If you’ve booked the trip of a lifetime to China, then with nearly 10 million km2 to cover and more than 14,000km of coastline, you’d be wise to plan exactly what you want to do before you go. Due to its sheer size alone, this probably isn’t the place for spontaneity, but that doesn’t mean your trip to China won’t include plenty of magic of its own. And what can be more magical than following in the hoof prints of the mythical unicorn?
Unicorns have played a central part in Chinese mythology since the first references were made to a creature called the qilin in the 5th century BC. Since then, this mysterious single-horned creature has made appearances in a number of Chinese works of history and fiction, with one Emperor even claiming to have caught a live qilin in 122 BC. So, if you’re not sure what to do in China, why not spend some time learning more about this intriguing mythical creature?
Can horse-like creatures with a single horn and magical powers really exist? We can probably all agree that the world would be a better place if they did. In any case, thanks to many myths and legends, unicorns are alive and well in the imaginations of people (especially Harry Potter fans), all over the world today.
In Chinese mythology, the qilin had a voice like a thousand wind chimes (yes it could talk), radiated exquisite colours, avoided fighting at all costs and walked so softly on its hooves that it made no sound. It also had a horn that is 12 feet long.
The qilin was very precious to the Chinese people in ancient times, and still is today. It’s regarded as a creature of great power and wisdom that shows itself at special times. Legend has it that the qilin would appear when a great leader was about to be born or die, or when a ruler was just and kind and presided over peaceful and prosperous times.
A unicorn sighting sounds like the type of thing you might expect after a few too many Chinese beers, but over the years there have been several sightings reported around the world. Admittedly, it is quite easy to stick a fake horn onto a horse, which is probably why YouTube boasts a number of particularly unconvincing videos. In North Korea, a unicorn lair was reportedly discovered just a few years ago, and several spurious looking photographs were taken to prove it.
However, there may once have been a real unicorn-like creature prowling Central Asia. This year, traces of an extinct creature dubbed the ‘Siberian unicorn’ was discovered in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan, a country on China’s north-western border. A skull found there provided evidence that the ‘unicorn’ only died out about 29,000 years ago - which means they may have lived alongside humans.
Despite its name, the Siberian unicorn reportedly looked more like a rhinoceros than a horse. It was apparently about 6 feet tall and 15 feet long, and it did sport a single huge horn. Unfortunately, the scientists were unable to determine whether it had magical powers, or indeed, whether it could fly.
Who’s to say a small group of these curious creatures didn’t survive in the vast wildernesses of China’s Far West?
If you want to learn more about the qilin, Beijing is the perfect base for your trip. There’s even a statue of a Qing dynasty qilin in Beijing’s Summer Palace. When looking for hotels in Beijing, there’s quite a lot to consider. Beijing has in the region of 600 hotels spread over a huge area, so you should only really make a booking once you’ve decided what it is you want to see and do. Once you’ve worked out the most convenient area for you, you can then compare the prices of hotels in that location.
When searching for cheap flights to Beijing, bear in mind that Manchester and London Heathrow are the only two airports that fly to the city direct. So, if you’d prefer not to have to make a stop at another airport, you will need to consider your transport to Manchester or London.
Once you arrive in Beijing, there are a few ways you can travel around. Public transport in the city is excellent, but you might also choose to consider car hire in Beijing, which can be a convenient and a cost-effective method of travelling around. However, China doesn't recognise international driving licenses and applying for a Chinese licence can involve a lot of red tape. The simple solution is to hire a car and a driver.