A diverse destination like China offers countless ways to arrive at the heart of the country. To create a unique trip, plan your holiday like a real life ‘choose your own adventure’. Here are two distinctive ways you can experience China: from its ancient treasures to outdoor adventures.
Ancient Wisdom and Stunning Beauty
China is full of contrasts – a modern economic powerhouse fuelled by cultural traditions stretching back thousands of years. It’s a country where humming metropolises sit side by side with 45 recognised World Heritage Sites of natural and cultural importance. That’s the second highest of any nation after Italy.
This means that there are many paths of equal value leading you on a discovery of the ‘real’ China. And no matter where your interests lie, you’ll create a journey that best suits you.
For those who want to understand China through the legacy of an empire that spanned 2,000 years, Beijing is the place to start. Lying at the centre of the capital, the Forbidden City was completed in 1420, and it was from here that generations of emperors exercised power throughout their sprawling lands.
Fronted by the impressive Tiananmen Square, today the Forbidden City is no longer off limits to ‘commoners’. However, a distinct atmosphere of reverence lingers, as you pass through majestic entrances guarded by gilded statues of lions.
Perhaps one of China's most endearing images is that of the imposing Terracotta Army, which stands silent and solemn to the southwest of the capital in Shaanxi province. An estimated 8,000 life-size figures moulded from clay were buried with the first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife. While the Terracotta Army is now on display, the tomb itself has never been excavated, so one can only guess at the treasures that lie within!
Contrasting sharply with Beijing's modern metropolis and the statuesque Terracotta Army, the turquoise lakes of the Jiuzhaigou Valley and the famous craggy peaks of Huangshan draw their own type of tourist. Here China displays a completely different side, one of pristine natural beauty and unique flora that predates even the earliest Chinese civilisations.
For those who prefer exploring a steamy rainforest to the hallowed halls of an imperial residence, head to Mount Wuyi in the southeastern province of Fujian. Or for an even more relaxed appreciation of the ever-changing Chinese landscape, take a cruise on the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges region. Sheer cliffs drop hundreds of metres into the water, and foliage can change from deep greens to rusty autumnal tones depending on the season.
The ancient Chinese held a deep desire to maintain harmony between man-made objects and the environment they inhabited. Architecture was designed to mimic the curves found in nature and bodies of water played a big role in lending a calming atmosphere to palace gardens.
One such example is the Great Wall of China. Although designed as a defence from invaders, it accentuates the rugged landscapes at Badaling and Jinshanling, as it snakes its way along sharp peaks. Guard towers crowning these high points demonstrate the might of the Chinese imperial armies, and it’s a great way to get a grasp of Chinese history outside the capital Beijing.
Also combining the old and the outdoors is the Summer Palace in Beijing, which was designed as a serene environment for royalty to wait out the stifling northern heat. Here, architecture is married with nature to produce a refreshing view from airy pavilions that slope gently towards Kunming Lake.