As you weave your way through a narrow hutong, you’re sure to notice the smell of noodles and soy in the air. It’s Beijing, and you can hear the caged birds sing; a light note against the cacophony of traffic and the polyphony of the locals’ voices. There are numerous Mandarin dialects spoken all over the cities, as people have come from far and wide to seek their fortune.
Everything about China is intense, from the expansive calligraphy and musical sounds of the language to the noise and energy of the open-air markets in Xinjiang. There are urban megacities like Shanghai and Guagzhou, abuzz with neon and fearless energy. Then there are the lakes and rivers, the intricately painted pagodas, temples and bridges, the vast wildernesses and far-flung mountain villages.
When you travel around, it’s like visiting several countries rolled into one. You could be gazing at the sapphire lakes of Tibet or traversing the sparse deserts of Inner Mongolia. Hopping around the islands of Hong Kong or biking around Yángshuò marvelling at the scale of the rice terraces of the south. Perhaps you’re snapping a photo among the yellow rapeseed of Wùyuán or hiking the Great Wall as it winds across the mountain peaks. Or visiting the Forbidden City and Teracotta soldiers before losing yourself in the dense forests of bamboo.
Part of the thrill of China is the way the ancient permeates through to the modern. Imagine slurping a steaming bowl of Lanzhou noodles in a Silk Road street market while haggling over the cost of a smartphone and you’ll get a sense of how the old and new worlds collide.
When to go
With such climatic and topographical extremes, it’s hard to say when is best to visit. Overall, we prefer spring and autumn – they’re the most temperate seasons.