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Have more time, second trip to China, or looking for something specific? Here are some additional highlights when creating your custom China travel plan. If this is your first taste of China, visit our Essential China page to discover must-see sites, attractions and travel destinations.

China is so vast and varied that a comprehensive overview of all your options is beyond the scope of this page. We recommend that you contact us to discuss your ideas about travel to China.

THE NORTH

Chengde

The Imperial Summer Palace at Chengde is one of China's greatest sites and was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1994. It's well worth the overnight train ride from Beijing.

The gardens, forests, temples, monasteries and palace, most of which date back to the early 18th century, cover almost 1,500 acres.Though the architecture does not rival that of Beijing, the crisp, cool mountain air and laid-back atmosphere of the town make the Summer Palace a worthwhile visit during your China tour.

Datong

Though this Shanxi Province town itself is nothing to write home about, the early Buddhist caves outside of the city offer an exciting glimpse into Buddhism's first years in China. Cut into the sandstone cliffs of Wuzhou Mountain, the 53 caves that comprise Yungang Caves contain some of the earliest and finest examples of Buddhist architecture and art in China. The nearby Hanging Monastery is a testament to human ingenuity. Precariously perched along the sheer cliffs of Jinlong Gorge, the monastery houses many notable bronze and iron statues.

Inner Mongolian Grasslands

Hop onto your horse and ride in the footsteps of Genghis and Kublai Khan through the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Experience the centuries-old nomadic ways of life that have persisted on the Mongolian plateau as you sleep out in a traditional yurt under the starlit sky. Visit with the local horsemen as they prepare a Mongolian hotpot for dinner, and learn some traditional songs as you gather round the fire.

THE CENTRAL REGION

Luoyang

Once the center of the imperial world, the many Buddhist temples and grottoes surrounding Luoyang (Henan Province) reveal the opulence and grandeur of the ancient capital.

Nearby Longmen Grottoes display over four hundred years' worth of the finest Buddhist sculptures, carvings, frescoes and tablets.

Qufu

The birthplace (in Shandong Province) of China's venerable sage Confucius is a monument to the importance of Confucianism in ancient and modern Chinese life. The expansive Confucius Temple, Confucian Forest (Cemetery) and Confucian Mansion each display the wealth and power of the Kong family line. The temple comes alive on festival days, particularly Confucius' birthday on September 28th. The temple and mansion display architecture from several different dynasties.

THE SOUTH

Ping An

Visit this quaint mountainside village near Longsheng to access the area known as the Dragon's Spine Rice Terrace. These are truly one of the marvels of the world. The verdant paddies are built into steep 2,500-foot mountains.

Stripe by stripe, the narrow water-filled paddies wrap around the mountains from the peaks to the valleys below where they spiral out into individual pools. The Zhuang and Yao peoples, who still wear traditional clothing and maintain most aspects of their ancient culture, live and farm on these terraces. Spend time talking with locals, hiking and photographing this amazing area. Stay at the beautiful Li-An Lodge, perched on top of a mountain, bordering a local village and overlooking magnificent rice terraces. The lodge is an entirely wood structure implementing the Chinese traditional building technique of tongue and groove without a single nail. This one-of-a-kind lodge, where Chinese tradition meets modern luxury, is an as-yet undiscovered treasure.

Kunming

Journey south of the clouds to the "Spring City" of Kunming where the weather is always mild. Most people come here in transit to the tropical south or to the mountainous north, since Kunming is largely remarkable for its abundance of non-descript concrete buildings. However, there are vibrant markets at the base of the Tang Pagodas, or join the pilgrims for a trip to Yunnan's oldest and largest temple complex, Yuantong Temple. Travel south to the "Forest of Stones," Shi Lin, and lose yourself in the maze of limestone pinnacles.

