Why you should visit China for a holiday in 2024


The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the inspiration for some scenes in the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar. — Pixabay

Many countries had expected to see a resurgence of Chinese tourists visiting every top destination around the globe last year, after pandemic travel restrictions in the country were lifted in early 2023.

In reality, however, the Chinese have been more keen to travel within the country rather than to foreign lands, mainly because many outbound or international flights had not yet been reinstalled by airlines.

On top of that, a growing interest in cultural tours and nature-themed tourism packages in China had also boosted its domestic market.

In fact, by May 1, 2023, the domestic tourism numbers in China had returned to pre-pandemic levels (according to data from Statista.com), reportedly hitting a total revenue of more than 148 billion yuan (RM91.31bil) at the time. The Chinese government had forecasted a revenue of 5.2 trillion yuan (RM3.39tril) by the year’s end, and analysts are optimistic that the final data may surpass that.

In Malaysia, inbound Chinese arrivals are said to have hit about 1.5 million by December, which is nearly 40% of the number of arrivals recorded in 2019 (3.795 million). While it is a positive turnout, many in the industry said it was below what they had initially targeted.

The amazing Dongchuan Red Land is about a three-hour drive from the city centre in Kunming. — PixabayThe amazing Dongchuan Red Land is about a three-hour drive from the city centre in Kunming. — Pixabay

For 2024, stakeholders are aiming for five million inbound tourist arrivals from China, and many are confident that this will happen, thanks in part to Malaysia’s recent visa exemption on Chinese travellers.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Malaysia-China diplomatic relations so one can expect many interesting events and promotions to take place between the two countries.

Besides that, local airlines are also either adding new flight routes between Malaysia and China, reinstating old routes that were stalled due to the pandemic, or increasing flight frequencies to existing routes.

Batik Air, for example, recently announced that beginning February, it will expand its China network with new routes to Kunming, Zhangjiajie and Zhengzhou, as well as to Kaohsiung in Taiwan.

In a statement, Batik Air group strategy director Datuk Chandran Rama Muthy said that the expansion is in line with the airline’s commitment not just to provide more travel options, but also to strengthen its presence in key tourist destinations in the Asia Pacific region.

“As we broaden our presence in China, aligning with our existing destinations such as Chengdu, Guangzhou and Haikou, we wholeheartedly support both the Malaysian government’s and China’s visa-free initiatives. We eagerly look forward to positive outcomes that mutually enhance travel between Malaysia and China, heralding an upsurge in tourist arrivals,” he said in the statement.

AirAsia previously announced that it will also expand its services – covering China, India and Malaysia – in the first quarter of 2024, adding a total of 230 weekly flights. (Indian citizens also currently enjoy a 30-day visa-free entry into Malaysia.) Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, has six existing routes to China.

If China is on your travel destination list, here are some of the top trending cities and provinces – besides Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – to consider.

Stone Forest World Geological Park is located within the Shilin Unesco Global Park in Kunming. — HandoutStone Forest World Geological Park is located within the Shilin Unesco Global Park in Kunming. — Handout

KUNMING

Located in Yunnan province in southern China, the city of Kunming is known as the “City Of Eternal Spring” or simply, “Spring City” because of its temperate weather. You can say that it is always spring season in the city, where beautiful flowers and plants bloom all year round.

As the capital of Yunnan, Kunming is a modern city, as well as a business and transportation hub. This is where most international tourists will arrive first if they are doing a tour of Yunnan and neighbouring provinces. But the city itself has tons of interesting spots to check out, and cultural activities to experience.

Kunming is a multi-ethnic city, with the Yi ethnic minority group as the largest in the population. Each year, many ethnic festivals and events are held here, including the popular torch festival of the Yi people, usually held some time in August.

Perhaps the biggest or most famous tourist attraction here is the Stone Forest World Geological Park, which is also known as the Shilin Unesco Global Geopark. The geopark itself covers 350km² of karst geology, and within it lies a “forest” of tall stones. These limestones pillars are said to part of a legend of the Yi people.

Apart from the geopark, you can also check out the Dianchi Lake and Cui Lake (where black-headed gulls from Siberia migrate to each year during winter), the Jiuxiang Cave, Jiaozi Snow Mountain and World Horti-Expo Garden, a large botanical garden that once hosted a world expo on plants and flowers.

