Five Things First Time Travellers To China Should Know
- The official currency of China is the yuan. Businesses in the country do not accept anything else including the US dollar and Hong Kong dollar.
- If you want to use social media, you'll need a VPN. Due to China's strict censorship laws, you won't be able to access your Gmail account and favourite social media sites. To get around this, invest in a good quality VPN and set it up on your phone and laptop before leaving.
- English is not spoken by everyone. The biggest problem you'll have while visiting China is the language barrier. While English is spoken more within the tourism industry, you'll struggle to find a local who can speak it. In case you get lost while exploring, keep your hotel's business card on you to show taxi drivers and avoid any confusion.
- Outside of the main cities, locals aren't used to seeing Westerners. People might stare at you or take photos but don't take it personally; they are just curious.
- Be wary of the street food. Sometimes the dishes may be old leftovers or cooked with stale oil. If you want to try some traditional cuisine, pack some Imodium in case your stomach doesn't agree with your taste buds.
Best Time To Visit China
With a diverse climate, the best time to visit China depends on where you are travelling to and what you want to do.
In the summer months, temperatures can reach highs of 40°C with daily bursts of rain. Despite this, June to August is one of the most popular times for local and international travellers. The countryside is green and lush with many cultural festivals taking place in the cities.
But besides the higher rates during this busy period, you'll also need to keep your plans flexible the further southeast you go. The monsoon has greater intensity here, and as a result, it's likely that your flight or an outdoor activity will be cancelled.
If you want the warm weather without the crowds, visit China in spring. The flowers are in bloom and while temperatures are rising, it's nowhere near the scorching heat of summer.
Autumn (September to October) has the best weather conditions. Days are clear, the monsoon rains are drying up, and temperatures are mild. It's the perfect time of year for travellers that want to hike China's mountains or explore the Great Wall.
The only thing you'll need to keep in mind is the Chinese National Day holiday. During this time, popular attractions, transport and hotels will be crowded, expensive and sold out. If your travel dates fall over this period, book as far in advance as you can.
Top Cities in China
Beijing is one of the six ancient cities in China and has been the country's capital city for the past 500 years.
It's the world's second most populous city and is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Each year, over 4.4 million travellers flock to the city to see some of its most famous attractions.
The Great Wall of China, the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square are just some of the places that deserve a spot on any Beijing itinerary.
Situated on the Yangtze River, Shanghai is one of the most influential cities in East China. It's considered a leading trendsetter in fashion, design and the arts and boasts the best shopping in the country.
Some of its top attractions include Disneyland, Yu Garden and the second tallest tower in the world, Shanghai Tower.
The city of Xi'an is one of the four major ancient civilisation capitals in the world. It has a history that spans more than 3,000 years and was once the starting point of the Silk Road.
Today, it's home to one of the world's most important archaeological sites, the Terracotta army, and countless other historical attractions.
Located in the south, Guilin is the pearl of China's tourism industry. Its natural wonders like the Li River and Elephant Trunk Hill attract thousands of visitors each year.
It's also an important cultural destination with a 2,000-year-old history. Spend a few days here exploring the wilderness while also learning about the role Guilin played as the political hub of the Northern Song Dynasty.
Top Attractions in China
For more than 2,000 years the Terracotta Army lay underground, until 1974, when farmers digging a well stumbled across one of the world's great archaeological discoveries.
Commissioned by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the mausoleum housing his tomb is guarded by 8,000 life-size warriors. It's believed that it took 700,000 workers three decades to create the compound, the soldiers and other artefacts found at the site.
Today, it's a World Cultural Site, and the Terracotta army attracts thousands of visitors each year. Entrance costs CNY 150, and it's best to get there early to avoid the tour bus crowds.
The Forbidden City was the imperial palace for 560 years. While the 24 emperors lived here, non-royals were not allowed to enter.
This changed in 1925 when China's last emperor Puyi was forced to abdicate the throne. The palace is now listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site and is the largest ancient palace in the world.
It's full of Chinese cultural and historical relics, boasting an impressive 9,999 rooms. 14 million people visit the site each year, and it's one of China's most popular attractions.
While much of the compound is still undergoing restoration, more off-limit areas are opening up to the public all the time.
Great Wall of China
No trip to China is complete without a stop at the Great Wall. It's the longest in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of New Seven Wonders of the World.
Located near Beijing, the wall spans 5,000 km across 15 provinces and all the way to Korea border. It's one of the world's most visited attractions with more than 10 million people flocking to the Great Wall each year.
If you have the time and want to get away from the crowds, hike this human-made wonder. The Jinshanling to Simatai West section is a challenging route, but it's rewarding. It passes more than 20 towers, and you'll have uninterrupted views of the Yanshan Mountains.
The Li River
One of China's most famous natural attractions is the Li River. Located in the city of Guilin, the landscape by the river has inspired Chinese painters and poets for generations.
It's considered one of the "World's Top Ten Watery Wonders" by National Geographic, and it's not hard to see why. The river stretches between Guilin and Yangshuo over a distance of 83 km. Its route is lined with the famous Karst Mountains, tiny villages and bamboo groves.
Boat cruises leave every day and trips last as long as four hours. It's one of the best ways to experience the Li River and see as much of it as possible.
The Yellow Mountains
Located in the east of China, the Yellow Mountains are the most famous peaks in the country. It's one of the country's UNESCO World Heritage Sights and the easiest of China's three national parks to access.
The mountains are famous for their four wonders: the granite peaks, hot springs, wind-carved pines and sea of clouds. If you don't have time to hike up to peaks, you can reach the various summits by cable car.
Entrance costs CNY 230 between March and November and CNY 150 during the winter months. The best thing about the fee is that it's the same price no matter how long you plan to stay inside the park.
Major Airports in China
- Beijing Capital International Airport
- Shanghai Pudong International Airport
- Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
- Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport
- Kunming Changshui International Airport