China has become a very popular travel destination because of its majestic landscapes, impressive historical sites and its reputation as one of the safest countries. Almost no crimes are committed against tourists which makes it an appealing destination for individuals of all ages and countries. Many visitors make repeat trips to China because of the hospitable and friendly Chinese people.
This unique country remains in the top ten worldwide tourist destinations, and the number of visitors continues to increase. More than 41.8 million international visitors chose China as their travel destination in 2006, compared to 109 million visitors and tourists in 2004. This ranks China as the fourth most visited country in the entire world. If the numbers continue to increase, China is projected to become the number one visited country by 2017! The World Tourism Organization also expects the country to provide more than 100 million outbound tourists by 2020.
Visitors to this fascinating part of the world are often amazed by the number and magnitude of the historical and scenic natural attractions China has to offer. Often they have an ‘aha’ or ‘bingo’ moment, as if they’ve discovered something never seen before. The country contains a large number of world heritage sites, as well as many of the world’s largest buildings and structures, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square. and the Great Wall of China. Large-scale events such as the Shanghai 2010 Expo and the 2008 Summer Olympics are helping to increase the popularity of China as a tourist destination.
One of the largest countries in the entire world, China has a population of more than approximately 1.24 billion people. This comprises more than 20 percent of the world’s population! The area of the country also contains approximately 9.6 million square kilometers, accounting for approximately 6.5 percent of the world’s total land area.
China is also known for its multi-racial population. In fact, there are 56 different ethnic groups that call this country home. The largest ethnic group is the Han people which comprise 91.96 percent of the population with other ethnic minorities making up the 8.04 percent remainder. The vast group of ethnic individuals has contributed to China’s unique culture, social and racial background. A visit to this amazing country will reward you with different history, dialects and cultures.
China contains seven principal language groups, including Kejia (Hakka), Xiang, Yue (Cantonese), Gan, Putonghua (Mandarin), Wu (Shanghainese) and Min (Taiwanese). More than 70 percent of the population speaks Mandarin, with many different dialects spoken by the various 55 ethnic groups. The written language of Chinese, contains nearly 50,000 Chinese characters, and has existed for 6,000 years. However, only 200 key words and 5,000 characters are frequently used.
Shopping – China is a fabulous shopping destination where you can find everything from ancient historical relics and pearls to bamboo chopsticks and silk clothing. Shanghai contains many open markets where you can purchase almost anything, including crickets. Tourists may be surprised to discover that all of the stalls in each of the markets tend to sell the same item. For example, you can visit the Dong Tai Road Antique Market, the Yatai Xinyang Fashion & Gift Market, the Hong Qiao New World Pearl Market, the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market or the Flower, Bird, Fish & Insect Market.
Many of China’s shops and plaza sell beautiful handcrafted items such as painted Chinese porcelain, embroidered silk slippers and elaborate paper lanterns. You’ll also find fashionable clothing in Hong Kong’s high end boutiques and many exotic foods and traditional medicines. Beijing is famous for its freshwater pearls and cloisonné enamel, Shanghai for its jade items, Guilin for its bijouterie and scroll paintings and Xian for its rugs and antiques. If you’re looking for high quality tea and silk, make sure to visit Hangzhou and Suzhou.
Wildlife – If you’re an animal lover, you can explore China’s incredibly diverse wildlife population. The country contains 10 percent of the world’s vertebrates, as well as 500 animal species and 1,189 bird species. You may encounter one of China’s hundred native animals such as the brown-eared pheasant, white-flag dolphin, Chinese alligator, South China tiger, golden-haired monkey and beloved and rare giant panda. Since 1983, the China Wildlife Conversation Association has fought hard to preserve the country’s wildlife reserves and endangered species.
Fishing – China is one of the leading fishing nations in the world with an area of 818,000 square nautical miles. You can try your luck in the East or South China Sea, the Bohai Sea or the Yellow Sea. Out of the 150 commercial species in China, the main fishing species include shellfishes such as crabs and shrimp, algae, sea cucumbers, mollusks such as clams, scallops, mussels, squids, cuttlefish, octopi and abalone. Pacific and Chinese herring, Red snapper, cod, sardines, globefish, sharks, conger pikes, Chub, Japanese and Spanish mackerel and flounder are also very popular fish.
12 lines travel to China year round. Some of the available choices include Azamara Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn Cruise Lines, Cruises, Viking China Cruises.
