China is an incredibly large and populous nation that is as diverse as it is vast. Although there are some unifying aspects of Chinese culture, you will find incredibly different people, foods, and environments, depending on which province you visit. If you go from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai to Yunnan province, you will think you are in a different country entirely.
If you spend much time in China, you will notice a range of dialects being spoken. The two major dialects are Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong; and Mandarin. Mandarin is the dominant dialect, which in Chinese is called “Putonghua”, or the “common language.” Unlike some parts of Asia that have been open to the West for longer periods of time, you will find less English being spoken, especially outside of the larger cities. However, most of the major tourist attractions will have English-speaking tour guides. If you are adventurous and can speak at least a few words of Mandarin, exploring on your own will be a wonderful adventure — but most tourists opt for the guided tours because of the relative lack of English speaking people outside of the main areas. Even if you are part of a tour, try to break away for at least a short walk on your own just to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the narrow, colorful streets of China. Everything here will seem new and wonderful, from the sight of whole roasted ducks hanging in windows, to the small shrines placed outside of homes that hold pungent incense and flowers, paying homage to the resident’s ancestors.
Natural and Man-Made Wonders
A vacation to China is sure to delight, no matter where you go. There are an endless supply of wonders, both natural and man-made. Among the latter, the most famous are the Great Wall, and the terra cotta warriors, and the Forbidden City. The terra cotta warriors, located in Xi’an, is a spectacular sight with a rich and fascinating history dating back to the Qin dynasty over 2000 years ago. Also over 2000 years old, the Great Wall, created to protect China against its enemies, makes for a scenic hike and incredible photo opportunities. The Forbidden City located in Beijing is a spectacular collection of architectural wonders and over 800 buildings.
But the ancient structures are not all there is to see in China; natural wonders abound as well. The mountainous province of Yunnan, located in the south of China, offers a look at a time gone by with small villages, tribal communities, and the incredible Yunnan Stone Forest in Kunming. In Yunnan, you will encounter several ethnic minorities and tribal villages with a rich and varied heritage. Yunnan, because of its rugged mountain terrain, was until very recently completely cut off from the outside world, and it is said to be the basis for the mythical Shangri-La.
The incredible expanse of China makes it difficult to take it all in. Taking a vacation to China requires some serious planning, because it’s simply impossible to see it all in one trip, or even in one lifetime. But once you’ve visited, you’ll want to come back time and time again.