If you have a month or less to see China, and you’re willing to get adventurous, you’re going to want to visit Beijing, Zhangjiajie, Guilin/Yangshuo, Shanghai, and Suzhou. This route will show you history, nature, and city.
1. Beijing: History & the Great Wall Hike
Recommended travel method: Fly into China via Beijing and start your trip here.
Beijing is a great place to begin your journey of China. Here, you’re of course going to want to visit the Great Wall. Check out sections of the wall like Badaling, Jinshanling, or Jiankou for more intense hikes, smaller crowds, and less tourist traps than more popular sections like Mutianyu. Also definitely visit the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven and/or Summer Palace if you have time.
Check out some of the city’s Hutongs as well. Try to stay in a hostel located in one if you can too! Hutongs are villages with narrow paths as streets bustling with local life. Stay in the Baobaolu Hutong for a great experience. This area is nice and local, but is also a close walk to the Forbidden City and some more lively, commercialized Hutongs and streets. Don’t forget to start your mornings here with some street food and mini buns (Xiaolongbao), which are hard to miss in the Hutongs.
Click here for more info about different sections of the Great Wall: http://www.chinahighlights.com/greatwall/section/
2. Zhangjiajie: One-of-a-Kind, Mountainous Nature Parks
Recommended travel method: Fly from Beijing to Zhangjiajie.
Zhangjiajie is one of the most beautiful places China has to offer. The two must sees here are Tianmen Shan (aka Heaven’s Gate Mountain) and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Tianmen Shan is do-able in one, all-day trip and is accessible via a gondola with absolutely incredible views that departs near the bus station on the edge of the city.
The national forest park is where parts of the hit movie Avatar were filmed. This park is huge, making it a 2-3 day activity. Fortunately, entrance tickets cover 3 days of park access. Again, definitely ride some of the gondolas within the park, the views are unlike anything else. There are fancier hotels being developed, just outside the park entrance, with a few already open for business. If you prefer to stay somewhere less touristy, I suggest staying in a hostel in the city of Zhangjiajie and busing to the park. There are multiple located relatively close to the bus station.
3. Guilin and Yangshuo: Beautiful Rice Terraces, Karsts, and the Li River
Recommended travel method: Bus from Zhangjiajie to Changsha, then train from Changsha to Guilin. Note: you’ll have to take the subway from the Changsha bus station to the Changsha train station.
Stay a night in Guilin’s Sky Palace Hostel for an affordable, comfortable stay. The staff are really friendly and place is very clean and cool looking. Have the front desk organize a tour to the Longji rice terraces. After a day or two exploring Guilin’s rivers, terraces, and delicious food, make your way to Yangshuo via boat. Arrange this at the front desk of your hostel. A bus will bring you from Guilin to the boats, then you’ll boat down the beautiful Li river and arrive near Yangshuo, where the bus will meet you with your luggage and bring you to Yangshuo’s center.
In Yangshuo, I highly recommended staying at the Sudder Street Guesthouse. Once again, this place is really cool and clean. They have great staff, bikes for rent, and a pool that overlooks farm fields. Walk into town, rent some mopeds for about 70 yuan a day, and explore the area! There’s lots to see and eat in Yangshuo, so take your time here. Once you’re done, bus back to Guilin and either fly or take a train to your next destination.
4. Shanghai: A Unique City, Food, and Nightlife
Recommended travel method: Fly from Guilin to Shanghai.
There’s something magical about Shanghai and its skyline near, especially at nighttime from the Puxi side (west of the river). I recommend staying at Shanghai Rock & Wood International Youth Hostel in Puxi. It’s a close walk to the subway station, which will be able to take you anywhere you need to go. Spend an evening or two walking around and eating near The Bund on both sides of the river (find what smaller shops locals and Chinese tourists are eating at and join them there).
5. Suzhou: Water Towns on Water Towns
Recommended travel method: Bus from Shanghai to a water town in Suzhou, then bus back to Shanghai and fly out of Shanghai.
When it comes to Suzhou water towns there are many options. It depends on how touristy or not-touristy you want to go. I recommend either ZhouZhuang or Nanxun. ZhouZhuang is more commercialized, while Nanxun is quieter with a more local feel. Read more here to choose the water town right for you: http://www.chinahighlights.com/shanghai/nearby-ancient-town.htm
The Ojisu Team