China, Hong Kong & Macau travel guide
China, Hong Kong & Macau travel guide
There are numerous things to do in China, due to the size of the country. To make it easier, we have broken this guide down into sections below.
The Central Provinces
The south-central part of China is a huge area centred on the middle reaches of the Yangtze river, with the Himalaya to the west, the Qinling mountain range to the east and the mountainous parts of Yunnan province to the south.
Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan province and a rapidly developing economic hub, although still with some traditional bustling backstreets. The major attraction is its Giant Panda Research Station, where you can observe these beautiful creatures up close. In complete contrast to this thriving metropolis, the Aba prefecture in northern Sichuan is home to three areas of outstanding natural beauty, which are all listed as Unesco world heritage sites: Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, Huanglongsi National Park and Siguniangshan National Park.
In central China's Hunan province there are also a number of national parks contained within Wulingyuan Scenic Area, consisting of subtropical forests, majestic peaks, waterfalls, limestone caves and rivers. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is particularly worth visiting: its distinctive limestone karst pillars have inspired Chinese artists for centuries and Tianmen, the highest mountain in the area, is found here. Take the long cable car ride to Heaven’s Gate at the top, a naturally eroded hole in the mountain.
The South-Eastern Provinces
The focal point of south-eastern China is the giant municipality of Shanghai in the Jiangsu province. One of the most dynamic cities in the world with awe-inspiring architecture and a thirst for all things modern, it nevertheless remains an important port and centuries-old trading centre. Discover a fascinating history that can still be seen in the gardens, monasteries and street markets. Near to Shanghai is the peaceful historic town of Hangzhou. From Shanghai and Hangzhou you can easily reach the water towns of Zhouzhuang, Tongli, Wuzhen, Xitang and Luzhi. These picturesque towns on the Yangtze river are criss-crossed with canals and stone bridges.
Inland in Anhui province are some of China’s best-preserved colonial villages and traditional Chinese architecture. Huang Shan, or Yellow Mountain, is one of the most beautiful areas, with its breathtaking mountain views and surrounding countryside of traditional villages and paddies. The picturesque villages of Hongcun and Xidi are close to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), as are the ancient settlements of Wuyuan County in the Jiangxi province.
The imperial heartlands are considered the cradle of Chinese civilisation, and encompass the fertile basin of Huang He, or the ‘Yellow river’, China’s second longest river after the Yangtze. The region abounds in temples, monasteries and historic buildings.
Visit Xian, in the Shaanxi province, for a more traditional view of China. Home to the awe-inspiring Terracotta Warriors, it has impressive city walls, a number of outstanding temples and a fascinating mix of Buddhist and Islamic influences.
Travel north-east to the Shanxi province to visit the Unesco world heritage site of Pingyao, one of the best-preserved historic settlements in China, surrounded by a completely intact Ming dynasty city wall. Other sites to see in this province include the Buddhist temples carved out of a rock face at Yungang caves, and remnants of the Great Wall, one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world, at Desheng Bao.
The Great Wall can also be visited on a day trip from Beijing. Beijing is modernising at a tremendous pace, but still retains a historic atmosphere, both in the Forbidden City and within its hutong (narrow streets), offering a glimpse into a more traditional way of life.
The Southern Provinces
China has an astonishingly varied scenery, and within Yunnan province itself this ranges from alpine mountain ranges to tropical rainforests. This is considered by many to be the most beautiful part of China, its wonderful light being synonymous with Chinese art. Yunnan Stone Forest near Kunming is one of the natural wonders of the world, along with the dramatic cliffs and waterfalls of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Apart from marvelling at the natural beauty, visit the town of Lijiang, an old town of cobbled streets, wooden buildings, canals and lively markets, offering an excellent insight into traditional Chinese life.
In the Guangxi province, a cruise along the Li river in Guilin offers a great chance to appreciate this region's bizarre yet beautiful scenery of thrusting limestone peaks. The rice terraces of Longji, a few hours from Guilin, also provide for a breathtaking excursion.
If you’re looking for something a bit more urban and buzzing, make a stop in Hong Kong. Beneath the neon lights, this dynamic city has something for everyone, from fantastic shopping to a romantic harbour, flower and bird markets, tasty food stalls, scenic walks and fascinating museums.
Described as ‘the roof of the world’, Tibet is the highest region on Earth with an average altitude of 4,900 metres. Spectacular snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes and open grassland dominate the landscape of the Tibetan plateau. It is an area brimming with culture and spirituality, with unique ethnic traditions influenced by Buddhism.
Visit Lhasa, the world’s highest city, and the enormous Potala Palace, once the main residence of the Dalai Lama and today a museum and Unesco world heritage site. Venture into the Himalaya and discover temples and monasteries, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can travel as far as the border with Nepal, reaching the north base camp of Everest.