China is vast, both in terms of its geography and the richness of its social and cultural history. Anyone considering a gap year trip to China should certainly do some research into the world’s most populous country, which is home to an astounding 1.39 billion people.
China has emerged from the shackles of Maoist communism to become an economic powerhouse in the 21 st century, and the impact of its wealth can be seen all over the country. The bright lights and technologically advanced cities of Shanghai, Shenzhen and the capital Beijing are a draw to many. For others the appeal lies more in the fascinating and bewitching natural beauty of places like Guilin or Yangshou, with its sheer karst hills, or the aptly named Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye.
Add to that a host of manmade wonders including the inimitable Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Army in Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum and the Forbidden City in Beijing and visitors have some tough choices to make.
As China endeavours to sustain its economic power, and indeed its global influence, there are literally millions of people seeking to learn English in the country. It should come as no surprise that opportunities to teach English as a foreign language are plentiful for those so inclined. There are numerous teaching possibilities, so whether you would prefer living it up in one of the modern metropolises, or you would rather explore the rural beauty to be found off the beaten track, you should find a programme to suit.
While China is steaming ahead in technological and developmental terms, there is an increasing emphasis being placed on the environment. As such there are a growing number of conservation projects seeking volunteers, such as working with giant pandas in one of the National Nature Reserves such as Dujiangyan or Gengda.
Those on a career break who are seeking to expand their linguistic horizons can learn Mandarin in situ, with some language placements also including Kung Fu tuition in the package. If you are that way inclined, how about a trip to visit the mystical Shaolin Temple on Mount Songshan? Of course, many people who visit China will simply want to explore and there are innumerable opportunities for trekking in all areas, with some great options in Tibet and Sichuan.
Of course any trip to the country would be incomplete without a visit to the Great Wall, but it pays to avoid the crowds of the most popular sections of Mutianyu and Jinshanling and instead opt for one of the more challenging and rarely visited options such as Jiankou or Simatai, the latter being open for breath-taking illuminated night tours.
China covers an area of almost 10 million square kilometres, but despite its humongous size, getting around the country is relatively easy. With a reliable and efficient internal flight network and an increasing number of cities and towns being connected by high speed rail, it is relatively easy to criss-cross the country to take in your desired highlights.
The vast majority of visitors to China experience no trouble in terms of crime, but it is worth being aware that there are occasional scams aimed at tourists to extort money at bogus ‘tea tastings’ or similar. If you keep your wits about you and take common sense precautions there is little chance of falling victim to any kind of crime or harassment in the country.
Before travelling, be sure to check the latest travel advice at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office site, and also consult your nearest travel clinic for the relevant health advice as some areas of the country may require vaccinations.