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The Next Top Ten Things to See in China

The first ten are imperative, the second ten take you farther afield


My first Top Ten Things to See in China list serves as a "must-see" list for folks coming to China for the first time. Those attractions are historic, picturesque and will leave you with a sense that you've seen the best of China.

This "Second Top Ten" Attraction List takes you farther away from the beaten path, lets you delve a little deeper into particular aspects of Chinese culture or brings you into the countryside and away from main urban centers.

1. Qinghai Lake (Amdo Region/Qinghai Province)

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Qinghai Lake is famous as the largest lake in China as well as its role in the migration of millions of birds in the region. Go between June and July and you can see these travelers roosting on the Lake's famous "Bird Island". Go in other times of the year to witness the magnificent scenery that is unveiled as you leave Xining, the provincial capital, and climb higher toward the lake. See Tibetan nomad camps, grazing sheep over high-altitude hills and even stop for a cheesy yak ride. It'll be a trip you remember.

2. Mogao Grottoes (Gansu Province)

© 2010 courtesy of Louisa Lim.
Silk Road travel can be a whole China travel itinerary in itself. I got a taste of it on my first trip to the region (Gansu, May 2012) and have been hooked ever since. An absolute must-see if you're doing any Silk Road travel is the Mogao Caves. This series of man-made caves carved out of the cliff-side showcase Buddhist art from the 5th to the 13th centuries. Preserved over hundreds of years by the dry environment, a visit to the caves takes the visitor through Buddhist history as you begin to understand its spread throughout China. It also grounds the visitor in Silk Road history as you begin to see the place not only as a modern UNESCO site but also as an ancient outpost along the Silk Road.

3. Mingsha Sand Dunes (Gansu Province)

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Nothing can get you grounded in place on the Silk Road like a visit to the Mingsha Dunes. Covering a huge expanse, the desert is visible as you drive through Dunhuang and seems to beg adventure.

4. Long Sheng Rice Terraces (Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region)

Photo by Denise Gilman. Used with permission.
A visit to the Long Sheng Rice Terraces gets you out and walking among the hills and villages north of Guilin. A great place for families and single travelers alike, the rice terraces offer a different feel and different views in all seasons.

5. Dali & Xizhou (Yunnan Province)

© 2011 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Yunnan Province is rich with amazing scenery, great treks, hillsides of Pu'er tea and picturesque lakes. Unless you have a lot of time to travel the whole province, bite off a small chunk to start with and then try to go back. I loved the beautiful laid-back, off-the-beaten-track nature of Dali Old Town and the village of Xizhou (where the Linden Centre is located). While Dali does get a lot of tourists, it's still fun to wander the old streets. Staying in Xizhou gives you a small taste of what village life could be like.

6. Shaolin Temple (Henan Province)

© Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Shaolin Temple is famous worldwide for its warrior monks and martial arts as well as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism. A visit to the temple, the surrounding grounds and the mountain is a full day of fun for both kids and adults. See the monks perform, stroll through an garden of ancient pagodas and if you can, try to climb up to the top of the hill where legend holds Bodhidharma meditated for nine years.

7. Lotus Blooming in Suzhou's Gardens (Jiangsu Province)

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
There is something magical about seeing these enormous flowers in bloom all at once. While Suzhou's gardens are famous for them, Guilin is another great place to see lotus blooming in early August.

8. Moganshan (Zhejiang Province)

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
An easy trip from Hangzhou or Shanghai, Moganshan used to be the playground of expats in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The hills are home to bamboo forests, small villages and large homes that have been turned into guesthouses and villas. There are a number of up-market eco-retreats from which to choose but also plenty of inexpensive inns.

9. Harbin Ice & Snow Festival (Heilongjiang Province)

Xinhua News Agency. 2008. All Rights Reserved.
If you're ready to take on the cold, the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival is for you. Definitely something to do with bigger kids (make sure your kids can communicate to you that they are cold!), the snow festival is hugely popular. The Festival is on for the month of January but structures can be seen as early as December and as late as March. Combine the trip with a ski holiday for winter fun in China.

10. Panjiayuan Market (Beijing)

© 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Get your bargaining boots on and hit this market. If you're a good shopper, plan on a whole day. You can find a little bit of everything here at Beijing's largest open market.
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