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Top 10 Tourist Attractions in China

China's vast area, comparable to the area of the United States, borders 14 countries and four seas. Known formally as the People's Republic of China, it has a 4000-year-old heritage that reads like a best-selling historical novel and stands as a testament to its enduring will. Modern China is in many ways a complex mix of past and future; its traditions, natural beauty, and economic and cultural resurgence has made it a popular international tourist destination. Here is a small sampling of must-see tourist attractions in China.

Chengdu Giant Pandas

Chengdu Giant Pandas.
Chengdu Giant Pandas by gill_penney/Flickr.com

Pandas are the cutest creatures around and just make you want to cuddle, however, poor conservation habits caused them to lose their habitats by destroying their forests. That's where the beautiful people of Chengdu, China stepped in with the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base. Here, their six pandas grew into 90 through careful and determined efforts to bring them back. You can visit them at the breeding base and see them lounging, sleeping, and eating bamboo in natural enclosures. Try to start your visit sometime between 8:00 and 10:00 in the morning during their feeding hours; it's when they are the most active. Once you've had your fill adorable Giant Pandas (is that possible?), check out the mischievous Red Pandas, also on the list of endangered animals. Next, head to the nursery to see the always entertaining panda babies.

Yangtze River Cruise

Yangtze River Cruise.
Yangtze River Cruise by puliar/Flickr.com

China's Yangtze River at 6,300 km is the third longest river in the world, behind only the Nile and the Amazon. As it winds its way through nine provinces from Tibet to the East China Sea, what better way to experience its majesty than on a Yangtze river cruise? One of the most popular places to cruise the Yangtze is between the cities of Yichang and Chongqing in either direction. Highlights along the way include the magnificent three gorges, the elephant shaped rock, the enigmatic hanging coffins, and the mystifying Fengdu Ghost City. Spend some time exploring the natural beauty surrounding the ancient city of Yichang and the Three Gorges Dam. On the opposite end, check out the Giant Pandas at Chongqing Zoo, and try some of the city's famous spicy dishes.

Xian Terracotta Warriors

Xian Terracotta Warriors.
Xian Terracotta Warriors by romainguy/Flickr.com

Perhaps one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in the world is that of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses located in Xian, China. The first hints of this impressive find were discovered in 1974 by local farmers; the terracotta statues date back to the late third century BCE. During this time the first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang had this impressive funerary art created. When he passed, they were buried with him to protect him in the afterlife. The museum that was created to showcase these wonderful historical pieces covers about 16,300 square meters in three pits. Arranged in traditional battle formations, more than 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, weapons, and chariots have been unearthed in these pits. This area is now combined with the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum as a single attraction.

Best of Shanghai

Shanghai at Night.
Shanghaia at Night by Robert S. Donovan/Flickr.com

Shanghai is a city of contradictions where the past and the future collide in the most interesting ways. Let your first experience in Shanghai be a ride on the Maglev, a magnetic levitation train goes zero to 220 mph in about two minutes. Contrast sophisticated and futuristic Pudong with the historic and classic Bund, from Vue Bar on the 32nd floor of Hyatt on the Bund. Don't miss the noodle ninjas who combine the tradition of kung fu with the culinary traditions of hand-pulled noodles and hot pot; the best spot is for this experience is Hai Di Lao Hot Pot. Shoppers, hit high-energy Nanjing Road for the best in high-end luxury items, shop the Old Quarter for Cultural Revolution memorabilia, or check out Xintiandi where 1920s Shanghai affluence meets modern artisan boutiques. Shanghai has parks galore, but be sure to check out midday ballroom dancing at Fuxing Park, and see the tallest statue of Frederic Chopin in the world at Zhongshan Park.

Check out the top-rated tours of Shanghai

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China by capelle79/Flickr.com

There are many places along the Great Wall of China to visit, but there is one in particular that is a little quieter with a less touristy vibe than the rest. That is the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall that was originally built to keep out nomadic tribes from the north; it is still an almost perfectly preserved section of the wall. Its condition is due, in part, to the lack of tourist shops along this portion making it a less visited area by tour companies. You can walk undisturbed for almost an hour looking out over the gorgeous pines and orchards in the mountains just north of Beijing. Along with the picturesque landscape, there are more than 20 watch towers to explore along this stretch of the wall. Four villages, including Mutianyu, give you a glimpse into today's rural China.

