Adventure is diverse in China with a landscape that stretches from grasslands, deserts, mountains, rivers, and almost 9000 miles in coastline. But breathtaking scenery isn’t all that this country has to offer.
China is also an ancient world, where you can step into the past and experience a bygone era as you walk through imperial palaces or sacred temples. The country is also known for having the largest population in the world with just over 1.4 billion people who are proud of their nation and eagerly welcome visitors into their world.
欢迎 – Welcome to China
Beijing is the modern-day name for the capital of China but in reality, the city has been central to the government for the last 3 dynasties. With over 3,000 years of written history, Beijing is an ancient city that has been transformed into a modern metropolis, which has its own culture and cuisine. But amongst the modern skyline, visitors can see traces of the past at sites like the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.
Culture and Language
China is often thought to be a cradle for human civilization because it has a written history that began in 1250 BC during the Shang dynasty. The country is also often given the title of having the oldest continuous civilization because it has dominated and shaped the world for thousands of years.
Ancient China was ruled by dynasties and throughout time, there have been 18 large dynasties that have each had their turn in power. Each dynasty had their own set of emperors and lasted for hundreds of years. The Xia dynasty was the first to conquer and they used to have an abdication system where emperors were chosen for their abilities. The system changed and began the hereditary system where sons would take over the throne from their fathers.
The Han, Tang, and Qing dynasties are considered to have been the three most powerful with the Qing also being the last dynasty. In 1911 the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty and began the Republic of China, which existed until 1949. But in 1945, the Chinese Communist Revolution began, and Chairman Mao Zedong took power in 1949.
Since Chairman Mao, China has often been regarded to be a Communist state with strict control over its citizens through censorship and military power. In 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests began, which were student led demonstrations calling for democracy. The government enforced martial law to maintain power and the Tiananmen Square Massacre killed hundreds to thousands of people. But even with grim moments in history, China has emerged as a world leader with a strong economy and rich culture.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the country and it is spoken by 70% of the population. Many people in China may speak multiple languages with the other popular languages being Cantonese, Hunanese, and various dialects. With such a large population, China is also diverse and there are officially 56 ethnic groups recognized by the government. However, you will find that southern China tends to be the most diverse area with people from neighboring countries as well as travelers from Europe or the Americas. The influence of international business and tourism in China also means that English is becoming more widely spoken and common to encounter in urban cities.
In Chinese culture, you will find that religion, family, and ancestors are upheld above all else. Chinese principles value wisdom, honor, loyalty, and courtesy. You will also find that the Chinese prioritize symbolism to represent hidden meanings. Jade is one of the most important Chinese symbols, which was established with the old dynasties. But other elements of nature and animals also have their own meanings. The most familiar symbols are the Chinese zodiac, which uses 12 animals to represent a repeating cycle of 12 years.
For US tourists who are interested in visiting China, you will need to be prepared and apply for a tourist visa before your arrival to the country. The visa application is provided online and be prepared to spend a pretty penny. The tourist visa for China costs $140 US dollars and can be valid for 6 months, 1 year, or up to 10 years. The 10-year visa is the best choice if you plan on visiting China more than once because it allows for multiple entries and grants you access to Hong Kong and Macau.
Unfortunately, the visa cannot be applied for online. You will have to download and print the application form from the Chinese embassy and send your paper application to the nearest embassy or consulate. Specific Chinese embassies and consulates serve specific US states, so you should check online to see which office is closest to your location.
The documents that need to be provided with your application are your valid US passport, which must have at least 6 months validity with two blank pages and a headshot photo. Your flight, accommodation, and trip itinerary must also be included with your application. It will take up to a week for your visa to be processed, but you can pay to expedite the process.
If the application seems overwhelming to you, it may be better to look for a passport service that can complete the application and submit it for you. These services will charge an extra fee but can be helpful if you are unsure about what documents you need to provide with your application.
It is also important to know that once you have arrived in China, wherever you are staying, you will have 24 hours to register with the police. Most hotels will immediately register you with the local police upon your arrival, but if you are in private accommodations, you will have to visit the police station with your valid passport and register yourself. Failure to register within 24 hours of your arrival can lead to fines and deportation.
While the visa is pricey, it isn’t the only expense you’ll have to worry about for your trip to China. It is important that you consider your spending budget while you are planning your trip, so you can be prepared for your journey. The most important parts of your budget include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Flights to China are very expensive with an economy ticket costing $1,500-$2,000 US dollars for a round trip. Sometimes the prices can be above $2,000 US dollars depending on when you are traveling and how early you booked your flight. The earlier you book your flight, the better. But traveling to China in peak tourist season will also increase the flight cost. Spring and autumn are the most common times to visit China, so you should expect to pay more during those months.
