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.
You’ll find music wherever you go on your China vacation. You may, however, find it difficult to identify every instrument you hear on your China tour. China’s music culture is very different to that of the West and as you travel round the country you may discover instruments you’ve never even heard of before. Of course, that’s the beauty of booking a China trip but to help you out, we’ve described a few of the more common Chinese instruments for you below:
If there’s an instrument you’re guaranteed to see during your China vacation the Erhu is it. It’s a “two-stringed fiddle) and it looks like a fiddle neck attached to a large block of wood. It’s played nearly everywhere in China though it originates in the South of the country. It’s a popular street instrument as it’s easy to travel from café to café and still play it. It’s been around in one form or another for more than millennium and the first recorded Erhu was used during the Tang Dynasty. It belongs to the “huqin” group of instruments.
This is an even more ancient instrument than the Erhu. It’s quite popular in hotel lobbies in China so you may hear it during your tour without having to look for it. It’s worth making a trip elsewhere to find one if not. It’s China’s equivalent to the Zither and there are between 18 and 23 strings and adjustable necks on the board. It’s an instrument that takes a lot of manual dexterity to play.
The Suona resembles a hunting horn but shorter. It’s an extremely noisy instrument and you won’t miss it if you pass someone playing it during your vacation. It’s particularly popular in Northern China where it’s a key part of tribal music. You can often find a Suona player at a wedding or even a funeral.
The Big Drum
This is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a large surface but relatively shallow drum. It’s used in almost every type of folk and traditional music in China. It’s very popular with the military too. So if there’s a military parade on when your tour is in town; go and watch the band and you’re guaranteed to see plenty of drummers working the big drums as part of the display.
This simple bamboo flute is a popular souvenir for many tourists in China. It’s a traditional instrument for the Qiang Peoples of Ancient China. It is played in roughly the same way as a recorder would be. The sound is much richer and deeper toned though.
The Pipa resembles a lute or a guitar. It’s a four stringed instrument with a fret-board to enable control over notes and tones. It’s made of wood and has been used in China for over 2,000 years. You may need to search a little more to find a Pipa player but if you can find one – you’ll always remember the sound.
Your China tour will be full of amazing ancient sites. It doesn't matter which part of the country your China vacation takes you to; it will be rich in history and wonder. What you might not realize on your China travels is that many of these sites have only been recently discovered. Here are some of the places you might see on a China trip that have only been unearthed in the last 100 years or so.
Peking Man (Discovered in 1929)
You'll almost certainly want to visit Beijing on your China tour. The Great Wall and The Forbidden City are enough to travel to China's capital. However, you can also see the Peking Man in the Fangshan District of Beijing. This ancient human's skull provides strong evidence of a “missing link” in human evolution and is considered to be one of the most important discoveries in human history.
The Terracotta Warriors (Discovered in 1974)
The Terracotta Warriors are one of the biggest attractions in China. You can see them on a trip to Xi'an and they are truly incredible. With over 8,000 pottery warriors perfectly preserved from nearly 2,200 years ago – it's hard to imagine a China without them. Yet, if you'd have taken your vacation back in 1970 to see them, no-one would have known what you were looking for. They were discovered in a field by a farmer just 40 years ago!
The Underground Palace, Famen Temple (Discovered in 1987)
The Famen Temple has been open to visitors for a long time but no-one knew that there was a huge underground palace beneath the site until very recently. The incredible remains housed some of the best preserved ancient Chinese relics of any find in recent memory. The “True Relic Pagoda” as it is now known is quite spectacular.
Hemudu Village (Discovered in 1973)
A year before the discovery of The Terracotta Warriors another trip to the fields by a group of farmers resulted in the discovery of a near complete Stone Age village in China. It's not an easy place to find and it's not on any standard tour itinerary because of its remoteness but there are over 40,000 square meters of village which have now been excavated. The oldest part of the site is nearly 7,000 years old and it's an incredible part of China's ancient history.
