Increasingly, mainstream visitors to China are discovering that it’s not just about merciless urban development and endless crowds on the one hand and the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the odd panda encounter on the other.
Pandas, spicy food and traditional tea houses: the charms of China truly manifest themselves in Chengdu. Located in Sichuan province, cuteness overdose is guaranteed in Chengdu, which is the giant pandas’ hometown. In the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centre, visitors can see the cuddly bears whereas a stroll around the leafy People’s Park will introduce to the local, leisurely lifestyle.
Edged by the dramatic range of karst hills and the majestically gliding Li River, Guilin is a popular destination in Guangxi. Guangxi is an autonomous region bordering Vietnam and famed for its history and landscape. A hundred kilometre drive away from Guilin, the Longji Rice Terraces lure visitors to pay testimony to the genius of the local farmers’ traditions.
Located near Guilin, Yangshuo is also famed for its position along Li River, with the often photographed karst mountains soaring towards the sky around it. Apart from its scenic beauty, Yangshuo’s top attraction is the over 1400-year-old West Street. Paved with local marble, the buzzing West Street winds for over half a kilometre with shops from calligraphy to crafts as well as cafes, bars and restaurants lining it from both sides.
To experience the times of Ming dynasty, head to the fairytale-like Dali in Yunnan province. Dali Old Town was reconstructed after a fire in the 14th century, and now industrial development is restricted to preserve the old town’s charms. Apart from the otherworldly beauty, Dali’s main sight is the 69-metre Buddhist tower, a part of the three pagodas that rise near Dali’s downtown.
Hainan island is a popular tropical destination in China and Yalong is Hainan’s best beach. The slightly curving sandy bay is over seven kilometres long and hosts two dozen luxury hotels as well as a vast array of water sport activities. Yalong Beach is located a short drive away from Sanya and its airport.
A four hour bus ride from Changsha, Hunan province’s capital city, takes to the ancient town of Fenghuan. Fenghuan are mythological birds in East Asia and the town named after them oozes mysticism. Fenghuan is renown for its ethnic culture and traditional houses which rise directly from the banks of the Tuo Jiang River. Fenghuang is considered to be China’s most beautiful town, Chang Ting in Fuijan Province being its only rival.
A World Heritage Site and one of China’s four famous gardens, Chengde Mountain Resort used to be the Qing Dynasty emperors’ summer palace to escape the heat of Beijing. Lush greenery and sweeping valleys combined with the majestic mountains create a tranquil feel to the resort. Chengde is reached from Beijing by a shuttle bus which runs hourly during the day.
A short bullet train journey away from Shanghai, Suzhou is a bustling city as well as a garden enthusiast’s dream destination. With over 10 million inhabitants, Suzhou’s Unesco World Heritage Site classical gardens offer a great spot to relax and take in the charms of China. With its long history and waterways, Suzhou is also known as the “Venice of the East”.
Xi’an in Shaanxi Province is one of China’s oldest cities and, alongside with Cairo, Rome and Athens, the oldest of the world’s Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is also the starting point for the Silk Road and the home to the often visited Terracotta Army. One of the best spots to see Xi’an is to climb to its City Wall, where you can cycle or take a stroll and witness the ancient city’s bustle as well as the modern city’s groove.
Yes, it really exists, the paradise on Earth, Shangri-La. Located at a point where Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan meet, Shangri-La is a hardcore travellers’ destination when travelling overland – but, luckily, there is also an airport close by with flights arriving from Beijing, Shangai, Chengdu and more. With snowy mountain peaks, crystal clear lakes and grasslands sweeping towards the horizon, Shangri-La truly is the “Eden in dreams”.