and is not found elsewhere in China. Take a trip round the outside of the prayer hall and you should find two steles which house ancient stone tablets carrying the history of the mosque. There is also a fascinating graveyard which offers clues to the earliest adoption of Islam in China. The mosque is a wonderful place and very much worth a visit if you can squeeze it in to a day in Beijing.
If you're planning a China vacation there's a good chance you'll be visiting China's capital city, Beijing, during your trip. Beijing's a great China tour destination because there's a lot of history and culture to be explored. However, one thing you may not associate Beijing with is beautiful natural spaces but if you travel a few miles outside of the capital you can find Western Hills National Forest Park and combine some of China's history with some genuinely beautiful scenery.
Where is Western Hills National Forest Park?
To see the Western Hills National Forest Park you'll need to take a trip in a taxi to the Small Western Hills. You'll travel for about 12 miles outside of the center and it is the closest major park to Beijing. It covers nearly 15,000 acres and includes 5 special sites of interest (though at the time of writing – there are only two open to the public). It's a very green part of China with nearly 87% tree coverage over the space. China's pollution also doesn't seem to have had a great impact on the local wildlife (as yet).
What's at the Western Hills National Forest Park?
Well, firstly there's a lot of good historical reasons to take some time out of your China tour at the park. There are the Tombs of the Emperor Jing Tai and the Emperor Wan Li from the Ming Dynasty. These are likely to be significantly less visitor-packed than some of the other tombs you may see on your China vacation as the park is not yet on most foreign visitors' radar. There are also tombs of many of the emperors' concubines to be found here too.
There are also several ancient temples in the area. The most famous of which are the Fuhui and Jingfu temples. Modern China, as you'll see on your vacation, can sometimes feel a little spiritually devoid with the race to modernize and capitalize high on the agenda; it's nice to take some time and get in touch with the “real China” beneath on your trip and temple visits are a great way to do this.
Autumn is a great time to visit the park as the landscape is covered in red and brown leaves as far as the eye can see (rather like New Hampshire). In the Spring you'll find trees bedecked with peach and apricot flowers and that presents a very different but equally striking vista. The winter brings the snows and the forest feels like a Christmas carol. Of course the forest is most alive during the summer but it can be a little hot too.
There are also more than 250 plant species that inhabit the forest and an estimated 50+ bird species too. So bring your binoculars if you'd like to do a little “twitching” (bird watching). If you're very lucky you may come across some of the amphibian, reptilians and mammalian life that makes its home in the park as well.
America may have the most famous canyon in the world but China's no slouch in the canyon department. Wherever you go on your China vacation you’ll find that you can make a trip to one of China’s more dramatic natural wonders. This is particularly true on a Yangtze River Cruise but it’s not the only option during your travels either. Here are some of the more memorable canyons in China:
The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon
OK, this isn’t technically on most China tour itineraries but you can visit it if your trip to China includes Tibet and you arrange the visit in advance. It’s bigger than the Grand Canyon and it’s surrounded by the Himalayas which makes it probably the most dramatic canyon in the world. It runs from Mount Kailash for nearly 250 kilometers into India. The river it contains will become the Brahmaputra further downstream. The canyon’s walls are covered in lush green vegetation and it’s almost like looking down on tropical rain forest.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, The Yangtze River
This isn’t on the Yangtze River Cruise itinerary as it’s at the wrong end of the Yangtze. This is found in Yunnan province and is a world heritage site. It’s an incredibly place and may be the deepest river canyon in the world (though that title is disputed between several canyons). Should you decide to make a trip to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, keep an eye out for the Naxi people who live there. It’s the only place in China that you can find them.
The Three Gorges, The Yangtze River
This most assuredly is on a Yangtze River Cruise and it’s three canyons for the price of one. It is also the most varied and interesting canyon group in the whole of China. You can also fit the Three Gorges Dam into your vacation itinerary here and that’s the biggest hydro-electric facility in the world. The Three Gorges run for nearly 200 kilometers and they are incredibly scenic and each gorge has its own personality.
The Yangtze River Cruise is one of the best experiences in China and a chance to appreciate minority heritages, the growth of modern China, natural China and a number of Chinese provinces too. It’s also incredibly relaxing sitting with a drink and wending your way through this marvelous country.
Tianshan Kuche Grand Canyon, Tianshan Mountain
Tianhsan’s nearly a dead ringer for the Grand Canyon in the United States; it’s not built on the same scale as the Grand Canyon but it is a formed nearly entirely of red and brown rock. It makes for a spectacular sight at sunset when it appears to be almost aflame in the red rays of the setting sun. It requires a lot of climbing to get up to the Tianshan Kuche as there are no roads up the mountain at this time. It also means a visit to the Uiyghur areas of China and at the moment this can be a touch tricky because of political issues in the region.
The days of your China vacation are likely to be incredibly busy. You'll want to see and do everything possible on your China tour and that means lots of travel to get in the best of China before your trip ends. That means you'll be looking for something a little less hectic at night in China and one of the best ways to relax is to find a restaurant with a view of something spectacular. So with that in mind we've put together a list of the best night time city vistas in China:
The Bund, Shanghai
The Bund is spectacular during the day it's one of the best reasons to travel to China's second biggest city but it's also with taking some time out of your tour to see it at night. The slightly smoggy haze of the day is gone and you can see this wonderfully eclectic river side view at its best.