Western Han Tombs at Mancheng (Discovered in 1968)
You probably won't be able to fit these into a China vacation because they're a long way from anywhere else of interest, and you'd have to spend days in travel through rural China to see them, but they are quite wonderful nonetheless. These two tombs are perfectly preserved from the time of the Western Han Dynasty. The objects within are almost all 100% unique and the best of them include a golden furnace and a royal lantern. The two jade clothing sets are a sight to behold too – they're made with gold thread to keep them in tact throughout the ages.
You'll find that the Chinese value education very highly indeed during your China tour. You'll also marvel at China's unusual culture on your vacation and wonder how it came about. To do that you need to travel back in China's history and take a trip through the great minds of China's past. We've collected some of the greatest philosophers from Chinese cultural development so that you can better understand modern China.
Laozi (approx. 600 B.C)
We begin our trip 600 years before the birth of Christ in ancient China. Laozi is perhaps the most influential Chinese philosopher of all time. He founded the Daoist religion and you can find his influences everywhere during your China vacation. His greatest emphasis was on natural law and he was perhaps, light years ahead of his day, when he insisted – “man should not place unreasonable and incessant demands on nature”.
Confucius (551 – 479 B.C)
Travel a few years further ahead and you'll find the most famous thinker from China who ever lived; Confucius. A tour of China's philosophers must include Confucius as much of Chinese (and Vietnamese) society is built on Confucian principles. He developed systems of government, morality, social mores, and justice that have been found throughout China's feudal history. Even today, under a more enlightened rule, many of the tenets remain firmly in place in Chinese minds.
Zhuangzi (approx. 400 B.C)
Zhuangzi may have lived 200 years later than Laozi but they shared a common bond. A committed Daoist, Zhuangzi was born into a time of the Warring States. While China's leaders conducted military tours all over the Middle Kingdom, Zhuangzi was pushing the message that; “the universe and the individual were created at the same instant, so all things in our universe are at one with the individual”. His most well-regarded work laments that while there is an unlimited amount of knowledge to be found in the world, we only have a limited amount of life in which to attain that knowledge.
Xunzi (310-230 B.C)
Still in the time of Warring States, Xunxi's beliefs would travel the length and breadth of China and are still relevant today. He posited that our tendencies for evil must be addressed by the use of education and the performance of ritual. He was one of the first thinkers in the world to understand that ethical norms are an essential part of protecting man from himself. He would inspire a whole generation of future philosopher in China too.
Zhu Xi (1130 – 1200 A.D)
Zhu Xi lived during the time of the Song Dynasty. He is probably responsible for the continued hold of Confucian ideals on Chinese society today. He wrote many treatises on how Confucian thought could be maintained in modern life. He was also one of the first to promote investigation and experimentation as part of thought experiments. He believed that without such testing that thoughts and ideas could not be shown to be worthy to others. He also promoted the “Four Books” of Chinese thought.
A China vacation is never dull. Your China tour will take you to see some of the most amazing places on earth. You'll meet dozens of interesting characters as you travel China. You're also going to notice some cultural peculiarities on your China trip. Here are some of the most common, so you can prepare yourself and please remember – don't take offense these behaviors are perfectly acceptable in China:
- You'll soon hear the Chinese on your China tour; Chinese people don't speak quietly they project their voices loudly and especially when they're on the phone.
- Chinese food choices are strange to Westerners; chicken's feet and pig intestines are two menu items that often cause raised eyebrows.
- In the same vein a trip round China will show you that Chinese people also value different parts of food differently to Westerners. So when you get a fish head on your plate; don't be insulted – to your Chinese host that's the best bit of the fish.
- If you want to party during your China vacation; invite your Chinese friends to a KTV (Karaoke Television) strangely Karaoke's more popular in China than it is in Japan.
