10 New Ways to Do China's Greatest Hits

West Lake, Hangzhou. madiko83
By Jamie Ehrlich

China is filled with iconic sites and experiences that will reward anyone willing to make the pilgrimage. But while you're knocking off the country's big-ticket attractions, which draw a staggering number of visitors each day, you'll need to take a break from the tourist trail. Here are a few alternatives while sightseeing, eating out, exploring, and shopping.

Photo Caption: West Lake, Hangzhou. Photo by madiko83/Flickr.com.
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Xinjiang Uyghur-style lamb skewers in Chengdu, China. avlxyz
Yes, you should certainly head to a restaurant specializing in Peking Duck while in Beijing. But for cuisine you won't easily find at home, seek out a restaurant from one of the 56 ethnic minority groups in China. Two places we recommend: Noodle Loft in Beijing (Xi Diwang Lu 20), for Shanxi dishes in trendy surroundings; and Shanghai Xinjiang Fengwei Fandian in Shanghai (Yishan Lu 280), for a Uighur lamb fix.

Photo Caption: Xinjiang Uyghur-style lamb skewers in Chengdu, China. Photo by avlxyz/Flickr.com.
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Cathay Theatre, Shanghai. Gary Soup
You can get a birds-eye view of Shanghai atop the Shanghai World Financial Center skyscraper, but staying at ground level also has its merits. You'll discover many Art Deco gems, such as the 1930's Cathay Theatre with its distinctive spire, on a leisurely walk around Shanghai's French Concession.

Photo Caption: Cathay Theatre, Shanghai. Photo by Gary Soup/Flickr.com.
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A cormorant fisherman rows his bamboo boat against the backdrop of a giant moon on the Li River, johey24
While finding poetic inspiration in Hangzhou's West Lake or Yangshuo's karst peaks, don't miss the Impressions night show. It was choreographed by Zhang Yimou, the famed movie director who directed the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. Each show incorporates the natural landscape with stunning use of light and music, employing hundreds of local actors and keeping the surroundings intact with eco-friendly initiatives.

Photo Caption: A cormorant fisherman rows his bamboo boat against the backdrop of a giant moon on the Li River, Yangshuo, during a brilliant one hour show of dance, song and culture. Photo by johey24/Flickr.com.
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A stop along the Great Wall of China, in Jiankou. Ronnie Macdonald
After fighting off large tour groups and aggressive touts, you might be a bit exhausted once you hit the Great Wall. For the best experience, head early in the morning to a less-touristy part of the wall, such as Mutianyou or Jiankou. Better yet, spend part of the day hiking from Xin Zhai Zi Chun to just before the Jiankou watchtower, a strenuous five hours where you'll have long stretches all to yourself.

Photo Caption: A stop along the Great Wall of China, in Jiankou. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald/Flickr.com.
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Suzhou Garden Hotel in Suzhou, China. Photo courtesy Suzhou Garden Hotel Suzhou Garden Hotel
For unbelievable deals, check out China Spree's Super Value Tours (www.chinaspree.com), which start at $888 for an 8-day tour. The delightful expert tour guides are fonts of local knowledge and anecdotes, filling you in on life in China past and present. The hotels are top-of-the-line, including the Zen-designed Suzhou Garden Hotel (TripAdvisor's #1 rated hotel out of 458 in the area); or the Shanghai Pullman, a skyscraper with rooms overlooking the city that can't fail to impress. The price of the tour includes airfare, most meals (which often include local specialties), local transport, and local tours. The company has gotten many raves for its personalized service and tour guides who go above and beyond -- all for the price of what usually would only cover airfare.

Photo Caption: Suzhou Garden Hotel in Suzhou, China. Photo courtesy Suzhou Garden Hotel
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Art gallery in the 798 Dashnazi district of Beijing. istolethetv
After visiting Beijing and Shanghai's excellent art museums, get a glimpse of China's contemporary art scene in each city's upstart art districts. In Beijing's 798 Dashanzi district, Bauhaus-style factories now house the country's best art galleries, along with bookstores and cozy cafes. In Shanghai, 50 Moganshan Road (or M50) is an old warehouse district now converted into galleries, artists' studios, and graphic design firms.

Photo Caption: Art gallery in the 798 Dashnazi district of Beijing. Photo by istolethetv/Flickr.com.
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Hot Pot King, Shanghai. iferneinez
Shanghai is world-famous for its superlative dumplings, but another enduring culinary trend in the city is Mongolian hotpot--you'll see the restaurants all over town. One hot pot restaurant loved by locals, expats, and tourists alike is Hot Pot King (Huaihai Zhong Lu 1416).

Photo Caption: Hot Pot King, Shanghai. Photo by iferneinez/Flickr.com.
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Sunset Peak on the Lantau Trail, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. masterplaan
After viewing the giant Tan Tian Buddha on Hong Kong's Lantau Island, enhance your visit with a hike to two of the surrounding peaks. Author Graham Bond recommends the Ngong Ping Tree Walk, a path that curves around the mountainside with great views, before heading back to the Ngong Ping Skyrail, the world's largest cableway.

Photo Caption: Sunset Peak on the Lantau Trail, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo by masterplaan/Flickr.com.
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Sha Tin Racecourse, Hong Kong. Bonnett
In Hong Kong, historic Happy Valley racecourse is the go-to place for tourists. But we actually prefer heading to Sha Tin racecourse, which is less claustrophobic, more local, and has abundant fast-food options.

Photo Caption: Sha Tin Racecourse, Hong Kong. Photo by Bonnett/Flickr.com.
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Sweet pastry being removed from its mold, under watchful eyes, in the Muslim Market in Xian, China. Ben Burkland Carolyn Cook
The Terra-Cotta Warriors of Xi'an is justifiably one of China's top sights. But there's also much more to discover in this dynamic city. Han Yan Ling (Emperor Jingdi's Mausoleum) allows you an up-close look at pottery figurines. You might also explore the city's atmospheric Muslim Quarter, where you can shop for eclectic merchandise and indulge in kabobs and other great street food.

Photo Caption: Sweet pastry being removed from its mold, under watchful eyes, in the Muslim Market in Xian, China. Photo by Ben Burkland Carolyn Cook/Flickr.com.
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