Victoria Cruise Lines, Regal China Cruises and Huangpu River Cruise Lines also offer exciting cruises through the scenic areas of China’s picturesque Yangtze River. You can enjoy a cruise of the Li River, Beijing, Shanghai Harbor or China’s Grand Canal.
You can choose anywhere from a short 3-day China cruise or extended 20-day cruise package, depending on your schedule. There are prices to suit everyone’s budget and you decide whether to visit China on a small 124-passenger Viking River cruise ship or a large luxury Seabourn yacht. Make sure to choose an itinerary that includes some of China’s fascinating ports.
With so much to see and do in China, it will be very difficult to know where to start. We recommend taking several tours so you can explore this fascinating country by land and by water.
Boat Tours – A boat tour down China’s famous Yangtze River, including the spectacular Three Gorges is sure to be a highlight of your trip. Other options include a relaxing trip down the scenic Li River in one of the most picturesque areas of China or an exciting night boat tour of Old Beijing.
Land Tours – Visitors have a wide choice of exciting land tours where you can experience the best of modern and ancient China. You can explore the markets, sample delicious local cuisine or visit the historical sites of Beijing, Shanghai, Lijiang, Zhongdian, Chongqing, Xian, Guilin and Yichang. You’ll also gain the opportunity to visit many treasured UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Terracotta Armies, the charming classical gardens of Suzhou, scenic Mount Tai, the majestic Temple of Heaven, and the famous Great Wall of China.
Silk Road Tours – No trip to China would be complete without a tour of this famous former trading network connecting people of many cultures and countries. A tour of the 492 remarkable painted Dunhuang caves is a must-see stop along the route. The New Orient Express Silk Road train provides a convenient and comfortable way to explore this ancient road.
Hiking Tours – With so many many areas of unbelievable natural beauty, a hiking tour of China is always a great option. You can book a hiking tour of the Great Wall, explore the famous beauty of Huangshuan, climb the steep peaks of the scenic Dali region or hike the world’s deepest gorge, the Tiger Leaping Gorge in southwest China.
No trip to China would be complete without visiting China’s most famous attractions – the Great Wall of China. Considered one of the world’s great wonders, this curved wall snakes through the 5,000 kilometers of countryside from the banks of the Yalu River to the Tianshan and Qilianshan mountains. Visitors are greeted with remarkable views overlooking the steep mountains. It was originally built in the 7th century BC to prevent wandering nomads from penetrating the country’s independent kingdoms. The wall has undergone several renovations, and it is renowned as one of the greatest architectural achievements.
This is another must-see attraction when you’re visiting China. Also known as the Former Palace, the Forbidden City was the imperial residence of the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644 and the Qing dynasty from 1644 to 1911. Covering 250 acres and encompassing 9,999 buildings, it is the world’s largest palace complex; be prepared to spend a while touring the area! The area is surrounded by a high wall that is 10 meters high and 3,400 meters long, as well as a 6-meter deep and 52-meter wide moat. The complex contains more than 9,000 rooms and 70 structures. The Forbidden City was transformed into a museum in the beginning of the 20th century, so you can view a large collection of more than 900,000 ancient relics and beautiful royal paintings. You can also wander the beautiful royal garden located behind the palace.
This remarkable Chinese attraction connects the East and West, and it represents a famous historical trading caravan leading from China to Rome. Despite its name, the “road” was actually a large network of routes that covered many different countries, including Uzbekistan, Iran and Italy. From the 2nd century B.C. to the 16th century A.D., Chinese used to travel some of the 7,000 kilometers of this road to sell Chinese silk, jewelry, iron, glass and other goods. The Great Silk Road remains popular with tourists because of its historical significance in bringing people of different religions and cultures together to exchange knowledge, goods and ideas.
If you visit China’s Silk Road, make sure to allot some time to explore Dunhuang. This oasis town is located near the edge of the Gobi desert at an important junction of two intersecting former trade routes. The nearby Mogao cave temples contain one of the largest and most important collections of Buddhist sculptures and paintings in the entire world; the grottoes contain more than 50,000 priceless Buddhist scriptures, textiles, relics and historical documents.