- You may find that your television remote control is sealed in a plastic bag. That's an effort to preserve the life of the device. Don't forget that until recently China was quite poor and people had to make things last.
- No public displays of affection. You may find it strange but you'll never see parents embrace their children during your China travels – it's just not done. It's actually not done very often in the home either.
- People in China, generally, don't wash in the mornings. They wash before they go to bed. This is something that is perhaps unfortunate when sharing a lift with Chinese workmen or their way home from work.
- If you eat fish in China during your trip then it's customary just to spit the bones straight out onto the table. This can be a touch disturbing the first time you see it but it's actually an incredible display of dexterity in the jaw.
- Ping Pong is the national sport. If you get lured into a game on your China tour – you will get beaten. Even if your opponent is extremely elderly. Everyone can play and everyone is very good compared to Westerners who rarely play.
- If you enter a Chinese kitchen you can watch someone beating eggs with chopsticks. This is no more peculiar than using a whisk but it definitely looks odd.
- When you visit a Chinese home you should take a present – normally food (and in particular) fruit in direct contrast to the Western tradition of taking wine.
- When you go to dinner; there will be a tussle over who pays the bill. This is perfectly normal and the person who is expected to pay will either be the person who invited everyone or the oldest person at the table. However, you are still expected to make a show of trying to pay before they do.
Life in China, as you’ll find out on your vacation, can be incredibly complicated. You’ll observe China’s industrial progress nearly everywhere you travel in the country but you can also find the simplicity of the "old" China on your tour too; if you know where to look for it. One of the more important cultural heritages you can discover on your China trip is the flower culture. Many flowers in China have real significance and if you know what to look for it’s simple to understand.
The Plum Blossoms
You can see plum blossoms in the winter in China. They represent the way that life travels on no matter what obstacles it encounters. The strong and pleasant scent of the plum blossom is said to evoke the "bitterness and coldness" that each soul must overcome as it grows and matures.
You should see quite a few peonies on your China vacation; they’re the national bloom and are considered to bring wealth and prosperity upon the possessor. The Chinese believe that the peony is heaven’s own flower and the scent is believed to offer spiritual enrichment.
If your trip to China is in early spring then you should see the chrysanthemums in bloom. They stand for social mobility and are prized as gifts by those seeking to enhance their status in life. They are also seen as emblems of bravery as the plant struggles through the frost to come to bloom.
If you are presented with an orchid during your China tour, you should feel flattered. They are a symbol of scholarship, friendship and nobility. An orchid as a gift is a ringing endorsement of what a fine person you are and it’s a gift not given lightly. It’s one of the most common symbols in Chinese art too.
You’ll need to travel to Southern China to find Chinese Roses (they’re especially common in Hong Kong) where they are a symbol of the Cantonese people. They are especially beautiful and hardy roses with a lovely light fragrance.
Azaleas are especially bright and vibrant flowers and are beloved of poets within China. They are often used as a metaphor in Chinese literature. They’re a very hardy bloom which survives many weeks after flowering and they are easiest to find in areas shaded by trees. Look around parks in the spring to find carpets of azaleas.
Our tour of China’s special flowers simply couldn’t miss the lotus. It is an abiding symbol of purity in thought, word and deed and is cited regularly in Chinese literature. There is even a "lotus culture" that is spoken of in many Chinese towns and cities.
While the narcissus may represent vanity in Western culture, in China it is used to conduct the rite of exorcism and is believed to protect the owner against the influence of dark and malignant spirits. There is even a rumor that the narcissus can bring the dead to life!
You’ll be visiting a lot of sites of historical interest during your China tour and you may find that your China vacation is even more exciting if you know a little about the imagery you see in those places. Your China trip will bring you into contact with many representations of Chinese mythical animals. Here’s what you need to know before you travel to China:
You can’t escape the dragon wherever you travel in China. They’re very different to the traditional Western China they tend to be more wyrm-like with long sinuous bodies. Imperial China used the dragon as a symbol of its power but the dragon is more commonly seen as a representation of good fortune. In myth the dragon could manipulate the weather for good or ill.
