The powerhouse of the Far East, China offers visitors burgeoning metropolises, myriad cultures and ancient architecture like the Forbidden Palace and the vast Terracotta Army. Millennia-old traditions are still observed in the countryside, while cities like Beijing and Shanghai boast some of the most modern infrastructure in the world.

Tibet and the old Silk Road draw adventurers with their exoticness while Guilin is crawling in tourists who come to admire its spectacular natural beauty. Bustling Beijing has too many cultural wonders to fit into a short visit but most visitors don’t fail to catch a glimpse of the nearby Great Wall. Shopping buffs will be most at home in Shanghai, where commercial opportunities abound.

China is host to the world’s largest population and has borders with a whopping 15 nations. Getting around this vast country is best done by air and not during national holidays when millions travel from the cities to their countryside homes for the festivities. Bicycle is the country’s choice mode of transport but you can ditch two wheels for a train or bus.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool:

Walking the Great Wall, Beijing skyscrapers, lackadaisical pandas, Sichuan cuisine, the vibrant Chinese New Year, yaks on the Tibetan Plateau, Suzhou’s classical gardens, fleets of cyclists, drinking tea and practicing tai chi.

What’s Not:

Loud locals, Shanghai scam artists, the watchful eye of ‘Big Brother’, unsanitary street food, a culture of blatant line-jumpers, getting stared at on the train, locals spitting on the bus (and everywhere else for that matter) and smokers in non-smoking restaurants.

Getting There & Away

International flights are generally routed through the airports in Shanghai or Beijing, though it is also possible to land in provincial capitals when traveling from neighboring Asian countries. Traveling by train is an excellent way to bridge the long distances between cities, but be prepared for long travel times. Buses pick up where the trains leave off. A bicycle is invaluable for getting around the city, while Shanghai, Tianjin and Beijing operate metro systems.

Things to Do

Highlights

The Great Wall

Is easily china’s best-known asset. the wall spans more than 3,000 miles with the best walkable segment between simatai and jinshanling.

Beijing

Is china’s quintessential modern metropolis, though it also boasts historical treasures like the forbidden city and the summer palace.

Shanghai

Is a fusion of colonial period european architecture and traditional chinese sectors.

Xian

Is home to the ever-vigilant terracotta army.

Chengdu

Is home to the world-famous giant panda research center. the city is recovering quickly from the earthquake in early 2008.

Suzhou

The garden city is known for classical chinese gardens and navigable canals.

Stone Forest

Near kunming in yunnan province is one of the country’s most unique natural assets.

Activities

Cultural sightseeing

Spans ancient architecture, 16th century colonial enclaves and hidden temples.

Tai chi

Is a meditative practice enjoyed by locals in the early morning hours. to join in, head for any city square before sunup.

Cycling

Is still the most common means of getting around, and peddling through mad-cap sectors of town can be a high-octane adventure sport.

Swimming

Is possible in the lakes of shuzheng or on the beaches of hainan island.

Chinese Opera

Definitely an acquired taste, the shrill highs and clanging gongs of traditional opera are best experienced in beijing.

Shopping

Can present some serious bargains, though scams and low-quality products are a nuisance. the best shopping venues are clustered in shanghai.

Festivals

January/February

Chinese new year is observed across the country and is an important time for friends and family.

April

Yunnan province has a lot in common with southeast asia, even observing the hot season’s water splashing festival.

June

Dragon boat races are staged on lakes and reservoirs across the countryside.

September

After the onset of the autumn season, chinese attend family gatherings and treat themselves to moon cakes.

October

The arts festival in shanghai is an international event featuring chinese opera, traditional dance, magic shows and symphonic performances.