The Yangtze, Chongqing
If you're including a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China vacation package then you want to spend a little time relaxing at night with a view over the river when you reach Chongqing in Sichuan. Chongqing may be relatively unknown in the West but it's the largest and most-modern city in Sichuan and as the river bends through the city in a tight-hair pin bend you get a wonderfully dramatic scene.
The Central Business District, Beijing
There are no rivers in sight here but this may be the most mind-blowing view of them all; it's worth getting up high for this in one of the many hotels in the area. It may not be possible to see this much electric light anywhere else on your China trip as the ultra-modern heart of Beijing slows down a little and brightens up at night.
Tang Paradise, Xi'an
From the modern to the ancient; China always delivers something new. Travel to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors but don't forget to take in Tang Paradise when you're done. This is a striking collection of brightly lit traditional temples alongside modern tower blocks. It's quite lovely and one of the more traditional views for a late night stop on your China vacation.
The Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet
The majesty of the Potala Palace looking down over Lhasa is only magnified at night. The whole complex is brightly lit from every angle and it positively glows over the city below. You might want to allocate an hour or two for this view – it's simply jaw-dropping. There is nothing to compare to it, anywhere else on earth.
Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Victoria Harbour is one of the busiest places in the world; it has one of the highest population densities on the planet and it never sleeps. It's lovely during the day but it's better at night when the Festival of Lights is on and there are lasers and fireworks accompanying the mountains and skyscraper backdrop. It's what makes Hong Kong so wonderful.
You may not have thought that there would be an opportunity to connect with Christianity on your China tour but you may be surprised. Your China vacation is bound to take a trip to one of China's major cities and while Christianity is not the national religion; it is abundant enough that it won't be hard to find a church during your China travel. We've picked some of the best churches in the nation for you to keep an eye out for:
Wangfujing Church (Beijing)
A trip to China is hardly complete without a tour of Beijing; once you've seen the Great Wall and the Forbidden City you might want to travel a little further out into the city and see China's most lovely church. It's on Wangfujing Road in central Beijing so you won't have to go too far out of your way.
While there's been a church on the site since the 17th century the current building is relatively modern as several earthquakes destroyed the original. This building was opened at the turn of the 20th century and then lovingly restored in the 1980s. It's a beautiful example of a classic-style Roman Catholic church. You'll be more than welcome to attend a service if you want to as well. It may be the loveliest building of its type anywhere in China.
Xikai Church (Tianjin)
Tianjin's a little way north of Beijing and you may not be able to get there without a little planning during your China vacation. It's a grand Catholic Cathedral and is of a distinctly European design. It opened in 1914 and is a huge building covering over 1,500 square meters and rising nearly 50 meters into the air at the steeple.
The yellow and red brick front is particularly striking and the church wouldn't look out of place in the UK or France.
St. Ignatius Cathedral (Shanghai)
If your China tour is passing through Shanghai then you may want to go and look at this lovely French-medieval style cathedral. The congregation here is over 10,000 strong making it one of the most used churches in all of China. As there's only capacity for about 3,000 people at any service; many services are repeated over and over again throughout the day to make room for all the faithful. Look out for the statue of the Lady Madonna which was a gift from Paris in the 1920s.
CIzhong Church (Tibet)
You may have thought that if you were taking a China vacation in Tibet that Buddhist architecture was all you could see. But this striking church which was constructed in the early 20th century is tucked away in the corner of the city and is an absolute must. It's a great blend of Tibetan, Western and Chinese architecture rolled into one and following its (inevitable) restoration in the late 1980s – it's looking fantastic today. The front of the church appears at first glance to have been constructed in the shape of the cross.
We positively encourage those on a China vacation to make the most of their China tour by immersing themselves in China's food culture. You can taste all sorts of delicacies on your trip that you simply can't find anywhere else in the world. However, we do appreciate that sometimes on your travels in China; you'll also want a taste of home. Here are some of the best Western-style restaurants in Beijing:
Maxim's de Paris (Chongwenmen Xidajie)
Maxim's has a long history, for a French restaurant in Beijing at least, it was founded in 1983 and was one of the very first foreign restaurants allowed in the capital after the “opening up” of China's economy. The fact that it's still here today is a testament to the quality of the cookery. It has a good view over the city and the beef ribs are absolutely sumptuous. It's worth noting that it's also a touch on the pricey side and that's reflected in both the décor and the world class service you'll receive. You might want to dress up to go to Maxim's.
Beijing Friday's (Jianguomenwai, Chaoyang)
Where else on your China vacation will you find an archetypal American restaurant? It's almost like taking a trip home; though it's worth noting that many of the dishes have a unique “China” twist to them too. However, you can still find all the tex-mex that you could possibly want on the menu and the theme is both warm and welcoming. We've always found the sofas to be particularly comfortable after a long day's tour of the sights of Beijing.
No. 7 Moscow Restaurant (Xizhimenwai Dajie, Xicheng)
In Beijing, Moscow is definitely to the West. Given Russia's long term friendship (and rivalry) with China it's unsurprising that you should be able to find a great Russian restaurant when your tour reaches the capital. This place is celebrating its' 60th birthday this year and while it is a touch austere in terms of looks the food doesn't disappoint. Check out the Ox Casserole it's an incredibly flavorsome dish
Capital M (Qianmen, Buxing Jie)
This is up market fine dining at its best. Directly opposite the Forbidden City (book in advance and ask for a table facing it) this is one of the nicest Western places you'll encounter on a China vacation. The prices are steep but they're very much worth it. The chef is Australian and the sucking pig is “to die for”, it may be the best Western meal in China.