Full-Day Beijing Experience With Mutianyu Great Wall

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces
Yuanyang Rice Terraces by V-A-K/Flickr.com

The Yuanyang Rice Terraces are an artistic masterpiece, a surreal experience by any measure that should be on anyone's bucket list who has the opportunity to travel China's southwest. Located on the slopes of Ailao Mountain in Yuanyang County, Yunnan near the borders of Vietnam and Laos, this stunning abstract of color has been mindfully created with great care since the Tang Dynasty. The Hani people have used traditional farming methods to shape 13,000 hectares of rice terraces over generations, not only creating something visually stunning, but ecologically dynamic and in tune with nature. To get the most out of this other-worldly landscape, the best views are sunrise from the Duoyishu scenic area, and sunset from the Bada scenic area. The best view for the most intense colors among the rice terraces is from the Laohuzui scenic area. Grab your camera for some unbelievable shots.

Huangguoshu Waterfall National Park

Huangguoshu Waterfall National Park
Huangguoshu Waterfall National Park

If you're a fan of waterfalls, then the Huangguoshu Waterfall in the Anshun, Guizhou province of China should not be missed on your next trip to China. It is one of the largest waterfalls in East Asia, measuring an astounding 255 feet high and 331 feet wide. The primary waterfall takes up a large portion of its length and width with little waterfalls combining with it. The waterfalls' cluster pattern changes depending on the season, making as high as 18 to a cluster at some points. The most intriguing aspect of this tourist attraction is the three different views it affords depending on where your vantage point is located. You can see it from a distance from a viewing pavilion, get an aerial look from a separate viewing area, or stare up from below in a third viewing location. All three offer a unique experience and none should be missed. If you really want to be blown away, come view it at night.

Leshan Giant Buddha

Leshan Giant Buddha
Leshan Giant Buddha by Lorenzo Schiavi/Flickr.com

One of the best things about visiting China is abundant and diverse historical and cultural finds. Among them is the Leshan Giant Buddha located in the Sichuan Province a little east of Leshan City. The giant smiling Buddha was carved into stone at the nunction of three rivers: Min River, Dadu River, and Qingyi River to offer protection to the people who worked there. A monk named Hai Tong raised the money to create this almost 250-foot carving, because he believed a water spirit was making the waters too dangerous. The Buddha was carved to control the water spirit; it took 90 years to finish. The size alone is astonishing, but the intricacy of the statue is what is truly amazing. From the 1,021 buns in the coiled hair of the Buddha to the drainage system that was put in place to displace rainwater. It is a truly exceptional sight.

The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas

Caves of the Thousand Buddhas
Caves of the Thousand Buddhas by Allan Grey/Flickr.com

The Mogao Grottoes are a system of Buddhist cave temples located south of the city of Dunhuang in Gansu. Originally there were roughly 1000 cave temples, of which around 750 have survived and 30 are open to the public. The caves were built by monks traveling the Silk Road from India to China and served as a place to rest, meditate, and translate sutras. They were painted with elaborate frescoes that were used in meditation and also told a story. Multitudes of artists worked on the frescoes between the 4th and 14th centuries, and five dynasties are depicted among the cave temples in unique styles. The caves also contained thousands of manuscripts in different languages. This is the ideal destination for exploring centuries of Chinese culture. There is a research and exhibition center with information in English; it also serves lunches.

Beijing Zoo and Aquarium

Beijing Aquarium.
Beijing Aquarium by Drnantu/Flickr.com

The zoo is not that great, but what the zoo lacks, the aquarium more than makes up for it. The Beijing Aquarium is also recognized as one of the largest aquariums in the world with a myriad of marine animals. In the zoo, not only will you enjoy the animals kept there, but you can also walk through its gardens and admire its lakes and ponds.

These are just a few of the magnificent destinations China has to offer. Before you go, you will need to make sure your passport is valid a minimum of six months beyond your visit, and you must obtain a tourist visa from the Chinese embassy in the U.S. If you are traveling to Tibet, you also need to get a Tibet Travel Permit to visit Lhasa. To travel around Tibet and explore all it has to offer, you must be with a group tour and get an Alien's Travel Permit. If your tour goes into any militarily sensitive areas, you will also need a Military Area Entry Permit. Your Chinese travel agency can arrange all the travel permits necessary for your trip. Keep in mind that areas of Tibet may be closed to tourists by the Chinese government with little notice.

China Travel Information & Resources

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Chinese visa information

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