The pixiu looks like a cross between a foo dog and a lion. It was the fiercest creature of Chinese mythology and is used to protect the temples and other important buildings that you may come across on your China tour. A particularly brave soldier will often be nicknamed “pixiu” by his peers in China.
This is the strangest mythological creature in China and if you see it on your trip – there’s no chance you’ll forget it. Part goat, part spikey reptile, part dragon; it’s the ugliest thing you have ever seen. It is however, one of the good guys. It’s renowned for its wisdom and is said to spend its life on vacation in the mountains of China unless it’s required to choose a new king. We’re guessing it’s taking a long break under the current regime.
Phoenix (Feng Huang)
The phoenix is the symbol of everlasting love in China. It’s the traditional emblem of the empresses of Imperial China. Brides in China will traditionally bear a representation of the phoenix on their wedding day.
The Qilin is the kind of mythical creature you don’t want to mess with on your China trip. That’s because it has a dragon’s head and a horse’s body and breathes fire on the wicked! Despite some saying it’s a “Chinese unicorn” the Qilin actually has two horns (rather like a stag’s horns). When the Qilin’s not smiting the unjust in flame it acts as a herald of new rules or leaders.
The Hou’s probably a bit confused as he’s half-lion and well… half-rabbit. There’s a certain dragon-ness about him too as it’s claimed that he’s one of the 9 sons of the original Chinese dragon. Despite his peculiar appearance the Hou is a truly sacred animal and is a messenger of the Gods. In particular he is sent to scold an emperor who becomes reckless or debauched.
You might see a crane or two, of the bird variety, on your China vacation but if you see one with flame like markings on its head you might want to head in the other direction. The Bifang is a harbinger of death and destruction.
One of the main reasons to book a China tours is to spend time during your trip studying China's ancient history. Many people know before their China vacation of the influences of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism on Chinese culture. However, far fewer are aware that China also has a long history of gods prior to the arrival of the more modern religions. We've put together a handy guide to some of these that you can read before you travel to China.
The Jade Emperor
The Jade Emperor belongs to both Buddhism and Daoism. He is considered to be the greatest of all the gods in China's history. He would travel to heaven and represent the Chinese people there and ensure that they remained first in the eyes of other gods. You should find many references to the Jade Emperor during your China tour as he's still worshipped, quietly, throughout the nation.
Your China vacation will be a fantastic experience and we're certain that you won't run into Yan Wang during your trip. He's China's god of the underworld and his job is to keep records on the good and bad deeds done during the life of every Chinese person. When they die he will weigh their actions and decide if they are to be punished in hell or allowed to ascend to heaven.
The Chinese weather god is a serious figure in Chinese mythology. He's the Dragon King and can command the wind and rain. Rather like the Greek god Poseidon he also has real power over China's sea creatures and is able to summon an army from the depths at will. He has a private court in heaven and is considered to be a seriously tough cookie. People mess with Long Wang at their own peril.
You'll certainly see evidence of Caishen's powers during your trip to China; he's the god of wealth. He is reputed to have the power to bestow riches upon his most devoted followers. Unsurprisingly there's a lot of attention paid to Caishen in modern China where Deng Xiaoping said; “to get rich is glorious”. You'd certainly know if you bumped into Caishen in the street on your tour – he's said to carry a large golden rod and ride a black tiger.
Nuwa's not a god, she's a goddess. In Chinese folk history it was Nuwa who created all mankind. She drew forth mud from the river and formed it into an image resembling herself. The figure sprang to life immediately when she had finished and was the first human being to walk the earth. She's also said to have repaired the sky.
Also a goddess Guanyin's China's “Merciful Deity” and she is loved by all Chinese people. She gives aid to the weary and distressed, feeds the hungry and gives succor to the thirsty. She wanders the country seeking those in need and bestowing her beneficence upon them wherever she finds them.
