For Westerners, China is frequently thought of as an exotic, far off land, full of mystery and enchantment. And for most Westerners, it's definitely far away. However, mystery is in the eye of the traveler. China's enigmatic nature is simply generations full of customs and culture very different than American or European countries. While the allure of China may be enough to convince you to visit, there are a few more great reasons to make the trek to China.
Culture – New & Old
China is an old country. They have thousands of years of history complete with war, dynasties, and prosperity. They have great monuments, like the Terra Cotta Soldiers, and beautiful ancient buildings which have stood the test of time.
The Chinese are proud of their history and eager to share their stories with visitors. If the language barrier doesn't hinder your ability to communicate, you may be treated to a meal at a local's home. The Chinese are hospitable and will bend over backwards to ensure your experience is excellent. The cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, are full of all the modern conveniences: great metro systems, financial centers, Pizza Hut, parks, cafes, and everything you need. Despite massive skyscrapers, subway systems, and modern architecture, the traditional Chinese buildings from yesteryear are still prevalent throughout the cities. You can also tour the deeper, narrow city streets on a rickshaw to see how little life has changed despite the world changing all around.
One thing to note about China is how many people are there. I know that may seem stupid to say, but there are over one billion people in the entire country. As you visit and do touristy things, many other Chinese and international visitors are doing the same thing. Even in the "off season," the sheer quantity of people might over you, especially if you're introverted. The Chinese also don't usually have the same feelings about personal space that most Westerners have. Their comfort level with being super close to complete strangers was new and unusual for me, but it's easy to get used to. Queues and waiting ones turn are also not overly recognized, especially when trying to see tourist attractions, boarding planes, or using the toilets.
Lotus Roots and Peking Duck
Food in China is as much as an adventure as traveling and daily life. From herbal tinctures and powders (no rhino horn, please) to city-cured meats, China has nearly every food you can think of. Yes, China has the classics: McDonald's, Subway, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut, but the street food and local restaurants can be equally exciting. Unless you have an iron-clad constitution, non-bottled water, and any veggies, fruits, soups, broths, rice, or teas using non-bottled water, will most likely upset your tummy for a day up to a couple of weeks. China has a different set of bacteria in their water and it can really damper your visit if it doesn't agree with you.
Real talk: I had no idea what kind of meat I ate in China. I ate very little meat not knowing where it came from or what exactly it was. I visited in the heyday of both swine and avian flu. I ate a lot of vegetarian meals, all of which are delicious.
If you're traveling to China with a group of Westerners, you'll probably eat at "western-safe" restaurants serving familiar dishes, like shrimp fried rice and kung pao chicken. Here's the real tip: once you get to those restaurants, ask your guide or your server for an authentic Chinese dish, not what they serve the Americans. This way, you can get a more authentic eating experience without sacrificing your digestive comfort later in the day.
Pro Tip: Ditch the fork - use chopsticks.
Whether you want to visit famous locations like The Great Wall or Tiananmen Square or you want to go off the grid into the small villages of the interior, China is full of adventure and it's waiting for you!