Wang's Steak (JIanguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang)
You may not expect to encounter a steakhouse on your China travels but Wang's delivers in spades. The steaks are so big that the owner claims he only gets a half-dozen steaks from each cow. The service is incredibly friendly and you'll feel extremely welcome. Wang's is pretty upmarket for China and it's worth dressing for the occasion. The food presentation is excellent and the combination of vegetables, fruits, etc. in the dishes is done as much for the bright colors as the taste sensations.
Your China trip will be filled with interesting and amazing places to see; that’s a guarantee – no-one goes on a China vacation and goes home bored. Yet, despite all the amazing places you will visit on your China tour there are some truly peculiar places that exist that aren’t really on most China travel plans. We’ve picked 5 of the strangest sights in China and who knows? You might even be able to squeeze a couple into your vacation.
You’re probably thinking The Pyramids? They’re in Egypt not in China. You’d be right except for the fact that China has its own pyramid complexes; nearly 300 of them in fact. If you’d like to see them; it should easy enough to squeeze them in when your tour passes through Xi’an. You only have to travel about 20 miles out of the city to the Qin Chuan Plains. What makes them really peculiar is that they’re not really acknowledged as a tourist attraction and are screened from prying eyes by trees.
This is somewhere you probably won’t want to visit on your China vacation as it lies very close to the border with North Korea. However, Tianchi is a beautiful and (for China) relatively unspoiled lake surrounded by mountains. The reason it's on our list of strange places is that the waters are reputed to be inhabited with monsters that sometimes even attack people.
Shen Nong Jia
From China’s answer to Nessie we travel to our next strange place to find China’s answer to bigfoot. The forest of Shen Nong Jia takes up a massive expanse of nearly 1 million acres in Hubei. The woods are reputedly home to a “man-monkey” but we wouldn’t advise taking a trip into the forest to find him – it’s a very, very big place and you’d probably end up lost. Shen Nong Jia’s also China’s answer to Roswell with dozens of UFO sightings taking place in the area.
If you’d like to discover a modern-Atlantis then perhaps Shicheng is the nearest you can get to that. It was one a busy provincial city and then they built a dam upstream. The entire city sank beneath the waters of a man-made lake. We’d like to add a spooky “never to be seen again” but that’s not true; in fact tourists are positively encouraged to turn up and go diving to see China’s 1950’s heritage nearly perfectly preserved beneath the surface of the lake.
The Pipes of Baigong
Near Qinghai there is a peculiar network of pipe like structures that appear to be made of stone and metal. For centuries the locals theorized that these had been created by the gods, or by ancient societies with hidden knowledge or perhaps had been brought to the earth by aliens. We can understand why – this pipe network does seem other worldly. Sadly, the truth of the matter is a touch more prosaic; they’re the fossilized roots of an ancient forest now exposed to the world after centuries of soil erosion.
If you're planning your China trip or if you're in the process of booking your China tour; there are some things you should know before you travel to China. Your China vacation will go much more smoothly if you follow some of our tips below.
Learn the Language
We don't mean that you need to speak fluent Mandarin before you travel to China but we've found the people enjoy their China trip more when they can speak (at least a little) to the locals. Phrases like “ni hao” (hello) and xie xie (thank you) go a long way.
Talk to Your Physician
Every time you go on vacation abroad (not just China) you should talk to your general practitioner about what protections you can take to stay healthy on your tour. China's not a hot bed of disease but there are infections, etc. that you may face in China that you wouldn't face at home. Vaccinations can help your visit go smoothly.
Get Some Money
Not all Chinese cashpoints take Visa/Mastercard most of the ATMs in China only accept Union Pay (though this is changing slowly). It won't be impossible to find an ATM on your trip but it's always a good idea to have a little local currency to hand before you travel. It also gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the denominations of the bills.
Get to Grips with Chopsticks
This can be a lot of fun; get some food and cut it up and have a couple of family meals with chopsticks. The right way to use chopsticks is to hold the upper chopstick just like a pencil (you need to be about a third of the length from the top); then hold the second chopstick against the ring finger use the base of your thumb (both chopsticks should be aligned in the same direction), finally move the upper chopstick with your thumb, your index and middle finger. Grab food at will. If you really can't manage chopsticks, don't worry – you can always use a spoon.
Get Your Visa
There are no visa on arrival options for most nationalities arriving in mainland China. That means you need to get your visa sorted prior to travelling. You can use our visa arrangement service or you can arrange one yourself but you must get it done. If you are entering China and then visiting one of the special administrative regions before returning to China you may need a double-entry (or even a multiple entry visa).
Be Prepared to Be the Center of Attention
Foreigners are still a relatively new phenomenon in China. That means that we're the source of endless fascination from the locals. This is often expressed by pointing and staring, please try and remember that this is not rude in China (though it is back home) and is just a manifestation of someone's curiosity. You can handle this easily by smiling and waving at the person, who will almost always smile and wave back.
