China Travel Guide

 

The third largest country on the planet, an ancient civilization, the Communist paradise, the economic miracle. These words can describe China as a highly diverse country, with so many things to see and places to visit. China is the most densely populated country in the world. And sometimes it might seem that the entire territory consists of many totally independent countries. Modern major cities with their rush hours and constant fussiness share this land with rural and underdeveloped areas filled with tiny villages, dilapidated houses, and old junks.

When you travel across Zhongguo or the Middle Kingdom you couldn’t help but notice how dramatically the landscapes change. From the beach resorts of Hainan and the cities of the future of Shanghai and Beijing to the dead sands of the Gobi desert and the glaciers of Tibet, everywhere you will discover something special, no matter what your interests are. China offers a bit of everything from the Terracotta Warriors to the Thousand Buddha Grottoes. Use this travel guide to make your way through the numerous historic sites and attractions.

Getting Around China

Despite the fact that China is a huge country, it has convenient and relatively cheap means of transportation. Along with the growth of Beijing, it became an important transportation hub. The city has six ring roads, several highways, and multiple rail lines. As in many other world capitals, congestion and traffic delay have become a common daily occurrence in Beijing during rush hour. The Ring Roads and the Chang’an Avenue are among the busiest streets in Beijing.

Major cities have extensive subway systems that are less than 6 CNY per ride depending on the distance. A ride from the Beijing Capital International Airport will set you back 25 CNY. Beijing subway includes eighteen lines (2017).

Usually bus ride costs from 3 CNY in a major city to 2 CNY in smaller towns. Some routes may have bus conductors, while others require you to insert the ticket into the validating machine at the entrance.

You can also consider buying a transport card (gongjiaoka) to save money on transportation.

The train is the most popular means of transport when traveling to another city. Train ticket can be purchased at ticket offices located in major cities.

Ticket prices depend on the destination, but usually much cheaper than in Europe. On a high-speed train, the ticket from Beijing to Changchun is around 265 CNY. There are several ticket types: Seat Fares, Hard Sleeper, Soft Sleeper, Standing Ticket. At the railway terminal, all checked luggage passes through an x-ray scanner. Once they are in, passengers stand in line getting ready to board the train. Sometimes the line is long, so be sure to come early. Once the tickets are checked everyone will do their best to take the best spots for their luggage. The same way they do to locate a spot when riding with standing ticket.

The train type is specified on the ticket. D train (dongche) usually looks neat and tidy with two or three seats to the left and right of the aisle in economy class. Train seat can be reclined to lie down and get proper sleep.

Most trains rarely make stops, but when they do you usually have just a few minutes to hop on or off the train. The most annoying thing is the total lack of space for oversized baggage. The upper shelves above the seats are quite similar to the ones within the aircraft, so if you travel with suitcases, try to get seats at the beginning or at the end of the railcar.

Overnight trains, like K train (kuaisu lieche) or T express (tekuai) with the top and lower bunks will offer a chance to have some sleep while you go. Your ticket will be exchanged for a plastic credit card-sized card for the night. The K trains may consist of both comfortable and shabby cars. When riding a train mind to get your own soap and toilet paper as these amenities usually aren’t included in ticket price.

China has a lot of regional carriers, including China Eastern, Air China, and Southwest Airlines. The flight schedule might cause tight connections, so it is advisable to book tickets in advance, especially during the Golden week, when the Chinese people making long-distance family visits.

Beijing Airport Transfer Tips

The distance between the airport and the downtown can be covered by Shuttle Bus, Express Train or taxi. A train is a great option as it takes around 30 minutes for passengers to travel between the airport terminals and Dongzhimen or Sanyuanqiao. Regular airport shuttle buses may take a bit longer to get you to downtown, so you can use intercity lines to reach Tianjin or Qinhuangdao. The trains run from 6 am to 11 pm. A taxi ride is around 100 CNY.

The cheapest way to leave the airport is by bus. Prices start from 15 CNY depending on the destination. Some of the 18 bus lines from the airport have additional routes for late-night transit service.

Accommodation in China

Today there are a lot of accommodation options in China. Ranging from high-end hotels to cheap dormitory rooms, there is no chance to stay in the street. When you choose your accommodation mind that recently renovated apartments may usually have their rates at the same level as more shabby options. Just make up your list. Ask for discount wherever it is possible to get a better price. Most budget hotels in China won’t require leaving a credit card to book in advance so you can easily cancel it with no penalty. A great idea is to check your room for broken amenities before you check in. In most budget and mid-range hotels, you will be asked to leave a room deposit. Make sure not to lose the deposit receipt since you’ll need it to get back your deposit when checking out.

Prices for dormitory rooms in smaller towns start from 30 CNY, sometimes you can a little more to get a private room. In major cities like Guangzhou or Shanghai, it will be closer to 75 CNY per night. A night in a budget hotel will set you back 110 CNY. Prices for mid-range hotels range from 150-440 CNY depending on the hotel’s special features. Airbnb is a great option, but it is much less common in rural areas.