Dongchuan Red Land is about a three-hour drive from Kunming city centre, but it is worth the journey as the place is a feast for the eyes. The terraced field comes in an amazing mix of colourful soil that had been naturally formed over centuries.

For something more cultural, head to the Guandu Ancient Town, Yunnan University, the Yunnan Military Academy and the former site of the Southwest United University, where you can learn more about the Second Sino-Japanese War.

As for food, Yunnan is known for its wild mushrooms so you may find lots of dishes that feature them. You can get your hands on some of the most high quality Pu’er tea from this region too.

Batik Air flies to Kunming from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport four times weekly beginning Feb 8.

The Tianmen Mountain National Park is were you will find the Heaven's Gate Mountain. — KlookThe Tianmen Mountain National Park is were you will find the Heaven's Gate Mountain. — Klook

ZHANGJIAJIE

Located in the Hunan province in northwest China, Zhangjiajie’s most iconic landmark is the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China’s first national park where over 3,000 vertical pillars and spires can be found. Each of these pillars is a few hundred metres tall and covered in green foliage, making the whole place look surreal.

One of the pillars was named Southern Sky Column many years ago and stretches 1,080m high. In 2010, authorities changed the name of this pillar to the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain as a tribute to the Hollywood blockbuster film, Avatar. The pillars were thought to be the inspiration for the design of the fictional “Hallelujah Mountains of Pandora”.

The national park is part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, a huge protected zone featuring plenty of natural wonders, including mountains, ravines, caves and lakes. Also within Wulingyuan are Suoxiyu Nature Reserve and the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve.

If that’s not enough nature for you, then head to the Tianmen Mountain National Park, known to some travel experts and adventure enthusiasts as Heaven’s Gate Mountain. This place is so called because of the 999 steps leading to “Heaven’s door”, a large gape in the mountain.

You can hike in the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon too, and if you love living dangerously, challenge yourself to walk on the freakishly scary-looking glass bridge.

At the 300-year-old Fenghuang Ancient Town, learn about the history of the Hunan province and its many minority ethnic groups. This place is one of the best preserved ancient towns in China, with many of its towers, streets and buildings still standing today.

The best time to visit Zhangjiajie or Hunan in general is in autumn (particularly September and October), but this is also peak travel season so it can get crowded. In spring, there are fewer tourists but it is a wet season so the weather may not be too great at times.

For folks who don’t mind the cold and have a more modest budget, you can visit during winter, where temperatures and prices drop. While the snowy mountain peaks make for beautiful views, you may have some problems adjusting to the freezing conditions!

The inaugural flight to Zhangjiajie by Batik Air is on Feb 9, with three direct flights from KLIA each week.

At the Yellow River Scenic Area in Zhengzhou, you can find the giant statues of two mythical emperors. — UnsplashAt the Yellow River Scenic Area in Zhengzhou, you can find the giant statues of two mythical emperors. — Unsplash

ZHENGZHOU

The city of Zhengzhou is nestled in the central part of China’s Henan province. It is also known as the “Golden City”, because it is an important transportation hub and trade centre. Many railway trunks pass by the city including the Longhai Railway (that runs from Lanzhou to Lianyungang) and Jingguang Railway (Beijing to Guangzhou).

Travellers who are on a Henan tour package will most likely visit Zhengzhou first, and there are plenty of things to see and do too. Some of them include the Yellow River Scenic Area, Henan Museum, and the Erqi Memorial Tower.

The Yellow River Scenic Area is situated along the Yellow River where you can find lots of greenery, pavilions, sculptures and two very large head statues sitting atop a small hill. The heads are of Emperor Yan (Shennong) and Emperor Huang (Huangdi), two mythological emperors that represent China’s pre-dynastic periods. Shennong is also known as the Flame Emperor while Huangdi was the Yellow Emperor; they were both said to be “immortal”.

At the Henan Museum, check out the amazing cultural exhibits from pre-historical times and artefacts like jade jewellery and olden musical instruments from early China years. The Erqi Memorial Tower was built to commemorate the Beijing-Han Dynasty Railways general strike which took place on Feb 7, 1923 and is one of the best places for visitors to learn about and understand Zhengzhou’s past. In nearby Dengfeng county, you will find the ancient Shaolin Temple or Shaolin Monastery, built in the year 495. This is where the Shaolin martial art (aka kung fu) was born, and where the Chan sect of Buddhism came to be.

