The land of China is so vast, diverse and amazing, you need to see as much of it as you can. Here are our top eight tips to help you get the most out of your travel itinerary.
1. No one place is representative of China
With 1.3 billion people spread over 3.7 square miles (9.6 million square kilometers) of land ranging from tropical forests to deserts, mountain ranges to high plateaus there is a lot to see in China.
China has 56 officially recognized ethnic groups, the largest being Han Chinese. While all Chinese use the same written language, the spoken dialects vary a lot, as do the customs and lifestyle.
Wherever you go, you are guaranteed a memorable experience and another one is just around the corner.
2. Start off in Tier 1-5 cities
China has over 600 cities. They are all ranked into six tiers according to size and economic development. The top 1-5 tiers comprise the 100 biggest cities. When visiting any of the 18 Tier 1 cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, you’ll find Western-style amenities, cosmopolitan food and recognizable brands like Starbucks and McDonalds. These cities are the most visited by foreign tourists and business people and the easiest entry point to traveling China. Smaller yet still fairly modern cities in tiers 2-5 are still full of cultural sights and charm.
3. Remember to experience rural China
Of the 600+ cities in China, 500 of them are in Tier 6. These are rural cities with smaller populations and are far less developed than the megacities in the first tiers and give a wondrous insight into the land, lifestyles, and culture. In many areas peasants live in poverty. Generally the southern and eastern coastal regions are more wealthy while inland areas, the far west and north, and the southwest are far less developed.
4. Avoid tourist attractions at mid-morning and mid-afternoon
Expect to be surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists at major attractions at mid-morning and mid-afternoon periods. Loud speakers blaring information in multiple languages at the same time can ruin any scenery, so choose quieter times for a quieter experience.
5. Be adventurous
Most outdoors spaces are treated as public spaces in China. Explore the side streets and narrow alleyways to get a taste of Chinese life outside of the big city streets. But, don’t get stuck in the cities. Head out to China’s wonderful scenic country side.
6. Get a thorough guidebook
Don’t rely on free tourism maps or tour brochures to get you around. A quality guidebook with bilingual maps and helpful logistical information will take you beyond the crowded tourist sites and into more unforgettable locations of breathtaking scenery and culture. It’s well worth the small investment.
7. ‘Ghost cities’ exist
The Chinese government has confirmed the existence of ‘ghost cities’ across the country that were, and are, still being built to fuel GDP growth, but are empty because locals cannot afford to live there.
The vast expanse of silent streets, empty apartment buildings and mega malls make for a fascinating visit, but don’t expect any tourist buses to take you there.
8. Avoid ‘off limits’ locations
Certain parts of China are considered sensitive and access is blocked to tourists or special permits are required for entry. It’s best to avoid these places whenever possible. If social riots break out in a city you are planning to visit, expect extended delays in getting there or to have to change your plans altogether.