China is so big with so much to offer that it's rare any traveler sees even a fraction of what they’d consider “enough.” Jungle temples, river adventures, intricate alleyways, fantastical mountain ranges, and good eats await any visitor who decides to take in a fair share of Chinese sights, culture, and cuisine. It’s no easy task, but the trek is undeniably worth it.
As such, the country is diverse enough for a properly executed trip to seem like an exploration through multiple tinier nations. Whether it's chowing down on street food to write home about in the city or beholding breathtaking monuments out in the country, China is surely a colorful escape for the five senses of a westerner.
So when photographer Fiona Caroline traversed China and returned with every photo looking like a postcard or painting, The Venue Report team was thrilled to find out where she went, what she did, and what stayed with her—and then start looking up prices of flights to China.
Words + Photography by Fiona Caroline Photography
My itinerary was quite a hectic three weeks exploring the main highlights of China. China is an incredible country. So diverse, with such a mix of things to see and visit, from bustling, bright cities, to remote, Tibetan monasteries – it really is a country that can be visited again and again. I recommend the route I took, but with more time to really enjoy it!
Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Shangri La, Lijiang (via Tiger Leaping Gorge), Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai
What were your favourite hotels, restaurants, cafes ?
The Les Suites Orient, on the Bund in Shanghai. I loved this hotel, with views over the Huangpu River, and its stunning skyline. It was a real treat to have a bubble bath on an evening with views like this! Well located, this 4-star hotel really offers top facilities, helpful staff and a beautiful breakfast! Brickyard at Mutianyu, a renovated old brick factory where each room has a view of the impressive Great Wall. The rooms felt contemporary, but kept the old features of the Brickyard. A nice garden to relax in after a day of walking along the wall. Remote, simple and really peaceful, I recommend to anyone visiting China and wanting a less rushed visit to the wall.
In Shanghai I went to a restaurant called Grandma's, just off The Bund area. I believe there are a few of these scattered throughout the country – but it was delicious! Simple, with a mix of tourists and locals, great taste and super cheap!
For great street food, visit the Muslim Quarter in Xian. Really busy with different stalls selling tasty sweet and savory snacks, as well as markets to buy little Chinese trinkets and bright neon flights reflecting all around you.
Any travel tips?
Take the fast train from Beijing to Xian, incredibly comfortable and much more interesting than the flight! A must do is the river boat ride on the Yulong river from Guilin to Yangshuo – an absolute highlight of my trip, with lunch included. Be patient with flights – they seem to get cancelled or change times right up until the last minute. Get a handle on chopsticks – plenty of places didn’t offer knives and forks! Visit the Temple of Heaven early in the morning to catch the locals practicing Tai Chi and playing Maj Hong – really great for photo opportunities.
Any packing tips?
A must pack are some good walking shoes because there is so much to explore! You will be on your feet a lot: The Great Wall of China, the Ancient City Walls of Xian, the incredible Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri La. Good shoes will be beneficial when hiking around the impressive Tiger Leaping Gorge, or the beautiful rice terraces of Longji. Also pack a rain coat, because even though I went in one of the best seasons – late September – there was the odd, pretty heavy downpour.
I had so, so many good experiences it’s hard to make a list of my favourites without missing off one I truly loved. But here goes! Obviously The Great Wall of China. Which is absolutely incredible, and a little surreal when you step on to it. It is inspiring and takes your breath away how impressive it really is. I visited a less visited section called Mutianyu, which is a quieter part area of the wall, about three hours’ drive from Beijing. I also spent the night at the Brickyard Retreat at Mutianyu, which is lovely place to stay.
The Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu is amazing, such a great sanctuary for pandas and so, so sweet seeing them eat and play. I loved this centre, because it wasn’t a zoo but a centre with the intention to release these bears once they’re grown into a semi wild reserve. So a worthwhile cause. And, oh my gosh, the baby pandas are absolutely gorgeous!
Yunnan Provence offered so much, and is a part of China missed out of the main tourist trail. I adored my time in Lijiang Old Town – full of character, winding streets decorated with lanterns and bustling with tourists and traders.
Yangshuo was probably my favourite part of the trip with a stunning, scenic boat ride on the Li River and the striking, mountainous landscapes. Yangshuo is perfect to relax, take bike rides in the countryside, or casually shop and drink fresh juices and tea in the touristy West Street area. I took a ride on the Yulong River, on a super sunny day and it was so idyllic – and away from the crowds in China! It’s also a three hour drive from Longji, so worth pairing the two up because both are incredible destinations.
The Gardens of Suzhou, a well-deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beautiful gardens, with such a long history with the past Dynasty’s of China. I didn’t realise I would love it so much until I visited! It was really sweet to wander over little bridges and see the carp swimming below. The gardens of Suzhou are an UNESCO World heritage site, and easy to reach from Shanghai. Shanghai.
Just Shanghai in general. I love cities though! Walking along the Bund, exploring Old Town, the French Concession area, getting lost in the various temples and gardens. I love the hustle and bustle of cities and Shanghai was cool, contemporary and a city and I am desperate to revisit.
Did you come across any spots that would be great for a wedding or gathering.
As you travel round China it is very likely you will come across brides and grooms getting their engagement photography done in the most extravagant of places. It’s really quite interesting to watch. The best spots I came across for a wedding or gathering, would be at the Songtsam Retreat in Shangri La, a beautiful open, remote area of China. But high, high up – so altitude sickness is something to keep in mind! Some of my favourite hotels for big groups or gatherings would be the Intercontinental Lijiang, the Hyatt in Hangzhou or possibly the well-known Raffles in Beijing.
China is incredible and Fiona Caroline’s photography only made us more enticed to make our way over. How could we not gush over such a place?
Words + Photography by Fiona Caroline Photography
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