China is an almost endlessly fascinating country and its mix of cultural attractions and beautiful countryside make it the perfect destination for a holiday. Its big cities have lots to see, but if you also want to experience its rural areas, you should think about booking cruises on the River Yangtze.
The waterway rises in the Tibetan Plateau and flows for 3,988 miles until it reaches the East China Sea at Shanghai. Its course takes it through some of the most idyllic scenery imaginable and perfectly showcases China's diverse landscapes.
If you are considering booking Asia cruises for 2013, it is well worth looking at packages that combine a journey down the Yangtze with trips to some of the country's other major attractions. For example, it is possible to find getaways that combine a river voyage with a stay in Beijing and excursion to see the Terracotta Army at Xian, which would allow you to experience the best of China.
There are a number of reasons to book a river cruise on the Yangtze as part of your getaway in China. An important one is that it will give you almost unrivalled views of some of Asia's most spectacular scenery, including a journey through the Three Gorges area.
This 120-mile stretch of the Yangtze is renowned as one of the country's most beautiful regions and once there you will understand the full value of a cruise on the river.
At just over 40 miles, Xiling Gorge is the longest of the three and features rugged forest-covered hills on either side of the river, all in the shadow of Mount Xiling. The other two stretches that make up the Three Gorges are much shorter, but arguably more eye-catching.
Wu Gorge runs through the Wushan Mountains and the Valley of the Fragrant Stream, meaning there are idyllic views on either side of your cruise ship. Qutang Gorge is flanked by steep cliff faces that tower over the fast-flowing water and create an enclosed feel.
Navigating the Yangtze here is now more difficult following the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, which is another impressive sight. The vast hydroelectric dam is linked to the world's largest power station and is a magnificent feat of engineering.
Another feature you will enjoy during a Yangtze cruise is Shibaozhai, a wooden temple that sits on a craggy hill overlooking the river. The structure, regarded locally as an architectural masterpiece, is exactly the kind of historic building that visitors to China love to see.
Built during the Qing Dynasty, the 12-storey temple is dedicated to Guan Yu, a warlord from the Three Kingdoms era. It is full of sculptures and paintings that honour him, and also has a number of quirky features, such as the Duck Well at the top of the hill. It is said that if you drop a duck down the well it will land in the Yangtze, but you probably won't want to test the legend out!
For a completely different side to China, you should also visit the vast port of Shanghai. The skyscrapers of the Pudong financial district could hardly be further removed from what you will find in most other parts of the country, while a stroll down The Bund waterfront will take you back in time to the late 19th century, thanks to its collection of beautiful period office buildings.