Airlines may also have discounts or deals on tickets, which could reduce the price to about $700 US dollars. Traveling in the tourist off season is also likely to drastically reduce prices. While some flights can be found for as low as $500 US dollars, you should always expect to pay a little more for the best traveling experience. But the good thing is that if you are looking to travel on a backpacker or moderate budget, your flight will be the most expensive purchase you’ll have to make.
Accommodation in China can be expensive with many luxury options costing thousands of dollars per night. But for the average traveler, you should expect to pay about $70 US dollars per night for a good hotel in a big city. You may be able to find cheaper hotels or hostels, which would lower the price to about $40 US dollars per night. These hotels prices are more common in the busy cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Outside of the big cities, expect hotel prices to range from $15-$40 US dollars per night. If you are looking at 4- or 5-star hotels, expect prices to increase by up to 50%.
Airbnb is also an option in China, but it can be more expensive than a hotel, depending on the style of accommodation you choose. In the big cities, expect Airbnb to cost $30-$90 US dollars per night and in all other cities, it will likely cost $15-$50 US dollars per night.
After accommodation, food is important for your trip and Chinese cuisine isn’t quite to the same flavor of dishes that you’ll find in the United States. There are a lot of different Chinese foods and you can’t lump them all into one category. Many are based on your location or area, where dishes are prepared with their own unique variety. Cantonese, Szechuan, and Sichuan are some of the most popular cuisines you’ll find in China.
Traditional Chinese food usually features a meat or poultry in a sauce with vegetables and served with rice. Pork is common throughout the country, but Peking duck is the infamous poultry dish that foreigners are eager to try. Tofu is also a staple to the various cuisines, and it is treated like a meat – fried with vegetables and covered in a tasty sauce. Dumplings are traditional to Chinese cuisine and culture with a history that dates back to thousands of years ago. Dumplings may be featured in a soup or as a dish of their own.
If you are worried about the rumors of the Chinese people eating dog or cat meat, you shouldn’t have to worry in the northern regions. Even in the southern regions, you will likely have to go out of your way to find those types of dishes. However, street food in China is extremely popular and you may come across a variety of sea creatures and insects being fried and served on sticks.
With a long coastline, seafood is also featured in Chinese dishes. Crab, shrimp, and various types of fish are incorporated as the main feature of many dishes like crab roe, baked crab shell, or fried rice with shrimp. Noodles are also a main portion of dishes like chow mien. Hong Kong makes a famous dish called bamboo pole noodles, while dan dan mian is a Szechuan noddle dish with pork and peppercorns.
No matter what your taste buds desire, you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune dining out in China. A nice meal at a restaurant will often have portions that are large enough to serve two people. The cost of dining out increases in coastal areas and big cities but expect to pay about $23 US dollars for a dish for two. If you are dining away from the coast and are traveling the interior, a nice restaurant will likely cost $15 US dollars for two people.
Street food is extremely affordable with most dishes costing $1.50-$5 US dollars per meal. While you may not get all the extra sides like rice, which you would normally see in restaurants, street food has plenty of tasty dishes that will curb your appetite. Street barbeque, steamed buns, and Chinese hamburgers are all tasty dishes.
China also has their own drinking culture and you’ll likely find that there are a variety of wines, beer, and cocktails for you to try. Sorghum is a strong drink that has an old culture, which is called a white wine. Baijiu is the most common brand of sorghum, which can cost up to $143 US dollars for a bottle. Contrary to white wine, yellow wine is more popular in Shanghai. Huangjiu is made from rice or whet an also used to cook a variety of dishes.
Alongside wine, beer and cocktails are immensely popular in China, but expect them to be pricey. Single beers and cocktails can cost up to $9 US dollars and import can cost even more. Counterfeit alcohol is also a problem throughout the country, so you should always try to taste test your drinks before finishing the entire glass. Most counterfeit alcohols will have an off flavor from the normal product.
Overall, your daily budget should range from $30-$150 US dollars. Backpackers can survive off of as little as $30 US dollars per day, while most people would prefer to spend $100-$150 US dollars for a nice trip. Luxury budgets would easily have you spending hundreds or thousands of dollars per day.
How to Get Around
China is big. Really big. So, don’t expect to be able to visit the entire country in one trip. In fact, unless you have the time to take an extended vacation, you probably won’t be traveling outside of the major cities. The areas just around Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong have full itineraries that can keep you quite busy for a couple of weeks. But, if you do choose to explore more of China, the best way to travel long distances is to take a domestic flight.
