What would you do with 8 days in China?

I head to Shanghai for a conference in August and have 8 days ahead of time to travel with my wife. I’ve never been before, but figure I’ll be back in some of the big cities again in future, say for a conference in Beijing. Reader recommendations on what I should do this visit? I generally like getting off the beaten path, although my complete lack of language skills could make that challenging…

14 thoughts on “What would you do with 8 days in China?

  1. Yanshuo is great but very touristic.
    If you like off the beaten track and appreciate desert and mountains I would suggest you to go to Xinjiang (the Chinese far west).

    Discovering the mix between chinese and muslim culture will for sure change your ideas from Shanghai. Internal flights in China are cheap and easy (as is most of the internal transportation).

    Here are some photos from my last trip there
    http://picasaweb.google.com/rodrigo.benenson/Xinjiang2007

    Photos of Yanshuo, Xi’an and other “more touristic” spots at
    http://picasaweb.google.com/rodrigo.benenson/China2006

    Enjoy !

  2. I second Yunnan province, mostly for the phenomenally beautiful hike along Tiger-Leaping Gorge. We ran into no other hikers in 2004, only goats and farmers. There were certain sections of the hike that were a bit precarious at the time. I would think once tourism picks up those areas will be roped off or marred by guardrails so I would go now while it’s (hopefully) still pristine and fairly deserted. It’s a 2 hour drive from Lijiang town if I remember correctly. I understand the area in Yunnan close to the Tibet border offers some gorgeous hiking as well.

  3. While you are in the cities, I would check out the Beijing and Shanghai planning exhibitions. The floor models, movies, and other exhibits in which urban planners display the development of these cities is fascinating (read: disconcerting), particularly when you have the opportunity to compare (and/or contrast) to what is happening on the ground.

    And I say this as an urban planner, and not an economist, definitely find yourself in a hutong, though in Shanghai and Beijing, this may be a challenge. Here’s a great article from a New Yorker of some years ago on hutongs: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/02/13/060213fa_fact_hessler

  4. Ignore all of the above and go to Kashgar, i.e., all the way at the far end, tucked into the corner by Pakistan and the other ‘Stans. It will give you a feel not just for China but for the spine of Asia–the surge and countersurge of nomad and city that has done so much to make China what it is. If you can work it in, take a sidetrip en route to Turfan, a dry oasis where the average July temperature is 103–but the fruit is magnificent.

    Probably too much for this first outing, but tour operators from Urumqi can arrange overnight camel trips into the void of the Tarim Basin.

  5. I would head for Yangshuo, or to anywhere in Yunnan province. If you're heading north Xi'an is a must.

    If you have the time take a hard sleeper train instead of flying; you'll get a chance to share a bit of time with the locals. If you're lucky, you'll have someone teach you to play chinesse chess.

  6. Another vote for Yunnan – Dali, Zhongdian. All around. In Shanghai – a great walking city, just got back. The Mangoshan (sp?) Lu gallery distrct east of Suzhou Creek. The new world trade center towers – tallest building in China – a hoot.

  7. if you're in Shanghia that's worth a bit of an explore, there are nice botanical gardens and places like the French quater are interesting, plus there are some interesting towns like Suzhou a shortish train ride outside Shanghai

  8. It's the beaten path, but the maglev train from Shanghai's airport to the outskirts of the Pudong area is quite amusing. At that speed, it's like a real life version of a Michel Gondry music video.

    My family also had no language skill, so we hired a van for a half day of touring. We went to a city with a lot of canals; it was very touristy, but we were the only white tourists.

    There is a museum on China-Israel relations. It is housed in an old synagogue; though small, it's pretty interesting.

  9. (n.b.: my interest is on poverty & poverty alleviation in the urban, developing world, and this post reflects that bias)

    Just came back from China – I thought Beijing was great, esp if you want to see development in action. It's worth traveling around the city and taking in the differences from the inner city to the worker living sites and the squatter camps. The food is amazing – stick to street food, mom & pop restuarants, and not in tourist Wanfujing, but the stuff that Beijingers eat. If wall in 1 day I recommend Mutianyu because it was part of the original Qin wall and because the village could use the money. You can even to Hairou (the closest big city) get there by public transit from Dongzhimenwai and take a combi to the wall.

    But that said, if you want to see what China's secondary cities are like go to Pingyao. Pingyao is a tourism site, but its in the middle of nowhere and so you get to see a walled city plus Shanxi's coal region). We took a a high speed to Taiyuan and then the local bus service to Pingyao (train is direct to Pingyao but it wastes 12+ hrs). In retrospect I wish i could have stayed there longer not only because the walled Pingyao is very cool, but because I didn't get a chance (other than talking to locals over three days) to see how the rest of this coal & tourism dependent region is doing. If you go treat yourself to a night in pingyao's tourism, but then see if you can find a place to stay (friends are best) in the modern Pingyao or better yet the modern Taiyuan. You'll get a very good sense of how that part of China lives and works…and how underemployed most people are.

    Xi'an is also worth your time – both as an ancient capital and a hub of modern commerce. You can get there from Taiyuan via plane (about 2 hrs). From Xi'an you get back to the coast via the rivers. It's the sacred heartland of what has been "China" for 2000 years. Go climb a sacred mountain, stare at the ccrazy stuff the emperors built, and see the great Wei river statues. I wish I'd had time to get from Xian to the coast on this trip and will be totally envious if you get to do it.

  10. NW Yunnan: Lijiang, Zhongdian, hiking along Tiger Leaping Gorge. Besides the culturally interesting sights and (relative) lack of pollution it's less oppressively hot than Yangshou this time of year.

  11. If you visit the Great Wall, don't go to the sections closest to Beijing, there are a couple farther out (approx 2 hours by car) that are much more authentic (not restored for the Olympics) and more fun to visit. The trip out into more rural, areas is worth the extra time. You can arrange a car and driver for the day through most hotels for pretty cheap as well.

  12. Second Yangshuo – we just got back from a month in China and had a great time at the yangshuo village inn

    we also really enjoyed Chengdu (panda preserve) and Lijiang (well-restored traditional village square – a little touristy, but well worth the visit)

    all of these places get lots of foreign and domestic tourists, but it's pretty easy to get off the beaten track by renting a bicycle and heading off to the countryside (bring a phrasebook!)

    – John

  13. Go to Yangshou (do a google images search, it's unbelievably beautiful). Take a boat from Guilin to Yangshou, see the light show, rent scooters and see the countryside.