My mom and I have talked about going to Tibet for 15 years, after we first witnessed the Tibetan people and culture on a trip to India. We realized that the access to Tibet from the US was either through China or India (Nepal) and so our trip to China and Tibet began.
It was an incredible adventure to introduce my five children to the wonders and history of China with the quest and destination of Tibet in our minds! We chose four cities to visit before our assent to Tibet and two cities when we came back to mainland China. Check out my favorite spots from the trip below and read all of my tips for traveling to Tibet on HarpersBazaar.com!
The weather in China this time of year (July) is hot on the mainland and cool in Tibet so make sure you pack layers – the Dickey Jacket is perfect for this. It’s also important to pay attention to the air quality – there is a great app called Air Quality that checks the air in various cities and I used it every day. Be mindful that you’re traveling to very high elevations – we took a train to our highest point in Tibet to make the adjustment easier, but it’s not for everyone!
Forbidden City: You can’t miss the Forbidden City when you go to Beijing. Comprised of 980 buildings, built from 1406-1420, it served as the Chinese imperial palace until 1912.
The Great Wall: We visited the
Great Wall at Mutianyu, one of the best preserved parts of the Wall
today. The views are truly incredible and it’s crazy to think that this
massive structure is over 2,300 years old!
The Temple of Heaven: One of the most sacred places in Beijing for over five centuries, this is where the Emperors prayed for peace and harvest.
Summer Palace: The home of emperors in the summer, this was such a gorgeous spot. Made in China: Eat at Made in China, the restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The Peking Duck is so delicious.
Tiananmen Square & Tower: In the heart of Beijing City, Tiananmen Square is not to be missed. It’s one of the largest squares in the world and great for people watching.
Terracotta Army, Xi’an: This is such fascinating discovery. Built to protect the emperor in his afterlife, this collection of figures was discovered in 1974 and includes over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and hundreds of horses buried in 210-209 BC.
Giant Panda Breeding Research Institute, Chengdu: There are very few wild pandas left in China and this institute is working to breed pandas and bring them back to the wild. We saw pandas as young as a few weeks up to adult age.
Wangjang Park, Chengdu: This park is perfect for a mid-day break with the locals. You’ll see people dancing, playing mahjong and doing taichi. We stopped at a traditional teahouse for fresh local tea—the kids loved it!
My mom changed our itinerary to include a visit to Guilin. This area is so rich in history and culture and is worth adding to your trip! The women in the Huangluo Village are known for their incredible long hair – they only cut it once in their lifetime, right before the get married. They believe their long hair can bring wealth and good luck to their families.
Reed Flute Cave: The writing on the walls in the Reed Flute Caves dates from as far back as 792 AD. The cave is over 180 million years old and was discovered in the 1940s by a group of refugees. Bamboo Rice: The best food in Guilin was the special sticky rice cooked inside of bamboo tubes. The rice is combined with spices, meat and vegetables and the kids devoured this every time we ordered it – it’s famous in this area and so delicious!
To get to Lhasa, Tibet, we took a 22 hour overnight train ride from Xining, China. The train ride is the best way to acclimate to the high elevations (12,000 feet), plus the views are amazing. Once in Tibet, we explored everything, from the Jokhang Temple to the magnificent Yamdrok Lake. For more about our journey through Tibet, visit Harper's Bazaar!