For example, Chinese food here is not like Chinese food at home. The food is fascinating. Everything will make you look younger (allegedly), from the delicacies of the sea cucumber to sea urchin to fish lung soup. Try them all and see what happens. Plus, China isn’t all urban. The rice terraces of the Guangxi Province, the Ming dynasty villages and bamboo forests of the Sichuan Province shine a different light on the diamond that is China: beautiful, eternal and fiercely resilient.

Beijing:

1.34 million billion live in China today, 20 million of whom live in Beijing, a population that 35 years ago was only four million.

This of course means it is rather busy, but the Chinese are working to calm the effects, for example each day licence plate numbers are picked, and if you have a plate with that number, you are banned from driving on that day. 

Things to do:

First stop Tian’an Men Square. Put yourself in the picture: Chinese tourists visit the square from all over China to have photos taken with foreigners (us). Join two-hour queues to see the Tomb of Chairman Mao, and slightly shorter ones (20 minutes) to get into the Forbidden City. The gardens in the nearby Temple of Heaven date from 1406, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are filled with magnolia, jasmine and mimosa. Watch old men playing mah-jong and singing folk songs while old women crochet mini pagodas and pandas.  Hutongs make up old Beijing; a series of narrow lanes and communities with houses where three generations of families live around a courtyard, surrounded by high rises. It is a dusty haven of peace, apart from when the drums play in the Drum Tower. Visiting Beijing means visiting The Great Wall. Choose the Mutianyu entrance, which is a little further away to drive from the city centre but you avoid the crowds.

Going Out:

The young hangout in 798 District. Edgy and eclectic, it’s hyped as the spiritual promised land for Chinese contemporary art. In reality it’s what Covent Garden would like to be and never will be.

Where to stay:

Stay at the China World Summit Wing – which sounds like a conference hall, but is an extremely contemporary edgy hotel.  It’s boutique on a grand scale. 

Shanghai:

Shanghai, the fifth megacity in the world with a population of 25 million, is described as the next Hong Kong. The best way to get to Shanghai from Beijing is to go aboard the fastest train in the world, travelling at 430km an hour, powered by electrostatic levitation.

What to do:

Take a trip in a vintage 1930′s-style sidecar with Shanghai Insiders. Weave the narrow alleyways where high walls hide homes and swing around cars driving on tree-lined streets. Drive the streets of the French concession where market sellers sell everything from live frogs and toads to little fluffy dogs (not pets). 

Going out:

Five minutes’ walk from the Yu Gardens, eat at the Din Tai Fung. The entrance looks as though you’re entering a multi-story car park but the food is something very special. Try the vegetable steamed dumplings.

Where to stay::

Kerry Hotel Shanghai is central and funky and has extremely cool staff and a wonderful cocktail bar where you can learn to make your own.

Sichuan Province:

Far from the madding crowds of Shanghai and Beijing are the bamboo forest Ming Dynasty villages, mountain scenery and Tibetan grasslands of the Sichuan Province.

Things to do:

 Jiuzhaigou Valley is a nature reserve located in China’s Sichuan province. A beautiful example of China’s varied landscape, Jiuzhaigou is famous for crystal blue lakes and multi-level waterfalls. It is populated by a number of Tibetan villages so is also a superb place to see and experience Tibetan local culture.

Going Out:

There’s not much to do by night here, so to fill time take your hiking boots and camera, and head to the Zharu Valley. You need a minimum of two days just to do the basics of the park, hiking both of the main valleys.

Where to stay:

Jiuzhai Paradise Hotel is a retreat nestled in the mountains reminiscent of an ancient city, protected under glass.

Shaanxi Province:

Visiting Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army guarding his burial site and protecting his entry to the afterlife is in the top five most memorable parts of any trip to China. The site was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987.

Things to do:

 Most visit for the army, but also head for the Xi’an Muslim Dasi Residential Quarter, which is a bazaar. The Xi’an City Wall may not be as impressive as the Great Wall, but it stretches 10 miles around the centre of town. Hire a bike or rickshaw to get around it.

Going out:

 Xian buzzes at night. The major avenues of Xi’an like Xi Dajie, Nan Dajie and Dong Dajie are excellent for evening shopping. The Big Goose Pagoda Square and Nanhu Lake are the favorite nighttime hangouts.

Where to stay:

The Warriors International Hostel in Xi’an is a good option if you’re on a budget. Alternatively the Hilton is central and fill of creature comforts.

 

Guangxi Province:

This is another face of China. Cycle past rice terraces in the Guangxi region, hike the surreal Karst peaks, or take river trips through the jungle-like landscapes. The Karst mountain scenery in southern China is famous here and abroad. 

Things to do:

Yangshuo, more than 1000 years old, is a major city in the Guangxi Province. It is situated right at the Li River so it is easy to stroll along the river from the town and catch glimpses of traditional fishermen.

Going out:

In Yangshuo, head down to West Street Xi Jie. It’s full of cafes, market stalls selling souvenirs, hostels and hotels. The night food market at West Street and Pantao Road is where you can watch noodles being made.

Where to stay:

The Yanghsuo Mountain Retreat is designed as a simple eco-lodge where expat friends can escape from the chaos of polluted mega-cities, and it’s great for travelers too.

Looking to get away from it all? Plan your trip with TNT Tour Search.