China is a place that holds indescribable beauty in both landscape and architecture. When you have a country as large as this one, there’s bound to be at least a few destinations that become considered some of the most beautiful places in the world- and also countless lesser known gems that deserve your attention.
These 10 Chinese destinations are some of the most prized possessions of the country- nay, the world over. The deep cultural links and care taken in preservation of these places can’t be overstated.
Side Note: Most of these picture are from my mum’s FB, who’s constantly off on her own adventures around China (without me…).
1. The Yellow Mountains
It’s hard to really describe in words just how humbling it is to stand in the presence of a goliath natural structure like huangshan. The sheer array of jagged peaks with forest green beards are nothing short of something from a fantasy film
Sadly, the day I went with my friends to this majestic place, it was raining on and off, filling the entire collection of peaks (that’s usually perfect for a photo-op) with thick grey mist. And it just sat there on the mountains like sludge. We couldn’t see anything. Perfect.
In the end we only got about ten minutes of sunlight, and the wind blew away the clouds at just the right moment. And boy, were those five minutes worth it. We snapped up as many pics as we could before the sun went away and the clouds returned. The photo below is one of the many. Excuse the ‘me’ in the photo completely obscuring the shot.
2. Jiuzhai Valley National Park
Jiuzhaigou National Park, in the northern area of Sichuan Province has become one of the most photographed places in all of China. As far as Chinese destinations go, this is an easy top pick for any keen traveller. Unfortunately, that also means there is a complete tourist infestation. My advice would be get up early, make it to the park before it reaches capacity.
The park itself is diverse with natural features, with gushing waterfalls and streams, snow-covered mountain tops, thick and ancient forestry and a massive variety of wildlife to be on the lookout for. It’s also home to the Zharu monastery, in one of the parks traditional Tibetan villages.
This is one of those Chinese destinations that got away from me. Sadly, while I was in China the park was limiting is visitors due to an earthquake that hit North Sichuan. Someday, I will have to head back to this Chinese fairy tale land.
3. Yuanyang Rice Terraces
The Yuanyang Rice terraces area a photographers dream playground. The still waters on rice patties are stacked like pancakes for miles upon miles, earning the nickname, the “steps to heaven”. The terraces themselves belong to the Hani or Ho people, an ethnic minority in China.
One of the best ways to view the terraces is to go through the Tiger Mouth Pass that’ll take to view that over the rice fields in their near entirety. My advice would be to go there in time for sunset and get a few stellar photos of the setting sun hitting the waters. If you get the shot, the waters look like their flaming on the hills.
4. Leshan Giant Buddha
If you’re like me, and you’re obsessed with trying to find the biggest, tallest, longest, most beautiful, then China is the place to be. It’s almost as if they come out with a new record-breaking feature every year.
After this fashion, the Leshan Giant Buddha is the world’s largest stone buddha, standing at an immense 71 metres high and 24 metres wide. In fact, it is so big that the instep of its foot can accommodate around 100 people- such is the local saying, “Buddha is the mountain, the mountain is Buddha”.
The statue itself sports an incredible heritage dating back to its creation beginning around 700AD during the Tang Dynasty. It can almost be intimidating, having a massive stone statue looking down at you with an unimpressed air, a statue you know is nearly pushing 1000 years. It makes the entire area almost feel alive.
5. Wuzhen Water Town
Wuzhen is just one of China’s many ancient water towns with over 1000 years of history. Located south of the Yangtze River, just a 50-minute bus trip away from the major city of Hangzhou, Wuzhen is quaint and quiet, crammed with ancient Chinese architecture and lazy boats drifting down the waterway.
Just before entering the town you are posed with long curtains of silk from the factory drying in the sun. You can touch them (at least no one stopped us when we did), take photos with them.
Some tourists are turned away from the area, claiming it to be a tacky tourist trap. And yes, this is one of those Chinese destinations that tourists are drawn to, and there are gift shops and pushy salespeople lining the entrance and exit. But inside, with old buildings, good food and the hefty scent of roasted chestnuts and pork smothering the place, it’s hard to say there isn’t a perfect old timey, ancient atmosphere.
6. Inner Mongolia
The original home of the nomadic Mongol tribes, Inner Mongolia still holds ancient world magic from a time long forgotten. There’s history in Inner Mongolia that’s present in the very air you breath there.
You’d be surprised at the variety in natural landscaping in Inner Mongolia, since it’s mostly famed for its vast prairies and clear bright skies, but you could find anything, from boggy wastelands to rolling sand dunes here.
Some of the best ways to explore Inner Mongolia is by using the good old Mongol method: horse and camel riding, to take you through grasslands and let you appreciate just how massive the world can be without the clutter of houses and civilisation.
7. West Lake, Hangzhou
Xi Hu (West Lake) in Hangzhou, is one of the most idyllic and surprising convenient Chinese destinations to visit. That’s because it’s located slap bang in the middle of the city. When I went, it was only a lazy half and hour walk from my accommodation, so I went there maybe three or four times during my stay.
Every edge of the lake is taken up by magnificent views of pagodas, forests and mountains, so taking a ferry around the entire is very recommended to get the full panoramic view of Xi Hu brilliance.
Because of its location and beauty, West Lake is a massive tourist hotspot, avoid getting swamped by them by arriving at the lake early. It looks better at that time anyway, when the sun only just starts to hit the water with light.
8. Tiger Leaping Gorge
One of the world’s deepest gorges and an amazing hiking hotspot. It takes a couple days to hike the entire thing to it’s full capacity, but it also makes a great day trip if you’re pressed for time.
The gorge get its name from a legend of a tiger leaping over the lengthy gorge to escape poachers. Nowadays, you don’t have to be a legendary tiger to cross it. There’s a bridge. The easiest way to get to the gorge is to take a quick bus route from Lijiang, home to an ancient city, yet another site of beauty in China.
The major delight of the gorge, however, is how well it has been integrated into the native lands of the Naxi people, an indigenous group of people that reside in the area that have a full culture revolving around the Tiger Leaping Gorge. You’ll see them wandering along the hiking trails grazing their cattle.
9. Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park
At the base of the Qilian Mountains is where you can find nature at it’s very best. The National Park in Gansu Province is a masterful canvas of striking red, orange and yellow rolling hills, striped and manipulated by the weather.
Once you’re in the park, you’re surrounded on all sides by layers and layers of these colour changing hills that stretch on into the horizon. One of the best ways to enjoy this area is, like many mountain regions, by making sure you have the sun on your side. Try waking up before sunrise to climb to the top and watch the hills come to life as the sun hits it with full power.
Harbin is probably the most visited area in China’s north east region. Because of its proximity to Russia, and its history of having a Russian population during the 1920s, Harbin sports a rare combination of both Russian and Chinese Architecture.
The most spectacular of which is the St Sophia Cathedral, a Jewish Orthodox church, with green bulbous domes that are shaped similarly to St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
But Harbin is know best for the Ice Lantern Festival, a sculpture contest that is the largest winter festival in the word- making the best time visit Harbin in the winter. If you can brave the blistering cold of the North China, then you’re in for a spectacular sight. Walking through the impressive sculptures is akin to taking a stroll through a winter wonderland. Especially at night, when the lights are turned on making pearlescent patterns along the ice.