If you're booking your China vacation and you want to be certain that you capture some of China's unique beauty on your trip – then we can tell you where the most beautiful places in China are. Our China tours cover all these destinations and more. So pick where you want to travel in China and we'll make it happen for you.
The Li River, Guilin
Guilin's karst landscape is amongst the best known vistas in China. It's so famous that it even features on the 20 RMB note. The best way to see this part of China is to take a boat trip down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. Your tour will encompass breathtaking cliffs and hills, awesome caves and of course views of China's rural life.
Lake Namtso, Tibet
If your China vacation will include Tibet you can't miss Lake Namtso. This heavenly lake amidst the peaks of the Himalayas is the highest-salt lake anywhere in the world. The absolutely unspoiled and unpolluted waters shine with the deepest of blues. Animals travel from all over Tibet to drink and fish there and there's bird life galore. It's simply stunning.
Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Just across the water from mainland China, Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour offers one of the world's most famous skylines (a collection of imposing but not intimidating skyscrapers and neon advertising hoardings) , the harbour itself which displays a host of Chinese boats making the trip out to sea and back, and of course the mountainous backdrop. At night Victoria Harbour comes alive with fireworks and light displays and the impressive shimmering of urban Hong Kong at night. It's a must see.
The Bund, Shanghai
China may not have had much of a colonial past but the little colonialism that made it onto the mainland is in Shanghai. The Bund is an architectural mix of the modern and the classic, Chinese and European and it's one of the most recognizable sights in China. There are many good reasons to include Shanghai on your tour itinerary such as the fact that it's the most populous city in the world but the best reason is the Bund. A sublime multi-cultural experience in a country where there's a certain sense of uniformity in many of its other big cities.
The Great Wall
There is no image more strongly associated with China than the view down the Great Wall. You'll need to visit Beijing to see the best preserved parts of the wall but it's 100% worth it. It's considered to be one of the seven “new” wonders of the world and deservedly so.
The Potala Palace
Tibet's most incredible building; it hosts a wealth of treasures and history from Tibet's Buddhist past. The location on a mountain side above the city of Lhasa ensures that wherever you go in the city – you simply cannot escape the majesty of the Potala Palace. If you were to visit Tibet and miss out on this – you'd spend a lifetime regretting it.
On your China tour you’ll come to learn a lot about the royal dynasties of China and in particular you’ll be guided through the Emperors of note whenever you travel to an ancient site. However, you may not hear as much about the empresses during your China vacation for some reason they just aren’t as well known. We think a China trip is much more interesting when you have all the information to hand so today we’d like to introduce you to some of China’s most influential empresses.
Ly Zhi (241 B.C – 180 B.C)
Ly Zhi is an unsympathetic figure. She married the founder of the Han Dynasty and would tour the nation at his side. However, in China, she’s not well loved. She was said to be a cruel, demanding woman with a ruthless streak which ensured that she kept her status no matter what. She’s supposed to have had the emperor’s favorite concubine executed within hours of his death and then for good measure she had the concubine’s son killed too. She dominated the Royal Court of China for nearly 15 years until she followed her husband on his trip to the afterlife.
Zhangshun (601 A.D – 636 A.D)
In stark contrast to Ly Zhi, the Empress Zhangsun was beloved of the Chinese people. She married the Emperor Taizong (Tang Dynasty) and was considered to be the driving force for peace and stability during that time. Life in court would still have been no vacation – but she served China’s interests well and is generally considered to have been one of the finest female leaders in China’s history.
Gao (1032 A.D. – 1093 A.D.)
The Empress Gao of the Song Dynasty was the partner of the Emperor Yingzong. Unusually when the emperor died, she was given the title of “the Dowager Empress” and given the freedom to rule the country. Her deeds did not travel down through the centuries but it has been noted in the historical records that this was a period of peace for China and of genuine political stability.
