China Bucket List

July 11, 2016
Since I'm going to be spending another year in China, I thought I'd stop and think about all of the places I'd like to visit that I just didn't get to see this year. There are seriously so many incredible destinations within China, and it's not like Shanghai will be my base forever, so taking advantage of the domestic airfare is a must. Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to go to places like Harbin, Yangshuo and Guilin, and Xi'an. This year, I'd like to try to get out and explore more of China, once my health allows it.

So, where do I hope to travel to?

1) Zhangjiajie- These are the heavenly mountains that were used as inspiration for the scenery in the movie Avatar. Zhangjiajie is China's first national forest, and within the park one is able to take a cable car to Tianzi Mountain for more spectacular views. Spending a day or two meandering the paths and taking in the breathtaking scenes doesn't sound too shabby. Tianmen Mountain is also highly recommended for anyone who appreciates natural settings. There is even a glass walkway there for those who are brave enough to cross it!

Photo by: East Machinery

2) Suzhou- Suzhou has been compared with Venice because of the canals, bridges, and rivers that run through the town. Only 25 miles from Shanghai and easily accessible by train, Suzhou will probably be one of the first places I venture out to after my recovery. I trust that Suzhou will be the ideal escape from all of the hustle and bustle that is Shanghai. It's famous for its gardens like the Humble Administrator and Lingering Garden, to name a few. Suzhou is also known for a special type of opera, and I hope to be able to catch a performance in person at the Kun Opera Museum. I've heard from my co-workers that Suzhou is picturesque and is an excellent place to spend a few leisurely days.

Photo by: PS Liu

3) Jiuzhaigou- I planned on visiting this national park in 2008, but at the time there was a lot of damage to the surrounding infrastructure due to the deadly earthquake that occurred earlier that year in Sichuan Province.  I was also short on time, so I didn't end up being able to make it out there. Right now I have a good Chinese friend living in Chengdu, and she has expressed interest in going to Jiuzhaigou with me--perfect! We want to go there because it has often been described as "heaven on Earth," not to mention the snow capped mountains, waterfalls, ponds, and forests to admire. Some highlights of the national park include the Five Color Pond, Nuo Ri Lang (widest waterfall in China,) and Shushing Tibetan Village.

 Photo by: oarranzli

4) Inner Mongolia- I first heard of this region because my students' parents helped raise money for the Million Trees Project. Desertification is occurring in Inner Mongolia because certain areas have been over-farmed, so this charity uses donations to plant trees in the area in hopes of saving some of the land and to improve air quality. Besides deserts, Inner Mongolia has pastures, lakes, and prairies. It appeals to me because it's off the beaten path and has a heavy Mongolian influence--think yurts and nomadic herders. Since the majority of my time spent in China has been in a large city, I'd like to get out and see more wide open spaces and hike around. If hiking becomes tiresome, I could always opt to visit the Genghis Khan Mausoleum or partake in some sand-sliding at The Resonant Sand Gorge.

Photo by: Zhang Yu

5) Sanya- Dubbed "the Hawaii of China," Sanya is located on the Southern tip of Hainan Island. It's a popular tourist destination within China, and there's a mix of both hostels and luxury accommodation. I'm thinking that this could possibly be my first trip after my surgery to "test the water," so to speak. It's a 3-3.5 hour flight from Shanghai, and if my healing continues, my doctors said I should be able to make this trip over Christmas! I'm thinking asking a group of girls if they want to come with and maybe we could splurge and stay somewhere really nice! There's a beach called Yalong Bay that's further away from the main beach, and it's supposed to be less crowded. There are hotels near there such as the Ritz Carlton, Sheraton, and Sanya Marriott. Besides the beaches and the nice weather, there are hot springs to visit as well as other bays and temples.

Photo by: xiangjun wang

6) Macau- Macau's history is a bit unique since it used to be colonized by the Portuguese. As with Hong Kong, Macau was handed back to China under the "One China, Two Systems" policy. That means that Macau is technically part of mainland China, but those in Macau have their own passports, currency, and flag. One of the main attractions here is to take a look at the architecture, since it was heavily influenced by the Portuguese. It's also the place to try some of the special food that the area is famous for, like egg tarts and African chicken. Macau is also the place to go to if you fancy trying your luck at gambling, as it has been called "the Las Vegas of the East."

Photo by: The Rachael Way

7) Hangzhou- If you're going to Shanghai, you might want to add a trip to Hangzhou to your itinerary since it's easy to take a day-trip here. I've heard a lot of positive feedback about others' trips to Hangzhou, and my Chinese co-teacher's dad was born in the city, so she also raves about it. It is often referred to as "Paradise on Earth," and West Lake at sunset is not to be missed. West Lake is full of islands and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Hefang Street is also recommended in order to browse local shops. Finally, another big attraction of the area is checking out Lingyin Temple.

Photo by: Michael Tyler

8) Urumqi and Xinjiang Province- My trip out to Urumqi got cut short due to an unforeseen back injury. I would like to return to see the friend I was visiting in the first place but also want to meet up with the locals I became friends with during my extended hospital stay. While I was there, I got a taste of the local hospitality and was taken aback (in a good way!) by the friendliness of the people. I was able to sample some of the famous types of food such as: kebabs, Uyghur Pollo (rice with carrots, peppers, and lamb), naan, and DaPanji (a dish made with an entire chicken mixed with potatoes.) What I experienced just scratched the surface, so a longer trip out to Urumqi is necessary. I didn't make it to the Bazaar or to Heavenly Lake or to Hong Shan Mountain. My friend and I talked about hiking and visiting a farm in another part of Xinjiang and possibly driving out to a desert. My short time in Urumqi sparked a bigger interest in all that Xinjiang has to offer, and one day I hope to go on this 13 day tour of Xinjiang so that I can explore it more in depth.

Are any of these places also on your bucket list? If you've already been to China, do you have any top places that you'd recommend?
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