Southern China’s city of Guilin has only recently gained the attention of international tourists, who are now learning what locals have known for millennia: it is a truly spectacular place. The city is nestled among sharp limestone cliffs, featured most famously on the country’s RMB20 bill. The hills continue past the city, spreading out along the banks of the Li River, along which visitors can take a bamboo cruise.
Zhangye National Geopark in northwestern China is one of the few places in the world where you can experience the unique geological phenomenon known in Chinese as Danxia. The vibrant, multi-colored, layered rock formations of Zhangye will transport you to another world with their unique beauty. This incredible landscape is the result of 24 million years of sandstone and mineral deposits, and is connected to the same tectonic plate shifting that created the somewhat-nearby Himalayan mountains. The geopark was chosen by Chinese National Geography as one of the six most beautiful land forms in China.
Forget North America’s Grand Canyon – Tiger Leaping Gorge is the best place to go for dramatic canyon views. Located on Yunnan‘s Jinsha River, Tiger Leaping Gorge winds its way between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. Hiking the length of the gorge will require several days and some strenuous trails are not recommended for beginners. It is possible to drive the length of the gorge as well, although the hiking trail offers more varied scenery.
Located in the same province as Zhangye National Geopark is an equally breathtaking place known as the Echoing-Sand Mountain. More dunes than mountain, Mingshashan, as it is known in Chinese, was named for the sound the wind makes as it whips against the sands of the Gobi Desert. Visitors can experience the sights and sounds by camel, quad bike, electric car, or on foot.
China’s westernmost province, Xinjiang, is chock-full of natural beauty, but its many spectacular lakes take the cake. Crescent-moon-shaped Kanas Lake, located in the Altai Mountains, is famed for its turquoise waters and mythical Kanas Lake Monster. Sayram Lake, located in a remote area of the province near Kazakhstan, is a wonderful place to experience border culture and practice herding sheep with the pros. Karakul Lake is located just 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the major city of Kashgar. For around only RMB100, Kyrgiz locals will offer you the chance to take a three-hour camel or horse ride around the lake.
Huangshan, meaning Yellow Mountain, is one of China’s most popular tourist draws for a reason. If you have ever seen a traditional Chinese ink painting, you will recognize the signature look of Huangshan’s granite cliffs and the iconic way that the clouds hover above the peaks on a rainy day. It is these idyllic scenes that have inspired countless paintings and poems and made Huangshan Scenic Area a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mountain requires at least a few days of your time and is best viewed during sunrise and winter snows.
Did you know that Mount Everest is in China? Well, half of it is, and reaching the base camp is an achievable goal for out-of-shape adventurers. While seasoned climbers can rest here before summiting the legendary peak, less daring travelers will be glad to know that the 16,900 foot (5,150 meters) destination is accessible by bus, at least in the summer. Be aware that you will need two permits from the government to visit, one for Everest itself and another for Tibet. And make sure that you acclimatize yourself properly, as altitude sickness can still strike at this height.
It’s no surprise that Hangzhou’s famous West Lake has long been the subject of poems and songs. It is absolutely breathtaking, especially during sunrise and sunset when the sun floats just above the surrounding hills, painting the sky orange. Rent a boat and try to capture the beauty with a camera, or grab a bicycle and follow the perimeter of the lake, crossing traditional bridges and pavilions along the way.
Longsheng County, located in southern China’s Guangxi province, is home to the world-famous Longji Rice Terraces. This is iconic China at its finest, and you would be remiss if you passed it up. The terraces have four unique looks, corresponding with the four seasons. In summer, the terraces are flooded with water, producing bright green baby plants and much-photographed landscapes. In fall, the rice is mature and ready to be harvested, making the whole plant appear yellow. In winter, the frost comes and creates a subtropical white wonderland. And in the spring, the fields live up to their nickname ‘dragon’s backbone,’ when the wet fields resemble dragon’s scales.