Speaking as someone who upped sticks and left London for China on two weeks’ notice, I’m constantly impressed by my adopted country’s disregard for doing things by halves. You hear a lot about the break-neck speed of modernisation in the PRC but nothing had prepared me for witnessing it first-hand.
I’m essentially living in an urban version of a nature documentary: one of those where the camera has been sped up to show the progress of acorn to oak tree. I can see and feel the changing landscape on my daily walks to and from work; shiny high-rises and luxury hotels springing from the ground like saplings in granite and chrome.
Meanwhile, metres away, a man selling turtles on long strings saunters by the neighbouring Buddhist monastery, swinging his wares and calling out the Chinese equivalent of ‘turtles, five for a pound, turtles.’ And this is just one small part of one city.
Each of China’s 23 provinces has its own distinct dialect, culture and cuisine. In every one of them, similar scenes of an ancient culture rubbing shoulders with the new, futuristic vision, are being played out.
This makes China an endlessly exciting place to be, no matter what your age or interests. So when a friend contacted me for inside info on child friendly tours around China, it was a stretch to narrow down the options. The following are my personal top five suggestions, ranging from the urban to the remote; the kitsch to the classy; the freezing to the temperate. Enjoy!
1. The Reed Flute Caves at Guilin, whose stalactites and stalagmites form breathtaking cityscapes, bizarre creatures and even a surprisingly realistic Father Chrismas. All illuminated and set against a background of stunning underground lakes. Active kids will also enjoy kayaking and bamboo rafting on Guilin’s Li river, and exploring the rice paddies of nearby Yangshuo on a bicycle.
2. The ice festival at Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, is a must. Every year artists in the north-eastern province use ice, snow and coloured lights to fashion awe-inspiring sculptures, many of which are interactive (giant ice-slide, anyone?). Time your trip to coincide with Spring Festival in February, and round it off by celebrating with the locals, setting off fireworks in the streets.
3. Hardy and adventurous kids will love horseback trekking around the border with Tibet. Beginning from Songpan, treks can last from a day to a week. Experience a taste of nomadic life, leaving behind the jostling city crowds for fresh air and virgin forests, taking in sights such as the Ice Mountain and Munigou Park and sleeping in tents along the way.
4. For the exact opposite of the above, head to Disneyland, Hong Kong. Situated on Lantau Island it’s hard to miss – simply take the Disneyland Resort Metro Line to Disneyland Resort Station.
5. Pandas. There’s little not to like about these super-cute, super-placid bears and the Panda Breeding Centre, Chengdu, allows you to get up close and personal with them. They will even arrange for you to hold them for a fee. For an extra hit of cuteness arrive early and meet the pure-white newborns.
Lucy McCormick lives in Chengdu, Sichuan province. When not writing or teaching, she spends her time climbing mountains, sipping bai cha in backstreet tea houses and dodging traffic – with limited success – on her bicycle.