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Magic in the Middle Kingdom: Here’s your China travel bucket list

Joshua Berida

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Magic in the Middle Kingdom: Here’s your China travel bucket list

SCARY. The raging river of Tiger Leaping Gorge’s low hiking trail.

Joshua Berida/Rappler

There's so much more to China than the Great Wall and the Forbidden City – check out what else this vast country has in store for tourists

China is one of the biggest and most populated countries in the world. It also has a long history that shaped its identity. It offers a diverse range of attractions for visitors that want to discover all that this country has to offer. It has fetching landscapes, a rich history, and an extensive transportation network that makes it easy to get from point A to point B. I’ve traveled by land when I frequently visited China. The long distance and overnight trains are comfortable, and the bullet trains are state-of-the-art. 

I’ve compiled a list of possibly bucket-list worthy destinations if you plan to visit China.

SNAKING. The Great Wall. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • The Great Wall – Most of the time whenever you hear China, the first thing that comes to mind is none other than the Great Wall. This fortification is thousands of kilometers long and spans different parts of the country. Multiple dynasties expanded the wall during their reign. Fast forward to today, it’s now probably the country’s most recognizable tourist attraction. The sections in Badaling and Mutianyu are the most famous sections that many tourists visit. 
Forbidden City, Landmark, Car
LANDMARK. Overlooking view of the Forbidden City. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Forbidden City – This city within a city is another famous landmark and tourist attraction located in Beijing. This UNESCO Heritage-listed site dates to the early 15th century. The emperor was the only person who had unlimited access to all sections of the Forbidden City while the imperial family and government officials had limited access. The architecture, position, and design of the Forbidden City follows feng shui. Due to its huge size, it could take half a day or longer to explore this destination.
Person, Landmark, Temple of Heaven
CIRCULAR. Temple of Heaven. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Temple of Heaven – After you’ve been to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, don’t forget to add the Temple of Heaven to your itinerary. This destination epitomizes traditional Chinese architecture. The emperors during ancient times had this complex built and expanded for sacrificial ceremonies and to worship Heaven and Earth. The oldest structure you’ll find inside is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, it dates to 1420. Subsequent structures such as the Vault of Heaven and Circular Mound Altar were built more than a century after the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. 
Architecture, Building, Boat
SERENE. Chengde Mountain Resort. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Summer Palace – Include the Summer Palace as a day trip while in Beijing. This vast complex shows China’s beautiful landscape garden design. As you explore the palace, you’ll see views of lakes, gardens, pavilions, temples, and halls. The Summer Palace has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the ’90s.
  • Chengde Mountain Resort – This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hebei is a huge complex comprised of imperial gardens and palaces. This destination used to be the emperors’ summer retreat. Relax in the gardens, check out the pavilions, and go up to the viewpoints. One of the viewing spots provides you with overlooking views of Putuo Zongcheng Temple. 
  • Classical Gardens of Suzhou – This cluster of gardens is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. These exemplify the design of the classical Chinese garden. These aim to mimic nature. Some of the most well-known gardens you can include in your itinerary are the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Master of the Nets Garden, Couple’s Retreat Garden, and Lion Grove Garden. Suzhou is a possible day trip from Shanghai.
  • The Bund – This waterfront located in Shanghai exemplifies the evolution of the city. Here you’ll find modern buildings mixed with old ones. It provides visitors with views of the fetching cityscape.
Cliff, Nature, Outdoors
