Travel is definitely a luxury good, especially in these challenging COVID-19 times. This year there’s no jumping on planes to the beautiful beaches of Bali or flying back home to connect with family and friends again. At first, this current situation of closed borders worldwide and being stuck in China felt weird, but China still has so much to offer. One just has to be open-minded and embrace the beauty of our host country. The best destinations to travel to in China are waiting!
I hope to cross off some of my China bucket list in the years to come. Destinations to travel to in China are never-ending, and the list is full of diverse experiences. The glaciers in Shangri-La, a kung fu retreat in Dali, cuddling pandas in Chengdu, visiting an art school in Tibet, skiing the mountains near Harbin, and running a marathon across the grasslands of Inner Mongolia are just some of the options. Here are some of the China destinations I have visited, from the limestone formations in Yangshuo to the city that has it all, Shanghai.
China Destination #1: Yangshuo
Visiting tourist sights in China requires an open mind and some flexibility. When you visit China for the first time, you have no idea how massive this country is and how many people are actually living here. It becomes evident in major train stations and tourist sights. Add a national holiday to the mix, and suddenly crowded has a new meaning. It is possible to travel off the beaten track, but it requires some preparation, and you can visit unspoiled scenery in Yangshuo. Yangshuo is one of the must-visit destinations in China!
Yangshuo lies south-east of Guilin. It is a 2-hour drive from the airport in Guilin. This area has a tropical climate, and it’s famous for its breathtaking limestone mountains and Li River. You can rent bikes and glide along the river while taking in the scenery of limestone formations around you.
During the hotter months, you can easily cool off by rafting down the river and taking a dip in the refreshing clean river. The best part is that there are hardly any tourists in this area. With an adventure guide, we did an amazing hike at a leisurely pace of five hours without running into other tourist groups at all. Yangshuo has beautiful traditional guesthouses and comfortable hotels that will bring you back in time to the Qing Dynasty while taking in the beautiful surroundings.
If you like some more adventure, you can climb some of those impressive limestone formations under the guidance of professional rock climbers. This is accessible to all levels of fitness. If you want to immerse yourself into the hustle and bustle of tourism, you should visit West Street. West Street is located in the old town of Yangshuo but has been taken over by endless loud bars, neon lights, and lots of souvenirs. If you’re craving Starbucks or a McChicken sandwich, this is the place to go.
China Destination #2: Xi’an
A visit to China immerses you in history. In modern and fast-paced Shanghai, one has to search for remnants of the old city and a few temples, but Xi’an breathes the atmosphere of ancient times. If you are looking for a new city to explore in China, Xi’an is a must-visit China destination. It’s a great place to visit with kids as wandering around the lively Muslim Quarter, there is something exciting happening on each corner, from trying tasty kebab skewers to little market stalls. Don’t miss biking the walls of the old city, a safe and great way for the kids to go around. And if you can’t bike well, you always have the option to use a tandem bike. If you fancy watching a Chinese opera, this is your chance. It is a touristy thing to do, but why not combine it with a traditional Chinese dinner with dishes on a spinning Jenny (round plateau on the table that spins)?
Xi’an can be reached by air from Shanghai, but taking a sleeper train adds to the adventure. It is an eight-hour train ride from Shanghai.
China Destination #3: Shanghai
Though we live in the Western suburbs of Shanghai, we make it downtown every week. Shanghai is magical. I’m definitely not talking about Disney. I’m talking about the high rise buildings of Lujiazui, the Bund (with kilometers of bike and running paths), the historical buildings, the old town, the impressive malls, the endless tasty local and international restaurants, the European feel of the former French Concession, and the possibility to cruise the downtown area for a few RMB on a rented Hello bike (which you can find all over the city). If you are visiting China, then Shanghai is a must-visit destination. Even if you currently call Shanghai home, I guarantee there are still neighborhoods left unexplored. This megacity of 25 million people has a lot to offer. If you are looking for a second big city to add to your China itinerary, the vibe of modern and fast-paced Shanghai is very different from Beijing.
China Destination #4: Beijing
If you are looking for a second big city to add to your China itinerary, don’t miss historic Beijing. You’ll bebusy visiting iconic sites such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace (where you can even do some ice skating in the cold winters), and of course, the famous hutongs. Beijing is a must-see, and nothing beats a visit to the Great Wall of China, which is only an hour away from the city. A great off-the-beaten-track wall experience with kids is camping on the wall. Outsmart the tourists and have a piece of the wall all to yourself and your family.
If you can travel in China, there are many attractive places. Start checking off the must-visit destinations in China now because it will truly take a lifetime to visit and enjoy them all.
By Jeannine Laurens
Humanities/Geography Teacher at WISS and author of the blog Family Travels.
Mrs. Jeannine Laurens is from Amsterdam, the Netherlands; but has lived in different countries including Northern Ireland, Australia and the Philippines. She has been teaching Geography for more than 13 years. Jeannine has a Masters degree in Human Geography and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. She loves to travel the world and is passionate about running. Furthermore, she enjoys giving bootcamp and running training to students. Jeannine is very compassionate as she runs a foundation which supports impoverished children in the Philippines. She has moved to Shanghai with her husband Frank. Her son Noah and daughter Lucy are both students of the school.