On my nightstand sit three books I’m slowly working my way through: Popular Crime by Bill James, Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip, and Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian. Exploring China has always been on my bucket list, and reading stories set there is my vicarious way of accomplishing that goal.

I devour any film, book, or article I see about the country, and I took enough classes in Chinese history at my university to qualify for a minor if it had existed there. From ancient to modern, China has always been the subject of a particular fascination for me.

If I were to book a trip tomorrow to tour all over China, here’s what I’d want to see the most (and that I’d recommend you check out as well):

1: The Forbidden City in Beijing

The Forbidden City - 5 Places in China to Add to Your Bucket List - Frayed Passport

The Forbidden City – photo by Rafik Wahba on Unsplash

For 500 years and two dynasties (the Ming and Qing), and 24 emperors, it was a royal palace and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the world’s largest imperial palace, and among the world’s most famous and well-kept wooden structures. And yes—you can visit, despite the name! Situated in the middle of Beijing, this complex is a gorgeous historical and cultural landmark.

2: The Five Great Mountains (Wu Yue)

Huashan Mount Hua - 5 Places in China to Add to Your Bucket List - Frayed Passport

Mount Hua – photo by FEI XIE on Unsplash

These include Mount Tai, Hua, Heng, Shanxi, and Song, corresponding to the east, west, south, north, and center, respectively. Photos and paintings of these mountains are the earliest things that piqued my curiosity in visiting China, and probably the first reason it’s on my bucket list. The mountains have been sites of pilgrimage and sacrifice for emperors over many centuries.

3: The Leshan Giant Buddha

Leshan Giant Buddha - 5 Places in China to Add to Your Bucket List - Frayed Passport

The Leshan Giant Buddha – via Pixabay

This 233-foot-tall statue of the Buddha was carved directly out of the side of a cliff face of the Lingyun Mountain during the Tang Dynasty. Overlooking the Dadu, Minjiang, and Qingyi rivers, the Leshan Giant Buddha is one of the largest statues in the world, and is one of the Sichuan Province’s most popular tourism sites.

4: The Donghuamen Night Market

Donghuamen Night Market - 5 Places in China to Add to Your Bucket List - Frayed Passport

The Donghuamen Night Market – Photo by Meruyert Gonullu from Pexels

Back to Beijing—the Donghuamen Night Market is world-famous for its array of unusual and delicious food stalls. You can get centipede or scorpion on a stick, fried crickets…or more familiar foods like dumplings.

Update: Sadly this night market closed in 2016, but you can still visit many others, like the Wangfujing Night Market, the Shichahai Food Street, and the Guijie Night Market, all situated in Beijing.

5: The Bund

The Bund - 5 Places in China to Add to Your Bucket List - Frayed Passport

The Bund – photo by George Liu on Unsplash

I’m lucky enough to have already visited The Bund, but it would be wonderful to go back and explore more—this strip in Shanghai overlooks the Huangpu River, on toward the more famous view of Shanghai, the Pudong District. The Bund is interesting for its Western-style Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and other buildings, and it’s a short walk away from Yuyuan Garden, Nanjing Road, and other must-see places in Shanghai.

About the Author

As the editor-in-chief of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at!

Featured image via Unsplash.

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