There’s more to China than The Great Wall
Did you know the Great Wall of China is not, contrary to popular myth, visible from the moon? Perhaps this is why so many Australians continue to flock to see the iconic structure in person each year, with visitor numbers regularly topping three-quarters of a million. However, beyond the common tourist spots, there is vastly more to explore, with provinces each boasting a strong independent identity and an infinitely rich well of unique traditions, dialects, cuisine and architecture, both ancient and ultra-modern. In celebration of Chinese New Year, here are just a few of the top sights - beyond the Great Wall - that put China on our travel wish list for 2018.
The Three Gorges & the Yangtze River: a modern masterpiece meets an ancient wonder
Since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam was completed in 2006, the Yangtze has become much calmer and more navigable. This has opened up the relatively new option of cruising between Chongqing and Yichang on serene, lake-like waters, framed by majestic cliffs, giving passengers a better chance to see the beauty of the gorges. This breathtaking journey will take you through limpid waters, suspended walkways, mystical caves and unique sights such as the hanging coffins of Shennong Stream.
Shanghai: where history collides with the future
A Blade Runner-style skyline of dizzying skyscrapers may be the first image to spring to mind when someone mentions Shanghai, but that would do a disservice to the historical legacy that still bursts through the glass and neon on every street corner, whether it's the classical colonialist buildings of the former French Concession district, whose streets are now lined with boutique shops and eateries, or the street food stalls selling steaming and sizzling platters of traditional dumplings, and a feature of Shanghai's roadsides for centuries. Our tip is to take a river cruise down the Huangpu for a fascinating journey through the city's historic past to the futuristic present-day sights.
Oh, and don't forget to take the Shanghai Transrapid train to Pudong International airport: with a top speed of 431 km/hour, it's likely the fastest way you'll ever travel on dry land.
The Temple of Heaven: local life among magnificent monuments
Sometimes overlooked by travel companies in favour of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing was the place where emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) held the Heaven Worship Ceremony, and is the largest existing example of China's ancient sacrificial buildings. However, visitors to the park won't just get to wonder at the magnificence of the historic buildings; the park has now become a social meeting place where the community gathers to play games, so you can get an insight into local life in 2018 too.
Xi'An: an antique army comes to life
One of the oldest and most important historical cities in China, Xi'an marks the starting point of the Silk Road and hit the international tourist scene in the 1970s when the extraordinary 'terracotta army' -- hundreds of almost perfectly preserved statues of imperial warriors dating back to the 3rd century BCE -- was discovered by local farmers. The 'army' alone is a memorable sight, but if you get the chance it is well worth staying overnight, when the city walls light up with brightly coloured illuminations and red lanterns.
Feel inspired? Australia’s Asia experts Wendy Wu Tours has recently launched a new series of Essential tours to China, featuring jam-packed itineraries with expert guides for accessible prices.