The Top 10 Things to Do ONLY in China
Welcome to China! It's probably a country as different as you'll get from your own, so you'll have lots of unusual experiences. But at China Highlights, we try to go one step further for you, so that you won't be just another tourist seeing the same round of tourist sights in the same way.
Below are just ten options we can arrange for you around China for the more unusual things to do that can only be done in China.
1. Ride Through Beijing in a Sidecar
It is fascinating to ride through the great capital city in an open-air sidecar and observe the skyscrapers juxtaposed among winding alleys and back streets that date from older times.
Our guides know interesting places to take you, and we can work out with to take you to the places you want to go and do the kinds of things you want to do.
See siheyuan courtyards: For example, on a sidecar tour, you're motorcycle guide might navigate his way among siheyuan courtyards that are shared by Chinese families. The old Chinese family clans used to live in compounds with a wall surrounding their houses. The houses were arranged around an inner courtyard. The driver will take you to courtyards where you can see people where they live and visit some interesting folks.
Have a meal or refreshments with them, and see how the local people Chinese live.
Discover the historic sites: These sites include Houtai, Tiananmen Square, and Bell and Drum Towers. It is sure to be a highlight of your China trip.
See the modern attractions: Would you rather see the recently built mega-structures? These showcase China's modern industrial might.
- Relax in the sidecar while a professional driver drives you around the city.
- Flexible itinerary. Customize your tour the way you want!
- Professional English-speaking guide.
- Hotel pickup and drop off.
2. Do Morning Tai Chi in a Local Park
There are few more refreshing ways to start your day than with morning exercise.
In China, traditional exercise such as qi gong and morning tai chi is popular, and you'll see groups of women gathering in public parks and often just on the streets in residential areas after sunrise until about 9 am. Groups of men gather for training too. Some are informal, while others are classes or special groups. No matter what park you go to in the cities, you'll probably see people exercising.
The rhythmic exercises tone the muscles and might help to improve balance and stamina. People learn to control their limbs and body better, and the crouching stances in many of the more physical styles help to develop stronger legs. It can be used for martial arts training. If you want to join in a tai chi group, politely ask if you can join in. You'll learn something about Chinese culture from the experience. Read more on Tai Qi>>
3. Play with a Giant Panda
“Awwwwww!” China is the home of these big cuddly pandas. These gentle giants often are the highlight of China trips – especially when seen in the wild. See our Giant Panda Special Topic for the lowdown.
You can get up close and touch them in the Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu. It is the best place to visit to see pandas up close. The staff is trying to increase the numbers of this endangered species. The center creates a habitat full of natural scenery and allows visitors to observe pandas and learn about the center's conservation efforts. If you find yourself particularly interested in the experience, sign up for the volunteer program and help prevent pandas from becoming a thing of the past.
Let us help you arrange a tour and volunteer. The Panda Breeding Center invites people over 17 to visit and sign up. You'll get training on how to help, but you'll have to provide for your own living expenses and the costs of the program. You might bathe pandas, feed them, help track them, and gather information about them. A trained guide will always be with you to help.
4. Ride a Camel Across Dunhuang Dunes
The lesser traveled areas of western China are certainly not to be missed. While for most people the thought of China does not conjure up visions of camels in the desert, the "City of Sands" holds a firm place in China’s history as a stop on the ancient Silk Road.
Dunhuang is a city in Gansu Province near the border of Xinjiang. It is a city surrounded by desert, and it is known for its sand dunes, camel rides and the Mogao Caves where you can see some ancient artwork and carvings. The camel rides are a particularly fun way to travel around and see the landscape.
The Buddhist caves are a place to go if you are interested in Silk Road history. Half a day is enough to see the caves since most tourists only see about ten of the hundreds of them. Enjoy a guided tour. We have tours ranging in duration from a day to a week along the Silk Road.
5. Take a Gondola Through One of China’s Ancient Water Towns
Venice has its canals and gondola rides, but China's canals are much bigger and probably much older depending on the place you go. You can see preserved canals with old buildings and bridges in several cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou. This is precisely what you will experience by visiting Zhouzhuang in Shanghai or or any of Shanghai's historic water towns.
