The otherworldly landscapes and revered temples of the “roof of the world” have long called to explorers, travelers and dreamers alike. Wipe away the mists of imagination and meet the real people of Tibet—bargain for wares and souvenirs in Barkhor Square, witness Buddhist monks debate the finer points of theology and meet reverent worshippers as they make pilgrimages to the holy sites of the Tibetan capital and important cities outside Lhasa.
China’s capital city, this is the first stop on most trips to China and with good reason. From the serpentine Great Wall to the north to the historic halls of imperial power at the heart of the city, the incredible concentration of China’s top attractions make Beijing a must-see city!
Home to the world’s laziest bear, the famously cute giant panda, Chengdu is also known throughout China for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, fiery face-changing shows and a unique culture that traces its roots back to the Shu Kingdom and Bronze-age Sanxindui civilization. While the newly-built world’s largest building, the New Century Global Center, is garnering global headlines, famous Chengdu attractions like the nearby Leshan Giant Buddha still amaze and awe. It’s a historic city comfortable in its own cultural skin even as it becomes one of China’s most important modern cities.
Lakes of an unreal bright blue. Beautiful, wide, tumbling waterfalls. Rolling hills that change their colors with the season. Traditional Tibetan hamlets. One of China’s most famous national parks, Jiuzhaigou makes for a great natural getaway from the urban sprawl of eastern China.
Images of water buffalo and boatmen paddling traditional boats along the sleepy Li River against a backdrop of narrow, foliage-draped karst peaks look like something out of a Chinese painting-inspired dream. Or Guilin. Enter a world where serene natural scenes of rice paddies, mountains and rivers aren’t confined to a two-dimensional image.
More than 6,000 life-size Terracotta Warriors stand guard after thousands of years outside the history-rich ancient capital. Within the ancient city walls that encircle the heart of Xi’an, the city’s Muslim quarter offers up some of the favorite cuisine of old China hands.
China’s Huang Shan, or “Yellow Mountain” appears like something out of a painting—jagged spires rising up through rolling cloud cover as trees cling on reaching out and skyward. It’s no wonder these fantastical peaks inspired Chinese poets and painters for centuries as they continue to inspire travelers today. The nearby town Huangshan is of interest in its own right for its Huizhou culture.
Shanghai was introduced to the West as the East’s city of sin during its decadent turn as a foreign treaty port at the turn of the century. Today, it is one of China’s most dynamic and modern cities. Even after hosting the World Expo in 2008, Shanghai hasn’t slowed down, building some of the world’s largest skyscrapers and hosting world events like the China F1 and Shanghai Rolex Masters. It’s where East meets West and old meets new.
Cobblestone streets wind along murmuring streams and between charming Naxi minority-style buildings in Lijiang Old Town. The snowy peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain looms above the calm waters of the Black Dragon Pool at the edge of Old Town. Adventure beckons from the opposite slope of the mountain that descends into the breath-taking Tiger Leaping Gorge.
The most remote major city from the sea in the world, Urumqi exists among environmental extremes: snow covered peaks and glacial lakes, lush grasslands where nomadic peoples graze their herds and dry, barren deserts where the remains of great cities of ancient times sit empty. Far west Xinjiang’s capital city introduces travelers to cultures and cuisines that grew along the trade routes of the ancient Silk Road.
The classical Chinese gardens of Suzhou have been recognized by UNESCO as world treasures and for good reason. Built to reflect Chinese art and poetry, they create a delicate world that balances the accidental beauty of nature and the refined beauty of landscaping and architecture. Suzhou has one of the greatest concentrations of famous gardens in all of China making it the ideal place for a stroll into classical South Yangtze culture.
Poets and artists going back over a thousand years waxed eloquent about taking pleasure boats on Hangzhou’s West Lake and exploring the gardens, pagodas and pavilions that surround the city’s most popular attraction. Home to one of China’s most famous teas, ancient pottery traditions and more, scenic and historic Hangzhou is a fabulous place to explore classical Chinese culture.
This pulsing heart of China’s interior has grown into one of the country’s largest cities. Many come to Chongqing for a cruise on the mighty Yangtze River and into the impressive Three Gorges. Continue on down the country’s major artery to witness another of China’s superlatives, the giant Three Gorges Dam.
The singing sands of Baotou’s Resonant Sand Gorge once warned travelers of the great expanse of desert that lay before them but now herald the beauty of the dunes of the Gobi, brought conveniently closer to Baotou by bus. An industrial city reinventing itself greener, Baotou is also believed to be the final resting place of Genghis Khan.
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