Holidays to China never disappoint. This rapidly changing country can be bewildering to say the least, but once you’ve come to terms with its extraordinary culture, architecture, cuisine and people, you’ll probably want to extend your stay.
It is possible to travel around China as an independent tourist but for your first visit you may want to use the services of one of the many China tours companies that are in existence. These tours can vary enormously, so if you wanted to be guided every step of the way or if you have a more independent streak it’s a good idea to carry out some research and see which type of tour best suits you.
The capital city is always a good place to start if only to acclimatise to Chinese culture. Many commentators advise that you learn a few phrases in Mandarin before setting foot in China; your efforts will be appreciated. The Temple of Heaven to the South East of the main part of Beijing is a stunning 15th century building and is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you have the time, try to visit the Temple of The Earth, the Temple of the Sun and The Temple of the Moon, though the Temple of Heaven is the most astounding – especially the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
You cannot visit Beijing without exploring the Forbidden City. Erected in the 15th century, the Palace was inhabited up until 1924. The City is more commonly known as the Palace Museum and for those who wish to learn a little more about the history of all of the Palace’s inhabitants (24 emperors in total), not to mention marvelling at some of the iconic exhibits on display, then a trip here will be deeply worthwhile.
While in Beijing you should try and savour some of the local cuisine. Most of China’s many ethnic communities have left their culinary mark on the city and one of the easiest ways to sample their food is to indulge in a street snack. If you feel like some Spicy Lobster then the bustling market on Gui Street is the place to go. The market is open 24/7. Alternatively if you wish to taste a more varied selection of treats, then Niu Jie Muslim Snack Street is home to a diverse array of ethnic groups and is also home to Beijing’s oldest mosque. Sample some Uygur food when visiting this particular neighbourhood.
Sometimes one of the pleasures of travelling in a new country is just to take a stroll and absorb all of the unusual delights of the streets. While in China you might like to go and discover its musical heritage. Chinese opera is extravagant and exotic and one of the best places to go and see a performance of Beijing Opera is at the Liyuan Theatre, where there are nightly performances of this intriguing art form. The evening could then be rounded off with a traditional Chinese tea drinking ceremony at the Laoshe Tea House.
By Celina Bledowska, writer and journalist