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About China
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About China

China isn't a country - it's a different world. Unless you have a couple of years and unlimited patience, it's best to follow a loose itinerary here, such as following the Silk Road, sailing down the Yangzi River, or exploring the Dr Seuss landscape of Guangxi Province.

From shop-till-you-drop metropolises to the epic grasslands of Inner Mongolia, China is a land of cultural and geographic schisms. It's not that it has completely done away with its Maoist past - it's more that the yin of revolutionary zeal is being balanced by the yang of economic pragmatism.

China is a country of great contrasts, with picturesque rural landscapes and congested cityscapes, and natural beauty that ranges from the untamed to the idyllic - from the windswept plains of the Gobi Desert and Mt Everest's notorious northern face to Yangshuo's gorgeous karst scenery. China is huge and wild enough to satisfy your explorer instinct, and is a great rollercoaster ride for anyone with a little time and an instinct for travel.

Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Visas are required by most foreigners entering mainland China although, at this stage, visas are not required by Western nationals visiting Hong Kong and Macau. Visas are available from Chinese embassies and consulates in most countries.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8 (Beijing Time.)
Dialing Code: 86

When to Go
Spring (March-April) and autumn (September-October) are the best times to visit China. Daytime temperatures range from 20°C to 30°C (68°F-86°F) in these seasons - but bear in mind that nights can still be bitterly cold and it can sometimes be wet and miserable. Major public holidays, in particular Chinese New Year, are best avoided as it's difficult to get around and/or find accommodation.

China Attractions

Beijing
If your visions of Beijing are centered around pods of Maoist revolutionaries in buttoned-down tunics performing taichi in Tiananmen Square, put them to rest: this city has embarked on a new millennium rollercoaster and it's taking the rest of China with it.

Shanghai
Shanghai is a scintillating city bristling with rapid cultural change. Since market restrictions were lifted, Shanghai has embraced the forces of business and design and rewritten its m.o., shaping a fresh, new city that is sophisticated, innovative and living a life it has never lived before

Xi'an
Xi'an was once a major crossroads on the trading routes from eastern China to central Asia, and vied with Rome and later Constantinople for the title of greatest city in the world. Today Xi'an is one of China's major drawcards, largely because of the Army of Terracotta Warriors on the city's eastern outskirts. Uncovered in 1974, over 10,000 figures have been sorted to date. Soldiers, archers (armed with real weapons) and chariots stand in battle formation in underground vaults looking as fierce and war-like as pottery can. Xi'an's other attractions include the old city walls, the Muslim quarter and the Banpo Neolithic Village - a tacky re-creation of the Stone Age.

Karakoram Highway

This yak-nibbled highway over the Khunjerab Pass (4800m/15,740ft) is the gateway to Pakistan and was used for centuries by caravans plodding down the Silk Road. Khunjerab means 'valley of blood', a reference to local bandits who took advantage of the terrain to plunder caravans and slaughter the merchants.

Longgong Caves
Guizhou province's awesome Longgong caves form a network through some 20 mountains. The caverns lie in Anshun county, at the Bouyi settlement of Shitou Zhai. Another scenic cave in the vicinity is Zhijin Cave. Anshun is a two-hour bus ride from Guiyang.

Qufu
Qufu, near the sacred Taoist mountain Tai Shan, is the birthplace of Confucius (551-479 BC). Its massive Confucius Temple features a series of impressive gateways, clusters of twisted pines and cypresses, inscribed steles and tortoise tablets recording ancient events.

Turpan
Turpan is 180km (112mi) southeast of Ürümqi and lies in a basin 154m (505ft) below sea level - the second-lowest depression in the world after Israel's Dead Sea. It's also the hottest spot in China: the mercury hovers around an egg-frying 50°C (122°F) in summer. Uighur culture is still thriving here and it's one of the few quiet places in China. The living is cheap, the food is good, the people are friendly, and there are interesting sights to see. Within easy reach are the Gaochang Ruins, once a major staging post on the Silk Road; and the Flaming Mountains, which look like they're on fire in the midday sun.

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