Dali

The stunning scenery and small-town charm of Dali make it a favorite stop for travelers to China. Located on the western edge of beautiful Erhai Lake and surrounded by lofty peaks, the town is laced with traditional alleys and compounds, colorful hill tribe peoples and classic temples and pagodas. Hike into the hills to enjoy the view from Zhonghe Temple, explore the colorful villages of Xizhou and Zhoucheng or simply meander through the vegetables and batik fabric at Shaping Market.

Lijiang

Home to the matriarchal Naxi people, the town of Lijiang seems lost in an old and mystical world. Be sure to stop here on your tour of China to meander down cobblestone lanes next to ancient canals surrounded by women dressed in blue and black. Stroll around the Black Dragon Pool for the obligatory photo of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains or enjoy the wall paintings and statuary of the town's Tibetan temples. Just outside of Lijiang, Asia's highest gondola will take you up near the top (14,816 feet) of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.

Zhongdian ('Shangri-La')

The town known as Gyalthang to the local Tibetans, as Zhongdian in Chinese and renamed Shangri-la in 2001 is a must on any Yunnan itinerary. Although there is some evidence to suggest that the inspiration for the fictional utopia of James Hilton's Lost Horizon is rooted in Joseph Rock's accounts of this area, it's more likely that the Shangri-la alias is a rather kitsch ploy by the Chinese tourism board to inflate the town's mystical merits. What's in a name? Quite a bit, it seems, but whatever the moniker, this area could well pass for the quintessential Himalayan utopia with its relaxed Tibetan culture, magnificent monastery and transfixing landscapes. Abundant grasslands surround the town where cattle, sheep and yaks graze. Lunch with a local Tibetan family can be arranged. There is a celebrated Horse Festival held annually in June.

Xishuangbanna

The southernmost region of Yunnan, Xishuangbanna borders Burma and Laos and shares with those countries many similar ethnic minorities and customs. Covered in areas by primary tropical rainforests, the region is home to elephants, monkeys and tigers. The lush tropical land is home to minority cultures, and visiting small villages provides an opportunity to experience local cultures and festivities. Xishuangbanna's people, temples and scenery make any trip to the region an unforgettable adventure.

Guizhou

Long considered the backwater of the Chinese empire, a place to send exiled officials and convicts, Guizhou is becoming a wonderful place to visit for all the reasons it was once disparaged. The province's 80 ethnic minorities have been enormously successful in maintaining their traditional ways of life; its mountainous landscape has escaped the ravages of development and pollution; its flora and fauna are relatively protected in their natural habitat. This is China travel at its adventurous best.

Zhangjiajie Nature Preserve

Splintered limestone karsts rise dramatically from the forests to create a haunting labyrinth dissected by countless trails and stairways at this favorite nature preserve in Hunan Province. Spend a few days hiking through the jagged forms and visiting with the area's ethnic minorities.

Guangzhou

Hong Kong's little brother Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, is a jumble of intense market activity, flourishing Southern culture and lingering colonial charm. Wander through the streets and alleys of Shamian Dao for a glimpse of the city's past, then head out for a truly sensational experience in the Qingping Shichang where everything from ice to mice is on sale.

If you crave unique Cantonese culture on your tour of China, try out a local dim sum restaurant on a Sunday afternoon when family gatherings fill the air with a cacophony of talking, munching and laughing. Afterwards, amble through the hubbub at the Five Immortals Temple or the Temple of Six Banyan Trees. For a peek into the distant past, stroll through the buildings and gardens of the Chen Clan Academy, perfectly preserved from its heyday in the early Qing. Or maybe go back even further with a glimpse at the museum of the Southern Yue Tombs, where artifacts and funerary objects from 200 BC are on display.

THE CENTRAL REGION - CHENGDU

Chengdu

This is one of China's more inviting and livable cities, surrounded by fertile plains. Its main draw is the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, which lies outside the city and is devoted to the conservation of China's most beloved animal. Arrive in the morning to see the resident pandas at breakfast.