HEIGHTS. Huangshan. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Huangshan – China has plenty of national parks for those who love nature. One such place to add to your itinerary is Huangshan. The latter provides visitors with stunning vistas, sunrises, and sunsets. Like many of China’s parks, there are hotels and cable cars. This allows visitors of all ages to climb up and down the mountain at their own pace. If you’re planning to go on foot, it takes an average of seven hours each to go up and down Huangshan. This destination is accessible by train from Shanghai. It’s better to spend at least one night in the mountains instead of just a day trip.
City, Accessories, Bag
OLD SCHOOL. Travel back in time in Pingyao. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Pingyao Ancient City – Travel to ancient China with a trip to Pingyao. The latter provides you with a glimpse into the past with its historic architecture. The ancient city retained its Ming and Qing urban planning. This creates an atmospheric ambiance when you walk along its streets. Many of the structures have maintained their historical look.
  • Terracotta Warriors – Qin Shi Huang had the Terracotta Army built to serve as his guards in the afterlife. He had thousands of statues of soldiers and horses constructed. The statues have striking and detailed features that make them look life-like. Your gateway to this destination is Xi’an. 
Archaeology, Architecture, Building
RELIEF. Dazu Rock Carvings. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Dazu Rock Carvings – These impressive and ancient rock carvings are in Dazu District near the megacity of Chongqing. These detailed carvings have a history dating to the 9th century. The carvings depict history and life during different epochs. You’ll find a mix of religious (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism) and ordinary life depictions as you explore the open-air museum. 
Nature, Outdoors, Field
STREAKS. Rainbow Mountains. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Rainbow Mountains – The Rainbow Mountains you’ll likely have in mind is the one in Peru. However, you don’t have to travel too far to see one in Asia. You’ll find China’s Rainbow Mountains in Gansu province. The mountains are a day trip from the city of Zhangye. There’s a shuttle bus that will take you to different viewpoints.
SWEEPING. Zhuo’er Shan. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Zhuo’er Shan – If ever you decide to include Qinghai in your itinerary, make sure to add Zhuo’er Shan. The latter provides stunning landscapes that remind me a bit of the alps. You’ll see snow-capped peaks, rolling and verdant mountains, and an idyllic countryside. The trails are easy to navigate for all ages. These lead to various viewpoints in the scenic area.
  • Jiuzhaigou – This national park located in Sichuan province is a photographer’s dream destination. There’s plenty of valleys, views of mountains, waterfalls, and cerulean-tinged lakes that could easily fill your memory card. There’s a shuttle bus that could take you to different scenic spots or you can walk along the trails for some exercise. 
City, Photography, Path
COMMUNITY. Inside a tulou in Fujian. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Fujian Tulou – These rural, earthen structures are unique households found in Fujian province. Their design is usually round or rectangular and can house hundreds of people depending on its size. There are multiple tulou clusters included on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list. One of the most famous clusters is in Tianluokeng. 
  • Wuyishan – This is another scenic destination that nature lovers will enjoy. Wuyishan or Wuyi Mountain is of cultural and natural importance to China. It has rivers, mountains, and a lush forest. Hikers can follow the trails that lead to fetching viewpoints of the landscape while other visitors can go rafting. You can take the train from Xiamen to Wuyishan City. The latter is your jump-off point to the mountain. 
Adult, Male, Man
GIANTS. Longmen Grottoes. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Longmen Grottoes – These massive and extensive carvings illustrate Chinese ingenuity and devotion. Here you’ll find thousands of Buddhist statues, inscriptions, and over 60 stupas. The earliest carvings date to the 5th century. Make your way to Luoyang if you plan on seeing these carvings and grottoes.
  • Shaolin Temple – If you’re interested in martial arts, you’d want to add this Shaolin Temple to your itinerary while traveling around Luoyang. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is considered as the cradle of Shaolin Martial Arts. Some of the places you’ll see in the complex include the Pagoda Forest, Mahavira Hall, Hall of Heavenly Kings, and the Wushu Training Center. You can also watch legit Shaolin martial artists perform.
  • Zhangjiajie National Forest Park – This park is one of the most famous in China because of Avatar. The creators of the movie drew inspiration from Zhangjiajie’s majestic landscapes. Who wouldn’t be amazed at the towering rock formations as seen from the viewing platforms? This park is huge enough to occupy a few days of your itinerary. 