It's easy to fit in a trip to Hong Kong on a tour of Mainland China and there are some really good reasons to travel to this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. Hong Kong's quite different from China because of its colonial heritage and alternative system of government. Here's why Hong Kong should be part of your China vacation plans:
You haven't really seen anywhere in China until you've taken a trip up Victoria Peak. It's one of the most incredible views anywhere in the world. You can travel uphill on a tram and then return on foot (or jump on the tram again). You can see nearly the whole of the island from the peak and it's here that you can really appreciate the scale of this incredibly densely populated part of China. There are also a lot of familiar fast food chains at the top to sate your hunger too.
Yes, Hong Kong has Disneyland but it's so similar to the one in the States but with fewer options it tends to be disappointing to tourists from outside of China. It's better to visit China's own premium themepark. It's a vacation thriller with plenty of rides to choose from. It's also a great place to include on your tour because it lets you get very familiar with Chinese marine life; the aquarium is incredible.
The Avenue of Stars
This is China's equivalent of the walk of fame; there are literally dozens of Chinese stars immortalized in the pavement here. You may not recognize them all but you'll certainly enjoy bumping into some life-size statues of Bruce Lee. It's also a lovely scenic walk down the harbour front and you can watch locals fish in the bay and touts try and work the crowds with their pitches for products and services. Your trip ends at the Star Ferry pier which makes it perfect to take a ride across the water after your visit.
The Big Buddha
This statue cost the best part of $6 million and it may be the most iconic image of Hong Kong that you'll be able to capture on your tour. It's on Lantau Island which is a bit of a hike from central Hong Kong but the MTR system makes it an easy journey. It's the most expensive statue in all of China. Don't forget to stop for some tasty vegetarian food while you're there.
Lan Kwai Fong
Lan Kwai Fong is one of Hong Kong's big party districts and it's a haven to some of the most popular and peculiar bars in town. Unlike Wan Chai, the other big party district, it's not in the remotest bit seedy and it's the perfect place to connect with white collar Hong Kong. It gets very busy in the evenings and it can be worth going out a little earlier than you might elsewhere in China in order to find somewhere you like to eat and drink (and be sure of getting a table there).
It's hard to decide where your China tour should take in. There are so many options for a China vacation that making your travel plans for China can be a little overwhelming. It's important to remember that you can always make a 2nd trip to China – there's too much in the country to squeeze it in to a single visit. However, we've made a list of some of the places that we think you'll want to include on your itinerary:
The Dragon Terraces, Longsheng
If there's a sight that says “China” more than a trip to the Dragon Terraces; we don't know what it is. These incredibly sculpted rice terraces cut the landscape like the scales on a dragon's back. The air is clean, the clothing traditional and they go on for miles. They're the perfect depiction of man and nature in harmony; Something that can be a little difficult to find on a China vacation.
The Panda Sanctuary, Chengdu
China's national animal is one of the most popular reasons to take a tour of China. Travel to Chengdu and you can see these incredible creatures playing and thriving in the wild. Of course, there's more to Chengdu than just pandas. There's incredible countryside and some of the finest temples in the land to explore too.
The Great Wall of China, Beijing
Beijing, China's capital is also home to the Forbidden Palace (another incredibly popular tour destination) but the Great Wall is perhaps the most famous man-made object on earth. It's truly spectacular and walking the wall evokes images of defending China from the barbarian hordes. It's just amazing. The Bund, Shanghai
From the ancient to the modern; The Bund in Shanghai is one of the best known vistas in China. A vacation in Shanghai brings you the chance to observe how modern China is slowly integrating with the rest of the world and thriving as it does so. A walk down The Bund is a must as you marvel at the colonial architecture interspersed with the truly modern.
The Karst Landscapes of Guilin
As seen in the movie, Avatar, Guilin's karst landscape is stunning. It's unusual that it's also on a river (most other karst landscapes in Asia are at sea – as with Ha Long Bay, Vietnam and Krabi, Thailand) and you can take a leisurely cruise downstream and just drink it all in. It would be nearly impossible not to be amazed and overjoyed at spending time in Guilin.
The Terracotta Army, Xi'an
Another firm favorite for visitors to China is the incredible Terracotta Army only recently discovered in the fields outside of Xi'an. Not only does it offer one of the keenest insights into China's ancient past but it's also a live archaeological dig and that allows you to appreciate the hard work that China is putting into conserving its heritage too. If you're lucky you may even get to meet the farmer who accidentally found the place when tilling his fields.
A tour of China's not just about the amazing sights and history. Many people like to use a China vacation to stock up on Chinese fashions and cheaper products than they can find back home. If you're going to travel to China you might want to see if you can fit in one of these great shopping locations during your China trip.
Nanjing Road, Shanghai
Shanghai's one of the top tour destinations in China and for good reason. The most populous city in the world offers a cosmopolitan side of Chinese life and plenty of things to do. It also offers the canny person on a China vacation the chance to stock up on Chinese goodies before going home. Nanjing Road's so big that it's split into East and West sections. Head West if you want high-end luxury brands and the chance to rub shoulders with China's well-heeled business people – no haggling is allowed in brand name stores. Head East if you're looking for a bargain and don't forget to haggle here.
