We can barely imagine a distance as great as 4,000 miles, let alone a man-made wall stretching that far, snaking across mountains as though it has been there as long as they have. Even when you see it with your own eyes, China’s Great Wall asks you to suspend your disbelief. We love standing on its stony heights, looking into the distance at the lofty pathway behind and ahead of us, and marvelling at what human endeavour can do.
Walk in the footsteps of emperors in The Forbidden City, Beijing’s spectacular walled cluster of temples and palaces. Tread the lofty path of The Great Wall, sprawling a barely believable 4,163 miles through the mountains of northern China. Explore the famous Ming Tombs, the final resting place of 13 Ming emperors. And face 10,000 warriors ready for battle on a visit to the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army, sculpted from clay in the second century BC.
East meets West in extraordinary new ways in China’s fast-growing cities, all bustling, international metropolises with skyscrapers and state-of-the-art technology. Explore the old colonial buildings of The Bund on Shanghai’s waterfront, or look down on the city from the 100th floor of the World Financial Centre. In Beijing, explore centuries-old hutong alleyways and soak up the history and sheer size of Tiananmen Square. For spine-tingling panoramas, look back at Hong Kong’s iconic skyline from Victoria Peak.
Take it easy and experience China at a gentle pace, cruising past breathtaking natural surroundings. The Yangtze, the longest river in the country, divides north and south. Follow its blue-green course to discover towering gorges and the man-made wonder of the Three Gorges Dam. Or board a boat on the Li River to gaze at striking limestone formations rising from the water, leaving behind mirror-perfect reflections.
From jade and pearls to suit-stitching tailors, and the biggest selection of fake brand goods you will see anywhere, must-visit markets include Beijing's sprawling Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang and Hong Kong’s Temple Street Night Market, where fortune tellers and performers complement steaming food stalls. On the high street, giant department stores sell everything from catwalk fashion to high-tech electronics.
With most of the Chinese eateries at home limited to Cantonese dishes, holidays in China show you just how diverse the national cuisine really is. From sleek fine dining on the 50th floor to snacking on humble pork buns at the roadside, working your way through endless dim sum menus, and tracking down the perfect Peking duck; the delicious food is a definitive part of the China experience.
There are a number of carriers offering flights to China from the UK.
Direct Carriers: British Airways, Air China and Virgin Atlantic offer a direct service from the UK.
Indirect Carriers: Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, KLM and Air France offer indirect services to China.
Departure Taxes: An international departure tax of CNY120 (approx. GBP8) must be paid at Chinese Airports (unless it is included in your flight ticket price). Taxes on Chinese domestic flights (CNY 50, approx. GBP4) are payable unless included in your flight ticket.
British Citizens are required to have a visa to enter China, which you can apply for from the Chinese Embassy in London. Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in China. Please contact the Chinese Tourist Office for up to date country and visa information on 0891 600 188.
The official currency in mainland China is the Yuan Renminbi. In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Dollar is used. Both currencies can be bought in the UK. You can only take 20,000 Yuan Renminbi in and out of China, but the import and export of the Hong Kong Dollar is unlimited. In China, UK Pounds (excluding Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes) and traveller's cheques can be exchanged at airports, hotels and branches of the Bank of China. The exchange rate is the same everywhere, so there is no need to shop around for the best deal.
Cash is king in China, where credit cards have yet to really take off. You may be able to use your Visa or MasterCard in some places, especially the major cities, but try to carry enough cash as a rule. Cash machines can usually be found in airports, hotels, shopping centres, and banks, as well as in major cities and towns. With better exchange rates than for cash, traveller’s cheques are a good idea if you are visiting the main tourist areas, but may be harder to cash in other parts of the country.
People tend not to expect tipping in China. It used to be refused, but is now becoming more common in hotels, restaurants, and with guides and drivers. Many mid-range and high-end restaurants add a service charge, but cheaper eateries do not expect a tip. Neither do taxi drivers.
December, January, July, and August.
Macao is a year-round destination but spring and autumn are particularly pleasant times to visit.
Hepatitis A, B, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid and Malaria immunisation are recommended. Yellow Fever immunisation is required if arriving from an infected country. All travellers should be up to date on routine immunisations. Please contact your GP for the most current information.
Spread across such a vast country, the weather on China holidays ranges from sun to snow. Check the weather report before you go and pack accordingly. Make sure you leave room for new purchases, and if you want to treat yourself to some well priced, good quality tailoring, take your favourite clothes along so you can get copies made.
A camera for snapping all those incredible sights;
jumpers and jackets in winter;
A waterproof jacket;
lightweight clothing in summer;
Comfortable walking shoes for exploring;
An electrical adapter (the power supply in China is 220 volts at 50 hertz).
A country as huge as China doesn’t have one national cuisine. Instead, styles vary by region with Cantonese (Guangdong) cooking most familiar to us in the UK. Northern cuisine, like Peking duck in Beijing, is filling and hearty. Southern, including Cantonese, is the most exotic, with varied dishes like dim sum and the use of unusual meats like dog, snake, and turtle. Eastern cuisine, including the food in Shanghai, is rich, sweet, and sour, with a lot of seafood. And western cuisine, including Sichuan, tends to be bold and spicy, with classic dishes like kung po chicken.