Food

Such food as soup, noodles, vegetables, pork, fish, algae and steamed buns is traditional for Chinese cuisine. A bowl of rice is an iconic and typical dish. In most areas rice porridge replaces the bread and it is literally everywhere.

Western food in China is more expensive than local food. A nice and convenient thing about almost any eatery in China that you can take away your food. When buying food at food stalls you can expect your lunch being cooked within several minutes and get it packed. Since food is really cheap in China, usually there is no need to cook your own meals. It is more convenient to eat out in the streets or at the restaurants. Another thing that many hostels don’t provide kitchen facilities even if you did go grocery shopping. Below I have listed average food prices in cafes and restaurants.

Chinese dumplings are an iconic food in China. These can be found almost everywhere while the prices start from 9 CNY. This price usually includes free seasonings such as garlic, pepper, and salt. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant usually goes for around 25-45 CNY. Meal prices for two people in mid-range restaurant start from 160 CNY. When traveling through western China and outside of major cities, you can expect to pay less for food, about half the price, around 30 CNY. A set of good old hamburger or chicken bites with fries is around 30 CNY in well-known chains. Local sandwiches can run about 6 CNY, while kebab is around 5 CNY. Prices for grilled chicken breasts start from 4 CNY.

Best Time to Visit China

Traditionally, periods from April to June and from September to early November are considered the best time to visit China. These months are characterized as the time of dry and warm weather, in contrast to the cold winter and humid summer. However, depending on your preferences it is possible to visit China literally any time of year as due to its huge size, even the northernmost regions could be quite comfortable visiting during the hot Chinese summer. Remote areas of western China and Tibet can be visited from April to September to enjoy the carpets of blooming flowers and bustling markets. Having said that, summer is the period when every attraction in China is packed with local travelers, while flight and train tickets, as well as the accommodation, should be booked in advance.

Top places to visit in Beijing

Despite the wars and the turmoil of the 19th and 20th centuries that caused the dramatic change of the Beijing architecture, there are still many ancient historical sites to see.

Visit the Forbidden City

The Zijin Cheng is a great place to discover the history of ancient China. Once an imperial palace for 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is listed as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. To feel the spirit of the Forbidden city and avoid crowds it is better to visit the Palace in the morning. It may take up to three hours to see all the sites.

Beihai Park

Located just 500 meters away from the northwest entrance of the Forbidden City, Beihai Park dates back to the 10th century. The Beihai Park covers a huge area, more than half of which is covered by the lake. It is composed of Beihai Lake and the Jade Flower Island with the White Pagoda was built on the top of the Island, the main landmark of the Park. Beihai Park is considered an ancient Chinese art form, with different features, such as artificial hills, bridges, pavilions, halls, temples, and lakes. The Park is best visited on weekdays to avoid crowds.

The Temple of Heaven

A triple-gabled circular Qinian Hall in the Temple of Heaven is another must see site in Beijing. The complex is once known as a place where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties annually prayed and performed rituals to insure a good harvest for the nation, now is a masterpiece of Chinese architecture. With several temples located there, The Temple of Heaven is one of the largest. Be sure to visit the Temple in the morning to avoid crowds to see the locals practicing tai chi or martial arts.

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Top Things To Do And See in China

Visit Yuanyang Rice Terraces in Yunnan Province
You’ve no doubt seen pictures of these terraces on the Internet. However, it is hard to get an idea of how magnificent the view is until you find yourself here. Yuanyang rice terraces are some of the most beautiful in the world. Rice planting happens from February to March, while September is the time to harvest it. The view of rice terraces changes dramatically throughout the year. In summer you can enjoy the view of the bright green fields, fall makes the hill slopes look as if they are covered with gold paint.

The best time to visit terraces is from late November to early April when flooded surface reflects the sun’s rays creating a truly unique and impressive view. You can find at least three buses a day departing from Kunming South Bus station. The first is at 10:20, followed by one at 12:30 and 19:30 (sleeping bus), the ticket is around 139 CNY.

China Location

The Great Wall of China

You can’t visit China without seeing the Great Wall. Millions of visitors pass through each year to feel the spirit of the Wall. There are several sections available to the public. Juyongguan, Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Gubeikou, Huanghuacheng and Simatai are the most popular.

The most visited section of the Great Wall (Badaling) is located around 75 kilometers northwest of Beijing city. The admission fee is around 40-45 CNY depending on the season. To get there by bus 877 or 919 at Deshengmen, 12 CNY for a ticket. Another option to take the S train from Beijing North Railway Station and get off at the station of Badaling.

