Focussing on the future yet reminiscent of the past; China is an eclectic mix of ancient temples, imperial palaces and war landmarks aside soaring skyscrapers, bustling markets, and vibrant entertainment hubs. But amidst the time stamps of over 3000 years of civilisation, its naturally beautiful landscape still remains. Expect mist-covered mountains and steaming hot springs, lush rainforests and cascading falls, meandering rivers and pristine beachfronts – but above all, expect the unexpected.
Delve into the buzz of this magical metropolis and discover sleek city haunts down hutongs, indulge in traditional northern Chinese dishes, and admire the Tibetan prayer wheels and magnificent Tantric statues of the Lama Temple. One for the bucket list, the Great Wall of China is visited by over 10 million people every year, but at over 5000 miles long, budding visitors often wonder where they can snap that perfect ‘I’m here!’ hands-in-the-air photo we’re all so familiar with. The most integrated and preserved part is situated near the capital of Beijing, one of 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that can be found in the city.
As one of the four Great Ancient Capitals of China, squares ooze history and a rich heritage; Tiananmen Square marks the entrance to the Forbidden City, once inhabited by the Ming and Qing dynasties (early 1400s to the early 1900s), but now open to modern spectators whose jaws drop at the sight of golden roofs and over 8000 impressive rooms. We suggest you visit in autumn, when the temperature is neither sizzling hot nor bitterly cold, and Fragrant Hill Park is blanketed by the fiery glow of red smoke trees.
The weird and the wonderful, the glamorous and the gobsmacking, the variety and the vibrancy - Shanghai surprises with its outstanding juxtapositions. Head to the park and you’ll find parents keen to get their children hitched, hanging mini resumés for around $3 per ad in a bid to find the perfect match, or meander down the streets and bump into unpretentious jazz bars and funky vintage shops in Art Deco buildings.
The symbolic image of Shanghai is The Bund, with the most famous side being the west, boasting 26 buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. The Oriental Pearl Tower shoots up from the cityscape, but it is at night when the skyline really illuminates.
Home of the adorable giant panda, Chendu is as calm and laid-back as these cuddly creatures. You can spot them roaming at Dujiangyan Panda Valley about an hour out of the city, where enclosures are large and natural, with a long-term aim to reintroduce captive-born pandas into the wild. Guests can take part in the volunteer program to get up close to these fascinating animals, understanding how the wilderness training program works while preparing panda food, planting bamboo and trees, and learning from the Panda Centre of Science and Education. If you fancy a more relaxed day out however, the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre is just north of the city, where you can spot pandas resting, eating, playing and nursing within tranquil rivers, expansive green lawns and wild bamboo forests which stimulate their natural ecological environment. We suggest you head over in the morning during feeding time, as after that they’re likely to be taking a well-deserved afternoon nap!
Mt. Qingcheng is the remarkable backdrop of the city; dubbed as the ‘most peaceful and secluded mountain under heaven’, rivers weave down its 36 peaks and the entire mountain is blanketed in evergreen. As one of the places where the spiritual, philosophical and religious Chinese tradition of Taoism originated, it has a distinct mythical feel and is dotted with vivid temples. One for the little ones, it is also the site which inspired the Valley of Peace in DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda movies!
Lying underground for over 2000 years and only discovered in the late 1900s by farmers, the Terracotta Army is an inspiring spectacle of hundreds of life-size models that represent the army that triumphed in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). As the turning point of forming a united China, the phenomenon symbolises the country’s heritage, and was thus listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987.
Overground, the city is best explored by bike - wind down streets blanketed by the scent of marinated BBQ meat, marvel at the well-preserved ancient Buddhist pagodas, and whizz by the 12-metre tall, 14th Century city wall which dominates the centre. The Westin Xian is a chic accommodation option in the centre of the city, adjacent to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which symbolises old-line Xi’an when Buddhist sutras were brought back from India by monk Xuan Zand in the 7th Century.
A majestic landscape of irregular mountains, sleepy rivers, and verdant rolling hillside infused with crisp, fresh air – it is unsurprising Guilin has captured the heart of artists the world over. Generations have been enthralled by its beauty, attempting to reflect it through pens, brushes, camera and song, but nothing is quite like seeing it through the naked eye. Floating down a stretch of the 83km-long Li River on a bamboo raft, few things seem as serene, and your local raft guide will be happy to stop on the river banks for you to enjoy lunch and soak up the scenery.
South of the city, Yangshou, named so from the yang of Taoist ying-yang philosophy, meaning ‘sun’ and shuo meaning ‘a new moon’, has a holiday feel and an energetic flavour. Whether you hike the impressive limestone crags and community farming countryside during the day, or hit West Street by night for souvenir haggling, and exciting entertainment, you’ll get a taste of both worlds in this diverse region.
Cross the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in an entirely different continent! A union of east and west, the city of Macau was a Portuguese overseas territory until the millennium, boasting a traditional Chinese culture entrenched within exotic Portuguese buildings, extravagant shopping malls and glitzy casinos. As the only city in China where gambling is legal, the quantity of money passing through Macau exceeds that of Las Vegas – a staggering five times over! So you can imagine the dazzle of the skyline, the plush resort hotels, and all the whistles and bells of indulgent dining, exhilarating activities and late-night entertainment.
An ideal end to your China itinerary at just a 1.5hour flight from Hong Kong, Sanya ticks all the boxes for a luxury, barefoot beach break! Branded as the ‘Hawaii of China’, pristine beaches line the shores, its harbours filled with lavish yachts. A central shopping district can work up quite an appetite for the fine dining restaurants, and great water sports companies are keen to show you the kaleidoscopic underwater world with seabed strolling and ship diving.
Impressive sculptures of zoological and Buddhist themes are scattered around the beautiful gardens of this city, while the enchanting Luhuitou Bay is inspired by a touching love story between a hunter and magical girl, providing a picturesque place for sunset strolls. Banyan Tree Sanya is set within the foothills of Luohuitou, adorned with lotus ponds and lagoons, and offering a peaceful retreat to wind down from the buzz of China’s most magnificent cities!