The destinations of a newbie traveler to China vary but are often predictable: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Guilin and few more. I think, “That’s it?” Undoubtedly, those cities are the epitome of modern China with a trace of Chinoiserie.
Metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are evidences of a culture of “East meets West,” which are not unfamiliar to foreigners.
However, for the second trip to China I would recommend that you explore rural China where hidden beauty of this vast country is waiting to be uncovered. Here are the 6 places you wouldn’t want to miss.
No. 6 Kanas Nature Reserve
Kanas means beautiful, fertile and enigmatic in Mongolian. Located in Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, adjoining Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, it was the natural gallery of the tranquil and magnificent lakes, rivers, forests, grasslands and glaciers, wild animals and plants, and the open-air anthropological museum of the Tuvan and Kazakh inhabitants.
Whether you are a photographer, a painter, a hiker or just an ordinary traveler, you will become enchanted once you set foot in Kanas.
No. 5 Ancient Town of Lijiang
A UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in Lijiang City, Yunnan Province, the ancient town of Lijiang boasts a history that traces back over 800 years. Once a confluence for trade along the old Tea Horse Road, it conserves the styles and features since the Song Dynasty and the essence of the ethnic group of Nakhi.
We don’t know when Lijiang was given the nickname “City of Love Affair,” which gives the ancient town a touch of romanticism. Even if you don’t have any romantic encounters, you can still relieve all the stress that you have and reencounter your good mood. Strolling through the antique lanes of Lijiang, watching young Nakhi girls in their colorful embroidered folk costumes passing by you, taking a local drink in a café or teahouse, basking in the sun on the stone doorstep of an inn…
To avoid mass tourists and enjoy a quieter stay, just take a side trip to another similar ancient village called Shuhe, which is only half an hour away from Lijiang.
No. 4 Tibet
Tibet, the closest place to heaven. You often hear about the grandeur of Lhasa, but nothing can quite prepare you for that special day when you really step on it.
At an altitude of 3,650 metres, Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. Some people might have altitude sickness as soon as they arrive there, especially by plane. But when you see the magnificent Potala Palace towering above you; the devout Tibetans in their traditional costumes turning around; the highest large lake in the world— Lake Namtso; when you come near Mount Everest, everything is so breathtaking that you will immediately forget about any dizziness or headache. You will admire the marvel of the world’s highest plateau with the unique and mysterious Tibetan culture and flavour.
No. 3 Ancient Town of Fenghuang
Fenghuang means Phoenix. Regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in China, Fenghuan is waiting for you to unveil it. Situated in the mountain area of Xiangxi Prefecture, Hunan Province, built in Kangxi forty-three years (1704) in Qing Dynasty, Fenghuang is a gathering place for Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities with well-preserved ethnic customs, art, and architectural remains of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
It is very common to see people drawing alongside the River Tuo. Whether with a watercolor or oil painting brush, or simply a pencil for sketching, the distinctively exquisite landscape of the little town is depicted vividly with the stilt houses along the Tuo River: people on bamboo rafts floating, children paddling or swimming in the water. Fenghuang is a bewildering place that brings you back in time.
No. 2 Jiuzhaigou Valley
Jiuzhaigou, literally means “Valley of Nine Villages”, and takes its name from the nine Tibetan villages in the area. It is a nature reserve and national park located on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in the north of Sichuan Province, inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and a World Biosphere Reserve in the 1990’s.
God must have knocked over his palette in Jiuzhaigou, so that the innumerable crystalline lakes are a true riot of color. Such lakes set against the lush green mountains, multi-leveled waterfalls and snow-capped peaks; the picturesque valley is sheer paradise.
No. 1 Tongli
A typical little southern Chinese town with canals, Tongli has been given the nickname “Venice of the East”. The beauty of Tongli is timeless and in no way overshadowed by Venice of Italy to people who fall for oriental culture. Untouched by mass tourism, Tongli is known for its profound cultural background, well-preserved ancient residential houses with exquisite watery views.
Delicate and as exemplary of chinoiserie as a classical Chinese ink wash painting, Tongli is a must to visit. I don’t think you can say you have been to China, unless you have dropped by a small watery town in the south.
So have I convinced you to pay a visit to China? Why not make it your next travel destination? Just pack up and set off!