Gap Year In China

This vast country offers an amazing adventure for those taking a Gap year.

Experience a unique blend of tradition, culture, history and natural beauty as you soak up the sights.

Why visit China during a gap year? 

Well, change and history could be two important reasons.

Currently the world’s second largest economy with a sustained growth rate of around ten per cent per annum, this is a country in the midst of change: economic, social and political change. 

The coastal provinces of Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shandong have experienced rapid industrialisation and internal migration.

Wherever you go you would be a witness to the move from Communism to ‘Socialism with a Chinese Face’.

One of the great world civilisations with written records, known as the ‘oracle bones’ [c.1200bc] going back to the Shang Dynasty [c.1600-1045bc]and encompassing the Tang Dynasty [618-907] with its capital at Chang’an, the then largest city in the world, which is modern day Xi’an.

Here you'll find the Terracotta Army dated to 210bc during the Qin Dynasty [221-206], and the great trading nation established during the Ming Dynasty [1368-1644] during whose time the Great Wall was improved and completed.

What to see and do on your China gap year

The Terracotta Army – They say ‘you can’t take it with you’, well,  Qin Shi Huang the first Emperor of China clearly had other ideas.

His Terracotta Army of, it is estimated, 8,000 men plus chariots, horses and sundry musicians and officials would certainly have made an impact in the afterlife.

Today these life size artefacts are a sight not to be missed. Work continues on the site to uncover all of Qin’s entourage; currently there are two main exhibitions with a shuttle bus between them.

Obviously the area is very ‘touristy’ with lots of souvenir shops; make sure if you are going by taxi that you make it clear that you want to go straight to the exhibitions.

The Great Wall - Running east to west, or west to east if you prefer, for 5,500 miles this is one of the wonders of the world (but, no, you can’t see it from space).

Built over a period of two thousand years, its size, architecture and construction varies markedly from place to place.

The wall starts [if we are going east to west] in the coastal province of Laoning, and extends to the Jiayuguan Pass in Xinjiang Province; with a north/south arm from west of Beijing to beyond the Guguan Pass.

Not all the wall is open to the public. People tend to visit parts around Beijing, notably Badaling [80km from Beijing] Juyongguan [60km from Beijing] Mutianyu [85km] and Jinshanling [125km]

Hong Kong  - A British Colony from 1842 to 1997 Hong Kong is now a Special Administrative Area of China.

One of the most densely populated areas of the world [4th. in most tables] and with one the highest per capita incomes [5th. In IMF ratings 2011] makes for a dynamic location.

Having said that many of the highlights capture the peacefulness and natural beauty of the area, for example a trip on the Peak Tram [goes up and down at an incredibly steep angle] to view the city, its harbour and the surrounding district.

A boat trip to some of Hong Kong’s outlying islands reveals a more serene way of life.

Notable places to visit are the Tian Tan Buddha [if you like your Buddhas big, this one is] the Tai O Stilt Houses, the Po Lin Monastery, and there is even a Hong Kong Disney Land.

Beijing  - China’s capital and second largest city and currently home to around twenty million people, is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China [Nanjing, Louyang and Chang’an].

At its heart is the Forbidden City [Gu Gong], the centre of power during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the latter ending in 1912.

City is the correct term with around 980 buildings contained within two areas, the inner city and the [guess what] the outer city.

The whole area contains superb examples of Chinese architecture and the products of Chinese culture over five centuries.

Note that the number of people entering the area may be restricted in peak periods.

The National Day Holiday, which is the first week in October, is a particular pressure point.

Outside the Forbidden City there are numerous further attractions, for example the beautiful Temple of Heaven, the Pagoda of the Tianning Temple, a number of magnificent gardens, in particular Beihai Park, plus over a hundred museums and pandas at Beijing Zoo.

Shanghai – China’s most populous city and its window on the world following the enforced openness to foreign trade following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and China’s defeat in the first Opium War.

The city has a more cosmopolitan feel due to the western architecture on The Bund, and its place at the forefront of Chinese economic reforms.

Attractions include Qibao Ancient Town an example of Shanghai in Imperial China. Qibao is famous for cricket fighting; not, I understand, some extreme version of our national game, but a dust up between two aggressive species of Gryllidae [Crickets to you and me].

There is a annual festival of cricket culture. No crickets were harmed during the writing of this article, as far as I know.

The Bund located alongside the Huangpu River contains example of several styles of western architecture including Gothic, Baroque and Art Deco, a legacy of the European companies who made Shanghai a major financial centre in the nineteen thirties. 

The Chinese Government have restored the area, and in a neat counter balance have erected a monument to the People’s Heroes.

The Pearl TV Tower doesn’t sound too exciting, but its unique design, shops, revolving restaurant, natural history museum and views over the city make it a tourist favourite.

Costs depend on which elements of the tower you wish to visit.

Before you go

Bear in mind that all information is subject to change and should be checked.

1. Visas – Currently visitors from the UK are required to obtain a visa. These have been outsourced by the Chinese Embassy to a number of providers. You complete an online form to send off with your passport.

Costs vary; typically £100. Most advertise a fast turn round; usually within a week. Bear in mind that the visa may not be valid for all of China.

Tibet in particular may require a special permit to visit, and the Chinese have been known to prevent foreigners with or without a visa and permit from entering.

2. Money – The Chinese currency is the Renminbi, denominated in Yuan and Jiao. Hong Kong and Macao have separate currencies, respectively the HK Dollar and the Pataca.

The best advice for travellers would seem to be, have a mix of monetary options: local currency, travellers’ cheques and cards. In the main tourist areas there are unlikely to be issues, but if you are venturing to remote areas stock up with local cash before you go.

3. Insurance – China is a huge, developing country and it is fair to say that standards in all things, including health and hygiene vary from area to area. It is vital that travellers are adequately insured for all risks.

4. Discounts – Students are used to getting discount rates; in China this seems less of a common practice. A couple of sites suggest obtaining an International Student Identity Card – this costs, so check out whether you think it is worthwhile.

5. General – bottled water is the way to go; tap water is not drinkable. Electricity in China is 220V 50HZ, and Hong Kong is 200V. There are Chinese style plug sockets, while in Hong Kong you will find British style ones.

Further information

For more advice about a gap year in Asia, please see: