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. One I picked up because, come on, popular crime is super interesting!—and the other two I bought because exploring China has always been on my bucket list.
Every time I have a little cash saved up, I open up Google Maps and click on a few of the same cities, comparing airfare to each on Kayak. Every time, I look at Beijing and Shanghai. I’ve been able to visit one so far (Shanghai!), and I keep pricing out the other to see if it’ll go under $1,200 round-trip.
I’m not sure exactly how my absolute need to explore China started, but I devour any film, book, or article I see about this incredible country. 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.
So! If I were able to book a trip tomorrow, here’s what I’d put in my bucket list:
1: The Forbidden City
It’s totally cliche, a complete tourist trap, and overrun with scam artists, but for 500 years and two dynasties (to be fair, some Chinese dynasties lasted only a blink of an eye while others lasted for centuries) it was a royal palace and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2: The Five Great Mountains
All of them! Photos and paintings of these mountains are the earliest reasons I can think of that piqued my curiosity in visiting China, and probably the first reason it’s on my bucket list. My mom is an archaeologist and has hundreds and hundreds of books detailing world history and culture—I remember being five years old and browsing through breathtaking photos of the Five Great Mountains in one of her ancient archaeology photo books.
3: The Leshan Giant Buddha
Like any good liberal arts major, I focused on areas of study that are super, super easy to make fun of, but that I absolutely love: art history and religion. Specifically, eastern religions and—you guessed it—the art of East and South Asia. If I were to visit any spots in China, I absolutely would make time for the tallest stone Buddha structure in the world. Another World Heritage Site, this stone Buddha was carved in the eighth and ninth centuries CE from a cliff face overlooking the Dadu, Minjiang, and Qingyi rivers.
4: The Donghuamen Night Market
Back to Beijing for a moment. I’m a vegetarian but still would love to try all of the unusual foods this world-famous night market has to offer—I’m especially interested in fried scorpion and centipede on a stick!
5: The Bund (Again!)
Okay, so I’ve already been here, but it was really cool even if the area is mostly tourists and banks. I’d love to bring my guy with me this time and show him Shanghai’s glittery Pudong district all lit up at night. From there we could walk over to Nanjing Road and compare it with Times Square—pushy vendors and all. Love it!