The wide variety of nighttime cultural activities available throughout China can be a source of frustration to travelers, since there are so many exciting performances to see and not enough time.
One of the highlights of any trip to China is a night at the Chinese Classical Opera, a feast for the senses with its magnificent costumes and intriguing plots (even if you don't understand what's happening). Performances by the astonishing Chinese acrobats and delightful performing pandas, dogs, and cats are also "must see" events. Other cultural favorites include colorful folk dancing, classical Chinese dance, and "wushu," the traditional form of martial arts.
In larger tourist towns, you'll also find modern dance, jazz, classical and rock music. If you like movies, you're in luck, so do the Chinese. Most towns host dozens of cinemas, and seeing a Chinese film is fun even if you don't understand the language. And of course there's karaoke, and discos, the most popular evening entertainment in China. Drop in for a "pijiu" (beer), muster up your courage, and try signing a song (in English). You're sure to make some new Chinese friends. Just outside of some tourist cities are large folklore and cultural centers where you have an opportunity to observe and participate in traditional ethnic minority folk dancing, and craft making activities. There are usually half day or evening activities that are often included in tour itineraries.
Authentic Chinese food is delectable in flavor and astounding in its sheer variety. With 56 ethnic minority groups contributing recipes cultivated over centuries from the farthest corners of the country, China is justifiably famous for its claim as home to the most popular cuisine in the world.
You would be remiss if you didn't sample as many of China's regional cuisine as possible during the trip. For a real change of pace, stop by one of the food stalls at the local "night market", and join neighborhood residents in sampling delicious fresh local foods; it will be an evening to remember, and the prices are great too. You are always welcome to join diners at local restaurants and teahouses in any city or town.
(Note: hygiene is quite good in China, even at food vendor stalls on the street. The possibility of an upset stomach is the exception, not the rule.)
Those who prefer a meal more familiar to their tastes may be surprised to discover the quality and variety of international dishes available in China today. American, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Korean, German, and French restaurants can be found at many 4 & 5-star hotels, and in shopping areas around Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. Travelers with special dietary requests can make advance arrangements with most 4 & 5-star (or international chain operated) hotels for vegetarian or special dishes.
Stretching more than 3,000 miles. from the western shore of the Pacific Ocean across the face of Asia, China is a country of immense size and variety.
This vastness not only adds to the excitement of planning a trip to the country, but also to the dilemma of which cities and regions to visit first. When planning a trip to China, it is recommended that you don't try to see "everything" in one start-to-finish, whirlwind trip. Sure, you'll come home with some great pictures, but if you want to fully experience the country, allow enough time to really experience it. China is definitely the kind of place you will want to visit more than once. It is best to visit the major sites and cities on the first trip, at a relaxed pace, then plan to explore the country region by region on subsequent trips when you can experience all the different ethnic minority cultures and archaeological wonders. Keep in mind that China is a land of extreme climatic variations.
For example during February you can travel the southern coast and enjoy tropical fruits, sunbathe on the beaches of Hainan Island or visit the Flower Festival in Guangdong. At the same time, in the north, Harbin is dazzling travellers at the annual Ice Sculpture Festival with giant ice pagodas, ice palaces, and cleverly sculpted panda bears. Meanwhile, Beijing is celebrating the Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival with illuminated ice lanterns, spectacular fireworks, and ice fishing. Witnessing the grandeur of the Forbidden City in the snow is an extraordinary sight indeed.
You will have fun shopping in China. There is an incredible choice of boutique shops, department stores, and hotel shopping arcades to browse through. Or you can try bargain hunting at one of the new "free markets" that are springing up all over the country. You're sure to be dazzled by the unique array of aesthetic and practical gifts available in China. You will find everything from high quality silks and porcelains to antique screens and traditional Chinese herbal medicines. Throughout China shops offer unique ceramics, paintings, stone rubbings, embroideries, carpets, furniture, jade carvings, custom-carved signature chops, antiques, books, and much more. Shop personnel will often pack and arrange for shipping bulky purchases back home. Prices are usually clearly marked in stores and shops, and English is spoken in most tourist areas. Don't miss browsing through one of the state run Friendship Stores; they are still some of the best places to find an excellent selection of quality merchandise, plus you'll find a complete supermarket of Chinese delicacies to bring to friends back home.