The third-largest country in the world, China is bounded to the north by the deserts of Mongolia, to the west by the inhospitable Tibetan plateau and Himalaya, and to the east by the East and South China seas. China’s 22 provinces and five autonomous regions are governed from Beijing, along with some 5000 islands. Hong Kong and Macau have now returned to the fold as Special Administrative Regions (SAR). Disputed territories are dotted near and far around China’s south-east coast. Taiwan – which is bound to be next on China’s shopping list – is the best known. Then there’s the oil-rich Spratly Island group which every country in the region wants to suck dry, the Diaoyutai Islands (known as Senkaku to the Japanese), the Paracels (or Xisha, if China gets its way), and the Pescadores (or Penghu).
China is not a country – it’s a whole different world. From shop-till-you-drop metropolises to the epic grasslands of Inner Mongolia, with deserts, sacred peaks, astounding caves, and imperial ruins in between. Thank Buddha, management recently stopped destroying temples. Now they rip down mountains and poison rivers instead. But there’s still plenty to see once you’ve mastered the art of bulldozing your way through crowds and decorating footpaths, buses and restaurants with spit of every color and consistency known to humankind. Unless you have a couple of years and unlimited patience, it’s best to follow a loose itinerary here, such as Beijing to Tibet via Xian’s terracotta warriors, following the Silk Road route, sailing down the Yangzi River, or exploring the Dr. Seuss landscape of Guangxi Province.