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Golden Week travel: dos and don'ts
A Briton recounts her first experience of China’s National Day holiday—in Shanghai
By Emily Aspinall  ·  2022-10-14  ·   Source: NO.42 OCTOBER 20, 2022
The author's first glimpse of the magnificent Shanghai skyline by night (EMILY ASPINALL)

China's National Day holiday, otherwise known as the October holiday or National Day golden week, is an annual seven-day public holiday. This is the longest public holiday other than Chinese New Year, which typically falls around February.

The People's Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949. Ever since, October 1 has been a day of celebration.

Beijing is the biggest city to host celebrations, particularly at Tiananmen Square, which features a special flag-raising ceremony around sunrise. Other common nationwide activities include flag raisings, song and dance performances, and firework displays.

People typically like to travel domestically during the October holiday, with many visiting their hometown. During the holiday period, offices, embassies, factories and restaurants will likely close for at least a day or two—making it the perfect occasion to catch up with family and friends.

Falling in autumn, the weather during the holiday is generally pleasant and sunny, with a cool breeze and low humidity—creating perfect travel conditions. 

China's most popular attractions typically see their biggest crowds during this period, with world-famous sites like the Great Wall in Beijing, The Bund in Shanghai and the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, attracting a surge of tourists. Expect to be squashed in like sardines at any huge tourist destination in the country during this holiday.

In 2019, as a Briton living in China, I faced the same dilemma local citizens did—with pretty much everyone in the country wanting to enjoy a week off work and wondering, "where can I go to enjoy myself without getting stuck in crowds?" Most locals will visit large famous cities like Shanghai or Beijing or perhaps opt for a beach break somewhere coastal, like Sanya in Hainan Province.

I did plenty of research to find a hidden gem in China, somewhere I could avoid the flocks of tourists. It seems there were plenty of options, but I left it to the last moment and discovered flight and train tickets were all sold out, so I decided to just spend some time in the city I was living in: Shanghai. After my first National Day holiday as a foreigner in China, I learned what not to do over this period.

Firstly, try to avoid traveling to popular destinations during the golden week. Allow me to recall my trip to The Bund in 2017. I first took the metro to East Nanjing Road; I was floored as the queue for the security check was almost 100 people long. On my normal commute to work, I went straight through, scanning my bag in less than 10 seconds, so naturally, I was shocked. Once I finally reached the metro, the doors opened and people swarmed off in the hundreds, while just as many piled on. Once I exited the metro, what would normally be a 10-minute walk took around an hour, as I slowly walked down East Nanjing Road, shoulder to shoulder with other tourists all looking to catch a glimpse as the impressive Bund lit up at night.

Being from a small town in England, I had never before seen so many people gather in one space. I found it fascinating to hear all the different dialects, accents, and people seemingly unphased by so much noise and such a large crowd.

Once I finally reached the front of The Bund, I managed to squeeze through the selfie sticks and tour group flags to gaze in amazement at the buildings that appeared to touch the sky.

The author is a Briton formerly living in Shanghai 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to dingying@cicgamericas.com 

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