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Expat Exchange - Best Places to See While on a Look-See Trip to China (Plus, Itineraries) 2024
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Best Places to See While on a Look-See Trip to China (Plus, Itineraries)

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: For those contemplating a move to China without a specific locale in mind, embarking on a look-see or exploratory journey to explore various expat havens can provide invaluable insights. Here are some top suggestions for places to explore while scouting out China.

Embarking on a Look-See trip to China is an invaluable step for anyone considering a move to this vast and diverse country. Such a trip allows potential expats, retirees, and digital nomads to get a firsthand feel of different cities and towns, helping them to make an informed decision about where they might like to live. It's an opportunity to explore the local culture, infrastructure, amenities, and expat communities, as well as to assess factors like cost of living, safety, and the overall vibe of a place. A Look-See trip can ultimately make the transition to a new life in China smoother and more successful.

Recommended Itineraries

For a 10-day Look-See trip, consider a route that covers the major expat hubs and a taste of different regional cultures. Start in Beijing for a couple of days, then move on to Shanghai, followed by a visit to Shenzhen or Guangzhou in the south. If time permits, include a stop in Chengdu or Xi'an to experience the unique charm of China's interior. For a 20-day trip, you can expand your itinerary to include additional cities such as Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Qingdao, as well as a deeper exploration of the Yunnan or Guangxi regions, which are popular for their natural beauty and laid-back lifestyle. This extended trip allows for a more comprehensive understanding of life in both China's bustling metropolises and its serene smaller towns.

Beijing

As the capital city, Beijing is a cultural and political hub with a population of over 21 million people. It offers a blend of ancient history and modern development, making it a fascinating place for expats and digital nomads. The cost of living can be high, but the city provides ample amenities, international schools, and a large expat community. Life in Beijing is vibrant, with access to a variety of cultural events, cuisines, and historical sites.

Travel Tip: Don't miss the chance to visit the iconic Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, which is less crowded than other sections and offers stunning views and a more authentic experience.

Shanghai

Shanghai, known as the "Pearl of the Orient," is China's largest city by population and a global financial center. It's a city that never sleeps, with a dynamic mix of East and West, traditional and modern. Expats and digital nomads are drawn to its cosmopolitan atmosphere, diverse food scene, and relatively lower cost of living compared to Beijing. The city is also known for its impressive skyline, bustling nightlife, and extensive public transportation network.

Travel Tip: Explore the Bund, a famous waterfront area with colonial-era buildings and a spectacular view of Shanghai's skyline across the Huangpu River.

Shenzhen/Guangzhou

Shenzhen and Guangzhou are two major cities in China's southern Guangdong province. Shenzhen, a tech hub with a population of over 12 million, is known for its rapid growth and innovation. It offers a lower cost of living than Beijing and Shanghai and has a burgeoning expat community. Guangzhou, with its rich history and cultural diversity, is a commercial and culinary hotspot. Both cities provide a subtropical climate and proximity to Hong Kong.

Travel Tip: In Shenzhen, visit OCT Loft, a creative art district with galleries, cafes, and design studios. In Guangzhou, try the famous Cantonese dim sum at the renowned restaurant, Guangzhou Restaurant.

Chengdu/Xi'an

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is famous for its laid-back lifestyle and spicy cuisine. It's a city of over 16 million people that offers a lower cost of living and a growing expat community. Xi'an, known for the Terracotta Army, is a historical city that provides a window into China's ancient civilization. Both cities offer a slower pace of life compared to the coastal megacities and have their unique charms and attractions.

Travel Tip: In Chengdu, visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to see pandas up close. In Xi'an, walk the ancient city walls for a panoramic view of the city.

Hangzhou/Suzhou/Qingdao

Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Qingdao are three cities that offer a blend of natural beauty and urban convenience. Hangzhou, known for the picturesque West Lake, is a tech hub with a thriving economy. Suzhou, famous for its classical gardens and canals, is often referred to as the "Venice of the East." Qingdao, a coastal city with a German colonial past, is known for its beaches and the Tsingtao Brewery. These cities are popular among expats for their relatively moderate cost of living and high quality of life.

Travel Tip: In Hangzhou, take a leisurely boat ride on West Lake. In Suzhou, visit the Humble Administrator's Garden, one of China's most famous classical gardens. In Qingdao, enjoy a walk along the scenic Zhanqiao Pier.

Yunnan/Guangxi

The Yunnan and Guangxi regions are renowned for their stunning landscapes and ethnic diversity. In Yunnan, cities like Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang attract those looking for a more relaxed lifestyle amidst natural beauty. Guangxi's Guilin and Yangshuo are famous for their karst mountain scenery and outdoor activities. These regions are ideal for expats and digital nomads who prefer a slower pace and a closer connection to nature, with a cost of living that is generally lower than in China's larger cities.

Travel Tip: In Yunnan, explore the ancient town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In Guangxi, take a bamboo raft trip on the Li River to witness the breathtaking karst mountains.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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