World ? Asia ? China

China: In Three Weeks

If you are fortunate enough to have 3 weeks to spend in China, you can sufficiently explore the side of China that focuses more on its timeless, natural beauty than its somewhat more temporary, cultural splendor.

Day 1: Arrive in Hong Kong

Start the trip off with a bang by taking some time to see the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong. Whether you decide to stay at the Peninsula or the YMCA, take the Star Ferry over to Central for lunch and spend the afternoon trying to absorb the 21st-century atmosphere of Asia's number-one city, as this will quickly disappear the farther you venture into mainland China. Round off the day with a visit to the Ladies' Market on Tung Choi Street or the Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon.

Day 2: Hong Kong: City of Culture

Hong Kong has far too many interesting attractions to be granted only 1 day. But if museums are too stuffy for you, check in with the very well organized Hong Kong Tourist Board (HKTB); their offerings cater to almost any taste, from harbor dinner cruises to the innovative "Meet the People" program.

Day 3: Sampling Guangzhou

The express train to Guangzhou is fast and convenient, so an early morning start will leave you much of the day to explore both Shamian Island and perhaps Huadiwan later in the afternoon.

Day 4: Exploring the Commercial Heart of China

An overnight train later tonight, leaves you the day free in Guangzhou, which is a good chance to see what makes this commercial metropolis tick in and around Haizhu Square; just make sure you are at the old station for the 6:30pm sleeper train to Guilin.

Day 5: Yangshuo

An early morning arrival means that you will not have to rush down to Yangshuo, but can take your time getting to one of China's most charming small towns. Once there, spend the day wandering Xi Jie (West Street), relaxing at a few of the cafes; consider Hong Kong, now a world away. Take this time to make some trip and travel arrangements for the next few days.

Day 6: Liu Gong and Liu Sanjie

A boat trip down to Liu Gong for lunch with a gentle bike ride back through Fuli in the afternoon should leave time to see the Zhang Yimou grand waterborne epic "Impression, Sanjie Liu" in the evening.

Day 7: The Yulong He (Jade Dragon River)

Time to move out of the town, to one of the quieter accommodations such as Yangshuo Shengdi (Mountain Retreat). Here the day can be spent biking or swimming, but wherever you end up, take time to soak in the magnificent sunset.

Day 8: China's Most Scenic Countryside

A late-morning dip followed by a hearty breakfast may be in order in the summer months, and this can be followed by a trip to one of the many local caves, to further escape the heat.

Day 9: In and around Yangshuo

It is difficult to pull yourself away from scenery as spectacular as this, so why not relax here for just one more day and try your hand at Chinese cooking, tai chi, or a little calligraphy. The Chinese Culture and Art Promotion Workshop and other organizations around town can help you get started.

Day 10: Transit from Guilin to Kunming

Even though you have 3 weeks, your time is not unlimited; it might be wiser to avoid some of the more remote areas where transportation can be unreliable. For this reason, I recommend that you taxi back to Guilin airport and fly straight to Kunming.

Day 11: Green Lake

Kunming city center might seem a little threatening after the sublime beauty of the Yulong River, so head up to the Green Lake area and spend your first day in the city acclimatizing.

Day 12: Stone Forest (Shi Lin)

Spend the day at the Stone Forest -- visit by organized tour or on your own by train -- or, even better, at the much quieter Black Pine Stone Forest, which predates the Stone Forest by about 2 million years. Take plenty of supplies in case you decide not to emerge for lunch.

Day 13: Discovering Dali

Night trains to Dali are notoriously difficult to book so grab the earliest bus possible instead and spend the rest of the day exploring the cobbled streets and streams of Dali.

Day 14: Climbing the Cang Shan

Take the cable car up to the Cang Shan (Green Mountains) and follow the paths as they wind in and out of the surflike clouds.

Day 15: Cycling around Er Hai Lake

The view from the mountain makes Er Hai Lake irresistible; spending a day cycling along the shore or visiting some of the islands such as Jinsuo Dao, filled with caves and caverns, is a must.

Day 16: Yunnan Markets

Organized trips are numerous, but those planning an independent visit to one of the weekly markets such as Shaping should get there early to see the local ethnic minorities descending from the surrounding mountains, either on horse or on foot, resplendent in their traditional costumes. A trip to some of the batik workshops in Zhou Cheng would round the afternoon off nicely.

Day 17: Transit to Li Jiang

Spend the morning at a local Dali market, stocking up on provisions ranging from papaya and pomegranates to chocolate chip cookies, and hop aboard the 2pm bus arriving in Li Jiang just in time to try traditional Naxi cuisine at Naxi Fengwei Xiaochi.

Day 18: Li Jiang's Old Town

A day spent exploring the attractions of the old town will hardly seem to be enough, but take advantage of some of the best tourist facilities in China. Food lovers are especially well catered to with everything from four-cheese pizza to frog-skin fungus to tempt the appetite.

Day 19: Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge and the mountains surrounding it mark a suitably impressive point at which to celebrate your time in China and being winding down before your trip home.

Day 20: Relax in Baisha

It may be a dusty little village, but Baisha is home to some Ming and Qing dynasty temple frescoes that are well worth the visit.

Day 21: Transit Day

Plan on spending your last day getting back to Kunming, where you can connect to Hong Kong or maybe even Bangkok if you prefer. Take a long hard look at the magnificent 13 peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and start planning your next trip.

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