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6 Tips to go China

1. Eat well

Outside of China, impressions of Chinese food are still often defined by the sweet, balanced flavours of Cantonese food. Dim sum and other Cantonese dishes are delicious of course, but there’s a whole world of regional cuisines to discover: the fiery spice ofSichuan and Hunan cuisine; the freshness and sour funkiness of food from Guizhou andYunnan.

Plus Hangzhou and Shanghai‘s light, refined dumplings and seafood, and the hearty quasi-Turkish kebabs and hand-pulled noodles from Xinjiang. You may want to travel for some of these dishes, but major cities will host restaurants from around the country.

2. Learn some Chinese

Chinese languages are undoubtedly intimidating, but attempting to learn a little bit of Mandarin (the most widely spoken, standardized language) will be useful. If you’re visiting for a while, consider taking a short language course.

Even quite basic Mandarin will help you get around, and people will be happy you’re making an effort. Writing down or printing out addresses in Chinese characters can make things easier.

3. Take the train

For many countries this suggestion would imply the romance of watching the countryside slide by your window. That factor still holds here, but China’s high speed rail network is notable mainly for its sheer convenience. With stations closer to city centres than airports, train journeys between major cities are a comfortable, cheaper alternative to domestic flights.

The five hours between Beijing and Shanghai compare favourably to the flight time, with considerably less stress. Furthermore, the bustling modern stations provide a glimpse of the direction the country is heading in.

4. Get away from the coast

For another side of China, travel away from the major cities near the coast. Cities and provinces further inland showcase distinct local cultures and cuisines, and often have closer ties to tradition.

In Yunnan province near the borders with Laos and Myanmar, China takes on a Southeast Asian flavour. Chengdu in Sichuan province boasts a relaxed pace of life and is a gateway to wilderness along the edge of the Himalayas. Not too far away, Chongqing is a surreal mega-city where skyscrapers hug hills on the banks of the Yangtze River.

5. Go to a show

Chinese contemporary art is firmly established internationally, so you should check out some exhibits at the source: prominent galleries include the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, and OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Shenzhen.

6. Do some shopping

Sure, you can buy fake goods in China. But there’s so much more on offer. Why not pick up some quality oolong or pu’er tea? In the hutongs (alleys) around Guloudongdajie in Beijing, boutiques stock clothes from local designers and nostalgic socialist-chic homewares. Stores like Closing Ceremony in Shanghai offer an array of Chinese photo books and art magazines.