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Contemporary Art

China has one of the most vibrant, eclectic, and often downright avant-garde art scenes this side of Paris. Beijing is arguably the center of China's contemporary art scene, and it's in China's capital that well-known artists like sculptor Wang Guangyi (who blends propaganda and icons from the cultural revolution for what some consider cynical effect) and painter Feng Mengbo (whose hallmarks include mixing oil painting and computer graphics) ply their trades.

Dashanzi 798 Art District, Beijing. This former military warehouse complex in Beijing's Chaoyang district houses dozens of galleries and the workshops of many of the city's up-and-coming artists.

Suzhou Creek Art District, Shanghai. In a renovated factory area on Suzhou Creek, more than 120 art galleries and studios are open to the public. Some of Shanghai's top artists have studios here, including the contemporary art collective Liu Dao and world renowned artists Zhou Tiehai and Xu Zhen.

Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou. Denizens of the Pearl River Delta, though normally thought of as caring more about making money than art, have a number of museums and galleries worth visiting. This museum is well respected throughout China.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai. MOCA is the first nonprofit independent contemporary art museum in China. It showcases cutting-edge contemporary art from China and around the world.

Bicycling

In the not-too-distant past, China was known as "The Bicycle Kingdom," but as cars become more popular, the iconic sea of bicycles that once filled the avenues of Beijing and Shanghai is drying to a trickle.

But this doesn't mean that bicycling enthusiasts should lose heart. While the two-wheeled herd has thinned out considerably, you'll hardly be riding alone. Most hotels will be able to help you out with bicycle rentals, or a brand-new Flying Pigeon (the bike of China) should only set you back a few hundred yuan.

Beijing. Though notorious for its bad air and traffic gridlock, the capital is still our favorite urban bicycling ground. Its wide avenues and impossible-to-maneuver-by-car back alleyways make it an ideal city to tour by bicycle.

Xi'an. The city center is small enough to make it perfect for exploring by bike. For a unique experience, take a tour on top of the city wall, the only one left fully intact in all of China.

Shanghai. The Pearl of the Orient is also two-wheel friendly, though you'll be asked to dismount and walk along the Nanjing pedestrian area.

Chengdu. The spiciest city in China is also as flat as a Ping-Pong table, which makes it one of our favorites for exploring by bike.

Treasure Hunting

For anyone who loves to shop, China is heaven on earth. Along with the glitzy department stores found in big cities, vibrant street markets and pedestrian shopping areas are found everywhere and can be terrific places to hunt for bargains. Every region of China has a specialty, whether silk embroidery in Suzhou, mud figures in Beijing, Longjing tea in Hangzhou, or stuffed tiger toys in Xi'an. Popular souvenirs include Chinese silk, jade, and wood carvings—travelers never come home disappointed. The rule of the land is to bargain hard and bring an extra bag for your loot.

Panjiayuan Antiques Market, Beijing. If you have a hankering for a scroll, jade bracelet, embroidery, or even a musical Mao alarm clock, this is the place. On weekends, Beijing's most popular spot for kitsch is teeming with shoppers on the lookout for a well-fought bargain. Haggle fiercely and doubt any claims that the Ming-style vase you desire is the real thing.

Duolun Lu, Shanghai. Spend a pleasant afternoon strolling along Duolun Lu's pedestrian street in Shanghai's historic Hongkou District, once the home of aspiring writers Lu Xun and Mao Dun. Browse through the numerous bookstores, galleries, and curio shops, and when you’re done you can relax over a cup of tea at one of the many restored teahouses.

Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong. Locals and tourists alike frequent this lively night market for its festive atmosphere and outdoor dining. Hundreds of vendors vie for your attention, selling everything from silk scarves to bamboo backscratchers. Most people come here for the party rather than the merchandise, but it's still a good spot to find a treasure or two.

Suzhou Arts and Crafts Museum, Suzhou. Housed in a restored courtyard, this museum is a terrific place to purchase authentic arts and crafts, including jade, silk embroidery, and sandalwood carvings. In the adjoining workshop watch artisans at work shaping lattice fans and transforming blocks of jade into delicate figurines.

Adventurous Dining

Much has been written about the cuisine of China, and for a very good reason—it's some of the best (and most varied) on the planet. Most visitors will be happy to stick with such well-known dishes as Peking duck or kung pao chicken, but for those who want a culinary walk on the wild side, might we suggest a few less well-known regional favorites?

Huang Shan Stone Frog, Anhui. Stone frog soup is a delicacy of Huang Shan, famous for its simple, rustic cuisine. Hefty-sized black frogs are collected from the rivers around the mountain and served in a clear soup mixed with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and ham. Locals claim the frogs will cure bad eyesight, strengthen bones, and increase energy. What's better for a day scaling the peaks of Huang Shan?

Yak-Butter Tea, Yunnan, Tibet. This beverage is ubiquitous throughout both Tibet and the higher mountain regions of Yunnan Province. Thick and tangy, the main ingredients of yak butter tea are yak butter, tea, and salt. Though its adherents drink it by the gallon, considering it delicious and healthy, unsuspecting imbibers have likened its flavor to melted blue cheese, or even wood polish.

Thousand-Year-Old Eggs, Guangdong. Preserved eggs are a Cantonese specialty made from coating duck or chicken eggs in a potent mixture of lime, salt, ash, and clay for up to a month until the egg whites turn dark brown and the yolks become green, smelling faintly of ammonia. With a jelly-like consistency, this pungent delicacy is often served with congee or pickled ginger to make it less edgy.

Updated: 2014-01-21

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