I have just returned from a trip taking in some of the most popular places to be visited by the first time traveller to China; Beijing, Xian, Guilin (Yangshuo) and Shanghai, plus Chengdu, home of the Giant Panda. With such iconic sites come the inevitable crowds but I have found a few ways to view some of these amazing sites without the masses. As such here are my suggestions of how to avoid the masses and experience China a little differently.

1. Giant Pandas and Six Senses Luxury

It is hard to find havens of peace and quiet in China but at the Six Senses you are in a very quiet location with the opportunity to walk and cycle and see Giant Pandas at the new Panda reserve at Dujiangyan. This reserve is only accessible via a tour operator so offers the chance to view these gentle giants with few others around.
Beautiful rooms, a pool, gym and a pleasant garden in which to sit make the Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain an ideal place to unwind after the direct flight on British Airways from London to Chengdu.

2. Wonders of Beijing

In the Forbidden City view the private living quarters in the Chonghua Palace, a truly exclusive behind the scenes opportunity. Spend a day being carried (not compulsory) in a sedan chair at the Great Wall and decadently dine in one of the watchtowers on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

Follow in the footsteps of emperors and stay at Aman at Summer Palace using their “secret” door to access the Summer Palace itself when the crowds have gone.

3. The Terracotta Warriors

Xian is home to the amazing life size terracotta warriors that guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Jump the queue using our fast track knowledge and electric cars and stand face to face with the warriors themselves while other visitors look down from above. See the miniature warriors of the Han dynasty, equally impressive, a great favourite with clients, but seldom included by most programmes, except us of course.

4. The Li River

Yangshuo, near Guilin, is well known for its stunning lime stone scenery, the Li River and cormorant fishing. In 1983 when I first visited, Yangshuo was a sleepy riverside town that awoke for two hours each day when the few tourist boats arrived and then resumed its slumbers. Now Yangshuo is a small town with literally hundreds of boats and thousands of tourists. Leave this behind and take a gentle raft trip along one of the tributary rivers, a far more peaceful and tranquil experience. Take a bicycle (the terrain here is great for cycling as it’s flat) and explore the winding tracks that pass through the farming community. Stop to speak with local people and gain an insight into rural life.

View Banyan Tree Yangshuo

5. Shanghai

Shanghai is changing all the time. A city that was once a thriving far Eastern port under the British and the French has again reinvented itself and is now the country’s leading financial centre. Bright lights and amazing food make it an exciting place to experience. It is also home to the world famous acrobats who perform death defying acts, ancient arts with a modern twist. Get the best of both worlds and stay in the picturesque water town of Zhujiajiao, located just one hour from Shanghai. Experience the buzz and energy of Shanghai before returning to the calm of your luxury hotel.

Luxury hosted holidays to China

The pinnacle of luxury perhaps suggests staying in the top hotel and dining in the finest of restaurants – however for us, service and expert guiding is key. Incredible attention to personal detail and immersion into a culture makes your experience.

We have fantastic guiding options. Opt for a local guide, someone chosen for their care, attention and knowledge. Or be guided by a western host who speaks fluent Chinese, lives in China and has studied this country’s culture and history. I was sceptical at first about the latter, but having experienced being guided by a western host on my trip I firmly believe that they are able to bridge the link effectively between the local community and the visitor for a fully immersive experience.

Thanks for reading

Paul Craven in Yangshuo, China

Author: Paul Craven