Every inch of the stucco ceilings and walls of the 492 decorative caves are painted with elaborate designs. The frescos cover 45,000 square meters, and the caves, which include five constructed of wood, contain 2,415 painted statues. Almost every cave contains numerous miniature images of the Buddha which has resulted in the name Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. One monk apparently had a vision of 1000 Buddhas, and began to carve out caves from the sandstone cliffs in 366 A.D. During the next 1000 years, hundreds of similar caves were carved into the rock face and filled with Buddhist images and art. The Dunhuang caves are one of the world’s best preserved religious sanctuaries.
Visitors will be enchanted by the scenic beauty of the Yangtze River which stretches across nine Chinese provinces. This river covers 6,380 kilometers, making it China’s longest and the third longest in the entire world. The Chinese name for the river is Changjiang which means long river, and it carries more water than any other Chinese river. You can navigate the Yangtze all year round, although certain areas such as the Three Gorges are very difficult and dangerous because of the shallows and currents.
If you visit the Yangtze River, don’t miss the Three Gorges or Sanxia. The Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge form some of the most scenic and impressive sections of this mighty river. Some of the steep walls of the gorges rise more than 300 feet to create a breathtaking vista. The river is a very important transportation network for China, and it contributes to the production of linen, tobacco, tea, silk, rice and cotton for the 350 million people who live near it. Visitors can take in the magnificent views or explore the numerous historical sites and relics, including gardens, stone carvings, caves, pavilions, towers, temples and terraces.
Qutang Gorge: Although Qutang Gorge is the shortest at only 8 kilometers, it is also considered one of the most spectacular. Visitors will be rewarded with steep, rocky mountains rising majestically from very narrow and winding passages. The town of Baidecheng on the north bank contains numerous rare historical relics, and is definitely worth a visit. The south bank contains numerous attractions, including the Whitewashed Wall with its carved inscriptions, the Armour Cave, Meng Liang’s Ladder, the Upside Down Monk and the underground Phoenix-Drinking Fountain where you can enjoy very sweet water. Look out for the unique mountain peak called the Rhinoceros Watching the Moon.
Wuxia Gorge: The 45-kilometer Wuxia Gorge is one of the most scenic of the three. Flowing from the Danning River located in Wushan Country to Guandukou in Badong County, the gorge contains many strange-looking mist-covered mountain peaks. Be sure to look out for the Famous Twelve Peaks that appear to be dancing fairies on both river banks. You can visit the towns of Zigui, Badong or Wushan; the former is the birthplace of the ancient poet, Qu Yuan.
Xiling Gorge: At 76 kilometers, the Xiling Gorge is the longest and it’s divided into two sections. The west section contains the Horse’s Lung Gorge, Bull’s Liver, Kongling Play Gorge and the Military Book and Sword Gorge. The Yellow Cat or Yichang Gorge and Shadow Play Gorge highlight the east section. You can visit several interesting archeological sites such as the Three Visitors’ Cave, Luyou Fountain and the Huangling Temple built from 220 to 280. The Xiling Gorge is famous for its very turbulent waters that include treacherous whirlpools, numerous shoals and dangerous rapids.
Four scenic areas comprise the Dali region where visitors can enjoy Erhai Lake, Butterfly Spring, Shibao Mountain, Weibao Mountain, Cangshan Mountains and Jizu Mountain. Dali City is one of famous historical and cultural importance for China, and it continues to attract the most local and foreign visitors of the entire region. Formerly the capital city of the Nanzhao and Dali Regimes of ancient China, the area is very picturesque and covers 28,5000 square kilometers. Visitors can explore the green freshwater Erhai Lake or the 600-year old Backpacker’s Paradise of Dali Ancient City. Many foreign visitors end up spending months or even years in this remarkable city which contains a foreigner’s street complete with western-style cafes, restaurants and shops.
You will be awe-struck when visiting this temple park constructed from 1406 to 1420. It is located approximately 6 kilometers from the center of Beijing, and 2 kilometers from the Forbidden City. If you include all of the area’s buildings as well as the surrounding gardens, the Temple of Heaven is five times larger than the Forbidden City; the buildings of the complex cover 273 hectares. The emperors of the Qing and Ming Dynasties used to pray and conduct elaborate rituals to bring rain and bountiful harvests. The park, also known as Tiantan, contains four principal areas: the Echo Wall, the Round Altar, the Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The outline of the latter is actually a symbol of Beijing, and visitors are often fascinated by the 65.1-meter Echo Wall that surrounds the Vault of Heaven. If two individuals whisper at the far east and west ends of the wall, they will be able to hear each other as clearly as via the telephone! Visitors will often find many locals practicing various forms of exercise such as martial arts to qigong throughout the temple grounds.
