Being a tourist in China is quite different from what we usually experience in our European weekend getaways. And it is sooo much fun! 🙂
1. Awesome diversity
Since China is huge, it has many truely amazing places to see from high mountains, steep gorges to sandy deserts, natural wonders abound in this country. Moreover it is filled with centuries of historic monuments and serene religious sites.
China’s population is huge and cities are especially crowded. The major tourist sites are always busy, because a large part of the Chinese population can now afford to travel. Chinese people apparently like being in a crowd to a certain extend. (We guess you have to if you live in any city around here.) We not necessarily all the time. It is also very convenient to get around the country. So in practice whereever you go there will almost always be some Chinese tourists around.
In the end we have learned to treasure any minute we were not surrounded by people. Like that one day on the Great Wall… 😃
3. Tour groups
Just like when you see them in Vienna, Salzburg, Paris or anywhere in Europe, Chinese tourists travel mostly in fairly lively groups with guides. A guide’s most important competency is being able to shout into the portable microphone louder than the neighbouring guide. Other than that they need to be a bit like kindergarten teachers making sure everybody moves along in a group.
Since there are crowds at all major tourist spots, you are always in someone’s picture and someone is pretty much always in yours. You have to be patient or ruthless to get a good picture spot.
In general Chinese tourists (since we have smartphones, I guess all tourists) love taking pictures. Sometimes this seems to be the actual purpose of visiting a place. “Let’s stop here to take a picture. Lady, do you want to take a picture? Take more pictures. Pictures, pictures, pictures!” our tourguide Olivia shouts at me into her pink portable microphone (trying to be louder than the neighbouring tourgroup).
The backdrop of the image above is the red wooden pagoda of Shibaozhai on the Yangtse River. But mostly we are not sure if the background matters that much. In general it seems that the pose (Chinese ladies pose a lot!!) and actually being in the picture with other people in your group is way more important to Chinese tourists than the building or site in the background. Probably as long as it is famous enough. I guess if you think about it, once you are home the buildings usually are less interesting than the memories made with travel companions.
Oh, and selfies are cool! Chinese mobile phone producer VIVO even claims they are the top experts and regularly mention their amazing selfie-cameras in their ads…. We are eventually planning on getting a stick, have resisted so far, but keep regretting it occasionally. 😆
5. Dressing up
China has 56 ethnic groups including the Han Chinese. The smaller minority groups often have colourful traditional customers, songs and dances. Especially in Yunnan they are very colourful. So at major Chinese tourist sites you can rent ethnicity inspired polyester costumes to pose for pictures in front of nice landscapes, monasteries or an old town. We have seen this throughout China.
6. Ethnic minorities
Speaking about minorities, ethnic minority tourism in general is very much a spectacle in China. Traditional villages have mostly been turned into museums with entrance fees and will do song and dance performances for visitors. Shopkeepers there dress up in national costumes to lure in more customers. Some people use the term “human zoo” to describe the commodification of ethnic minorities in China.
In many ways it is quite bizarrely managed, but the massive tourism interest in ethnic minorities has also led to some initiatives to safeguard traditional craftmanship. If for no other reason than to make interesting souvenirs. Responsible tourism with regards to ethnic minorities or local folk festivals is a tricky line to walk. China has pretty much obliterated that line and sold its ethnic minorities out. Still, the artificial and highly commercialised resulting tourist experience is quite fascinating in its own right.
7. Local speciality foods
Last, but not least. Whereever you go there I’ll be local speciality foods on offer for sampling. We had Pingyao beef, Lijiang flower pastry (pictured below), Chongqing hotpot, Beijing roast duck, Datong dried apricots, Shangri-la dried yak meat, … . Most will be on offer at tourist shops with free samples, so you can snack yourself silly trying the different flavours while walking around the old town. Chinese tourists will often buy the local delicacies in bulk to bring home to friends and family. Thus some shops offer to send parcels with their goods all around China. At airports and train stations the local shops sell large bags and boxes as well. If you want a small local snack for the road, you usually have to take 1kg. You can find more information on food in China in this blog entry from us.