Wangfujing Street, Beiing
You've never been shopping until you travel the length and breadth of China's most famous shopping destination. Once you've been to the Great Wall and seen The Forbidden City; it's time to visit Wangfujing Street. Be warned the crowds here during weekends and public holidays can be incredibly intimidating if you're not used to China. It's better to time your trip for mid-afternoon when most people are at work. Keep an eye out for the Catholic Church while you're there – it's worth a visit in its own right.
Chunxi Road, Chengdu
There's plenty of shopping to be done on Chunxi Road and it's a good mix of recognizable brands and the local brand names too. It's a good place to visit at night when the whole road is swathed in bright neon signs. It's also worth noting that you can find some of the best street food in China here and it's a good idea to time your tour visit for when you're particularly hungry.
The biggest city in Sichuan and potentially the future capital of China; Chongqing has plenty to offer the visitor. Jiefangbei is a hectic, hodge-podge of shops, markets, theatres, restaurants, bars and hotels. Wander round and examine everything carefully before you commit to buying products and never forget to haggle. It's also a good area to try Sichuan street food in and you might want to look out for the roadside stalls for a refueling stop.
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
You'll need to schedule a trip away from mainland China to include Hong Kong on your China tour but if you do – you'll want to visit Causeway Bay. It's one of the most colorful shopping districts on the island and you'll find a huge number of international and Chinese brands to choose from. There are luxury brand names (which are usually reasonably good value compared to the mainland) and there are also more ordinary brands too.
Shanghai's a very popular vacation spot in China. If your tour of China is passing through Shanghai; you'll be amazed by the multi-cultural nature of China's biggest city. Travel in China is made even better by Chinese food but if your trip is a long one you may find that you miss some home comforts every now and again. There's not that much Western food in China but the best of it can be found in Shanghai or Beijing. Here's a guide to some of your options in Shanghai:
Joy Bar (Dutch Food – Wuning Nan Lu)
This is perhaps the only Dutch food you'll encounter anywhere you travel in China. The Joy bar does a reasonable job of recreating a "brown café" experience (a "brown café" is a beer bar in The Netherlands and is not to be confused with the kind of café that serves a certain illicit substance). The decoration is pretty authentic and the food is good. It's the only place that does "Belgian Fries" in town.
Wagas (International – Jiaozhou Lu)
Wagas is a perfectly pleasant little international diner. It's a nice place to take a lunch break from your China tour in rather than an evening destination. It's somewhat, typically Chinese in terms of décor but the menu is varied. The salads are first rate and it's one of the few places in Shanghai where you can get coffee that actually tastes like coffee. We'd also suggest that unlike many food destinations you may encounter during your China vacation that service is a top priority here and the management will take very good care of you.
Papa's Bierstube (German – Hongmei Lu)
If it's meat that reminds you of home that you're craving for – then German food is always a good bet. Unsurprisingly, they also sell a lot of beer and it's one of the best bars you'll encounter anywhere on a China trip. The menu tends to be about meat, potatoes, meat, gravy and more meat. The homemade bread is very good and gives you something to soak up the gravy with.
Mythos (Mediterranean – Zhongshan Nan Lu)
This is a swanky place and absolutely perfect for a night out. It's a fourth four terrace with a superb view of The Bund; so make sure you take your camera – it's easier to take vacation snaps in China above street level so that you don't have to disrupt the millions of pedestrians passing by. The emphasis is on Greek food but there's a reasonable choice of foods from around the rest of the Med too.
Va Bene (Italian – Xiantiandi)
This is considered to be the best non-Chinese restaurant in town and that means you'll want to book early or it might be a wasted trip. The food is the most authentic Italian food in China and their beef carpaccio is excellent but the porcini soup is to die for. You can (and probably should) dress to impress at Va Bene; this is where the cream of the city's expatriate community dine alongside well to do and curious locals.
Travel in China is a lot of fun. Hundreds of thousands of people take vacations in China every year and the vast majority have nothing but a good time. There’s so much to see and do during a China tour that you’ll find that once you’ve been to China – you’ll soon be planning a repeat trip. If you want to make sure you get the most out of your visit, here are some simple tips:
- Bring a camera. Yes, China can be great for cheap electronics but if you want your vacation memories to be guaranteed to last; it’s better to bring a camera from home. Brand names are more reliable than replicas found in local markets.
- Always take a business card from your hotel. If you should get separated from your China tour group or you decide to travel out by yourself for a restaurant, etc. it’s a good idea to have a business card for the hotel on you. English isn’t commonly spoken in China but every taxi driver in the country can read a business card and get you home safely.
- Take the right clothes. It might sound silly but places like Beijing are boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. It can be hard to find larger sized clothing (and to the Chinese nearly all foreigners are “larger sized” easily during travel in China; it’s better to come prepared.
- Keep an eye on your possessions. Crime is no more common in China than anywhere else in the world and violent crime is incredibly unusual. However, you’ll want to keep any eye on your possessions during your trip – petty crime is more common at tourist sites and travel hubs because people are easily distracted. Pickpockets, bag snatchers, etc. can ruin your vacation if you let them.
- Smile. There are parts of China where foreigners are still pretty uncommon. Chinese people in these areas may point and stare. They’re not being rude, that’s just how curiosity is expressed in China. Give them a smile and you’ll be rewarded with a smile in return. One thing people always say about a tour of China is how friendly Chinese people, in general, are.
- Be Patient. Queues are a somewhat recent idea in China and people have an awkward tendency to queue jump. It’s ok, to refuse to let someone do this to you but you shouldn’t be confrontational about it. A little patience goes a long way.
