In those gigantic countries where the main points of interest are hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers away from each other, knowing how to choose when to go can mean the difference between a magnificent experience or a hellish journey. This is even more important in China than in others of similar size such as the United States, Canada or Australia, because not only depends on the weather and the festivities that take place, in China we also have to face the overcrowding and development.
BEST YEAR TO GO
- When NOT to go China: now.
- When to go: in 10 years time, approximately.
We will think that the Great Wall is not going to change, Shanghai is won’t become more modern, or the mountains in Guilin are not going to move from there, but none of that is correct:
- No matter how modern Shanghai or Hong Kong seems to us, taller buildings with extravagant architecture are still being built not only in these cities, but throughout the country. In a few years, today unknown cities may have become a reference for lovers of glass skyscrapers.
- That the stretches in Badaling and Mutianyu of the Great Wall are absolutely overcrowded is another fact, but the wall measures 12,000 kilometers; There are already restored segments to where hardly any visitors come because the reconstruction has gone ahead of the infrastructure to access them, such as the sections of Simatai and Jinshanling near Beijing. In a few years it will not take between 3 and 4 hours to reach them, with which tourism will be divided and no section will be congested. And if we prefer to see the wall in its wild state, thousands of kilometers will remain unrestored, not in remote provinces such as Gansu or Inner Mongolia, but very close to the reconstructed ones in Beijing, with the Jiankou and Gubeikou sections being examples.
- The Terracotta Warriors may be one of the architectural marvels of the history of humanity, but to this day they are a disappointment to a greater or lesser extent for almost all visitors (among which we include ourselves); those 3 pits discovered, number 3 is very small and is practically empty, in number 2, 95% of the warriors are buried and those in sight are not recomposed, and only number 1 offers a good collection of restored figures, which is still not a quarter of the size of the pit, so tall tourists crowd the main entrance. Let’s not mention that the tomb of the first emperor was discovered years ago but it is still not open, because experts think that the environmental exhibition could damage the interior paintings in a matter of minutes, and better not mention either that most of the mausoleum city is still to unearth. In 10 years all this will not be exposed, but there will be more to see than now.
Nature sites are unlikely to change, or at least that would be desirable, but many of them escape the radar of any moderately conventional trip because they are very inaccessible; Examples are Jiuzhaigou National Park or the rice fields of Yuanyang, two fascinating sites that take almost 10 hours by bus to get from the nearest city. While it is true that this circumstance preserves them from tourism, in turn it prevents many travelers (as has been our case after more than a month in China) from visiting them. Accessibility is increasing top speed in this country through the construction of high-speed trains almost everywhere; with prices lower than 50% of what we would pay in Europe or North America, far away are the 20-hour journeys on hard seat, except for those who for economic reasons choose to do so. In addition, today foreigners can not book train tickets online or in vending machines stations, which requires us to buy them through an agency (with its corresponding commission) or go to the windows (with the consequently queue); It is a serious backwardness that will probably be corrected in the coming years.
And education is another aspect to consider. Many legends are told about the rudeness of locals: it is said that they spit at all hours and everywhere, that pants of small children have a slit in the back so that they can relieve themselves at any time and place, that they are unpleasant and rude, and push and sneak into the lines. All this is absolutely true, but it is less so than it was a few years ago; a severe campaign of awareness (and especially fines with important economic sanctions) are leading these behaviors to extinction, which is very welcome (we recommend seeing the post THINGS THAT WERE CERTAIN IN CHINA AND NO LONGER ARE).
BEST MONTH TO GO
China is immense, and therefore has many types of climate, from the icy north with Siberian temperatures, to the almost tropical south where more than winter and summer there is rainy season and dry season, passing through the deserts of the west or the climate of the highest mountains in the world in the Himalayas.
Since most visitors will travel once in their life to this country, two at the most, and generally no more than 2-3 weeks, it is essential to choose which month to go in order to have the best possible climate in most of the country, and for a trip that includes the usual sites, the most recommended are:
- May: following a “C” route in a clockwise direction: Shanghai, Guilin / Hong Kong, Three Gorges, Sichuan, Xi’an and finishing in Beijing. In this way we will get temperatures close to 20ºC during the entire trip, as well as low possibility of rain.
- October, starting in Beijing and following the same route anticlockwise, ending in Shanghai, we will have many possibilities of getting exactly the same temperatures and rainfall as in the previous recommendation.