While they’re more expensive than other modes of travel, it can take too long by other transportation methods to travel from destination to destination. Most domestic flights will cost $100-$200 US dollars, but when times are busy it can cost up to $300 US dollars.
If you are wanting to travel but don’t quite have the budget for domestic flights, high speed trains are a popular mode of travel and they have reliable service between most of the larger cities. Train tickets can cost as little as $10 US dollars for short trips, but for trips over 5 hours it can cost up to $100 US dollars for a ticket. While some flights are about the same price, you’ll have to decide which mode of travel suits you best.
Many of the large cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing also have a reliable metro system, which you can use to travel to different destinations. The metro is the best way to get around a single city and will cost as little as $0.80 US cents per trip. But taxis are also a great way to get around the city and will likely cost about $7 US dollars per ride. A taxi from the airport will cost more with prices up to $30 US dollars for the ride.
Car rentals can be an option, but most people choose to skip a rental because of the large distances between city destinations. Plus, in the city it can be more frustrating to have to drive and park a car than simply take the metro.
Finally, walking is a great way to see the streets in action and in many places, it is safe to walk around. But you should always keep your belongings close, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t walk alone at night.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
China is large and there are a lot of cities for you to visit. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top city destinations.
As the capital of China, Beijing has a long history that highlights the imperial and modern era. Beijing is famous for being a city is some of China’s most visited landmarks like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven. Art is also central to the city’s culture with opera, theater, and other live performances. Hutongs are also a big tourist hit, which are old medieval alleys.
Shanghai is China’s largest city, which is central to its economy and business negotiations. A more modern city than Beijing, there are not as many ancient attractions to visit. Still, the bustle of Shanghai is enough to attract tourists and the impressive skyline is picture ready.
Hong Kong is a unique city because it is technically part of China, it seems to rule itself as separate from the mainland. The city was once a British colony and has always had an important role as a major port. But the modernity of Hong Kong makes it unlike other Chinese cities and more Westernized than the rest of China. Tourists are eager to experience fine dining, shopping, and the Temple Street Night Market.
Tourists visit Xi’an to see into the past. This city was once the capital of China and still has numerous ancient and historical relics. It was also the starting point of the Silk Road trade route and had an important position between the western and eastern economy exchanges. Now, the city is famous for housing the Terracotta Army and its ancient city wall. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is also one of the oldest Buddhist temples in China and a must see.
Surrounded by stunning limestone formations, Guilin is often regarded to be one of the most beautiful places to visit. The Li River is a major hit amongst tourists who are eager to take a stroll along the bank or hop on a boat for a leisurely cruise.
Famous for their Sichuan food, Chengdu is also central to Chinese culture because there is a large panda research center. Pandas are the national symbol of China and fiercely protected by the government. Chengdu is the best place in China for tourists to interact and view pandas.
Points of Interest
While cities are a big attraction, there are also many points of interest in China that draw in curious tourists.
Located in Shanghai, the Bund is the city’s popular promenade that is filled with European style buildings. The area is well-known for its shopping, dining, and hotels. The Yu Garden is a popular attraction, which is also known as the Garden of Happiness.
The Yellow Mountains
Listed as a World Heritage Site, the Yellow Mountains are stunning rocky mountains that have jagged peaks lined with lush greenery. The mountains are located in the Anhui province and have been depicted in paintings for hundreds of years.
One of the more tranquil locations on this list, the West Lake is a getaway destination from the hustle and bustle of the city. Located in Hangzhou, the banks of the lake feature pagodas, gardens, and temples.
The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and it flows from Tibet to the East China Sea. While the river is large, there are many different sections where people are eager to experience the beauty of the landscape. The Three Gorges Dam is one of the most popular sites because it is one of the largest hydro-electric power stations.
Zhangjiajie National Park
Zhangjiajie National Park more recently became internationally famous thanks to the work of James Cameron and his Oscar winning movie, Avatar. The large rock formations inspired the “floating” mountains of the film. Even though the mountains don’t float in real life, the pillar like construction that is spattered with green vegetation still makes for a breathtaking sight. Popular attractions in the park include the Hundred Dragons Sky Lift and the glass bridge.
Get Out and Go
With such a vast and diverse landscape, China will surely peak your curiosity. With ancient history and beautiful views, many are eager to experience the country for themselves. Whether you’re navigating the city streets or relaxing in the countryside, China will likely be a country that has you booking a return trip, so you can experience even more.