- Try the food. China has one of the richest food cultures in the world; possibly the richest. You want to make the most of your time and try as much as you can. If you don’t like something, it’s not rude to leave it on your plate.
- Take part in things. If you see a group practicing Tai Chi, for example, you’ll be welcome to join – even if you’re not very good. The Chinese are a very sociable people and they give warm welcomes to people willing to try new things.
If you're on a China tour then you will get to see some of China's UNESCO heritage sites; it's almost impossible to travel in the country and not see at least one of them. You'd need a very long vacation to see all of them though; China has 43 current UNESCO sites (that's 3rd highest total in the world). So before you book your China trip here are some of the best of those sites to help you decide where to go:
The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
You'll need to travel to Xi'an to see this; you may know this China treasure better as "The Terracotta Warriors". In fact they are a small part of the entire mausoleum complex. It's worth making the trip, the warriors are absolutely incredible and they're still being unearthed as the site is also a live archaeological dig. There's nowhere else to get such a detailed insight into life in Ancient China and you'll never forget the place.
The Great Wall of China
A thousand vacations to China are booked every day just for the chance to see the Great Wall. The most visited parts of the wall are to be found in Beijing and if your tour is passing through China's capital a visit to the wall is a certainty. It's one of the most impressive feats of man-made engineering and it began construction back in the 7th century BC! It would take a long time to walk the entire length of the wall but it's easy to visit one of the sections in Beijing and extrapolate what it must have been like to man it against the invading hordes.
The Potala Palace
You'll need to take a trip to China's special administrative region, Tibet, to enjoy the Potala Palace. There may be no more spectacular Buddhist relic in the world. It sits on the side of a mountain and shines down upon Lhasa below. It contains priceless antiques from both Chinese and Tibetan history including many gifts from Imperial China and was once the home of the Dalai Lama too. If you're going to visit Tibet you must not miss out on The Potala Palace.
The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary
This incredibly beautiful part of Western China is home to nearly 30% of all the world's Giant Pandas. There's no symbol of China more evocative than the panda and you can travel to the sanctuary and see active conservation efforts to protect the species for generations to come. There are numerous chances to see and interact with a wide-range of other Chinese wildlife species here too.
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City may be last on our list but it's certainly not "last" in any objective terms. Some people consider this the absolute highpoint of their visit to China. More than 20 Emperors lived in this mysterious city right up to the Cultural Revolution. It's a stunning collection of ancient Chinese architecture and history.
Beijing’s one of the top choices of destination on a China tour. That’s because a lot of people want to see the Great Wall and The Forbidden City as part of their China vacation. These are of course great reasons to visit Beijing on your China trip but there are some great, if less famous, reasons to travel to China’s capital too. In a city as large as Beijing, some of the streets take on a very unique identity:
Liu Li Chang Street
Ok this street’s clearly targeted at tourists. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a trip to see it though. The area is excellently representative of China’s traditional architecture and you’ll find a lot of great souvenirs for your China vacation here too. There are merchants specializing in all Chinese art forms, handicrafts, and even calligraphy. It’s a fascinating destination and it won’t take too much of your time – it’s less than 1km in length.
Nan Luo Gu Xiang Street
This street is fairly similar to Liu Li Chang in terms of contents; though there’s a bit more variety in terms of shopping. However, the best reason to travel out to the street is the courtyards; these are very traditional and they’re decorated to add a certain vibe to this part of town that you can’t find elsewhere in Beijing.
China’s national beverage is tea. There’s no better place on your China tour to buy tea than Maliandao Street. It’s the best known destination in the nation for tea. You’ll find over 1,000 stores, cafes, and restaurants all selling the wide-variety of tea which China is justly famous for. You can also, if you want, find some of the best tea-sets in China here too, so when you get home from your vacation you can show your friends what all the fuss is about. It’s perfectly OK to take some tea home with you; always ask the price before you agree to have a cup of tea anywhere – some tea is frighteningly expensive.
OK, some of the dishes you’ll find on a trip to Wangfujing Street are a touch disturbing but this is one of the best street food destinations in China. It’s completely up to you as to what you try; you may not fancy the roast bat or their deep fried locusts but there are plenty of slightly more traditional ingredients to try too. The entrance to the street is a little hard to spy from the main thoroughfare – keep your eyes peeled for an interestingly decorated archway.
If you’re of an artistic or musical bent; you may find that Gulou Street is very much to your tastes. The modern graphic arts are particularly well represented; in the shape of animators and Chinese video games. You can also pick up a classic Chinese musical instrument for a reasonable price here too. It’s worth spending some time getting a feel for the quality of an instrument before you buy it – not ever bargain is actually a bargain.
One thing you can say about a China tour is that you will have plenty of opportunities to discover the stranger side of China. If your vacation is going to be in Beijing then there are some very strange places you can take a trip to eat in; if you’d like to enjoy China’s eccentricities to the full. Here are 5 places you may (or may not) want to visit during your China travels.
OK, you’re on vacation in China but you miss home a little; what can you do? Why not take a trip to China’s only "Friends" themed restaurant. Seriously, this whole place is based on the hit TV series. The owner was so impressed by the series that he spent months researching the café in the series and then recreating it in Beijing. He even dresses in the same uniform as Gunther in the series! Just like back home they offer unlimited refills on drinks and you can grab a muffin or a hot dog to accompany it.
