The world’s most populated, and third biggest, country, China is also one of the most cultural, scenic and historically rich nations on earth. The birthplace of one of the world’s great civilisations, the country has a wealth of well-preserved ancient treasures like the Terracotta...


26 July 2017

Sylvia Takes China

Hi I’m Sylvia, age 8, and you’re going to be reading a list of my top 7 favourite things in China!

Sylvia and her mum ready to ride the ancient city walls of Xian. © Chris...

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Places to go in China

Beijing, China’s capital, is a great city to visit with children. Remnants of the past include the graceful Temple of Heaven, the largest building of religious worship in China and the immense Forbidden City, which is the former home to China’s imperial families. Chaoyang Park is a sprawling green space where families gather to visit its little amusement park, fly kites, play on the manmade beach, rent boats to explore the lake or bikes to cycle around. In winter the park transforms into an icy wonderland of skiing and tubing. For a window into local life, a fun way to explore Beijing’s Hutongs, alleyways with traditional courtyard style homes, is by rickshaw. Take an early morning visit to the Great Wall or get immersed in the city’s contemporary art scene at 798 Art Space, a vibrant art district full of colourful art kids will enjoy.

The 8,000 life-sized terracotta figures of soldiers of Xi’an were discovered a few decades ago by farmers and excavations are still ongoing. Created in honour of the first emperor of Qin and buried with him when he died so that he could rule another empire in his afterlife, these terracotta figures are replicas of the imperial guard and have been arranged in battle formations along with clay horses, bronze chariots and weapons. Challenge your kids to find two that look alike (they won’t as all are unique). Families can rent a tandem bicycle to ride along Xi’an’s ancient City Wall, enjoy the evening musical water fountain performance at Big Wild Goose Pagoda, or head to Tang Dynasty, a cultural amusement park with Shaolin Kung Fu, lion dancing and acrobatic performances. Animal lovers can also make the one-hour journey to Louguantai Panda Preserve, home to 15 pandas as well as some monkeys, birds and more.

What kid wouldn’t want to scale the snaking dragon that is the Great Wall of China? The country’s most famous landmark stretches 8,851.8 kilometres across the country, though technically consists of a number of separate walls and fortifications constructed over many years by independent kingdoms. Originally constructed around 2000 years ago to prevent barbarians from entering China, it never really effectively prevented invaders. Regardless, the Great Wall is still considered one of the most impressive architectural feats in history. Mutianyu, about 70 kilometres from Beijing, is probably the safest and most kid-friendly section of the Wall to visit. Take the cable car up and down to save a little energy. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, take a 45-minute walk along the wall to the toboggan run that that winds down the hill from the wall. There are double and single toboggans, which drivers can control to go asfast or slow as they dare.

Known for its dramatic landscape of limestone karst peaks, Guilin is one of the China’s most beautiful regions. Tranquil rivers and lakes, lush green hills and mysterious caves only add to its allure. The best way to see the area is by hiring a private driver and guide. Teens will especially enjoy exploring the countryside of Yangshuo by bike, taking a jaw dropping sightseeing cruise along the the Li River, taking a punt bamboo rafting along the Yulong River or visiting minority villages for cultural immersion. Other popular attractions are the Reed Flute Cave, with its colourfully illuminated stalactites and stalagmites, and the incredible Liu San Jie Impression Light Show in Yangshuo. The light show is a creation of the director and choreographer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics with the waters of the Li River and a dozen beautifully lit karst formations setting the stage for a show that is like no other.

China’s exceptional transport system makes getting around easy. Airlines link all the major cities with regular services and cheap fares. Trains also connect major cities and towns. The subway systems in Beijing and Shanghai are incredibly clean, super fast and efficient and Taxi’s are cheap, making both cities easy to navigate. You can also hire bicycles, which can be rented easily and cheaply. But you’ll need to remember to pack helmets for the kids. Crossing roads in highly populated cities and towns can be dangerous so always use pedestrian bridges and underpasses where possible.