Ma (1333 A.D. – 1382 A.D)
Ma was the first empress of the Ming Dynasty. She’s said to have been nearly the perfect Chinese woman. When her husband and his troops went on military tours of China – she is said to have made clothing and footwear for them. Her husband was so overwhelmed by her decency and commitment that he took her advice on nearly every matter. She’s said to have saved the lives of many of his enemies by asking her husband to treat them with respect in defeat.
Xiaoduan Wen (1600 A.D. – 1649 A.D.)
Xiaoduan Wen, is unusual in that she was of Mongol rather than Chinese birth. She was Empress to Hong Taiji (Qing Dynasty) and is considered by many in China to be the mother of that dynasty. Her life was certainly no vacation and she lived through the reign of two other emperors after her husband died. She is said to have dedicated her life to promoting peace and social order and reuniting China following a period of war and strife.
Food, glorious food! Take a vacation in China and you’ll see why the Chinese travel to other provinces just to try the food. China’s culinary culture is amongst the richest known to man perhaps it’s only real rival is that American tour destination favorite – France. Wherever you go in China you can be assured of great food. However, if your China trip includes any of the following cities – you’ll be able to say you’ve tried the best food China has to offer.
If you’re taking a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China tour then you’re going to be visiting Chengdu in Sichuan. Famous for its access to Giant Pandas in the wild – it’s also a UNESCO city of gastronomy. Hot and spicy is the name of the game in Sichuan’s cookery but there’s plenty to suit the less asbestos-hardened palate too.
If you want to see the Great Wall or the Forbidden Palace during your China vacation – Beijing’s a must see city. The food culture is perhaps the most diverse of them all and in addition to the world renowned “Beijing Duck” you can try food from all corners of China on your trip to the capital. Beijing is a truly gourmet destination.
It should come as no surprise that China’s most populous and metropolitan city offers a wealth of cuisine. Shanghai also attracts the best of the international cookery movement too and you’ll find wondrous dishes in Michelin-star restaurants as well as some of the cheapest and tastiest street food in China.
Also part of the Yangtze River Cruise destinations; Chongqing is the former capital and potential future capital of the country. In general this is where Sichuan food reaches “peak spiciness” and you may want to ask the kitchen to go easy on the chilies. The hot pot here is divine and one of the most sought after dishes in the nation. Every Chinese person will tell you how much they love food from Chongqing.
It’s not just the terracotta warriors that make Xi’an such a wonderful place to visit. The local food is a superlative example of north-western Chinese cooking. The local dumplings are a pure delight and you can certainly do worse than the traditional favorite of “roast piglet and chicken in a bottle gourd”. Rice isn’t so common in the north of China and if you’ve been missing cereals and grains in your diet – you’ll find them in Xi’an’s kitchens.
Hong Kong’s a perfect side trip from your main China tour. It’s a complete world apart from the mainland. In addition to offering real insight into the British and Chinese cultural blend resulting from years of colonization there’s some of the best food in the world to be had too. The cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world? That’s in Hong Kong. It’s also the most authentic place to try Cantonese cookery during your visit to China. Hong Kong is truly unique.
There's no doubt you'll learn plenty about China's history during your China tour. However, some details of that history may not become apparent on your China vacation mainly because they're a little odd. We think a trip to China is all the better for some of the "juicy gossip". So before you travel to China why not find out a little bit more about 5 of the quirkiest Chinese emperors?
Too Much Chess
When your neighbors are conducting a military tour with the intent of deposing you as Emperor of China – what do you do? Well, if your name is Li Heng and you're the Tang Emperor – you decided not to take a trip to the battlefield and you continue playing your favorite game instead, Chinese Chess. China's always had its share of chess obsessed fanatics but Li Heng was obsessed. He refused to do anything but play the game and when his court complained about the noise his metal pieces made – he had them changed to wooden pieces so they'd be quieter instead.
