The Ultimate China Bucketlist : 13 Things You Must Do In China
Far from a place just of giant panda bears and terracotta soldiers, China is a smorgasbord of Eastern culture: from the Portuguese-influenced Macau to the Cantonese delicacy Dim Sum, there’s plenty to taste, touch, and try.
While it may seem like a big task taking on the country all at once, start with this list, one number at a time. Happy travels! 🙂
Dim Sum may sound difficult, but there’s nothing complicated about falling in love with this bite-sized Cantonese delicacy and no trip to China is complete without it. It is considered to be one of China’s most popular dishes and there’s plenty of places to grab it. Dian DouDe of Guangzhou is a favorite, with multiple locations and a commitment to really tasty treats—bonus: they have larger portions than most street vendors, making this a dinner rather than just a nosh between meals.
2. Beijing Opera
Often referred to as the “Giant Egg,” the National Centre for Performing Arts is a must-see even if you aren’t into the classical music style because the modern architecture is definitely one-of-a-kind. If you are into the more traditional arts, grab a night at the ballet—Swan Lake with the National Ballet of China —or a night with the Symphony; it will certainly add a formal flair to your holiday.
3. Visit A Traditional Tea House
Chinese tea culture is a thing steeped in tradition (you see what I did there?). Not only was the tea house a place for scholars to share the brightest ideas of the time, but it’s also known for its ceremonial heritage and incredibly complicated ritual process. The good thing about visiting China though is that you get to experience the mysteries without feeling like you’re out of place, from finger tapping to Chaou brewing. Lao She’s Teahouse is all the tradition plus a little more; with folk arts, magic performances and Changing Faces, Lao She’s is low-key Beijing style but in an elegant setting so you don’t miss any of the extravagance.
If Zhangjiajie looks a tad familiar to you, it might be because the incredible landscape played muse to James Cameron in the blockbuster hit Avatar. With unique sandstone landforms, dense forest, and all manners of protected flora and fauna, Zhangjiajie is a great place to visit, but tourist amenities are sometimes scarce so take a private tour to get the best out of your trip. China Highlights is a great place to start, or pick a package with China Discovery for full trips exclusively in the park. The key with Zhangjiajie is easy though; it’s all about getting out of your own head and enjoying the culture and beautiful natural landscapes of the area. So don’t be afraid to unplug for this—it’s all about getting off the tourist trail and appreciating the world around you.
5. Bao Zi
This doughy, filled snack has as many names as it does variations. You can call it bao, bau, humbow, nunu, bakpao, bausak, pow, pau or pao and it can come savory and full of meat, or vegetarian style with crisp, local vegetables. Steamed on top and fried on the bottom, it’s best bought in China’s foodie epicenter Shanghai so grab a standing room only street where they sell street food—trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
6. Chongqing’s Dazu Caves
With 5 specific carved rock caves: Beishan, Baodingshan, Nanshan, Shimenshan and Shizhuanshan, there’s plenty of opportunity to get down and dirty exploring the exquisite details of the sculpting that was begun in the Tang Dynasty, over 1400 years ago. Take a look through the 5,000 statues, featuring Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian figures, and if you get through that, there is always the 10,000+ Chinese inscriptions decorating the wall—so get to translating!
Known as the “Ice City,” Harbin is home to all the winter wonderland fantasies you can imagine, and this seasonal carnival is a must-see if the timing is right. Check out the Ice Lantern Garden Party, or hit the slopes at the Yabuli International Ski Resort, and but the thing that takes the cake is the Harbin Ice and Snow World with some of the best works of ice art around. Think I’m kidding? You’ll just have to check it out to see.
8. Great Wall
You can’t go to China and not visit the Wall—it’s just simply not done—but picking a great spot to check out one of the most recognized places in the world does require a little digging. Mutianyu has the best restored section of the wall and Jinshanling has the most popular hiking trail, but you don’t have to keep it to one, hit them all up! Jiankou is an adventurous hike in the most grown-over section and Huanghuacheng has a great river view that’s too good to pass up.
9. Hot Pot
Don’t label a hot pot experience the Chinese version of fondue, it’s so much better than just a melted cheese dish. There will be instructions at your table (and they’re really user-friendly) but you start with boiling water, add the veggies, and then move forward to the meat and seafood from there—when your meat is cooked, start munching! With hot pot it’s a step-by-step meal, and you eat the vegetables and meats from the broth then later add the noodles to soak up the remaining flavors. Sound like an adventure? It definitely is.
Macao is a study in opposites; ride the Venetian boats in the Canal, taste the Portuguese-inspired food, or head to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, because the possibilities are endless. If you’re into hot rods, check out the Grand Prix Museum. Are you more a fan of heights? Take tour to the top of the Macau Tower. And if traditional is more your style you can stop by the A-Ma Temple for some meditative delights. Normally I would say this is a bad thing, but you’ll hardly know you’re in China!
For Chinese BBQ, head to Hong Kong. You can take it street side at Wah Fung off of Wellington Street or if you like something fancy, the Mandarin Grill + Bar serves it up tasty. The sweet glaze and tender pork comes in many different variations—take it in a rice box meal, it’s my favorite—but the original, made with honey, tastes perfect.
12. Party in Shanghai
As the largest city in China, it’s a no-brainer that there’s always a party happening somewhere so head to Shanghai if you’re one for nights out on the town. Head to The Monkey Champagne for a popular local favorite known for it’s hip-hop music scene, The Geisha for a cocktail, or The Apartment for real Shanghai nightlife.
13. Fried String Beans
This may be a slightly lesser-known snack to munch on in China but there’s nothing slight about the taste of these munchies. Grab them at any Sichuan-style eatery—they’re best traditional style with a little garlic and chili—and prepare to be amazed at how different they are from the way the you’re used to eating them.
You can visit China without hitting up any of these places—or opting for different ones instead, it’s true—but why not experience the absolute best? I only ask for one favor, take lots of pictures and go hungry, not just for food but culture as well!