If you are reading this, well, that's a good thing all round. It means the prophesied 21 December 2012 "Mayan Apocalypse" has not come to pass... yet. It's still technically the 20th of December in many parts of the Western Hemisphere as I'm writing and I'm not sure they ever specified a time zone. However, so far in China it looks like the candle and water hoarders can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that they are a) still alive and b) they are particularly well-prepared for power cuts until c. 2030.
It does make you think though. If you knew that the end was nigh, what would you do? Where would you go and what would you see? In honor of this, we've put together a few of our own ideas on what we think everyone should see in China before kicking the bucket (or a mega earthquake/volcanic eruption/super typhoon/alien invasion—delete as applicable—kicks it for us). Check them out, after the jump.
1. The Great Wall
Yes, it's a cliche, but it's also pretty frikkin' awesome. Seriously, 2,300 years (give or take) and 8,851 km worth of hard labor went into this defensive bulwark that stretches from the North Korean border in the east to Dunhuang in the west. It may not be the single winding wall most people imagine before coming to China, but each stretch is magnificent and unique. See it restored to its former glory at the renovated Badaling section which now features amenities that invading barbarians would certainly kill for, from cable car rides to snack stands, caged bears, souvenir shops and restaurants, head to the sublimely beautiful and undisturbed ancient ruins of Gubeikou, or explore the town of Shanhaiguan where the Wall snakes across the mountains before plunging into the sea—there's enough Great Wall out there to satisfy every traveler!
Book Great Wall tours.
An area of such astounding beauty and colors so vivid that photographer Michael Yamashita told Sichuan's northern Aba Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. A visit in winter is equally rewarding with a layer of pure white snow adding to the enchanting scenery and fewer tourists to share it with.
Book Jiuzhaigou tours.
3. Tiger Leaping Gorge
The 2-day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge has just the right amount of adventure and beautiful scenery with some death defying "sky ladders" thrown in for a little added extra exhilaration. The "29 bends" towards the end may feel like 99, but stick with it (not that you have much choice by that point!), the views are spectacular.
4. Litang Horse Festival
China's wild, wild west is one place travelers can witness traditions far and away from mainstream China. Once a year in August, Litang, a small town deep in the heart of Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan plays host to an epic horse festival where nomadic Tibetans show off their equestrian skills hanging one footed from their saddles and shooting arrows into bales of straw to win the ultimate prize of all--pride. Expect friendly people, hawkers and hucksters, beautiful scenery and feats of horsemanship that will blow your mind. While in Litang you might also chance upon another one-in-a-lifetime, awe-inspiring sight: A Tibetan sky burial.
Read about Litang Horse Festival on the China Travel Blog.
5. Hakka Houses
Deep in the Fuijan countryside, among the lush green hills and red earth of Yongding County, stand the incredible Hakka houses, the earthen fortresses of the mysterious Hakka people.
Originating from the far northwestern reaches of China, the Hakka gradually migrated southwards, finally settling in the more temperate southern provinces of Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi. Known astǔlóu (土楼), these buildings were built to protect against bandits and dangerous animals and some are large enough to house entire villages. The hard-packed earthen walls are surprisingly sturdy and over 30,000 remain, scattered around the countryside, with the highest concentration in Yongding County. Though many are open to tourists today (gaining UNESCO status in 2008), they also continue to function as homes for the ethnic Hakka who live and farm the area.
Visit the Hakka houses.
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are hundreds of incredible things to see and experience in this vast country. But what about you? Tell us what you think in the comments section—what's on your China bucket list?