Shuangliu Laoma Tutou
This place is for adventurous eaters only. The literal translation of the name of the place is; Grandma’s Rabbit Head Restaurant (if you’re particularly squeamish you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph and continue our tour of weird restaurants at the next one). In true traditional Sichuan style that’s exactly what they serve too. You are supposed to open the jaw of the rabbit’s head and eat the tongue before cracking the skull to slurp out the brain. It may sound gross but this is a real delicacy in China.
Muma Tonghua Heian Restaurant
Travel to this restaurant to bump into China’s celebrity set; and then don’t see any of them. It’s a "dine in the dark" concept restaurant and it’s very popular. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that of course – these places are everywhere now. What makes the "Trojan Fairy" special is that it’s considered mandatory to try and steal food from the plates of your fellow diners. The food itself is a mix of local, Japanese and Western.
Hongse Jingdian Restaurant
OK, not quite so weird as the rest but definitely worth a trip during your China tour; the Hongse Jingfian lives in China’s recent past. It’s all about the Cultural Revolution, there’s a wonderful (if somewhat strange) stage show celebrating the life and times of Chairman Mao and introducing all the songs of the revolution. You need to get there at around 7 p.m. to enjoy the whole thing.
Bian Man Man We Restaurant
If you’re not keen on scatological references this would be a good time to finish with this article. The name of the restaurant in English would be, well, umm… "poo poo". The whole place is toilet themed. The bowls are toilet shaped. The mugs are a rather inelegant representation of – well, we’re sure you can work it out. This place is definitely the strangest eatery in China; we’re just not sure you’ll want to visit it.
Tibet's a big vacation draw. Tibet's so different from everywhere else you can see on a China tour that it's nearly irresistible, in fact. The biggest natural attraction for a trip to Tibet is the Himalayan mountain range. Here's what you should know about the Himalayas before you travel to Tibet.
- You can't miss the fact, during your Tibet vacation, that the Himalaya's are positively huge. In fact, they're the biggest mountain range on the planet. It might come as a surprise but if you took a trip back in time; you'd also find that they're the youngest range on earth too. They started forming a scant (in geological terms) 70 million years ago in Tibet.
- The world's highest mountain, for the moment at least, can be found during a Tibet tour; it's Mount Everest of course and it's nearly 9 kilometers tall! That's more than 10 times taller than the highest man-made building; the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
- The first person to climb Mount Everest was Sir Edmund Hilary (though at the time he was just Edmund Hilary) and his companion Sherpa Tenzing back in 1953.
- Climbing Everest is not easy; while many people have achieved the feat since Sir Edmund more than 200 people have died trying do so. The Himalayas are not to be taken lightly.
- The Himalayas travels for nearly 2,400 kilometers through Asia and the range can be up to 400 kilometers wide at its most dense point.
- You'll spend a lot of time looking upwards in Tibet; the Himalayas contain all of the world's tallest mountains (14 of them are over 8 kilometers high and 9 of those are in Tibet).
- The Himalayas were created by the travels of two major tectonic plates; the Eurasian and Indo-Australian which smashed into each other forcing the rock up into the skies above Asia.
- You won't run short of snow during your Tibet vacation; the incredible altitude means that it's pretty cold in the special economic zone and thus there's a lot of ice and snow. How much? It's difficult to say precisely but given that some of the glaciers run for more than 70 kilometers; scientists are certain that only the North and South Poles have more ice and snow.
- The mountains are moving! That collision of tectonic plates isn't over and that means the Himalayas is considered to be “alive” in geological terms. They aren't moving very quickly though – they expand at a rate of 2 centimeters (a little more than an inch) each year. So in the average human lifetime the range gets just more than a meter longer.
- Asia depends on the Himalayas for life. The glaciers of the mountain range provide the source of fresh water and rivers across the continent. The Ganges, for example, is India's major river. The Yangtze in China is from the Himalayas as is the Mekong which serves most of South East Asia.
China's national drink is something you won't miss on a China tour. It's everywhere. Yet many people take a vacation in China without ever thinking about where the tea comes from. It's a bit like taking a trip to France and never wondering where the wine's from. You can get tea from each region wherever you travel in China but there's something satisfying about taking a connoisseur's approach to tea.
There are four main tea growing regions in China. Each has its own unique flavors, methods of cultivation, tea picking and of course processing. To get the most of Chinese tea culture you'll want to try them all on your trip.
The name literally means “North of the River” and that river is a popular China tour destination; in fact you may be taking a Yangtze River cruise as part of your China vacation. The region is famed for its cooler climate and this means it's a major hub for the best green tea. Why? Because the temperature allows the plant to mature more slowly and this is reputed to add flavor to the leaves.
There's been a drought in recent years in much of the Jiangbei area and tea from this region is scarcer than it once was.
If you look to the other side of the river on your Yangtze River Cruise you'll be able to see Jiangnan; which, unsurprisingly, is the area south of the river. It's the largest tea growing area in the country and most cultivation takes place in the mountainous region in order to benefit from lower temperatures. You can find all kinds of tea in this region; black, oolong, scented and green tea. A particular Chinese favorite is Chrysanthemum Tea which has a delicate nose and slightly acid flavor.
