China has always been one of the most attractive travel destinations in the world, partly because so much history exists alongside the new, partly because it is still so unknown to outsiders. The country and its people remain a mystery. The rice paddies may have sprouted cities and manufacturing centers, and the streets may be clogged with cars and pollution, but the people remain rooted in a rich cultural heritage. They still burn joss sticks for good luck in an enterprise, even as they iron out the details of that enterprise on a cell phone.
China will appeal to all travelers interested in visiting an important culture that is truly different from their own and they will have the experience of a lifetime.
China is one of the oldest nations in the world. Its recorded history dates back 5,000 years. Historically, China was ruled by a succession of dynasties, and each left its mark on the country. For instance, the Qin began construction of the Great Wall, the Sui built the Grand Canal, and the Song period is known for its artistic achievements. The first Europeans to reach China were the Portuguese, who began trading on the island of Macau in the 16th century. The British soon followed, but their efforts were largely unprofitable until they began trading opium in the mid-1800s. The Opium Wars eventually led to British control of Hong Kong, a place that was not returned to China until 1997. Macao was returned in 1999.
China, the third-largest nation on the planet and encompasses virtually every type of terrain imaginable; from the steamy lowlands of the southeast to the Himalayan peaks of Tibet to the Gobi Desert in the north. Most of the country’s major rivers, including the Yellow and Yangtze, flow from west to east. China is bordered by 14 other countries.
Northern China has the best weather in September and October, and southern China and Hong Kong in November and December. China’s climate is one of extremes—hot summers in most parts of the country, bitter winters in the north and comfortable winters in the south. Spring rains can make southern cities (especially Guilin and Guangzhou) very humid. Sandstorms can be a problem in the north (including Beijing) in April. Tibet can be bitter cold, even in the autumn and late spring.
The variety of Chinese cuisines can be thrilling. There are eight major cuisine schools: Anhui and Shandong in the north; Fujian, Jiangsu (also called Huaiyang) and Zhejiang in the east; Cantonese in the south; and Sichuan and Hunan in the west. It’s important to understand that Chinese cooking in China is different from Chinese food served in the West. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to find the chicken’s head, feet and sundry vitals floating in the soup tureen or to be served an entire fish, complete with eyeballs and scales.