The majority of first-time visitors to China follow a classic route taking in the magnificent cultural and scenic highlights for which the country has become rightly famous.
In recent times, however, improved infrastructure and increased political freedoms have opened up new areas of China’s fascinating hinterlands.
While the must-see sights remain just that, at Audley we thoroughly recommend including a taste of these more unusual destinations that the tour groups have yet to reach.
As political tensions in the region have eased, more of the overland borders linking China to its Southeast Asian neighbours have opened to foreign visitors over recent years, making combining two or more countries an exciting new possibility. The most straightforward crossing is from southern Yunnan province into Vietnam at Lao Cai, giving access to the beautiful mountain region of Sapa in northern Vietnam and Hanoi beyond.
A little more adventurous is the crossing into Myanmar along the old Burma Road from Ruili in western Yunnan, opening up a remote and little-travelled region.
The Silk Route
With remoteness a by-word along the Silk Route it is important to find oases of comfort along the way. Most of the major cities now have high quality accommodation, and even some of the more out-of-the-way places can provide a degree of comfort.
For transportation we use only those vehicles best suited to the roads on which they will travel and drivers with the experience necessary for the demands of your journey. Your guides along the route are there to help as much as inform, in what is a foreign and little-known region for most visitors.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese. Among the enormous number of local dialects, large groups speak Cantonese, Fukienese and Minnanhua. Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang, which are autonomous regions, have their own languages. In the countryside, strong regional accents and local dialects (there can be many differences even within a single province) mean that even native Mandarin speakers can struggle to communicate at times.
Food & Drink
Chinese cuisine has a very long history and is renowned all over the world. It is possible to break it down into four major regional categories: Northern cuisine such as peking duck, Mongolian hotpot and shuijiao (dumplings). Southern cuisine (Cantonese) is famous for being the most exotic in China and is the category most familiar to Westerners. Eastern cuisine is rich and sweet, often pickled. Western cuisine such as Sichuan and Hunan food, is spicy, often sour and peppery.
One of the best-known national drinks is maotai, a fiery spirit which is distilled rice wine. Local beers are of good quality, notably Qingdao, which is similar to German lager and there are now some decent wines.
In general tipping is not expected, however, international hotels operate on more westernised principles, and small sums of one US dollar or 5 yuan for bell-boys, waiters in restaurants and cleaning staff is the norm.
Tipping constitutes a recognised part of your guide and driver's income. This is, of course, discretionary and if for any reason your guide or driver have not met the expected standard please do not feel obliged to tip them.
The currency of China is the Renminbi (RMB), more commonly known as the yuan. It is now possible to buy Renminbi from Bureaux de Change in the UK with a few days notice, and can be bought on the day at Heathrow. ATMs can be found in Chinese cities of any size, though only Visa or Mastercard will be accepted in most of them.
Do not take pictures of people without asking permission and photography is not allowed in airports. Places of historic and scenic interest may be photographed, but permission should be sought before photographing military installations, government buildings or other possibly sensitive subjects. You should always speak respectfully about the Chinese government.
Our country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.
When to go to China
* This is a rough guide to when to travel in the country as a whole. It may not necessarily apply to a specific itinerary or part of the country.
- The best time to travel
- A good time to travel, some factors to be aware of
- Travel is possible, but this is not the best time of year
- Snow or ski season
- Travel is not recommended