Along the Silk Road

From the former capital of Chang’an (modern Xi’an), where the famous terracotta warriors were found the Silk Road diverged in many directions. However, the most well-known path nowadays is the one, leading to the West, passing the Gansu and Xinjiang provinces, and then further to the Middle East, to Rome and Italy. With many locations to check out along the road, I can point several most unusual landmarks, tombs and magnificent Dunhuang cave temples. This all shows that not only economic, but cultural exchange took place as well.

Tiananmen Square

A square of enormous size has become an iconic place for many travelers. It is here you can enjoy the daily flag raising and lowering ceremony. With so many things to see here, Tiananmen Square is the main place to visit when in Beijing. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, Tiananmen Tower, the Great Hall of the People, the People’s Heroes Monument, the National Museum and Mao Zedong’s mausoleum are the main sites to visit in the very heart of Beijing. This place is also known to be one of the largest squares in the world that determined historical events happened here, such as Proclamation of the People’s Republic of China and Tiananmen Square protests 40 years later.

Potala Palace

When in Lhasa, Potala Palace is the primary site to visit. The palace consists of two parts. The white basement accommodates administrative facilities, while the red superstructure is the place for the temple complex. The museum holds the most valuable collection of the Buddhist texts and Buddha statues. To visit the museum it is required to book the ticket at the West Gate of the palace one day earlier. While the Palace is an impressive facility with incredible views, be prepared to do a lot of walking and stair climbing, which might be not a good idea on the first day in town if you are acclimating to the altitude. During high season lines can be long as the Palace is a popular attraction in Lhasa.

Shanghai

It takes about eight minutes for Shanghai Maglev high-speed train to bring you from Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road. Considering that the distance between these two points around 30 kilometers, you start realizing that Shanghai is the city of the future. According to statistics, Shanghai is one of the richest and most visited cities in China. Well-organized, high-tech and cosmopolitan city it boasts a number of colorful historic districts, local markets, an energetic nightlife scene, artist enclaves and opportunities for exploration literally everywhere: stroll down the Bund promenade to enjoy Shanghai’s classic skyline views of colonial-era buildings and tall skyscrapers along the Huangpu River or get a sense of historical China by visiting the Old City of Zhujiajiao or Yuyuan Gardens.

Mogao Caves at Dunhuang

The caves (or Thousand Buddha Grottoes) contain some of the best-preserved Buddhist art in the world. The caves were carved between the 353—366 AD, while the location is determined by the Silk Road that was used as a path of Buddhism into China. The Mogao Caves became one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1987.

Explore The Ancient City of Pingyao

Just four hours away from the China’s capital, halfway between Beijing and Xi’an, there is a city that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Unlike the most buildings of the old imperial China, which are usually uninhabited or used as museums, Pingyao is a vibrant city. The old town is imbued with the spirit and culture of ancient China as the life goes on here. The city’s appearance gives a hint of how it may have looked like centuries ago with narrow Ming and Qing streets, old dwellings and traditional Chinese culture. A three-Day pass price is around 130 CNY and will cover most of the attractions.

Southeast China

To the south of Shanghai and the Yangtze River there are the coastal provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong. Some of the developed port cities here managed to retain its charm, despite the turbulent history. The island city of Xiamen has several dozens of historic buildings and mansions carved under foreign influence. A slight step inland will reveal the rural life of China as it was during the Tang Dynasty as well as an unusual set of fortified houses, bridges and observation towers that have withstood the period of the Cultural Revolution.

Hong Kong

One of the most important financial center of the world, Hong Kong has everything a traveler may want to see. Glass skyscrapers and numerous shopping malls, restaurants with authentic cuisine and legendary markets. Being for nearly a century under British control, it now boasts a large expat population and considered one of the safest city in the world. I love Hong Kong. The daily life in Hong Kong is a mix of cultures and the opportunities to meet people from other nations. These spots are must visit when in Hong Kong: Wong Tai Sin Temple, Tian Tan Buddha at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island and Victoria Peak.

See the Famous Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an

The life-sized stone terracotta warriors, which date back to the Qin Dynasty, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an. Once created to protect Qin Shi Huang in his afterlife, Terracotta Army, is one of the main attractions in China. The Army can hardly be compared to any other site regarding its historical significance and uniqueness. The Army consists of more than 2000 life-sized warriors, their horses and chariots. It is said that the Army, which triumphed over all its rivals, played a decisive role in the country’s formation. The Terracotta Army Museum is located just two kilometers east of the Qin Shi Huang tomb, the First Qin Emperor. Be sure to visit the Museum on weekdays and avoid holidays when it is fully packed.

Cruise the Yangtze River

The third longest river in the world, Yangtze, flows through Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan and Chongqing provinces. There are five sacred Buddhist and Taoist mountains can be found along its banks. The entire area is popular for its gorgeous views, especially in the northern Sichuan and northern Hunan. If you go on a cruise to visit The Three Gorges, be sure set aside some time to explore the cities of Chongqing and Wuhan. Another place that is worth visiting though a bit far from the river is Dazu Rock Carvings.

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