Mosquito borne illnesses including malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever are a risk. Pack child-safe insect repellent (with no more than a 20% concentration of DEET) and apply regularly to prevent being bitten. Rabies is also present so be especially cautious with your children around animals. China requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a high-risk country (Australia is not). Though there are no other essential vaccinations, make an appointment with your family medical practitioner for the most up to date recommendations at least six weeks before travelling, and ensure every member of the family is up-to-date with routine vaccinations. To avoid stomach upsets, only drink bottled water with an intact safety seal and stick to eating well-cooked food that hasn’t been allowed to cool or been reheated. China’s hospitals and clinics are not created equal and it pays off to do your research should an emergency arise.

Chinese Opera masks are dramatic and colourful, so sure to appeal to kids. Chinese kites are extravagant colourful numbers resembling birds, butterflies, tigers and dragons, and make a great memento for the kids. You cannot leave China without a cute and cuddly stuffed panda bear. Buy a Chinese Calligraphy wall hanging with your child’s name in Chinese to hang up on your wall. Inexpensive but pretty mandarin-collared silk pyjamas for both boys and girls will have the kids dreaming of their holiday in China.

It’s one of the world’s most popular cuisines and though rice, noodles and steamed buns are staples throughout, flavours and spiciness can vary a great deal across the country, with eight main provincial cuisines as well as Beijing and Shanghai’s cuisine each boasting their own startlingly different signature style. Must try dishes that won’t come with too many protests from fussier eaters include the ubiquitous sweet and sour pork, wontons, dumplings, spring Rolls, noodle soups, fried rice and Peking duck. More daring foodie families should give the spicy chilli-infused dan dan noodles, ma po tofu and the variety of peppery sichuan classics a try. If you or your kids are particularly picky most major hotels have a restaurant offering western dishes and kids’ menus with more simple choices. And American style fast food outlets are pretty easy to find due to their increasing popularity amongst Chinese people.

Chinese culture is rich in customs, traditions and superstitions and is filled with fascinating legends the kids will love listening to. When dining out, never place chopsticks upright in a rice bowl and never use them to gesture to other diners. Kids will love the fact that burping is seen as a compliment to the chef. With the exception of tour-related activities and at hotels, tipping is generally unnecessary and can be considered impolite. A less pleasant practise is the common occurrence of people spitting loudly in public but it is part of everyday Chinese life that you’ll just have to get used to. One of the hardest things for children to get used to is the amount of people who want their photo taken with them, but you can either politely decline or just grin and accept it as the compliment it is meant as.

Though it is a cheaper option than Australia or Western Europe, a holiday in China is more expensive that it’s South East Asian counterparts. Local public transport is relatively inexpensive but the massive size of the country means the costs of getting from city to city can add up quickly. This combined with the price per head of organised tours and entry into popular attractions can take a sizable chunk of the holiday budget. Accommodation, even at the luxury end, is reasonably priced but if you’re planning an extended stay in a particular city, apartment rentals can be an excellent option for families and many come with access to facilities like swimming pools and gyms. Local cuisine is cheap and good but keep in mind that restaurants located in high traffic tourist areas tend to be a little more costly, as do western style restaurants.

Though spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are generally considered the best times of the year to visit China as Chinese winters tend to be extremely cold and the summer season hot, rainy and humid. But given the country’s sheer size there are other factors to consider before undertaking your adventures and it is worth checking regional weather conditions, as they are so variable. However, if you can handle the cooler or warmer temps, travelling in low season has its merits as transport and accommodation in popular tourist areas are all substantially cheaper and the top attractions less crowded and far more tranquil, a huge bonus when travelling with children. One time of year best avoided is October 1st–7th. This week long break is Chinese National Day Holiday and along with all the attractions and hotels heaving with crowds of local tourists, prices rise considerably.

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