  • Kanas Lake – This scenic park in Xinjiang is worth the trouble of getting to. Kanas Lake boasts stunning views of the mountains and lake. There are easy to follow trails for leisurely walks to viewpoints in the park. Spend a few nights in the park to fully experience it. The ideal time to visit is during autumn.
  • Heavenly Lake – Heavenly Lake is a popular day trip from Urumqi in Xinjiang. It’s also one of the most accessible parks in the province. Go on a boat ride or simply follow the easy trails to get panoramic views of the landscape.
Bridge, Suspension Bridge, Rope Bridge
SCARY. The raging river of Tiger Leaping Gorge’s low hiking trail. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge – Consider visiting Yunnan province when you’re planning a trip to China. One of the reasons to visit this region is to hike the upper and lower trails of Tiger Leaping Gorge. The trek will take you to stunning viewpoints of cliffs, mountains, the river, and a waterfall. You can find accommodation along the trail so you can enjoy the hike at your own pace.
  • Lijiang Old Town – This UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed destination is in Yunnan province. It’s along the Ancient Tea and Horse Road that traders passed through or was one of their stops. The traditional structures and houses combine an eclectic mix of cultural influences such as Han, Naxi, Yi, Bai, and Tibetan. It’s a popular tourist destination that can get crowded at times. However, it still provides an old-world charm. There are plenty of accommodations, cafes, shops, and restaurants lining its cobblestone streets.
  • Ganden Sumtseling Monastery – You’ll find this huge monastery (sometimes called the Little Potala Palace) in Yunnan province.  It dates to the 17th century and is the largest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in the province. The monks who live here belong to the Gelug Yellow Hat Sect. As you explore the complex, you’ll notice the Tibetan architecture and the depictions of Buddhism inside the halls. You can visit this destination as a day trip from Shangri-La.
Nature, Outdoors, Scenery
REFLECTION. Yangshuo’s landscape. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Yangshuo – This small town (by Chinese standards) boasts beautiful karst landscapes and towering rock formations. You can go biking, rafting, or simply walk to see some of Yangshuo’s fetching landscapes.
  • Qinghai Lake – This is the country’s largest inland lake. You can go biking or road tripping to see and experience the lake’s diverse landscapes. During spring, you’ll get to see a sea of yellow flowers dotting the landscape.  
  • Three Natural Bridges – China is home to many natural wonders; the Three Natural Bridges are one of them. These natural stone bridges are named after dragons namely Heilong, Tianlong, and Qinglong. It’s also one of the filming locations of Transformers 4. You can visit this destination as a day trip from Chongqing. 
  • Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – This conservation center for pandas lets you see these cute (and sometimes gigantic) animals doing random things, playing, lying around, and/or eating. You can go on a day trip from Chengdu in Sichuan province.
Land, Nature, Outdoors
ICE BLUE. Huanglong National Park. Joshua Berida/Rappler
  • Huanglong National Park – Located in Sichuan province, this tourist destination is famous for its travertine pools. The pools line the face of a mountain. You can get beautiful overlooking views from one of the platforms. This place reminded me of a similar destination called Pamukkale in Turkiye.
  • Tianmen Mountain – Before or after exploring Zhangjiajie National Park, make your way to Tianmen Mountain. This destination provides you with stunning overlooking views. You can walk along the paths hugging the cliffs, walk on a glass walkway, and/or take the cable car up or down the mountain.

These are just some of the places you can add to your China bucket list. There are so many more destinations to discover in this huge country. It’s also convenient to travel long distances because of the country’s extensive rail network. You can book train tickets through www.trip.com. I would recommend booking overnight or long-distance trains weeks in advance. – Rappler.com

Joshua Berida is a writer that loves to travel. He blogs at www.thewanderingjuan.net.

#ShareAsia highlights the best and most sought-after experiences in the Asia-Pacific region. It’s a content and resource hub for tourists and locals alike seeking new, exciting experiences in the region.

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