China is an impressive country steeped in culture and known for its beautiful natural amenities, ancient architecture, and holiday festivals such as Chinese New Year celebrations. Many visitors enjoy exploring the small villages, the stunning temples tucked into deeply wooded groves, and the surprisingly spicy cuisine in some locales. When visiting China, you may be tempted to explore all the well-known tourist attractions, but take a second look before making plans. The country's vastness and diversity offer a plethora of experiences, from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai to the tranquil landscapes of rural provinces. Each region has its unique charm and traditions, making every visit a new adventure.
The Great Wall of China is one of the most notable attractions among the Seven Wonders of the World. It's truly impressive, but you'll want to consider its notorious history, which speaks of invaders, brutal battles, and wars as emperors sought after and claimed new lands at the sacrifice of many lives. It's certainly worth seeing through the right lens. However, remember that the Wall is more than just a physical barrier; it's a testament to human resilience and ingenuity. As you walk along its ancient stones, imagine the countless stories of courage and sacrifice that have unfolded here over centuries.
Impressive in its own right, the Forbidden City has long been a ritual and political component of cultural life. Completed in 1420, this palace was home to over 24 emperors from the Ming to the Qing dynasties. Though anyone can visit it today, it was once restricted from any commoner's access and built at the expense of backbreaking work. As you wander through its vast courtyards and intricate palaces, you'll be transported back in time, immersing yourself in the grandeur and complexity of imperial China. Each corner of the Forbidden City tells a tale of power, intrigue, and tradition.
Shanghai's Bund region is home to over 50 Western-style buildings, many of which date from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The buildings dominate the landscape but are designed as symbols of Western culture. Each represents an architectural style, such as Gothic, Renaissance, or Romanesque. Though beautiful, for those who live in the West, the Bund really isn't all that impressive. Yet, the Bund's charm lies in its fusion of East and West, old and new. As you stroll along the waterfront, the contrast between the colonial-era buildings and the modern skyscrapers across the river vividly depicts Shanghai's dynamic history and rise as a global city.
Though striking in its preserved state, the Terracotta Army showcases the pain and sacrifice of so many. The first emperor of China built it, and each life-size terracotta warrior was meant to protect that leader. Certainly one of the most impressive archaeological sites around the globe, this Xian treasure of more than 8,000 stone soldiers showcases the fear that so many experienced living in Ancient China. Yet, beyond the fear, the Terracotta Army also speaks of a civilization's quest for immortality and power. As you gaze upon the life-like figures, each with unique facial features, you'll be awed by the ancient artisans' skill and the emperor's grand vision.
Another notable Chinese landmark is the Leshan Giant Buddha, estimated to be about 233 feet high and built around 713 to 803 during the Tang Dynasty. The Buddha, nestled into a large rock, is made from Cretaceous red bed sandstone and is impressively well preserved. It was built in the hopes of providing a calming effect on the local waterways, which often caused numerous shipping vessels to be lost along the river, showcasing the painful losses of many who lived here. As you stand at the foot of the Giant Buddha, you'll be humbled by its sheer size and the devotion that went into its creation. The serene expression on the Buddha's face and the tranquil surroundings offer a moment of peace and reflection.
Pandas are certainly cute, peaceful creatures, and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is valuable to the continuation of the species. It's been one of the only places in the world where you can hold a baby giant panda. However, authorities have discontinued the panda tours that allowed this. Pandas can actually be dangerous. Yet, the Panda Base is more than just a tourist attraction. It's a testament to China's commitment to wildlife conservation. As you watch these adorable creatures munch on bamboo or play in the trees, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the efforts to save them from extinction.
For tourists, there may be nothing more frightening than walking across the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge, which spans 1,411 feet in length. What makes it so terrifying is that the bottom is made of glass, providing those stepping across it a view of the 984 feet below. A simple skywalk bridge in its design, it's a heart-pounding experience to inch your way across without looking down and becoming disoriented. However, the thrill of the Glass Bridge is part of its allure. As you conquer your fear and take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, you'll experience a sense of achievement and adventure that few other places can offer.
The Li River has been called one of the most impressive waterways in the world, especially noted for its flow down Karst Mountain. While the river is impressively calm and teaming with life, what's even more interesting in the area is the city of Guilian's Buddhist heritage, which dates back to the seventh century. It's noted for not only dozens of monasteries and ten modern universities today, making it a true center of knowledge. As you cruise down the Li River, you'll be captivated by the stunning karst landscape that inspired countless Chinese paintings and poems. The city of Guilin, with its rich cultural heritage and vibrant academic scene, offers a fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern.
