Now I'm no longer working and have done most of my packing, I have time to peruse the enormous Lonely Planet guide to China (1,054 pages) and am planning places I really want to see while in the Middle Kingdom. Lonely Planet has a "30 Top Experiences" list, most of which I agree look amazing. The first 10 follow, with my own comments, rather than LP's:
1. The Great Wall
Of course the Great Wall is a must-do in China and, even though I've been there before, I know i'll accompany friends when they come to visit (bring good walking shoes, guests). I'll probably link it with a return visit to the Ming Tombs, but will be careful to avoid the tours that take you briefly to such places of interest but spend most of their time at giant warehouses where you're pressured to buy "at cheapest rates."
I have no trouble bypassing the vendors at the Wall itself, I'm an old hand at that.
2. French Concession, Shanghai
I haven't been to Shanghai before but am eager to go. I have friends (a fellow journalist and his lovely wife) who live in the French Concession so look forward to having the inside scoop on where not to miss. Another Chinese friend and former colleague here, who is an expert on North Korea, is now lecturing at a university in Shanghai so I'll get to visit with him and his family also.
It's only an hour and a half flight from Beijing, so easy to get to.
3. The Forbidden City, Beijing
I'm sure I'll be a regular visitor here, as well as at Tiananmen Square opposite. I especially like Tiananmen on weekends, when it's filled with family groups flying kites. (Note to self: Get another fighting kite?)
There's also a fabulous rooftop garden opposite with great views of the Forbidden City that is a perfect place to enjoy a cool beverage while watching the sun set over the city.
4: Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan
This looks stunning but will probably be left until about this time next year, if I can find the time even then. Where I'd like to go even more is nearby Zhongdian, now known as Shangri-la. It was renamed after James Hilton's Shangri-la in "The Lost Horizon," rather than being the inspiration for it, but is home to the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa - a 300-year-old Tibetan Monastery considered the most important in southwest China.
As a fan of "The Lost Horizon" and its wise monks ("Everything in moderation, including moderation"), I will try hard to make it here.
5: Yangzi River Cruise
For me this is a would-like-to-do, rather than a must-do, simply because of the time involved. As much as I'd love to experience the Three Gorges on a relaxing river cruise, a four to five day tour may not fit into my itinerary or schedule.
I'm saving a chunk of time instead to travel the Trans-Mongolian Railway with a group of friends, during which we'll spend five days taking the train from Beijing, across China and up through Mongolia to Moscow. One of those friends also wants to do the train trip to Tibet, which tempts me also, but I'd even more like to take the train to Pyongyang if I can get a visa.
6: Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an
Another perhaps only, as I'd love to see them but only if I have time with all the other things I want to see more.
7: Hiking Dragons Backbone Rice Terraces, Guangxi
These I want to see, walk and photograph as these terraced rice paddies rise to 100 meters high and are spectacular. Guangxi also borders Vietnam so I'll try to time this to take a few days there also.
8: China's Cuisine
Obviously, this is a definite for me while living in China. There are many things the Chinese eat that I'll politely decline (yes, I'm a wimp when it comes to food, or at least very fussy), but I look forward to exploring teh wide range of cuisine's across the country.
I also plan to continue to prepare many of my own meals, and look forward to learning new ingredients and recipes.
9: Fenghuang, Hunan
Lonely Planet describes this as, "Houses perched on stilts, ancestral halls, crumbling temples and gate towers set amidst a warren of back alleys . . . " and shows the town set on the banks of the Tuo River. Another town I will try to find time to visit.
10: Changbai Shan, Jilin
This is China's largest nature reserve, with the centerpiece being the Heaven Lake, a vast body of water in a volcanic crater that straddles the border with North Korea. Known as Mt. Paekdu to Koreans, this area is revered by them and the Chinese and is the claimed birthplace of Kim Jong-il.
As said above, I hope to be able to visit North Korea during my time in China - if that isn't possible I'll just have to look across from the Chinese side, as I have from the South Korean side.
The next 10 recommended experiences will be in my next blog post . . .