The Sanxingdui Museum is highly recommended when in this area. It is near an archaeological site that dates to the Neolithic, Shang and Zhou periods. In 1988 this site was declared a National Key Cultural Relics Protected Unit, due to its scope, the wealth of its contents and the rarity and precious nature of its excavated objects. The artifacts from Sanxingdui have had global influence. In 1986, two large Shang-period sacrificial pits were unearthed with more than one thousand gold, bronze and jade objects, shocking the country and the global archaeological community. Among other things, the finds proved that Sanxingdui was the capital of the ancient Shu Kingdom more than 3,000 years ago. Of all the objects excavated at Sanxingdui, the bronzes are the most fabulous and strange, with their high degree of historical, artistic and scientific value.

Lastly, when in Chengdu don't miss the Changing Faces cultural performance, a traditional Chinese vaudeville-style show. This show features jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand involving masks and must be seen to be believed.

Leshan

Towering 230 feet above the fast-flowing Min and Dadu Rivers, the Grand Buddha of Leshan is the world's largest and, for travelers on an in-depth tour of China, should not be missed; prepare to be awestruck by its mighty presence. Whether you arrive by boat below or descend from his head high above, the Grand Buddha will shatter your sense of perspective. This trip requires an overnight from Chengdu.

Dazu

Visiting the Buddhist caves of Bei Shan, Baoding Shan and other grottoes throughout Dazu County is a highlight of any visit to Sichuan. Most of the sculptures and carvings date from the Tang and Song dynasties and are in remarkably good condition. The highlights are a 100-foot-long reclining Buddha set into the cliff and a Guanyin statue graced with 1,000 hands and 1,000 eyes. Can be made as a day trip from Chongqing.

THE EAST

Zhujiajiao

Quaint and serene, the town of Zhujiajiao is laced with flowing water. Row a boat through its winding canals then savor some green tea in a cafe with architecture dating from the Ming dynasty, with its distinctive white walls, red beams, pointed eves and black-tile roofs.

For lunch try the crab, a local specialty prepared in any number of delicious variations. Small in scale and simple in feel, Zhujiajiao is one of our favorite "hidden spots" to visit on a tour of China, and we recommend it as a delightful day trip from Shanghai.

Suzhou

Great and noble Suzhou is home to world-famous gardens, masterpieces of design created as early as the 11th century. They are a fusion of nature and art intended to ease the mind, and each garden has its special charm. The most notable are the Humble Administrators Garden, Lion's Grove, the Garden For Lingering In and the incredible Garden of the Master of the Nets. After visiting the gardens, Suzhou's many canals and its tree-lined streets make it the perfect city for a quiet stroll. This is also a day trip from Shanghai.

THE WEST

The Great Silk Road

Fabled trade route of ancient China's silk and spice caravans, the Great Silk Road was the main artery linking the Far East to Europe for over 1,000 years.

In reality a shifting network of desert passages, the route nonetheless converged at great centers, giving rise to some of the most culturally diverse cities in Asia, smack in the middle of some of the most desolate and remote regions in the world. The representative western cities are Dunhuang, Urumqi, Turpan and Kashgar. Explore them all in a China tour that retraces the Silk Road, or visit one or more as fascinating destinations in their own right.

Dunhuang

One of the great points of convergence along the Silk Road, Dunhuang is a city in three colors: an oasis of brilliant emerald fields set amidst sweeping brown sand dunes, with snow-white peaks towering in the distance. The tree-lined streets are picturesque thoroughfares for Mongolian ponies and locals in traditional dress. The city itself is a beguiling study in contrasts: ancient yet modern, lively yet relaxed.

It's worth a visit to Dunhuang's rustic local museum, which provides a good overview of the history of the area, as well as nearby sections of the Great Wall. The city's market is a delight, with colorful dried fruits-raisins in ten colors!-nuts, textiles and steamed dumplings. For an authentic, unforgettable China travel experience, take a camel ride at sundown through the Mingsha Dunes in the surrounding Gobi Desert to recall a way of life that reigned here for a millennium.

