Why to go when you're young: Nowhere else in the world rewards energy and grit with the same vast cultural and geographical riches.
Where to head first: Start in Beijing and take in the centuries-old Forbidden City temple complex in the center of town. After a day exploring the Great Wall, hop on a high-speed train bound for Shanghai, China's face to the outer world. Finally, board a flight bound for Yunnan province, where breathtaking scenery, kind people, and excellent food await.
China is not for the faint of heart. Its major cities are beset by air pollution, ear-splitting noise, and enough neon signs to shame Vegas. A population of nearly 1.5 billion means that any place you visit -- national parks included -- will be packed. And despite a major national push to promote English education, the language barrier remains formidable.
So why go? Because for all its flaws, China has enough treasure to stagger an intrepid traveler. There's Tiger Leaping Gorge, perhaps the world's most beautiful two-day hike. There's Shanghai, for centuries one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities. And while it may not actually be visible from the moon (sorry), the Great Wall is truly a stunning architectural marvel. Head past the tourist throngs at Badaling and camp out under the stars. Your youthful back can handle it. The country also offers you deserts, tropical islands, mountains, and incredible ethnic diversity (the features most China travel guides gloss over). Oh, and ban General Tso's chicken from your thoughts: Real Chinese food ranks among the world's finest -- especially if you can handle the Sichuan spice. Which you, youngster, surely can. -- Matt Schiavenza, Asia Society senior content manager