China, with its ancient culture and fast-paced urban development, is a mish-mash of seemingly contradictory values that somehow blend into a consistent whole. Visitors flock to China to explore its multitude of attractions, and to experience an entirely different outlook on life, that stands in stark contrast to the typical western worldview. For a truly immersive experience unlike any other, China is a must on any traveller's bucket list - and if it isn't yet on yours, here are 5 reasons that might just change your mind.
1. Cities like no other
China's cities are both sprawling and ancient, often fusing modern conveniences - such as Beijing's efficient subway system - with historic monuments and attractions. In Xi'an, the city's Bell Tower is an incredible example of this phenomenon. Once the hub of public life, and dating back to the 14th century, today the Bell Tower is accessed via a modern underpass, and is perched in a prime position as a roundabout for traffic from the four major intersections in the downtown area. Back in the capital, you'll find many attractions are accessible via subway, and often timeless monuments rub shoulders with contemporary architecture. Look out for the city skyline, which can be seen from certain parts of the Forbidden City - which can be accessed through modern Tiananmen Square.
2. Ancient history
With over 5,000 years of history to boast of, China is famously proud of its long heritage. Architecture is of course one of the most famous aspects of historic Chinese culture, and in a country littered with pagodas, preserved temples and palaces from its Imperial past, these certainly aren't hard to find. However, China's past is so long and well-recorded, there are snapshots of human history far beyond the buildings and structures this country is known for. From ceramics that date back centuries, to dance performances steeped in tradition, and near-legendary stories of China's dynastic emperors, often a talking point during palace tours, this is the perfect destination for those looking for culture and history.
3. Breathtaking scenery
Whilst modern China thrives on the production of its bustling cities, the countryside here is not without its charms. From scenic mountain vistas (some of which can be appreciated from the ramparts of the Great Wall itself), to crashing waterfalls and vast swathes of verdant, uninhabited land, China has a number of quiet scenic spots to absorb. Hangzhou's West Lake is renowned for its incredible beauty and serenity, leading to its UNESCO World Heritage status and a reputation as one of China's best sights. In the capital, the sublime Kunming Lake at the heart of the Summer Palace complex is also well worth a visit. Surrounded by the trees and intricate buildings that make up the 742-acre palace grounds, the lake is best explored by boat. Short cruises across its waters are available from several jetty points, and provide a delightful way to enjoy this stunning focal point, especially on warmer days.
4. Incredible food
One of the many joys of having a long history to draw on is an embedded tradition of dishes and regional cuisines that have been perfected over generations. China's culinary experiences are varied, largely dependent on the province and its local crops, and in many ways unrecognisable to those used to a typical western takeaway. Rice is a staple in many parts of the country, and is often served steamed, alongside a range of meat, tofu and vegetable-based dishes rich in spice and flavour. Dumplings are also popular, particularly in Xi'an, where wheat is a more prominent crop than rice, leading to a variety of delicious 'baozi' (large steamed dumplings) and 'jiaozi' (their diminutive counterpart). Other delicacies include the 'Chinese hamburger', a steamed dumpling pocket stuffed with delicious shredded meat, 'jianbing', an egg crepe stuffed with salad and spicy sauce that is often served as a breakfast, and 'lengmian', a dish of cold rice noodles served with a sesame-peanut sauce and finely-diced cucumber pieces. Whilst much of Chinese cuisine is heavily reliant on chilli for flavour, plenty of milder dishes are also staple favourites, so even the less adventurous can enjoy authentic local cooking.
China has some of the most diverse experiences on the planet, all available within the borders of one giant country. Regional weather here can vary from below freezing temperatures in the chilly yet breathtaking north, to sweltering heats in southern summer cities, with most destinations falling happily in between the two. Yet it's not just the climate that changes across the country; from regional cuisine to language and dialect, and even attractions, China has a huge amount of variety, allowing you to enjoy a range of experiences across the land. There aren't many places on earth that play home to pandas and permafrost, sumptuous gardens and vast deserts, but China can make this boast and more - creating the perfect atmosphere for a fulfilling holiday whatever your preferences.