Our guide to China
Scenically rich and culturally enchanting, China is a diverse country with so much to offer. From its vast glassy cities to its rippling wild landscapes and from its ancient Han cities to its incense infused temples, China is anything but boring. The view that China is overcrowded, overwhelming and difficult to enjoy is very much a misconception in our eyes; as long as your trip is carefully crafted and you know what to do and when, China can definitely be a trip of a lifetime. Whether you are desperate to discover the fascinating imperial history of this enormous country or want to get off the beaten track and into the wild, China does not disappoint and we are here to help you get the most out of it.
When is the best time of visit China?
As a large country there are differing weather patterns throughout the year but as a rough guide the best times to visit are at spring from March until May and in the autumn from late September to early November. The summer months will be hot and humid and will bring more chance of rain, but we wouldn’t let that put you off, as major historical areas will be less crowded and the heat is manageable. Also, the western areas are actually best between April and October, so there are definitely some regional variations. China does have a winter and temperatures can become bitterly cold in parts, mainly from December to February.
How to get to China
There are daily and direct international flights to the main hubs of Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu. Often included in trips to China is a stopover in Hong Kong and this again is a major transport hub with plenty of daily flights available from across the globe. Just let us know where you will be flying from and we can work the plans around it.
How to get around China
In order to travel over the vast areas of China you must either take a flight or a fast train. Recently the train system in China has dramatically improved and like Japan provides a very efficient and comfortable way to get around the county. The one negative to the train is that there’s little room for lots of luggage, so unless you travel light, we often recommend flying. There are numerous airlines within China that provide an easy way to navigate the country but delays on flights do have to be expected – it is just all part of the journey!
What are the main highlights of China?
For a first trip to China you might want to include Beijing, Xian and Shanghai as a starting point and then into the mix we’d advise adding places such as Lijiang, Shangri-La, Guilin, Yangshuo and Longsheng that are going to provide a chance to see some of the stunning countryside and local rural life. For cultural and history enthusiasts Beijing is the big hitter with a huge amount to offer including the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Then for Xian there is of course the world famous Terracotta Army and Shanghai gives a fantastic insight into the more modern and cosmopolitan side of the country. For more traditional rural scenes Lijiang gives a taste of the astonishing mountain scenery in China whereas Guilin offers something far more exotic and has a completely different and more tropical feel. It’s carpeted in a lush green landscape Take a look at our video for more inspiration.
Do I need to worry about cultural differences and etiquette?
For westerners the culture in China can at first feel slightly overwhelming, however, once you come to realise that the differences that you are experiencing are not to be taken as rude or brash then this quickly becomes no issue at all. Pushing and jostling in line and fighting to get to the front of cultural sites are just ways of life and is not to be taken personally. People in China sometimes converse quite loudly as well, which can be interpreted by foreigners as a little aggressive. Don’t worry, this is just a way of showing people are passionate or interested in a conversation.
English is not widely spoken in China and for most days you will have your guide with you who will be on hand to help with any translation needed. However, when on your own and exploring we suggest that you use Pleco which is a great tool providing a downloadable dictionary. Public toilets in China rarely provide toilet paper so tissues are one essential that we suggest that you take everywhere! China is a larger country with a lot of traffic but it is also a very safe country to travel within.
What will I eat in China?
A huge misconception of China is that there will be something weird and wonderful on every plate and this isn’t the case, unless you want to order it. There is a joke told widely in the country that the only thing not eaten with four legs is a table. Food and cuisine in China is widely varied from north to south and east to west with a fantastic array of incredible meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, which will suit all tastes.
We always 100% tailor our itineraries making each trip slightly different depending on our guests individual preferences. We have created a number of sample itineraries as a starting point and simply for inspiration; these should hopefully give you a better idea of what sort of trips we can arrange for you.
If you are short on time but still want to pack in the top highlights, take a look at China Explorer which includes Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Hong Kong. If you are looking to include some more natural scenes as well Rural China which will take you more off the beaten track and the chance to explore the exotic Guilin and majestic Yunnan. If you’d like to combine China with some time on the beach then take a look at Treasures of China and Vietnam or Cultural China and Tempting Thailand.
Who should visit China
China is a fantastic destination for couples, honeymooners and families alike. As such a varied country, there is so much on offer and itineraries and experiences can be tailored brilliantly to suit everyone. For a family vacation to China, we would suggest traveling with children over 10 years old to get the most enjoyment out of your trip, as days can be quite long and jam packed with sightseeing. Some areas in China should also be carefully considered for younger and older ones alike such as Shangri-La in Yunnan province where the altitude is above 3,100 meters. For families, take a look at our Ultimate Family Adventure in China, China for Teenagers.
Apart from visiting temples, shrines and historical cultural attractions there are plenty of fun, exciting and different ways to see the country with lots of hands on activities. There are so many different experiences to mention but to give you a flavor here are some examples. In Beijing instead of just visiting and wandering through the Hutongs spend an afternoon learning to cook a number of local dishes with some of the housewives that live in the courtyard houses. In Xian when visiting the Terracotta Army we can arrange a private access viewing platform so that you will have uninterrupted to views to these amazing sculptures and for those who want to become a warrior themselves spend an afternoon training in one of the best martial arts studios in the country when in Xian. In Hangzhou spend an afternoon exploring one of the oldest Chinese pharmacies and learn all about the different natural remedies or in Pingyao visit one of the most famous paper cutters and watch this genius at work creating incredible masterpieces.
Combinations with other countries
China is a brilliant country to visit on its own but as it's normally quite a busy itinerary based trip with 2 or 3 nights stays in each place. It’s often recommended to have some relaxing beach time on the end, if you have time. Even though Sanya off the southern coast of China does have beaches on offer, there might be others in Asia that will appeal more. As such, a great beach pairing with China is the Philippines which can be reached by a direct flight from Shanghai to Manila or the east and west coasts of Thailand. A new route between Chengdu and Vietnam also means Vietnam’s central coast is another great option; offering good weather during June, July and August. All of these options offer beautiful white sand beaches and magnificent hotels with fantastic food and service providing the perfect place for you to simply sit back and relax. If you more of a history or culture enthusiast a combination of China and Japan is a fantastic pairing. This will provide an outstanding and exceptionally culturally rich trip.
Festivals and public vacations
China has a huge number of national festivals and public vacations throughout the year as well as countless local annual festivals. Domestic travel is very popular in China which means that if possible, even though these festivals and vacations are very interesting, it is wise to avoid these periods. The busiest periods are Chinese New Year which changes from year to year but normally occurs in early February and then National Day which leads into a week long vacation in the first week of October. Take a look at our guide to Chinese festivals for specific dates. We can advise on which ones to avoid and which ones to seek out, just give us a call.
Similar destinations that you might like too
If you like China and love culture, variation of scene and an itinerary based trip then you might also like to consider Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bhutan or India. Scott Dunn operates in many destinations in the world, so do get in touch if you are simply exploring ideas and want some help deciding.