China provides some of the most diverse holiday options of any Asian country. Luxury tour operator Lightfoot Travel picks its top ten spots around the Middle Kingdom, most of which can be done as long weekends. What are you waiting for?
#1 Shangri-La, Yunnan
Considering its towering snow-capped peaks, vast plains and striking Tibetan architecture, you can see why the fictional utopia depicted in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon is reportedly based on these lands. The people, culture, cuisine and sheer expanse of open space will take your breath away; literally – the area lies at an average altitude of over 3,000 metres above sea level.
#2 Chengdu, Sichuan
One of the prettier cities in China, Chengdu is a haven for food lovers with its fiery hot pot and tasty street snack culture. There are several panda sanctuaries just a short drive away, and trust us, there really is nothing cuter than baby pandas clambering, rolling and climbing over each other. The city serves as a gateway to the northern lake area of Jiuzhaigou, as well as hikes to picturesque Mount Emei, the highest of China’s four Sacred Buddhist Mountains.
#3 Yangshuo, Guangxi
The landscapes depicted in just about every Chinese scroll, Yangshuo’s karst mountains and lazily winding rivers are the ideal spot for an extended weekend trip from Hong Kong. Stay at charming little boutique hotels, go rock-climbing, bike through rice paddies, raft down the Li River and make sure to try the Guilin rice noodles that the region is famous for.
#4 Zhangjiajie, Hunan
Zhangjiajie is most notable for being one of the places that inspired the floating Hallelujah Mountains in James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avatar. The National Forest Park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Beijing is a wonderful place to spend a few days, exploring all the city’s lesser-known spots in addition to its famous historic sites. Wander through the 798 Art District; spend a night in a campervan alongside crumbling sections of the Great Wall; explore the hutongs, or alleyways, via an old German sidecar; or stay at the luxurious Aman at Summer Palace, with private door access to the park that enables you to enter before and after opening hours, thereby escaping the crowds!
#6 Lhasa, Tibet
Way up high on the Himalayan plateau, Tibet is both special and unique. Visit sites such as the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, but make sure to get out of the city and experience the sheer rugged beauty of its diverse landscapes. Namtso Lake is Tiffany-blue in colour, ringed by snowy peaks and grazing yak herds; Everest base camp is a six-to-eight-day trek away (the less adventurous can opt to drive); and we saw the most stars here out of any other place in China.
#7 Lijiang, Yunnan
The fabled old town of Lijiang is full of cobbled streets, shingled roofs and little shops all set against the backdrop of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Beat the throngs of tourists by exploring the town at dawn, and then escape to quieter villages, famous for Naxi black pottery, where you can observe old artisans at work. Also highly recommended is a trip to the nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge, spending a night at a simple guesthouse and waking up to spectacular views at sunrise.
A bustling metropolis juxtaposing the old with the new, Shanghai has something for just about everyone. Spend a day pottering through the tree-lined streets of the former French Concession, lined with stunning colonial mansions and a host of bars and restaurants – Shanghai is synonymous with food, in our books. Take a day trip to the nearby water villages, or venture further out to the towns of Hangzhou and Suzhou, referred to as “Heaven on Earth” in an old Chinese saying – a bit of an exaggeration, but admittedly very pretty!
#9 Xi’an, Shaanxi
Constructed between 246 and 210 BCE, the site housing thousands of terracotta warriors was only discovered in 1974 by local farmers. A place that pictures definitely do not do justice to, it’s worth a weekend trip from nearby Hong Kong. Other activities in the area include cycling along the historic city walls, or hiking up nearby Mount Huashan, one of China’s Five Great Mountains.
#10 Dunhuang, Gansu
Definitely off the beaten China path, Dunhuang was formerly a major hub along the ancient Silk Road, and is now best known for the rock-cut caves that are dotted throughout the surrounding desert. The Mogao Caves, or Grottoes, are perhaps the most famous, and contain incredible examples of Buddhist art. Gansu Province is also home to the westernmost end of the Great Wall at Jiayu Pass, which can be incorporated into the same trip. A great itinerary for history buffs.
Lightfoot Travel specialises in family holidays, honeymoons, corporate travel and private villas in countries spanning six continents. For tailor-made itineraries, contact them at 6438 4091 or visit lightfoottravel.com.