Kunming © Steve Evans
For thousands of years China has kept to itself, and foreigners still find it difficult to penetrate the inner depths of this fascinating and enigmatic nation. However, since the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing showcased some of its most spectacular attractions, there has been a major increase in travellers wanting to explore this vast and exotic destination. There is a great deal to discover in China, which is the world's most populated country (over 1.3 billion citizens), and also the third largest in the world territorially.
What makes China attractive as a travel destination for Western tourists is its unique culture and valuable antiquities. Ruins and relics from Neolithic settlements and the dynastic reigns of the mighty emperors are there to behold, and there are adventures to be had along the legendary ancient trade routes, such as the Silk Road. The Forbidden Palace, Great Wall of China, and the Terracotta Army of X'ian are just some of the incredible attractions to be seen in this ancient Eastern empire.
The People's Republic of China has been under a communist government since 1949, but is currently undergoing a boom in social and economic development. Emphasis is being placed on tourist facilities and infrastructure. Though the country's inconsistent human rights record makes it a controversial choice in some circles, China is opening the doors to its wealth of historical and cultural treasures and visitors are flooding in to be amazed and awed.
Organised tours are still the favoured way to explore China, but independent travel is slowly becoming easier. The major cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, are modern metropolises offering fast food and glitzy stores alongside centuries-old historical buildings and traditional eating houses. Archaeological wonders vie with amazing architecture in the interior, while majestic mountains and remote monasteries crown the northern areas. The country would take several years' worth of holidays to explore properly!