The Middle Kingdom, the Red Dragon, the new superpower, the far East… All the clichés and nicknames miss the point with this country. China is huge and contains multitudes. Both communist and capitalist, an insular home to 20% of the world’s population, it’s a self-contradiction that delights and confuses the foreign visitor. Our signature high-low approach to travel meets its match in China: picture the farmer crouched on his dirt floor nattering away into his spanky new iPhone. And did we mention the food? For the curious, it’s a place to be experienced.
In A Nutshell
This isn’t your sit on the beach sort of place, and yes there is urban sprawl and smog in the cities, but no one ever watches Blade Runner for the the mountain view cinematography. The eastern reach of China is developed and is where all the stuff in your garage and basement was built. The further west you go the less and less developed you get until you are on the roof of the world in Tibet, or the farthest you can get from an ocean on the planet in Kashgar and the Silk Road. There are deserts, mountains, valleys, karsts, world class hotels, trains, planes, automobiles, myths, and a whole set of beliefs and philosophies that the rest of the world has never learned. And this was always the case, China is the center of its own world and has been so for a long long time. If the US was the homecoming queen at the party, China was the successful home school kid you never knew lived two doors down until you had to ask them for a job years later. It isn’t the cheap knock off country anymore either, things are pricey here. Chinese tourism to North America has increased in the past 10 years for shopping, which is a bellwether in and of itself. The average age of a Ferrari owner in Shanghai is 27, run with that.
Need to Know
- It ain't cheap anymore, expect wine and hotels to be top class and pricey.
- Landing in Beijing is a good way to start, spend 3 nights there, see the sites, get over Jet lag, then delve deeper into the beast.
- Yunnan Province is amazing, southern himalaya and chock full of interesting language forms and histories. Dali, Lijiang, and Tibetan Zhongdian are worth 3 days in each if you have the time.
- Shanghai is a perfect way to end a trip to China, it is an amazing city that is seriously on the go.
- Trains are fast, very very fast, so think about taking at least one somewhere along the line.
- Beijing is cold in the winter like Toronto, Hong Kong is more like Miami.
When to Go
The spring (April through June) and fall (September through November) are the most agreeable months weather wise.
With the largest capitalist economy the globe has seen comes some of the fanciest hotels, but on a bit of a different scale. Think more outward bling bling rather than private island exclusivity. The more you can flash the fancy here the better. I thought VIP was good but in China there is VVIP and 7 star hotels (not really sure what the criteria is for each star though). There are the usual suspects as well if you are looking to cut on costs.
See the big sites– the Great Wall…..is pretty damn great so don’t miss it. The big sites here are worth adding to the list.
Eat the weird stuff– Chinese food back home is like eating spaghetti O’s thinking it is Italy. With Mao and his team the only thing each province had to really distinguish themselves with was food, so dig in on the weird stuff, it might change your life.
Go west!– Escape the smog and 10 million+ cityscapes to the west and get out there. Drive the long distances up to the Tibetan Plateau, or fly out to places you never heard about like Dunhuang or Zhongdian, this is where the magic is and where China of old still lives.
Embrace the madness and Chaos….there is order there you just can’t see it yet– This is a very different sort of country, one that purposefully locked out the rest of the world for a number of years to insulate. There will be a lot of things that seem out of control to the uninitiated, and our advice is go with the flow. If a train is delayed then try some tea in the station with a local.
Get lost in alleyways of Beijing and Shanghai– There is something to be said of a place this large run by a single party system, things are safe for travelers since punishment is harsh, I wouldn’t say the same for BsAs or Detroit, but here you can get lost as an easter egg and stumble into some wonderful things.