China is a fascinating country in which to travel. However, I am not going to lie and say it will ever be my favourite destination; it is a tough country to travel in. There were times that I absolutely loved it and others when I was wondering what on earth I was doing there. However, I do think it is somewhere that everyone should travel to at least once. As one of the world's largest countries, it isn't somewhere that you can see all in one trip, but you should go soon as some of the history and culture is being lost to Western modernisation. There are some amazing landscapes, incredible sites and unique cultural experiences that you will never forget.
If you are a fan of a Chinese takeaway, then you are in for a surprise, Chinese food is far more delicious and varied. You may often find yourself having to go out of your comfort zone and try something you would perhaps not be eating at home! Very importantly I would recommend not just eating in your hotels, some of the best food I had was in small restaurants filled with locals. Chinese food is not always for the faint hearted so you should go with an open mind and not be too squeamish. You should be prepared to not know what you are eating and choose from pictures on menus with weird and wonderful translations - from the likes of 'Product of plain bob' - who knows what that could have been, to 'The black people shrimp'.
Some of the delicacies that I enjoyed or perhaps tried to stomach whilst there were fish gut soup, deep fried scorpions, offal (a lot of it) and 100 year old eggs. It isn't all hard to stomach, though, the Peking duck was the best I have ever eaten and is an absolute must to try everywhere you go - each city does it slightly differently. The Chengdu hotpot was much talked about and worth trying; it is a real family affair so great fun, if only to people watch.
Pandas, pandas, pandas! They've been my favourite animal since I was very little; I would never go anywhere without my beloved Baby Panda, so seeing them up close in Chengdu was simply incredible. I could have watched them for hours on end; the young pandas are so cheeky, playful and rather clumsy. I always thought, by contrast, that the red pandas were rather boring, however, in the panda sanctuaries in Chengdu you will find these amazing little creatures shuffling around under your feet and they are utterly adorable.
If time permits, try and get out of the larger cities to explore some of China's varied landscape. The dramatic limestone karsts in Yangshuo are stunning and a trip down the Li River is an absolute must (be aware there are no private cruises and it can be quite touristy). I would recommend staying in Yangshou and going out on the river on a bamboo raft or borrowing bicycles and exploring at your own pace. Another must are the rice terraces at Longsheng, this can be easily done as a day trip from Guilin, or you can stay in a lovely guest house in the village. In the evening, once the day trippers have left, you can enjoy the peacefulness of life in the hills. These are both high on my list of some of the most incredible landscapes I have found myself in.
The Terracotta Warriors in Xian
It is like going to India for the first time and not seeing the Taj Mahal, the Terracotta Warriors are so much better in real life; you really cannot understand the sheer scale until you have seen them with your own eyes. Dating back to 246 - 206 BC the tomb of the Emperor Qin Shihuang took over 720,000 artisans and labourers to build and visiting the site you will see archaeologists at work carefully piecing back together the art work in the pits. This is one of the top archaeological finds of the 20th century and has been described as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It wasn't just the warriors that were found, but also terracotta musicians, acrobats, concubines, birds - waterfowl, duck, cranes - to give Emperor Qin a grand afterlife. Only three of the four pits have been unearthed, there is a fourth! Try to avoid weekend visits as it can get quite crowded.
Home to some of the most iconic tourist attractions in China, it is a city undergoing a lot of change, the more traditional streets and the old hutongs are fast disappearing in the name of modernisation. The top three attractions in Beijing are Tian'anmen Square, The Forbidden Palace and the Temple of Heaven; all of these are absolutely worth visiting and would most likely need a whole day. We can obtain private access into otherwise restricted areas of the Forbidden city for our clients! I would probably recommend a minimum of 4 nights here to really see the city and enable you to also spend time out at the Summer Palace. If you stay at the Aman they have a private door into the Summer Palace enabling you to go in the morning before anyone else, a real treat! The Great Wall of China, really is an absolute must, my advice would be to give yourself a little more time and head further out of Beijing to quieter sections of the wall taking a good picnic - spend a whole day if you have the time.
In an amazing contrast to Beijing and a must for the end of any adventure in China, Shanghai is definitely worth the visit after Beijing. I felt so incredibly comfortable in Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city, fun and buzzing.
What should you combine China with?
I would say after a week or two in China you might be in need of a holiday, China is brilliantly connected to many Original Travel holiday destinations - perhaps a week on the beach in the Maldives or perhaps a fun combination would be a week on the beach in Vietnam.