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Top 5 experiences – China

The Great Wall at Simatai
Image courtesy: Greg Elms

In this extract from our China Travel Guide, we look at some of the country’s most unmissable sights.

The Great Wall

You will probably never get a chance to spot it from space, but don’t miss the opportunity to see it up close and personal. From immaculately reconstructed, to wild and weedy, the Great Wall of China varies dramatically, depending on which section you choose to visit. If you do not like to strap on a backpack and trek across a rugged stretch; take an exertion-free cable car ride up for stupendous views.

Cutting Edge Architecture – Beijing and Shanghai

Beijing’s cityline was forever altered by the 2008 Olympic Games. The Birds Nest stadium and Water Cube (aquatic centre) are the new architectural icons of contemporary China. Also built in time for the Olympics, the gravity-defying CCTV building is another eccentric statement of modernity that you might love or hate, but will certainly be telling your friends back home about. Ditto the egg-shaped National Centre for the Performing Arts. Shanghai is a different story altogether. It is China’s answer to New York and boasts of one of the most exciting skylines in the world. The Pudong district in particular is home to skyscrapers like the Shanghai World Financial Centre (492 m), Oriental Pearl Tower (468 m), Jin Mao Tower (421 m) and the under construction Shanghai Tower (632 m).

The futuristic skyline of Shanghai's Pudong district
The futuristic skyline of Shanghai's Pudong district
Image courtesy: Vladimir Fofanov

Terracotta Warriors

Finding yourself face-to-face with this silent army standing guard over their emperor for over 2000 years, it’s impossible not to be transported deep into China’s past. Each of the thousands of these life-sized sculptures is unique. One of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries ever made.

Life-size soldiers and horses look as if they might spring to life at any moment
Life-size soldiers and horses look as if they might spring to life at any moment
Image courtesy: Emile Spaanbroek


Perhaps China’s most celebrated natural landscape, the karst limestone peaks and green-gold paddy fields that surround Yangshuo have inspired generations of Chinese artists. Take a bike ride deep into the countryside or go cormorant fishing on the Yulong River. Feast your eyes on the beauty. This is chicken soup for the soul – Chinese style. If the breath-taking landscape seems slightly familiar, it is because it was used as the setting for the Kung Fu Panda movies.

The idyllic landscape around Yangshuo
The idyllic landscape around Yangshuo
Image courtesy: Nadia Arai

Shaolin Temple

Set high up in the misty mountains of central China’s Henan province, the Shaolin monastery and its kung fu monks are the stuff of myths and movies. But Jet Li fans aren’t the only ones for whom a trip out here may prove illuminating. This most Chinese of institutions was in fact originally built in honour of an Indian monk, Bodhidharma and offers a fascinating peek into the shared history that once laced India and China together.