1. The Forbidden City, (aka Palace Museum)
The Forbidden City is in Beijing, directly north of Tiananmen Square, where the famous picture of Mao hangs on the palatial red wall. It has similar significance for China as does Buckingham palace for Britain, or The Vatican for Italy. This was the impenetrable imperial home of the Ming and Qing dynasties and is now open to the public, perfectly preserved. The immense complex is filled with jaw-dropping cultural treasures.
Top tip: Avoid the first week of October and first week of March. These are national holidays, and it is extremely crowded.
2. The Great Wall
The only man made construction visible from space, The Great Wall spans 6,400 km, mainly along the border with Mongolia. The stone wall construction was done primarily during the Ming dynasty in the 14th century, to defend imperial China from invading tribes. In the Chinese psyche, it symbolises security and suffering in equal measure, as up to 3 million people are said to have died as a result of its construction.
Top Tip: From Beijing, join a tour to Badaling. Be warned, bottled water is six times as expensive when you reach the top. Take your own!
3. The Terracotta Warriors
Discovered in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a well, the Terracotta Army, buried in 210 BC with the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, is a breathtaking sight. The thousands of life-size figures have individually unique faces and armour styles. The museum is located in Xi’An, Shanxi province (one hour flight from Beijing). The site covers over 22 square kilometres, an astonishing example of a sustained vision that took over 700 000 workers to complete.
Top Tip: Don’t buy your replica figures on the way in, otherwise you’ll have to lug them around and the tomb is massive.
4. Karst Mountains in Yangshuo
Located in the south of China in Guangxi province, they can best be viewed from Yangshuo, a small town outside Guilin. When you first see the mountains, many Chinese paintings you’ve seen in the past suddenly make sense. They really are that unique shape! A gorgeous and chilled out area.
Top Tip: Book a bike tour, the best way to see the surrounding area is a meandering bike ride through the valley.
5. The Yangtze River and the Three Gorges Dam
Continuing the theme of bigger and more impressive, the controversial Three Gorges Hydroelectric Dam is an huge spectacle. However, a boat tour on the Yang Tze river is worthwhile since the scenery is absolutely stunning too. Take a boat tour on the third longest river in the world which includes the dam, due to be completed in 2009.
Top Tip: The most popular Yangtze River cruise route is Chongqing to Yichang. It is 660 kilometres (410 miles) long – about 10% of the Yangtze River’s length.
6. Potala Palace, Lhasa
Whatever your take on the Tibetan situation, the Potala Palace (now a Chinese museum) is worth visiting. The Palace was traditionally the seat of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhists’ spiritual leader. Famous for its imposing white walls surrounding the inner red palace, the Potala Palace is located in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
Top Tip: the building sits at 3,700 meters above sea level, and the palace has loads of stairs, so rest the first day to acclimatise when you get to Tibet.
7. The Bund, Shanghai
The bund is the traditional business centre of Shanghai, but now looks across the bay to Pudong, which houses many of Shanghai’ new commercial buildings, including the Star Trek inspired Oriental Pearl Tower. The Bund is where people hang out and look cool and is really close to most attractions in Shanghai.
Top Tip: Make sure you watch yourself on Shanghai’s pavements; motorcyclists think nothing of riding through pedestrians.
8. Giant Pandas
You can’t possibly go to China and not check out the black ‘n’ white bears with the choosy diets and flaky libidos. You can see them at the Wolong Nature Reserve, three hours outside Chengdu, which is the capital of Sichuan province and the largest panda reserve in China. The centre is engaged in trying to save the species and visitors can see them in their natural habitat as well as up close.
Top Tip: Ask about the possibility of co-adopting a panda. You can help keep them alive by doing so.
9. Visit Hong Kong
Although Hong Kong is no longer part of the UK, its still one of the most exciting and interesting cities in the world to visit. Visit the natural attractions, such as Ocean Park, Victoria Peak and Repulse bay. In HK you can shop until you collapse and enjoy the culture shock without completely losing your reference points.
Top Tip: Go to the Kowloon observation point at dusk to check out the switching on of one of the most exciting skylines in the world.
10. Join a tour company
Although this isn’t a destination, this is advice that you’ll not regret heeding. The Chinese language and way of doing things can be very alien, so rather go with people who’ve been there. In London recommended companies:
Imaginative Traveller ‘Road to Shanghai’ tour — 14 days for £615
Includes: Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an and more. www.imaginative-traveller.com 0845 007 8802
On the Go: ‘Gateway to Tibet — 10 days — App. £999.
Includes: Great wall, Summer Palace, Terracotta, Potala Palace, Himalayas. www.onthegotours.com 020 7371 1113