Beijing’s most famous dish is glazed with syrup and slow roasted until it turns a glossy red-brown colour. The crispy skin is so good that authentic eateries dish up more skin than meat, sliced in front of you by the cook. Wrap your duck in a thin pancake, smother it with hoisin or sweet plum sauce and add cucumbers or onions.
A religion in Hong Kong, dim sum consists of bite-sized portions, usually steamed, served in bamboo baskets and shared. There are thousands of dim sum delicacies available, including pork buns, spring rolls and shrimp dumplings. Going for dim sum is known as yum cha, translated as ‘to drink tea’, which is traditionally served with the meal (or vice versa).
Like a Chinese version of fondue, Mongolian hotpot is a communal meal centred on a large pot of simmering broth, into which a variety of uncooked meats and vegetables are dipped, cooking them on the spot. Eaten for over a thousand years, it is believed to have all kinds of restorative effects on the body.
Street food might be a little less common than it used to be, but we still think the route to experiencing the real China is through your stomach. Follow your nose to back alleys and markets, letting your taste buds discover slippery dumplings, pan-fried noodles, stuffed rice balls, grilled kebabs, warm wonton soup, and tea eggs, hard-boiled in green tea and soy sauce. In Beijing, Wangfujing night market has all these delights, not to mention some more unusual and acquired tastes, like skewered scorpions. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
Follow clouds of steam to find these much-loved stuffed buns, crammed with an endless choice of different fillings. The steamed dough might be filled with beef with ginger, mushrooms and diced tofu, carrot and coriander, pork, or chicken. Buy a selection and tuck in before they get cold.
Found throughout China, watch street vendors make this crispy pancake by cooking the batter on a hot skillet, cracking an egg on top, scattering it with spring onion, and rolling it up crepe style for a tasty portable snack.
Known as Shengjianbao in the rest of the country, these more-ish fried buns are a Shanghai classic. Filled with pork and gelatine that forms a salty liquid inside the bun, they really do melt in your mouth. Garnished with spring onion and toasted sesame, they taste best just out of the pan, just be careful not to burn your tongue.
On average, a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant could set you back 120 Yuan Renminbi, with a domestic beer about eight Yuan Renminbi. In the shops, a 1.5 litre bottle of water might cost around five Yuan Renminbi. And in Hong Kong, a three-course meal will cost you in the region of 300HKD
As with any culture, the Chinese national dress has evolved over time. Ancient Chinese clothing, referred to as the hanfu, consisted of loose-fitting, wide-sleeved robes tied with a sash. Later, the social hierarchy began to dictate how people dressed, and the higher the wearer’s rank, the more flamboyant their attire. Outfits moved from unisex and simply cut, to gender-specific, with outfits like the cheongsam, a slim-fitting, high-cut dress, coming into style for women in the 1920s. Early in the People's Republic, Chairman Mao inspired Chinese fashion with his high-collared tunic, known as the Mao suit.
The most populous country on Earth can be a culture shock, but it’s a fascinating one. With a sense of history and tradition dating back thousands of years, Chinese people have an understated pride in their nation suited to their generally reserved manner. The concept of ‘saving face’ governs social interactions, with failure to perform a duty bringing shame on individuals, families and communities. As a communist state, the country is officially atheist, although Confucian philosophy is a popular code for life, with its focus on responsibility to the community and deference to elders, who are placed above their juniors in the social hierarchy.
When it comes to etiquette, try to keep the following in mind:
• In China, the family name is always used first
• A handshake, or sometimes a simple nod of acknowledgment for women, is the usual form of greeting
• There is little to no touching in conversation, except between those who know each other well
• Most Chinese speak in an indirect manner and do not usually volunteer information. This may mean you need to ask questions.
• Anger is expected to be hidden and arguments in public are considered offensive
• Smiling is not always a sign of happiness; it can also signify worry or embarrassment
• Ask permission before taking photographs of people, military, or government buildings
• Use your whole hand, palm flat, to point, rather than your index finger
• Do not put your feet on the furniture or use them to move anything
• Avoid sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice as it symbolises death. Try not to suck or bite your chopsticks either
• Avoid whistling or snapping your fingers at anyone
• Avoid wearing revealing clothes, which may cause offence
• Spitting in public is quite common
From deserts and mountains to grasslands and rainforests, China’s diverse habitats are home to nearly 500 mammal species, 1,189 birds, 320 reptiles, and 210 amphibians. The country’s rapid economic development has endangered habitats and the creatures that live within them, with over 900 nature reserves established to protect them. China’s most well-known animals include giant and red pandas, golden monkeys, Siberian tigers, Chinese alligators, red-crowned cranes, and white-flag dolphins.
Sadly one of the world’s most endangered species, the giant panda is still found in the bamboo forests of Sichuan, but rarely spotted in the wild. You can see these beautiful bears up close at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre, where the captive population has risen from 6 to 83 since 1987. The centre is also home to red pandas, rare birds, and a museum.