China is huge. I mean, it's one of the largest countries on Earth and its vastness is filled with ancient sites, historic discoveries, natural landmarks and curious displays of culture. As a tourist in China, you have a lot of options, choices to make and all in all, a full plate of attractions. After spending over a year living and traveling in this intriguing country, these are some of my top suggestions for what to do and see.
The Hutongs of Beijing
It's a popular section of the city for tourists; full of historic houses, modern cafes, high-end restaurants and specialty shops. However, the hutongs hold so much more than touristic haunts if you keep an open mind and know what you're looking for. Within this maze of ancient homes lies a hearty helping of the city's counter culture. This is where graffiti art adorns the crumbling buildings, and Rastafarian locals run bars and make a living putting dreadlocks in the hair of those passing by with an interest. There are artists, musicians and even one of China's first craft beer breweries all lying discretely between the impossibly small alleyways.
Taking a Tour of The Great Wall
The Great Wall of China had been on my list of places to visit for years and while living in China, I actually didn't get to see it until towards the end. I'm glad that I waited and decided to take a guided tour that a friend had arranged instead of going on my own. We had to walk and climb a bit through some forest before we actually saw it and once the first stone made itself visible, I couldn't wait to see it in full view. Reaching the top and looking at the length of the wall reaching into the distance was a surreal experience and one that I will always remember. Plus, we got to enjoy the journey much more since we didn't have to worry about how we were getting there, which was the best part of the wall to see and where to eat lunch.
Taking a Bamboo Raft Ride in Guilin
This place seriously looked like one of those Chinese paintings in real time. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in China; with a river full of karst towers and a serene feeling that permeated through the foggy skies. The river is famous for its beauty and locals have taken advantage of its lure by offering bamboo raft rides to tourists who wish to get a closer look. Hopping on one of these rafts with my friends and viewing the slow paced river life in between stopping off at one of the docks for lunch is one of my most memorable experiences.
Seeing The Tea Show in Wuyishan
Wuyishan is a small mountain town that seemingly revolves around the tea trade. There are tea terraces everywhere, tea soaked eggs for sale by nearly every vendor and more tea shops than you can imagine. Some of China's oldest tea trees are still thriving here and the most famous tea that comes out of this area is called Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe.) The tea is so famous in fact that the town offers a nightly theatrical performance dedicated to it. The stage itself rotates so that the audience can have varying views of the stage, elaborate costumes and perfectly choreographed dances. The show incorporates the tea, it's story and even offers tastings to the crowd towards the end.
Eating My Way Through The Muslim Quarter
Xi'an is mostly known for its proximity to the Terracotta Warriors. However, it's also home to a thriving Muslim Quarter; a complete paradise for everyone's inner (and outer) foodie. The area is bustling and the vendors are out in full force. Snack artisans are hard at work in the streets making noodles, pulling taffy and selling colorful desserts off to hungry crowds while restaurant owners hustle around, trying to get out the hot bowls of soup just as quickly as they are ordered. This place is full of variety, new dishes and a passion for this unique sect of Chinese cuisine.