Eagerly assuming its place among the world’s top travel destinations, even more so since Beijing took centre stage at the 2008 Olympics, China is an epic adventure. From the wide open and empty panoramas of Tibet to the push and shove of Shànghǎi, from the volcanic dishes of Sìchuān to beer by the bag in seaside Qīngdǎo, a journey through this colossus of a country is a mesmerising encounter with the most populous and perhaps most culturally idiosyncratic nation on earth.
The sheer diversity of China’s terrain takes you from noisy cities fizzing with energy to isolated mountain-top Ming-Dynasty villages where you can hear a pin drop. Pǔdōng’s ambitious skyline is a triumphant statement, but it couldn’t be further from the worldly renunciation acted out in Tibet’s distant monasteries.
Full country name: Republic of China
Area: 9,596,960sq Km
Population: 1,3 billion
People: Han Chinese (93%), plus 55 minorities
Language: Putonghua (Beijing mandarin dialect ), Cantonese
Religion: Buddhism, Taoisme, Islam, Christianity
GPD: US$4,5 trillion
Major export: Textiles, clothing, footwear, toys and machinery
Major trading parteners: USA, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan
Visas: Visas are required by all foreigners entering mainland China although, at this stage, visas are not required by Western nationals visiting Hong Kong and Macau. Travelers in transit can stay in China visa-free for up to 24 hours as long as they have an onward air ticket for a flight from China to another destination departing within that time period. Visas are available from Chinese embassies and consulates in most countries.
Health risks: Rabies, bilharzia, dengue fever, malaria and cholera are all present. Immunisation against cholera, Diptheria and Tetanus, hepatitis A and B, Japanese B Encephalitis, polio, rabies and typhoid is considered essential.
Time: GMT/UTC +8 (the whole of China is set to Beijing time).
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz; plugs can be three-pronged angled, three-pronged round, two flat pins or two narrow round pins.
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Spread over such a vast area, China is subject to the worst extremes in weather, from bitter cold to unbearable heat. The land can be roughly divided into the following climatic regions: north and northeast, northwest, central, south and Tibet.
The best time to visit China is generally either spring (March to May) or autumn (September to early November). Winters in China’s north and northeast fall between November/December and March/April, and are very cold. North of the Great Wall and into Inner Mongolia and Hēilóngjiāng, temperatures can drop to -40°C. Summer is hot and dry, and falls roughly between May and August.
China’s northwest is very hot and dry in summer, while in winter this region is as formidably cold as the rest of northern China. In Ürümqi, the average temperature in January is around -10°C, with minimums down to almost -30°C.
Travel to China is possible year-round, as long as you’re prepared for what the season can throw at you. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to early November) can be the best time to be on the road, as you avoid the blistering heat of summer (June to August) and stinging chill of winter (November to February/March). Autumn in Běijīng, for example, is particularly pleasant, as are early spring and autumn in Hong Kong. Summer is the busiest tourist season, and getting around and finding accommodation during the peak summer crush can be draining.
An estimated 300 million Chinese people use the bicycle as a means of transport and, not surprisingly, bicycle hire shops can be found everywhere, even in smaller towns.
Hiking and trekking
China’s main natural attractions are its scenic mountains, waterfalls, caverns and great rivers and lakes. No permit is required for hiking, although a trekking permit is compulsory (and fairly expensive) for visiting more remote areas.
It is possible to ice skate on Beijing’s lakes during winter. Downhill and cross-country skiing can be practiced in the North-east province of Jilin.
The ancient ‘shadow art’ of Tai Chi, a series of linked movements performed in a slow relaxed manner using the entire body whilst focusing the mind, is traditionally practiced in towns throughout China, particularly in the early morning hours, and visitors wishing to learn or participate are welcome.
The Qingdao International Sailing Marina will open in 2006 ready to be used for the 2008 Olympics. Scuba diving is available at Hainan Island and is excellent.
Shanghi has seen vast investment in sporting amenities, and has newly constructed facilities for football, volleyball, badminton, tennis and athletics.
Attractions - Beijing
Beijing, the heart of China, is always the first choice of travelers who are willing to know a time-honored and developed city of China. It has been the political, economic and cultural center of China for over 800 years from the Yuan Dynasty. The numerous royal buildings with long history endow Beijing with incomparable charm, not only the 'Nation's Best' but also the 'World's Best'. On the other hand, as the host city of the 2008 Olympic Games, this oriental ancient city presented her best fashion fascination to the world.
The magnificent Forbidden City is the largest and the best-preserved imperial palace complex in the world. It has 9,999 rooms in flourishing period with just a single room short of the number that ancient Chinese belief represents 'Divine Perfection' and surrounded by a moat six meters deep and ten-meter high wall. For five centuries, this palace functioned as the administrative center of the country.
The Great Wall is one of the 'Eight Wonders of the World' and is enlisted in the World Heritage Directory. This immense wall was built to keep out invaders as well as to retain the inhabitants. It spans five provinces from Shanhaiguan Pass in the east to Jiayuguan Pass in the west, looking like a gigantic dragon across deserts, grasslands and mountains. In the downtown area of Beijing, it is possible to climb Badaling Great Wall.