Kunming © Steve Evans

For thousands of years China has been shrouded in mystery and intrigue, and foreigners, especially Westerners, still find it difficult to penetrate the inner depths of this fascinating and enigmatic nation. However, in recent decades and particularly since the Olympic Games in 2008 when Beijing showcased some of its most spectacular attractions, there has been a major increase in travellers interested in exploring this vast and intriguing destination. And it's no wonder, as there is a great deal to discover in China, the world's third largest country.

What makes it so attractive as a travel destination is its unique culture and ancient antiquities. Ruins and relics from Neolithic settlements and the dynastic reigns of the mighty emperors of yore await, while there are plenty of adventures to be had and exciting attractions that have to be seen to be believed. The Forbidden Palace, the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army of Xi'an are some of the prominent and tourist-heavy, but no less breathtaking, attractions in this ancient Eastern empire, but there are many, many more.

The People's Republic of China has been under a communist government since 1949, but is currently undergoing a boom in social and economic development with a great emphasis placed on tourist facilities and infrastructure. The country has been opening the doors to its wealth of historical and cultural treasures, with awed visitors flooding in.

Organised tours are still the favoured way to explore China, but independent travel is slowly becoming easier. Major cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, are modern metros offering fast food and glitzy stores alongside centuries-old historical buildings and traditional eating houses. Archaeological wonders vie with amazing architecture in the interior, while majestic mountains and remote monasteries crown the country's northern territories.

With all this to marvel at, China would take several years' worth of holidays to explore properly, so keen travellers best get started...