He's Football Crazy!
If you haven't taken a vacation in China before you've probably not heard of Cuju. Cuju is the predecessor of football (it's recognized by FIFA as the first form of football known anywhere in the world). Li Xuan, another Tang Dynasty emperor, was football crazy. It's said that he'd travel across China to anywhere there was a game on and once he was there – he'd order the game to continue for hours, he was so happy to watch football that he'd forget to eat! Good players found themselves rewarded with rank and riches, bad players found themselves facing the headsman….
The Emperor Poet
Li Yu, the final emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty was a terrible ruler. His decision making sucked and he led his dynasty into total disarray. However, he was considered to be an incredibly good poet and is said to have been the master of the "ci" form of poetry in China. It didn't do him much good – his dynasty would be deposed under his rule.
Crazy Cat Emperor
Zhu Houcong, the Ming Dynasty Emperor, had a different obsession. He loved cats and filled his house with them. His most favorite cat – Xuemei – was given a royal burial complete with ornate headstone. He wrote poems to cats and in general was never happier than when he was playing with cats. Sadly for China his trip to the La-La land of cats meant that he stopped governing the nation for the nearly 20 years leading up to his death.
The Bob-the-Builder Emperor
Our last quirky emperor decided to take a permanent vacation from his duties too. In the case of Zhu Youxiao of the Ming Dynasty – his passion was building things. He liked to create ornate furniture and build model houses. He was obsessed with the latest tools and developments in the creative arts – so much so that he forgot that his job was to manage China completely.
If you're finding the idea of a vacation in China daunting because you can't speak Mandarin – please don't. Our China tour guides will ensure that any translation hurdles are met throughout your China trip. However, it might surprise you to find that there are some words and phrases which you may use will be perfectly useful during your China travel too. That's because they came from the Chinese originally. Let's take a look at some of them:
- Tycoon. You'll certainly see the work of China's tycoons during your vacation wherever you travel in China – the industrial revolution is on the rise. However, you may not know that the word Tycoon is derived from the Chinese words tai (which means "great") and kiun (which means "lord").
- Paper Tiger. Of course this isn't derived from Mandarin words – it's a direct translation of a Mandarin phrase. It's been in use in English for nearly 200 years and it was most famously used by Mao Zedong to describe his view of the American threat to Chinese communism.
- Running Dogs. This phrase is slowly falling out of use and again it's a direct translation from the Mandarin. You probably won't hear it during your China tour but it's used to mean someone who lacks principles and works to support other stronger (and usually not very nice) people. It was once a popular communist putdown for nations allied to America.
- Silk. Silk is a corruption of the Mandarin word "Sichou". If you're lucky you'll be able to pick up some beautiful silk products on your trip to China. China is still the world's number one producer of the material after all.
- Tea. Tea is a funny word. The usual Mandarin word for Tea is "cha" but in the Xiamen dialect – it's pronounced "t'e" and that's where we get our pronunciation of the word from. Wherever you travel in China you'll be able to try some of the finest tea known to man.
- Shangri-La. Shangri-La is actually a fictional place. It comes from a British novel which was written in 1933. It's actually derived from a Tibetan phrase which meant "pass through the mountains of Shang". This doesn't stop several places in China from claiming to be Shangri-La today. It's quite good fun and for our money, Guilin is as close to Shangri-La of the book as you'll find anywhere on a China tour.
- Dim Sum. Dim sum's actually a Cantonese word and the literal translation is "small hearts". Of course as any foodie knows – dim sum is a style of bite-sized food items that's extremely popular not just in the South of China but all the way around the world. The best place to try dim sum in China is Hong Kong.
- Feng Shui. The Chinese art of arranging your home and possessions to create positive energy has become popular in the West too. In America it's a celebrity craze and popular shows like Oprah have brought the craze to many ordinary homes too.