8 of your most-asked China questions, answered
A&K’s China specialist, Gerald Hatherly is one of the ‘Greatest Travel Pros on Earth’ according to Condé Nast Traveller. We put your eight most-asked questions on China to him, so you don’t miss out during your luxury China holiday.
A&K’s China specialist, Gerald Hatherly is one of the ‘Greatest Travel Pros on Earth’ according to Condé Nast Traveller. We put your eight most-asked questions on China to him…
Q. Which dish does everyone need to try when in China?
A. Without a doubt, dumplings in Shanghai. There’s a certain one, called xiao long bao, which is a steamed-soup dumpling. Inside, pork and crab is mixed with a soup broth. They are served piping hot. Scoop the dumpling onto your ceramic spoon, poke a small hole to let the soup escape, then eat the dumpling and drink the liquid – delicious.
Q. Should people consider China as a destination for a family holiday?
A. A&K do excellent family holidays. It’s not always where you go, but what you do. We can really tailor a family trip to make it unforgettable for all generations. In Beijing, children can make a kite and fly it with a kite master; have a Chinese language lesson or a calligraphy lesson. They can go to the Peking Opera School, to be made up in traditional stage make-up. We can organise a visit to a Chinese home for a dumpling-making lesson with a Chinese grandmother. Outside the city, bike tours, farm visits and rice-planting experiences are all popular. It’s an incredible destination that children will never forget.
Q. Which under-the-radar spot would you recommend for a Chinese adventure?
A. Shanxi is an interesting province that not enough people know about – as opposed to Shaanxi, which is a well-known place. Shanxi has a great wealth of Chinese history – with a lot of great, folkloric traditions and several UNESCO sites. Pingyao city has become popular with travellers for its real sense of Chinese history. It’s protected by UNESCO, and has a walled city with 4,000 buildings that date to the early Ming Dynasty. It’s the only place I’ve been to where you can walk through the streets and feel like you’re in medieval China. It’s a living museum of ancient China. If you’re visiting Pingyao, I’d also recommend staying in Jing’s Residence, one of the best boutique hotels in the country.
Q. What’s some of the most unique activities to take part in?
A. Of course, there’s tai chi, but I’d also recommend trying acupuncture or seeing a demonstration. Whichever city we’re in, we always take clients to have foot massage, which they love. And you can’t visit China without seeing a tea-appreciation ceremony to learn how best to prepare, enjoy and drink tea.
Q. What are China’s unmissable sights?
A. The Forbidden City. If you haven’t been to the Forbidden City, you can’t say you’ve been to China. And, of course, the Terracotta Army is a must-see. I’ve been to Xi’an approximately 200 times. You never get bored seeing the first excavation pit. It’s like someone has lifted the lid off this giant toy chest, and these incredible soldiers lined up in battle formation have been revealed. Guilin is another area that people should see. It features some of the most incredible landscapes in the world. Its beautiful limestone pinnacles are spectacular.
Q. Where is the best place in China to fully experience the majesty of the great wall?
A. I would go to a place called Jinshanling – a more pristine section of the Wall. Most people go to a place called Badaling, which is closer to Beijing. Jinshanling is the farther away. It’ll mean a full day trip from Beijing, but you’re often the only person there. From this part of the Wall, there are unobstructed views of the surrounding countryside. Plus the hiking is excellent. However, if you have time constraints, I’d recommend going to Mutianyu, which is the compromise site that sits between Badaling and Jinshanling .
Q. Where would you recommend for a day’s visit, when staying in Beijing?
A. For something different I recommend a visit to the 798 Art factory. It was once a series of abandoned military factories located in Danshazi, Chaoyang District. The area is now Beijing's largest and most active art community, comprised of galleries, artists' studios, art centres as well as restaurants and bars.
Q. When should people visit China?
A. Autumn or spring for the best weather. From mid September to early November, depending on which region you want to visit. There’s a caveat though, never travel between the 1st and 8th of October, as all of China is on holiday. It’s the single busiest week for domestic travel. The second-best time to go is late April to mid June.