For millennia China dominated the Eastern hemisphere, dynasties rising and falling, trade and innovation spreading throughout the known world. Paper, printing, porcelain, noodles, alcoholic beverages, gunpowder, the compass, tea production and even, some claim, the founding of America, were all Chinese accomplishments. But, in the early 20th century, the land of emperors was relegated to economy class, a downfall propagated by the emergence of the United States and Russia as world powers, and internal revolution. Until the ‘Opening Up’, when China rose from its strict communist ashes, adopting a hybrid form of communism and free market, emerging like a Phoenix to become, once again, an empire.
Experiencing China is to have one foot in the past and one in the future. It dares to defy the present, moving at break-neck speed while maintaining a strong bridge to the past. In hours one can wake in the mega-metropolis of Beijing, where futuristic buildings clash with centuries old hutongs. One can trek the 21,000 kilometre Great Wall or stare skywards at the 632 metre Shanghai Tower, engineering marvels separated by thousands of years of history. From the ‘Roof of the World’ in Tibet to the grassy plains of Inner Mongolia, China is a land of myth, magic and majesty, requiring a lifetime to truly discover.
Explore Beijing’s narrow ‘hutongs’ on this half-day walking tour. Visit a traditional family home and learn about the cultures and daily way of life before learning to make Chinese Knots – an ancient art form that produces vibrant decorations that are thought to bring luck. Finish with a Chinese dumpling making workshop before enjoying the delicious creations.
A real insider’s tour that takes travellers through the narrow alleys of Beijing and introduces them to the culture of the local citizens.
Experience an ancient tea ceremony and learn about life in tea houses whilst sipping this traditional beverage. Visit a local food market and find out which herbs and ingredients give Sichuan cooking its flavour. Explore the fascinating and perfectly restored Narrow and Wide Alleys (‘Kuanzhai Xiangzi’) before enjoying a local hot pot in a bustling restaurant.
This half-day tour provides insight into the traditional way of life in Chengdu, spicy Sichuan’s provincial capital.
Capital City: Beijing
Population: 1.4 billion
Language: There are hundreds of languages spoken in China. The official language of China is Mandarin, and 92% of the population speaks one of seven major dialects of this standard tongue: Putonghua (Mandarin), Yue (Cantonese), Min, Gan, Wu, Xiang, and Kejia or Hakka. Each of these language groups contains a multitude of other dialects. All of these writing groups use the same writing system of characters, but any one written character may be pronounced completely differently in two different dialects. The remaining 8% of the population speaks hundreds of minority languages, with Mongolian, Uyghur, Tibetan, and Zhuang recognised by the state.
Currency: The renminbi (RMB) is the name of the official currency of China, and the yuan (¥) is the unit of that currency. The two words are often used interchangeably, but prices are always marked in yuan. ATMs are everywhere and paying with cash is preferable. The Chinese exchange rate is regulated, so money can be changed anywhere with minimal hassle. Some big establishments like hotels and malls accept credit cards but may ask to see a passport.
Most foreigners travelling to mainland China require a visa. 17 countries are allowed to enter China without a visa for a duration of 15, 30, 60, or 90 days. It’s generally easiest to apply in person at a Chinese embassy or consulate general, though it may also be possible to obtain a visa on arrival if travelling to and staying only in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, or Xiamen. Single or double-entry visas are usually valid for 30 to 60 days, though 5 countries are eligible for 10-year visas.
China maintains a visa-free transit policy, allowing passengers from any nationality to stay within a city for 24 hours without a visa while in transit. Passengers from 53 countries are allowed to stay up to 72 or 144 hours without a visa in a selection of Chinese cities while in transit.
Spring (February – April) and autumn (September and October) are the loveliest times of year to visit China. Spring brings dry days to the north and warmer weather everywhere, while autumn is cool and dry after the summer rains. Summer comes in May until August: the weather is hot, and downpours are common, especially in the south and east. Winter is quite cold, especially in the north, when cities like Beijing and Harbin are beautifully blanketed in snow.
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