China. An emerging Asian superpower. One of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet with some of the poorest people. A Communist nation that has embraced capitalism, with bustling cities full of modern skyscrapers. A deeply traditional nation that reveres its past yet worships progress and newness. These are just some of the contradictions that make China a must-visit destination for the curious traveler.

My personal adventure in China began in the capital of Beijing. Located in northern China on a high, arid plain, Beijing is experiencing unprecedented growth and development. It can be noisy, crowded, and overwhelming, yet it still managed to dazzle me. The city is alive - alive with people, restaurants, and incredible historic sites. The Forbidden City is a place of awe, demonstrating China’s rich, deep, and complex history. The Summer Palace, located on a serene lake in the outskirts of the city, is a magical place. Wide avenues give way to narrow streets and alleys full of interesting shops and authentic restaurants.

Nearby, my visit to the Great Wall of China was a highlight of my trip. It would be worth visiting for its scenic beauty alone, but it was its massive size - thousands and thousands of miles in length - that truly put things in perspective.

My next stop was Xian, most famous for Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Warriors. Constructed over 200 years before the birth of Christ, this massive tomb includes nearly 10,000 individual figures. The detailed facial features and elaborate costumes are stunning. Xian also boasts an impressive city wall, built by the Ming and Qing Dynasties in the Middle Ages. I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon strolling the walls, taking in the view and sampling some local delicacies along the way.

Hong King was next. This former British Colony presents another face of China, a more western one. The view of Kowloon and the harbor from Victoria Peak is incredible, as is the long cable car ride up to the huge Tian Tian Buddha on Lantau Island. I window shopped along Nathan Road and enjoyed the historic Star Ferry ride between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. I also traveled by hydrofoil to Macau, which makes Las Vegas look like an also-ran!

Stanley, located in Hong Kong Island, is a beachfront oasis, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Swimming beaches, a seaside promenade, and dine restaurants made for an enjoyable afternoon of relaxation. Hong Kong is also home to some of the world’s finest hotels, including the legendary Peninsula, which will pick you up from the airport in one of their customized, matching dark green Rolls Royces.

My only regret when I returned home was that I didn’t have more time to experience this amazing nation, but I guess the Yangtze River, Tibet, and Shanghai will have to wait for next time!

Ted Blank is a luxury travel advisor with Travel Leaders. He can be reached at (651) 964-8245 or ted@tvlleaders.com.

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