These water towns are on the outskirts of Shanghai, and we've arranged full or half day tours including meals and transportation that you can modify to suit you or your party's needs. Prices start from about 90 USD for a half-day tour. Just tell us where you want to go and where you are staying, and we'll pick you up and arrange the rest.
For a day tour when you are in Shanghai, we suggest the Zhujiajiao Water Town that is only an hour from Shanghai, and the buildings and scenery have been preserved. It was originally a village on the Grand Canal about a thousand years ago. See ancient estates and gardens, walk over ancient bridges, take a boat ride, and enjoy the food! It is quite a contrast to crowded Shanghai. Since it is so popular with Chinese tourists, let us help you with advice about when it is good to go to miss the crowds.
6. Try a Sichuan Hot Pot in Sichuan
One of the great regional cuisines known for lively and even vivid flavors and fun eating is Sichuan cuisine. Where else in the world can you get more authentic Sichuan cuisine than in Chengdu or Chongqing? Hotpot is the classic spicy Sichuan dish. Read How to Survive a Chengdu Hotpot before you go.
For that matter, where in the world is Mainland regional cuisine more authentic than in the Mainland? How about a Chinese Cuisine Tour? We'll take you to the restaurants and cities that will make for gastronomical memories. Tell us your price range, and we'll tailor-make a tour at at the best restaurants we know in each region.
7. Camp Out on the Great Wall
Camping on the Great Wall of China would be a memory. Just imagine the stars and moon over the battlements on a dark night. As the top must-see attraction in the entire country and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, no China trip is complete without seeing the world’s longest man-made structure.
To make the experience more special, spend the night inside a guard tower and be taken back centuries through history.
8. Experience Chinese New Year in the Capital City
If you are planning to visit China in late January or early February, consider being in Beijing for Chinese New Year. Without exaggeration, the fireworks on the night of the New Year are far more extravagant than any you have seen elsewhere. Not only are there the official government fireworks, but the population joins in with much more fireworks and lights the sky with bursting fiery flowers. Find your way to one of the city’s plentiful rooftops, and view these colorful explosions in every direction around you. If you’re feeling adventurous, buy your own fireworks from any of the large vendors setting up on street corners and shoot them off yourself.
The government began discouraging the population from sending aloft the fireworks in 2013. But in 2014, the celebration was still explosively grand! Let us help you arrange a trip.
Future Dates: February 19, 2015, February 8, 2016, January 28, 2017
9. See Mount Everest and the Tibetan Interior for Yourself
If you decide to go to Tibet, you really should venture well outside Lhasa. A trip to see Mount Everest or another part of the Tibetan interior will bless you with awesome scenery and a sense of natural vastness and serenity that can only be found in the remotest parts of the planet.
We have tours to Mt. Kailash that is a favorite holy site of Buddhists, Hindus, and other South and Central Asians. They hike around it and worship there. It rises over Lake Manasarovar that is renowned for mystery and beauty.
You'll need to arrange a group tour with a government approved agency according to the recent guidelines. Let us help you arrange a tour for you or your group. We have the experience to help you have a great trip.
10. Drink Oil Tea with Ethnic Minorities up on the Rice Terraces near Guilin
Even if you find you're not a fan of oil tea, you will not regret the experience when you return home and recount how you experienced a whole different way of life. You can walk the paths among the beautiful Longsheng cultivated terraces that have been trodden on by the Yao people and other minority farmers for centuries, stay in their wooden stilted dwellings, and taste their favorite foods and drinks.
The Longsheng terraces are close to Guilin, and they are among the biggest such agricultural terraces in the world, and they are still used. We can arrange a tour for you on the dates you specify. How about coming during an ethnic festival, and you can also experience other great Guilin highlights such as a popular Li River cruise.
China has other such beautifully cultivated terraces in other ethnic areas in other regions. Check them out. Tell us when you want to come, and where you want to go, and we'll work out the logistics and transportation for you.
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I updated this article on February 27, 2014
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