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Almost all of us are familiar with the great man-made attractions in China: The Forbidden City in Beijing. The Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an. Shanghai's skyscraper forest in Pudong.
For a country of its massive size and varied geography, however, it's surprising how relatively few people outside China appreciate the extent of the country's other destinations, many of the natural wonders to rival any in the world.
Anhui: Hongcun Ancient Village
The 900-year-old village of Hongcun has long drawn in-the-know Chinese visitors, who love its tranquil vibe and distinctive architecture. The striking Huangshan mountain backdrop doesn't hurt, either. Its classic structures, Moon Lake and picturesque locals have been an inspiration for art students for decades.
Walking the narrow lanes paved with quartzite and seeing farmers working in rice fields, with the reflection of ancient houses in the lake, should provide enough material to get you started on your own visual masterpiece.
Anhui: Mount Huangshan
A UNESCO World Heritage Site set amidst 'the loveliest mountains of China,' Mount Huangshan, aka Mount Yellow, is a once-in-a-lifetime trek for many Chinese. The 1,863-meter mountain is renowned for its oddly shaped pines, spectacular rock formations, hot springs and seas of misty and melancholy clouds. A trip here provides a mountain of feeling.
Fujian: Mount Wuyi
A major landmark in southeast China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Wuyi was the setting for the development and spread of neo-Confucianism, influential in East Asia since the 11th century. Bamboo raft drifting in the Nine Bend River (lower gorge) is a popular activity among visitors. The two-hour, eight-kilometer trips provide grand views of Mount Wuyi. It's the best way to take in the serene beauty of the smooth peaks and clear water.
Fujian: Xiapu Mudflat
Yes, a humble mudflat is a favorite destination of Chinese photographers. A small region along the southeast China coastline, Xiapu nevertheless has the largest mudflat in the country, encompassing 40 square kilometers and more than 400 kilometers of coastline. Along with its tiger-striped beaches, bamboo structures and poles, buoys, and fishing vessels provide human counterpoints to the area's natural beauty.
China's climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. In the winter, northern winds coming from high-latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower latitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country's highly complex topography.
For modest budgets, China has local chains — and locally operated franchises of international chains catering for the most part to traveling Chinese rather than foreign tourists or business visitors. Best Western, Days Inn, Comfort Inn, and Novotel are well represented throughout the country.
Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history and geographical variety, in which the most influential are known as the 'Eight Major Cuisines', including Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui, and Zhejiang cuisines. All of them are featured by the precise skills of shaping, heating, colorway and flavoring. Chinese cuisine is also known for its width of cooking methods and ingredients, as well as food therapy that is emphasized by traditional Chinese medicine. Generally, China's staple food is rice in the south, wheat-based breads and noodles in the north. The diet of the common people in pre-modern times was largely grain and simple vegetables, with meat reserved for special occasions. And the bean products, such as tofu and soy milk, remain as a popular source of protein. Pork is now the most popular meat in China, accounting for about three-fourths of the country's total meat consumption. While pork dominates the meat market, there is also pork-free Buddhist cuisine and Chinese Islamic cuisine. Southern cuisine, due to the area's proximity to the ocean and milder climate, has a wide variety of seafood and vegetables; it differs in many respects from the wheat-based diets across dry northern China. Numerous offshoots of Chinese food, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese food, have emerged in the nations that play host to the Chinese diaspora.
China recognizes only one currency – its own
The official currency of China is the yuan, otherwise known as RMB or colloquially as ‘quai’.
Notes are available for 1RMB, 10RMB, 20RMB, 50RMB, and 100RMB. There are also 1RMB coins available, as well as smaller fractions of known as ‘Mao’ for the Chinese leader who adorns them.
Chinese businesses do not accept any other currency, including the US dollar or Hong Kong dollar.
Visas for China
One of the most important things to know when traveling to China is that they do not offer visas on arrival. So before you travel to China you’ll need to arrange your visa well in advance!
When applying for a tourist visa, you’ll need to provide either a letter of invitation from a Chinese friend or relative, or provide a detailed itinerary of your intended trip. This includes return flights and confirmed reservations for your hotel bookings.
Visas can be applied for in person at the Chinese consulate or can be ordered via post.
Get a VPN for China
When you visit China keep in mind that their ‘Great Firewall’ blocks sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and most of the Google selection. If you want to access these while you’re visiting China, you’ll need to purchase a VPN.
When shopping for VPNs, check that they cover China – as many free options do not.
Drinking water in China
For the most part, tap water in China is not drinkable. Bottled water can be purchased very cheaply at most restaurants and stores.
Pharmacies in China
Chinese pharmacies offer both western and eastern medicine at very reasonable prices. Prescription medication can usually be purchased without a prescription (within reason) by simply providing the pharmacist with your identification.
Finding a doctor in China
Chinese hospitals can be crowded and daunting, but most major cities also have specialized hospitals catering to foreigners living and working in the country.
Even in the crowded public hospitals, many doctors will speak English.
The Chinese do not use handkerchiefs and tissues to clear their noses, and instead spit. While this can be a bit confronting when you first visit China, they’re similarly affronted when they see us blowing our noses and keeping it.
The Chinese love to take photographs, and don’t be surprised if a local tries to snap a sneaky photo of you or even comes up to ask for a picture with you. Like in most other countries, it always pays to ask permission before photographing a person or a government building.
Chinese waiters and waitresses aren’t as proactive as you may be used to, so don’t be afraid to throw your hands up and call for the fuyian if you want service.
Also be aware that conventional western service is hard to come by. Don’t be surprised if your starter, main, and dessert all arrive at once while your friend still waits for their first dish.
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