Mount Tai is one of the Five Sacred Mountains in China’s Shandong Province, and it was declared a World Natural and Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987. The mountain park is a natural museum of art and history where visitors can spend the day exploring the Red Gate Palace, the Azure Cloud Temple, the Sun-Watching Peak, the Heavenly Queen Pool or the South Gate to Heaven that looks just like a ladder ascending to the sky. The area also contains many fascinating stone carvings dating back to ancient Chinese dynasties, as well as 1,800 stone sculptures.
The area covers 426 square kilometers with the highest mountain peak rising 1545 meters above sea level in Tai’an City. Visitors who brave the 6,700 steps to the Jade Emperor Peak of Taishan Mountain will be rewarded with breathtaking views, including gorgeous waterfalls, unique rock formations and 72 impressive peaks. Many locals climb the summit in the early morning to watch the spectacular sunrises from this 2.5-billion-year- old mountain.
This is one of China’s most unique sightseeing options, and one of the country’s most important historical sites. The remaining life-size clay Terracotta Warriors represent only some of the 8,000 statues originally buried near the tomb of Emperor Qinshihuang (221 to 207 B.C.). They were designed to protect the Emperor during the afterlife, and the craftsmanship of each statue is remarkable in itself. No two soldiers look alike! The statues are often accompanied by majestic horses, weapons and chariots that reflect the magnificence of ancient China. Farmers accidentally discovered the clay army in 1974 where most of the soldiers lay in pieces. The statues continue to be reconstructed to this day where they are placed in the exact location where they originally stood guard. The Terracotta Warriors Museum was constructed near Xi’an, and contains three areas. Number One contains 6,000 clay soldiers and horses, whereas pit Number Tow contains 1,000 warriors and 60 chariots. UNESCO declared this archeological marvel as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1987.
Located in the Eastern province of Jiangsu, Suzhou is aptly named the city of gardens in China. Thanks to the area’s abundance of artistic gardens and winding canals, it is also known as Earthly Paradise and the Venice of the East. Suzhou is more than 1,500 years, and the city contains 69 of the area’s original private gardens. Visitors will enjoy the calm, relaxing atmosphere of this area. They can wander the small Shizilin or Lion Grove garden with its lion-shaped rocks or explore the decorative art and stone carved pavilion structures of the Liuyuan or Garden to Linger in. The city’s largest garden, the Zhuozhengyuan or the Humble Administrator’s Garden covers 4 hectares, most of it water and should not be missed. The charming, peaceful gardens of Suzhou were declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.
Located 50 kilometers from Beijing City and covering 15 square miles, the Ming Tombs are the mausoleums of 13 Ming Dynasty emperors. These men lived from 1368 to 1644 and were buried in elaborate tombs consisting of stairways, pavilions, courtyards, gates and walls. Each emperor would be buried with his wife, favorite concubines and a large amount of royal treasure. The Spirit Way, the entrance to the Ming Tombs, contains many statues of officials and guardian animals. The most popular tomb is that of emperor Yongle which features an underground palace.
The world’s largest public square, Tiananmen Square is considered a symbol of the People’s Republic of China and the spiritual heart of the country. Thousands of annual visitors are attracted by the important historical and political significance of the square which can hold as many as 1 million people. Many huge buildings surround the square such as The Forbidden City, the Monument of the People’s Heroes, Tiananmen Gate, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum and the Great Hall of the People. The Square recently received an update to celebrate China’s 50th anniversary. Every day at sunrise, the national flag is raised in Tiananmen or the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Mount Huangshang or Yellow Mountain is one of the most famous parks and tourist destinations in all of China. Every year, thousands of visitors are amazed by the park’s 250 kilometers of breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife and 72 peaks. Everywhere you turn, you can witness magnificent waterfalls, uniquely shaped pine trees and interesting rock formations of this World Natural and Cultural Heritage site. For thousands of years, Chinese poets and painters have tried to capture the beauty of this amazing site. Don’t miss the scenic Sea of Clouds where you can climb Heaven Capital Peak, Lotus Peak or Bright Peak and rise above the clouds or take a refreshing dip in the relaxing hot springs.