The massive Mogao Caves feature stone Buddhas large and small, hewn from sandstone walls, housed in ornate, protective structures. Many of the walls are adorned with elaborate, ancient frescoes. You may also want to explore the nearby Sui, Tang and Western Thousand Buddha Caves. Have dinner at a traditional farmhouse where a delicious local meal may be enjoyed amidst apricot orchards.

Urumqi

Unbridled development in Urumqi has resulted in bellowing smokestacks and architecture that is, to put it kindly, less than whimsical. Still, you've got to go, because from Urumqi you can access a truly fascinating area in China, with 13 distinct ethnic minorities calling the area home.

The Xinjiang Museum houses interesting exhibits relating to the many ethnic minorities who inhabit the area. It also showcases artifacts that reveal the daily lives of the Silk Road's early inhabitants, including some of their mummified remains, unearthed from the nearby desert of Taklamakan, which literally means "go in and you won't come out."

Take a day trip during your China travels to nearby Heaven Pool, a beautiful lake surrounded by stunning mountains, rolling green hills, grazing ponies and the circular yurts of the Kazakh people. Or better still, spend a night or two in a yurt and explore the area on horseback with a Kazakh guide to witness the equestrian skills that have always made these people famous and feared.

Be sure to sample the local Uyghur cuisine, a culinary crisscross of Chinese and Middle Eastern influences. Try the laghman, thick noodles topped with a sauce of spicy lamb, eggplant, tomatoes, beans and garlic. The fresh tandoori-oven breads are scrumptious and go down well with a cold beer or green tea with nutmeg.

Turpan (Turfan)

The essence of ancient Asia is like a pervading fragrance in Turpan. The place is awash in traditional scenes: twisting alleys lined with mud-brick houses; grapevines winding their way up trellises; raisins and apricots drying in wind-blown chambers, the summer sun too intense for the work; ponies pulling ploughs through fields of grain. This is the grape-growing region of China, and the Uyghurs who inhabit Turpan produce the delicious wine for which the region is renowned.

At the Gaochang Ruins just to the east of Turpan you can explore the remains of this ancient Uyghur capital, which flourished as a Silk Road center around the 9th century. Recalling Pompeii in scale, this city was lost to the sands of the Gobi for hundreds of years until recent excavation. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ramble through the Grape Valley to see the picturesque vineyards surrounded by the starkest of desert landscapes. You can enjoy lunch among the vines, or a picnic while walking in the Flaming Mountains, named for their profusion of red and purple flora.

The area surrounding Turpan is a veritable archaeological sandbox and it seems every peasant you meet has unearthed Roman coins, Persian pottery, swatches of ancient Tang Dynasty silk, even carved wood, which predates the invention of paper. To stand at such a crossroads of antiquity is an awe-inspiring experience.

Kashgar

Synonymous with the ultimate exotic outpost, Kashgar was, and in some ways still is, the last frontier. Until the 21st century, it was almost frozen in time, a living relic of its trading heyday four centuries earlier. The old section of Kashgar remained much as Marco Polo found it: an intoxicating, marvelous confluence of Indian, Persian, Arabian and Chinese cultures layered one on top of the other. Recent renovations of the Old Quarter by the Han Chinese have taken place, resulting in many old mud buildings being demolished, and residents relocating to newer buildings that employ modern earthquake and fire codes. This has caused an outcry among some who fear ancient ways of life are vanishing. Some steps are being taken to preserve Kashgar's ancient relics, but the forces of modernity march on. However, there is still much to see.

The Sunday Market is fascinating, and it just may be the largest bazaar in all of Asia-an absolute must on any tour of China.

The Id Kah Mosque is huge and suitably impressive; around town you'll discover dozens of smaller mosques at every turn. While strolling the city's alleyways you'll catch glimpses through the mud-brick doorways of people engaged in all manner of ancient arts, including bread making, metal forging, musical instrument manufacturing and firing of hand-made tile.