The temple is called Shaolin because it is located in the hinterland of the Shaoshi Mountain, within a thick forest (or “lin” in the local dialect). It is one of 11 ancient structures in Dengfeng that are listed as cultural heritages under Unesco’s World Heritage Site List.

There are daily Shaolin demonstrations and shows at the temple that visitors can enjoy, performed by students and practitioners of the martial art.

The KL-Zhengzhou route on Batik Air will resume on Feb 9, with direct flights from KLIA four times a week.

Get your giant panda fix the panda conservation centre in Chengdu. — PixabayGet your giant panda fix the panda conservation centre in Chengdu. — Pixabay

CHENGDU

The history of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, dates back to the 4th century, when it was known as the capital of the Shu Kingdom. The first paper money in the world, known as “jiaozi”, was invented here and China’s first government-run school was also established in this place.

Today, you can find many ancient artefacts, and learn more about the history of the city at the Jinsha Site Museum.

But what Chengdu is most famous for is cuddlier than that – giant pandas!

Yes, Sichuan province is one of the three provinces that the giant pandas call home, and the Chengdu Research Base Of Giant Panda Breeding is where most tourists go to see these endangered animals. Alongside the giant pandas, the even cuter (debatable, perhaps) red pandas also originate from Sichuan, and you can see them at the same conservation centre.

Once you’re done with all the cuteness, fill your tummy with some spicy goodness. Chengdu is the first ever destination to be certified as a “City Of Gastronomy” by Unesco in 2010, so you know you will get some tasty treats here.

Of course, Sichuan cuisine is famous for its mouth-numbing “mala” hotpots or spicy hotpots, and mapo tofu (braised or steamed tofu topped with minced meat and spicy chilli oil), but there are other non-spicy dishes to try too. These include smoked duck with crispy skin and tofa, a sweet tofu pudding that can be added with a variety of toppings.

Other points of interest in Chengdu include: Wuhou Shrine, Du Fu Thatched Cottage, Xiling Snow Mountain, Wangjiang Pavilion, Qingyang Palace, Wenshu Monastery, Anyue Stone Carvings, and Dujiangyan on Mount Qingcheng.

The best times to visit Chengdu is in spring (March to June) and autumn (September to November). If you go during winter, you may need to have mala hotpot for lunch and dinner every day, as it can get really cold there!

The KL to Chengdu route is serviced by both Batik Air and AirAsia.

You can find the Dragon And Tiger Pagodas at the Lotus Pond in Kaohsiung. — UnsplashYou can find the Dragon And Tiger Pagodas at the Lotus Pond in Kaohsiung. — Unsplash

KAOHSIUNG

In the southern tip of Taiwan lies the city of Kaohsiung, the island’s largest industrial hub and known as Taiwan’s Maritime Capital. Over the years, the city has taken steps to boost its tourism industry, creating new attractions and upgrading or refreshing old ones.

Some of these tourist spots include the Love River, Shoushan or Mount Shou, Xiziwan Bay, Qijin and the Old City Of Zuoying. Of course, one of the most famous is the Lotus Pond that’s surrounded by beautiful temples, pavilions and pagodas.

For example, the Confucius Temple lies in the north of the pond while the Dragon And Tiger Pagodas are in the south, along with the spring and autumn pavilions. These pavilions were built as a dedication to Kuan Kung, the God Of War.

The pagodas are perhaps the most striking features here: The dragon’s throat was designed as the entrance and the tiger’s mouth, the exit. This “flow” of entering and exiting is said to symbolise turning bad luck into good fortune.

Near the Lotus Pond are the ruins of the historical Fengshan County walls and gates, so don’t forget to check these out too.

There are many communities living in Kaohsiung, namely the Hokkiens and Hakkas, and the Pingpu, Tsou, Rukai, Bunun and Paiwan Indigenous folks.

The weather in Kaohsiung is generally warm and sunny all year, so the best time to visit will depend on which festivals or events you want to experience.

Among the interesting ones are the Milk Fish Cultural Festival, Taro And Bamboo Shoot Festival and the Lujhu Tomato Cultural Festival.

The KL to Kaohsiung route by Batik Air will start on Feb 7, with three flights weekly. The same flight will also continue to Nagoya in Japan.


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