The Yellow Mountains are said to be a mystical location that promises to influence your mood and help you de-stress. Nature itself does this in all forms. What makes this location interesting are the uniquely shaped rocks, towering pine trees, and the sea of clouds that envelopes the mountain's peaks. After climbing that high, you'll be exhausted but not necessarily de-stressed from the experience. However, the Yellow Mountains offer more than just physical exertion. The ethereal beauty of the sea of clouds, the ancient pines clinging to the rocks, and the uniquely shaped peaks all contribute to a sense of tranquility and awe. As you stand on the summit above the clouds, you'll feel a deep connection with nature that transcends everyday stress.
Often called the "Venice of the East," the Suzhou Gardens are a microcosm of the world. Its nine gardens are a masterpiece from the 11th through the 19th century and are believed to have a profound metaphysical importance on the area's culture and history. The work of the garden masters should be highly regarded, especially for their artistic design and craftsmanship. It's meant to create a sense of being part of a larger world, and while that may occur to some, others might not appreciate it. Yet, the Suzhou Gardens are more than just beautiful landscapes. They are a living testament to China's rich philosophical and aesthetic traditions. As you wander through the meticulously designed gardens, with their harmonious blend of architecture, plants, and water, you'll experience the ancient Chinese concept of 'heaven on earth.'
The temples, gardens, and pagodas that dot the shoreline of the West Lake in Hangzhou are beautiful and often pictured in Chinese art displays. It's been noted for inspiring scholars and poets of all types since the ninth century. Much of it, though, is constructed with causeways and artificial islands rather than simple, natural beauty. However, the West Lake's charm lies not just in its natural beauty but also in its cultural significance. As you paddle across the lake or stroll along its shores, you'll be following in the footsteps of countless poets and scholars who found inspiration here. The man-made structures, far from detracting from the lake's beauty, add layers of historical and cultural richness.
Once the home of the Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace is considered the pride of the Lhasa region and is often considered the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism. While it's stunning in its beauty, it's also a reminder of the Tibetan Uprising in 1959. Protesters against Chinese occupation faced brutal violence as the spiritual leader, and many others fled into exile. Today, it's a museum and World Heritage Site. Yet, the Potala Palace is more than just a historical monument. It's a symbol of the Tibetan people's enduring spirit and their struggle for cultural survival. As you ascend its stairways and explore its many rooms filled with sacred art, you'll gain a deeper understanding of Tibet's rich spiritual traditions and its tumultuous history.
The region of Yangshuo is noted for many things, including karst mountains formed from rocks as they dissolve naturally. They're rare, and the Yangshuo are some of the few examples of karst hills, mountains, and caves in the world. The inscriptions within tell the story of those who lived here as early as 729 AD, during the Tang Dynasty. It's mesmerizing to observe the limestone peaks high above the community and the lazy, seemingly slow-moving rivers from it. They're beautiful, but these mountains aren't likely to offer a challenge to well-trained rock climbers. However, the karst landscape of Yangshuo offers more than just physical challenges. It's a geological wonder that tells a story of millions of years. As you kayak down the river or cycle through the countryside, you'll be surrounded by a landscape that's been shaped by nature's forces over eons. The ancient inscriptions add a layer of human history to this timeless landscape.
Hong Kong Disneyland doesn't compare to the U.S. versions of the Disney theme parks since many rides are scaled for younger children. It's also a much smaller theme park than the version in Tokyo. Tourists often find this one of the least desirable of the Disney parks, often due to its cloned rides from other destinations, lack of more modern features, and lower level of Disney magic. Yet, Hong Kong Disneyland has its unique charm. It's a fusion of Disney magic with local culture, offering a distinctly Asian twist to the classic Disney experience. As you explore the park, you'll find familiar characters, stories, and elements of Chinese culture and traditions. It's a smaller, more intimate park that offers a unique Disney experience.
Jiuzhaigou is noted for its 108 alpine lakes, which span three valleys. What makes them specifically interesting is that the crystal clear water has numerous hues of color, from soft blue to deep emerald and even stunning turquoise. The coloring has led people to believe the lakes offer some magical element. Yet, that magic actually lies in the beauty of the surrounding area, from the rolling waterfalls to the delicate wildlife that lives here. However, the colorful lakes of Jiuzhaigou offer more than just visual delight. They are a testament to the region's pristine natural environment. As you hike through the valleys and gaze upon the shimmering lakes, you'll be immersed in a world of natural beauty and tranquility. The 'magic' of Jiuzhaigou lies not just in its lakes but in the harmony of its entire ecosystem.