Tibet offers fabulous monasteries, breathtaking high-altitude treks, stunning views of the world’s highest mountains and one of the most likeable peoples you will ever meet. The Roof of the World Tibet's other big draw is the elemental beauty of the highest plateau on earth. Geography here is on a humbling scale and every view is lit with spectacular mountain light.
It's fitting that an ancient form of opera and magic called biànliǎn (face-changing) originated here, for Sìchuān (四川) is a land of many guises. Capital Chéngdū shows a modern face, but just beyond its bustling ring roads you'll find a more traditional landscape of mist-shrouded, sacred mountains, and a countryside scattered with ancient villages and cliffs of carved Buddhas.
Guǎngdōng’s unique culture and natural beauty fly under the radar and have yet to be discovered by many travellers, so you may have a plethora of sublime sights (not to mention great dim sum) all to yourself. Northern Guǎngdōng (广东) is home to some wild and wondrous landscapes.
Yúnnán (云南) is the most diverse province in all China, both in its extraordinary mix of peoples and in the splendour of its landscapes. That combination of superlative sights and many different ethnic groups has made Yúnnán the trendiest destination for China’s exploding domestic tourist industry.
A short taxi, bus or bike trip from Lhasa are the impressive Gelugpa monasteries of Sera and Drepung. Both are must-sees, even if you have only a brief stay in Lhasa. Far less visited are the monastery complex of Pabonka and the hermitage caves at Drak Yerpa, both of which are well worth the effort, especially if you like hiking.
Shaanxi (陕西; Shǎnxī) is where it began for China. As the heartland of the Qin dynasty (秦朝), whose warrior emperor united much of China for the first time, Shaanxi was the cradle of Chinese civilisation and the fountainhead of Han culture. Xī’ān marked the beginning and end of the Silk Road and was a buzzing capital long before anyone knew of Běijīng and its Forbidden City.
Steeped in natural and supernatural allure, the Shāndōng (山东) peninsula on China’s northeastern coast is the stuff of legends. Its captivating landscape – a fertile flood plain fed by rivers and underground springs, capped by granite peaks and framed in wild coastline – can’t help but inspire wonder.
Once the terminus of the Silk Road and a melting pot of cultures and religions, as well as home to emperors, courtesans, poets, monks, merchants and warriors, the glory days of Xī’ān (西安; pronounced 'see-an') may have ended in the early 10th century, but a considerable amount of ancient Cháng’ān, the former city, survives behind the often roaring, modern city.
The province’s friendly and modern capital city, Chéngdū, is where most travellers start their Sìchuān explorations. It makes a great base for trips to the region’s top sights. The area surrounding this emerging metropolis remains dotted with quaint old villages and farmsteads.
The centre of the Tibetan Buddhist world for over a millennium, Lhasa (ལྷ་ས་; 拉萨; Lāsà; literally the 'Place of the Gods') remains largely a city of wonders. Your first view of the red and white Potala Palace soaring above the Holy City still raises goosebumps and the charming whitewashed old Tibetan quarter continues to preserve the essence of traditional Tibetan life.