China is an epic country to travel to. From the inner city madness of Beijing and Shanghai, to the small and cultured villages of Nanjing and Huangshan Mountain. I studied Chinese in high school and was familiar with some of the language before I went. I traveled on an organised tour for 16 days that visited the highlights of China and stayed for 2 days with a Chinese family, for a real cultural experience. I love China. The people are insanely friendly and excited to meet/ practice their English with you. The food was interesting, but I traveled with an open mind and a willingness to try most things (Except for dog meat) and came home to suddenly bland and boring Australian food (Perhaps too much MSG). I could not recommend travelling to China enough, there is so much history, culture and beauty within. Travel with an open mind and a willingness to experience the culture and traditions and you will have an absolute blast.
I’ve picked the best of from my trip and can recommend the following places to visit if you’re short on time or looking for a suitable tour. When I visited China, the air pollution was pretty bad. They had just experienced severe dust storms from the Mongolian desert and visibility in built up cities wasn’t great. But this added to the overall experience of my trip. I traveled in April and the weather was pretty chilly! But the trees were covered in blossoms so it was a pretty beautiful sight. We cram packed as much as we could into our tour, so what follows is some of the highlights (and a tonne of pictures).
Best of Beijing
- Summer Palace (Beautiful preserved imperial gardens and lake area in Beijing, said to be the best kept palace in China).
- Olympic Palace (Bird’s nest and Olympic Swimming center built for the 2008 Olympics)
- The Great Wall (You can’t go all the way to China and not climb up this bad boy. But trust me, some of the steps are crazy steep and you will literally have to climb them.. like haul yourself up kind of climb them).
- Cloisonné Factory (Pretty place if you’re looking for a new vase…)
- Beijing Duck Banquet (This was my first and last time to ever eat duck. Seriously, if they can put duck in something, they will).
- Forbidden City (Located at the city center of Beijing, it is the location of the Chinese Imperial Palace. One of the most photographed spots in China, also a World Heritage Site, you can wander around the area and take a guided tour within the palace).
- Tian An Men Square (The gate to the imperial palace and the city square of Beijing, you can say “Hey” to Chairmen Mao, the Chinese communist revolutionary and founding father of the People’s Republic of China. The location is also known for the 1989 military suppression and the deaths of hundreds of civilian protesters. There are many military displays here, however I wouldn’t recommend interfering or hanging around this area for extended periods of time).
- Temple of Heaven (First built-in 1420, it is a place of prayer for past emperor’s. Beautiful buildings and a great photo-op).
- Beijing Zoo (Visit the Pandas)
- Si He Yuan (Hu Tong- An ancient city alley or lane in Beijing with narrow traditional streets that typically lead to a shared courtyard area).
- Ming Tombs (A collection of 13 emperor Tombs covering a total area of over 120 square kilometers. There are amazing walking areas around these tombs where you can admire the stone architecture and ancient buildings. My favourite is the walk along Sacred Way, which leads to the Changling Tomb).
Best of Xi’an
Take the express train overnight to Xi’an from Beijing. This is an experience in itself. The rooms are tiny, with four little bunk beds cramped together. We traveled in the “first class” cabin, so I can’t imagine what the other carriages looked like.
- Terracotta Army (Discovered by a humble farmers in 1974, thousands of life-size warriors, horses and chariots were buried in pits to protect the emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, in his afterlife. It is an amazing archaeological site, with many different viewing areas and rooms to explore).
- Dumpling Banquet and Tang Dynasty Performance (Seriously, need I say more…We are talking serious dumplings here people. Not only are they beautiful to look at and crafted to resemble their delicious contents, but they also taste amazing… minus the duck one. Enjoy the show and get your dumpling on).
- Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (A large ancient Buddhist structure that overlooks the city and park in Xi’an).
- Guangren Temple (Tibetan, Buddhist Temple, worth a visit).
- Shaanxi History Museum (Get your history buff on and explore what ancient China has to offer. A modern museum with plenty to discover).
Best of Nanjing
- Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum (Located is situated at the bottom of Mount Zijin, its construction begun in 1926, and was completed 1929. Walk the couple of hundred steps and visit his tomb.Such a cool place to explore, with awesome views from the bottom and the top).
- Yellow Mountain (Cable ride up to the top to see the sunset and amazing rock formations. Walking up the mountain is beautiful, with awesome views and landscape. Watch the men carry ridiculous loads of supplies up the mountains on their backs and hike up early morning for the sunrise).
- Tunxi Ancient Street (Super cool area to go shopping, with great food, touristy shops and architecture. Weirdest thing I saw here were key chains with little live fish sealed inside them… I have no idea who would buy/ want a key chain with a poor little trapped fish inside…).
Best of Suzhou/ Zhou Zhang
After an 8 hour coach, I’m not sure there was a best of, but this was certainly a different side to China I wasn’t expecting to see. On our way to Suzhou we stopped at small villages and got to meet locals and experience a little of what living in country China might look like. The road side toilets are an experience, and not one I would like to repeat. So prepare to get your squat on and BYO toilet paper and sanitiser.
- Lion Garden (If you go to one garden in china, go here. The rock formations are amazing and there are large ponds with koi fish everywhere. A truly beautiful place to visit).
- Silk Factory (Interesting to see how silk is made, you can take tours through the factory that show the step by step process to making silk, and of course, you can buy some silk products afterwards).
- Zhujiajiao Ancient Town (The Venice of China, you can explore the night markets here and gardens. It is a beautiful spot with lots to see and do. Who ever said a gondola ride was overrated).
Best of Shanghai
- Yu Garden and Chen Huang Miao (Amazing garden located in Old City Shanghai, you need to visit here! It is located near the City God Temple, so visit both).
- Oriental Pearl TV Tower (A weirdly shaped 468 m tower, made up of 11 spheres. Worth a look! It is lit up with led lights at night and was almost impossible to see due to heavy fog).
- Shanghai Bund (Waterfront area in Shanghai, you can take cruises along the river at night to see the city from the water).
- Pu Dong New District (A good viewing point to Shanghai’s city skyline).
- Shopping at Nanjing Rd (Cheap department store for all your shopping needs, with spectacular views over Shanghai, great food and plenty to keep you entertained).
So there you have it, my 16 day China experience. Hope you enjoyed! What are your favourite destinations in China? I would love to hear them! Happy travelling you wonderful humans xx