Canton (Southern China)
Southern China is warmer than the Yangtze areas and that combined with an acrid red soil means that oolong teas are particularly good from the Canton region of China. You will also find that teas from Taiwan which is at a similar latitude often resemble Canton teas. The area also specializes in Jasmine teas and if you've ever had this scented tea outside of China – it almost certainly came from Southern China. The sub-tropical climate of the region also provides the opportunity for multiple growing seasons and that means that there may be several types of a single tea; each with its own unique taste.
You can see Sichuan in Southwest China on a Yangtze River Cruise too though the whole area includes Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet too. Teas from this region are unique in that they tend to be “post-fermented and compressed” and this tea comes in a cake-like form for brewing. If you are in the region you might want to keep your eyes peeled for Pu Erh teas from the Dai ethnic group. They are said to be the most traditional of their kind anywhere in China.
As with all countries China's festival dates can move around a little so if there's one you particularly want to see you'll want to make sure your China vacation coincides with it. Please check the date of the festival before you book your China tour. Travel in China can be enhanced through participating in Chinese cultural events and wherever you go on your China trip you'll be very welcome to take part in public events on these festivals.
Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)
The biggest festival in China is the Spring Festival. If your China tour is at this time of year you may find that travel takes longer but major attractions have far fewer visitors. It's a time for family and celebration. Many businesses close for the festival and there are often public celebrations including lion-dancing and fireworks. Nearly 90% of China takes a vacation at this time of year.
The second largest celebration in China and if your trip is at this time of year; you'll be lucky enough to enjoy moon cakes (we prefer the modern chocolate and ice cream versions but the traditional ones involve pastry, eggs and lotus). The holiday is to celebrate the harvest and falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year. Many people travel home to be with their families at this time of year.
The Lantern Festival
Technically part of the Spring Festival celebrations the lantern festival is a sight to behold. The idea is to decorate everything in brightly colored and beautifully sculpted lanterns. There are also traditional foods to be had particularly sweet rice dumplings.
Dragon Boat Festival
Falling on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar year this is a real tour favorite. Southern China comes alive with dragon boat races. Where teams of rowers take each other on in tests of skill and speed with boats decorated with dragon's heads. Look out for glutinous rice balls on the menu at this festival. If you're taking a trip to Hong Kong at this time of year – the Dragon Boat Festival must not be missed.
Chinese National Day
This one is fixed on October the 1st and celebrates the founding of the People's Republic of China. Expect fireworks, parades and concerts organized by local authorities.
Tomb Sweeping Day
Qingming is usually in April and is a day of sacrifice. People visit their relatives' graves and clean their tombs to keep them free of bad spirits. It's best to keep a respectful distance if you are there during this holiday and passing a graveyard etc.
The Double Ninth
Chongyang falls on the 9th of the 9th month of the lunar calendar. It's a day for climbing local mountains and feasting on cake and drinking wine made from chrysanthemums.
This is the Chinese version of Valentine's day and it's held on the 7th of the 7th month. Watch out for girls engaged in traditional melon carving preparing gifts for their loved ones.
Travel in China is wildly exciting at one of the most popular China tour destinations is Tibet. A trip to Tibet offers the chance to see a completely different side of life in the world's most populous nation. If you're thinking about including Tibet in your vacation here are 8 things that you really ought to know before you book.
- Tibet is a part of China. It is however a “special autonomous region” of China. That means it's handled very differently from a legal and administrative perspective. The province is entitled to retain much of its unique identity because of this.
- You'll have to travel a long way up to get to Tibet. That's because Tibet is in the Himalayas. The Tibetan Plateau has an average elevation of more than 4.5 kilometers that's why it's also known as the “Roof of the World”. It also makes for a breathtaking place for a vacation as you can't get any closer to the clouds anywhere on earth.
- Water from Tibet makes a complete tour of Asia; the Himalayas are the source of 5 of the biggest rivers on the continent. The Yangtze which you may be visiting during your trip, the Yellow River (also in China), the Mekong, the Indus and the Brhmaputra. Over a billion folk in the region rely on freshwater rivers starting in Tibet.
- Outside of the North and South poles there is no bigger source of ice in the world than Tibet. You can see the fields of ice stretch for miles and miles as you explore the countryside around Lhasa. It's a truly humbling sight.
- Of course 9 out of 10 of the world's highest mountains are in Tibet. The tallest of them all is Mount Everest rising nearly 9 kilometers above sea level. Everest is considered to be one of the most challenging climbs in the world; though many people have succeeded since Sir Edmund Hilary became the first person to reach the summit.
- Tibet's a top tour spot for a reason. It is home to several UNESCO world heritage sites and you can visit all of them on your vacation in the country. Don't miss the Potala Palace, Jokhang and Norbuligka. They're all incredible and you'll never forget the first sight of the Potala Palace on the mountain side above Lhasa as long as you live.
- You don't need to worry about feeling crowded in Tibet. Unlike the rest of China which is incredibly densely populated; there are only 3 million people in this region. That makes it the province with the lowest population density in the country.
- Buddhism is what Tibet is all about. You can find Buddhist influences everywhere throughout the nation. Watch out for the bright red robes of monks as they wander the nation spreading peace and the influence of the Buddha. Don't miss the chance to visit a monastery or some of the amazing temples to better understand this part of Tibetan life.