Lone travellers looking to explore new horizons will thrive on getting lost in the vastness of Western China. Thousands of miles from the bustling east coast, China's western provinces extend from Xinjiang in the north down to Yunnan in the south. Those who take the time to explore them will discover a mosaic of peoples and the noticeable influences of neighbouring countries like Burma and Vietnam. The most memorable of these provinces is undoubtedly Yunnan, known as one of the finest in China for its perpetual springtime, its colourful flowers, its untouched rainforests and its pagodas. The end of the Great Wall of China in the north takes visitors back to another time, while in the Gobi Desert, the places where the vegetation meets the sand are truly astonishing. From the Silk Road to the banks of the Mekong, an unforgettable journey awaits you.
Surface area : 3840000.0 km2
Population : 224000000 inhabitants
Time difference : China is 7 hours ahead of the UK in summer and 8 hours in winter.
Those who enjoy retail therapy won't be disappointed by the local handicrafts and the many markets held in the towns and cities of China's western provinces.
Make sure you don't miss out on a visit to the bird and flower market in Kunming (Yunnan) where, as well as a number of different bird species, visitors will find plenty of items to take home as souvenirs. You could also take a wander through the market in Yangshuo (Guangxi) where you can marvel at the numerous fruit and vegetable stalls and the colourful local handicrafts typical of the area.
Looking for gifts to take home for your family and friends? You'll have the choice between the embroidery and porcelain from Shaanxi, the unique handicrafts from Lijiang and the many little ethnic dolls sold on the market in Yangshuo.
A piece of advice for travellers heading to China's western provinces: many of the meals served are so unusual that they aren(t very appetising! For example, the tripe soup and the dishes made from tortoise will make some shudder at just the thought. Rest assured though, the rest of the cuisine served in China is very popular among tourists: there's the 'crossing the bridge' noodles traditionally served in Kunming, the dumpling dinner and the Yang Rou Pao Mo typically from Shaanxi, the spicy chicken served in Guizhou and the many dishes from Xinjiang inspired by the regions of Central Asia. These delicious dishes are characteristic of the diversity of Western China.
To accompany these dishes, visitors can try some of China's many teas, rice wine and even beer.
It's best to travel to China's western provinces in autumn or spring. That way, you will be sure to avoid the torrential rain common in the summer in the southwest and the extreme temperatures of the northwest.
The best way to discover China is to take the time to explore it in true adventurer style. You'll need to set aside several months to explore the whole country and so it's important to travel with luggage that is easy to carry, especially if you plan on taking a number of bus journeys while you're there. There are a wide range of exciting excursions to be enjoyed in Western China, which include a cruise on the Lijiang River, a trek in the Gobi Desert (most of these leave from Yinchuan in Ningxia), and of course a trip down the legendary Silk Road, which includes numerous stops at the multiple oases dotted along it.
Remember to check the expiry date of your passport well in advance before your trip to avoid being taken by surprise! It must be valid for at least 6 months after the date you plan to return home and must contain two blank pages. To obtain a tourist visa, you must fill out an official visa application form and attach a passport photo, a photocopy of your airline tickets and of the reservation for your hotel or other accommodation, provide proof of international insurance, and either proof of income or proof of enrolment.