- In general, it is not advisable to travel in winter, since except in Guilin and Hong Kong the snow will be omnipresent, and in the middle of summer, because the heat and humidity are insufferable, we could find temperatures of over 35ºC at midnight and 100% of humidity in a large part of the country.
NUMBER OF TOURISTS
The logic is simple: the more tourists, the worse. There are some times of the year that are absolutely inadvisable:
- July and August: the holiday season of the entire northern hemisphere also involves tides of foreign and, to a lesser extent, national tourists.
- Chinese New Year. Although it is also on the list of the most important and interesting events of the year, the fact that the entire country is on vacation at the same time can be difficult to cope with. Do not try to compare it with Christmas holidays of any Western country because 1: in this country there are many more people and 2: no one leaves China in Chinese New Year. The sites that are tourist for foreigners are also the ones of maximum interest for locals. Accommodation prices are doubled, queues are several hours to enter attractions that usually require minutes, and transport, including frequent high-speed trains, are sold out weeks in advance. To this we must add the cold, but at least, we will be enjoying a magnificent show.
- The Golden Week. This is the worst time of the year to go to China, and be aware is invariably the first week of October, coincidentally one of the best times to travel in terms of weather. This is a coincidence: the national day is October 1 and is celebrated during the days 1st to 3rd; most of the locals will take advantage of it to ask for some vacations to be able to take the entire week off. We unfortunately suffer it. When we bought the plane tickets we had not heard of Chinese Golden Week; I happened to be in the Golden Week in Japan in May 2013 and, although there was a shortage of accommodation and a bit more tourism, the experience was quite bearable, so I thought, wrongly, that it would not be so different in China. But it was, because as in the new year, those 1000 million Chinese living in places without interest take advantage of tourism, and although many go abroad, the number that opts for national tourism far exceeds what can occur in Japan, a country with only 100 million inhabitants. The Golden Week was about to end our trip:
- Hotel prices also rise twice, sometimes unexpectedly (in Huashan we were forced to pay double what we had booked through Booking.com, an amount that was later reimbursed by the website).
- We had no choice but to decide and buy all the trains until the end of the Golden Week the first day we arrived in Shanghai, more than 2 weeks in advance and we could not choose everything that suited us.
- 10 rows of people in front of us in pit 1 in the Terracotta Warriors (we had to make our way the traditional Chinese style, pushing), 4 hours queuing to start climbing the steps of the Soldiers Path in Huashan and another 4 to to be able to lower the steps that lead to the base of Leshan Great Buddha would embitter the experience to almost anyone.
And as a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a summary of our Golden Week in:
- The Chinese New Year is the star. Fireworks, parades, music, party and lots of food, all in oriental style, make up one of the most famous festivals in the country, so much that it is globalizing and on a small scale we can appreciate it in the Chinatown of any big city.
- In January, Harbin Ice Festival is celebrated in the north of the country, where the usual temperatures at this time of the year are -25ºC; It’s one of the most important in the world. More than sculptures, real palaces are built on a real scale, all illuminated by neons of all kinds of colors that they like so much in this society.
- At the end of February or the beginning of March, the Paper Lanterns Festival takes place, they are illuminated all over the country, most celebrated in the area of Xi’an and Pingyao.
- In March, the sea of yellow flowers is a spectacular vision that corresponds to the flowering of rapeseed. The best place to contemplate them is Wùyuán, close to Mount Huang.
- In spring, sporting events take place:
- The Chinese Grand Prix of Formula 1 is held in Shanghai at the end of April.
- For those who want an original experience, although extremely demanding, the Great Wall of China Marathon takes place in the Huanyaguang section, 120 km east of Beijing. If we do not get that much, there is also a half marathon and 8.5 km race. For details, see its official website.
- The Dragon Boat Racing is another event held in any city that has a long river, early June.
- Summer: Mongolian Merrymaking is a more than a week-long traditional Mongolian warfare competition held in Inner Mongolia in July. It includes fighting shows, horse races or archery, in the purest 10th century style.
- Autumn: the most outstanding event, but unlike the others, for trying to avoid it, is the dreaded Golden Week, in the first week of October. A nightmare for the tourist that you have to try to take advantage of, since apart from New Year, at no other time of the year there is so much life in the streets. For the rest, it is better to deviate to remote regions or take it with patience and sense of humor.
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