China is an incredible country with a huge array of beautiful landscapes and a unique culture to get lost in. China is a vast place to visit with many amazing sights to see. From man made feats of engineering like the Great Wall to natural wonders such as the geothermal springs at Huanglong, there are certainly plenty of options for any traveler.
Most tourists flock to Beijing, Xian or Shanghai but if you’re looking for some alternative places to visit in China, then here are 10 photographs that might encourage you to venture off the beaten path.
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Know Before You Go: Top Tips For Visiting China
- Visitors from most countries will need a visa before they can visit China and they can take several weeks to get sorted so make sure you allow plenty of time for this.
- Outside of the big cities English isn’t commonly spoken so it’s worth learning a few basic phrases before you go. The Lonely Planet do a pretty good phrase book. They also use a different hand system when counting and this is definitely worth learning!
- The currency is the Chinese Yuan. Food and drinks are pretty cheap and it’s common practice to dine in groups and share your dishes.
- If you want to drive your own private car around China you will have to hire a guide to come with you. Along with permits and licenses you could be looking at $300 per day so it’s certainly not the cheapest way to see China.
- Google doesn’t work behind the Great Firewall of China so be prepared before you enter and get yourself a VPN. I always found Express VPN to work well. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram are also banned but one great app which does work is WeChat. It’s the Chinese version of Whatsapp but with so much more, including the ability to purchase things as you would with Apple Pay.
Top Tip: Don’t visit China during the peak summer months of July and August. Domestic travel is huge and the sites will be jam packed, not to mention very hot and humid. Instead visit during cooler, quieter (haha in China?!) months like April or October. You’re also more likely to get clear skies free from pollution during these months.
You can view more photographs from my China collection here
1. Get lost in the Stone Forest
The Stone Forest, Yunnan
At this site in southern China there are huge limestone rocks resembling trees, whichever way you look. Take some time walk around the trails to get fully immersed amongst the formations.
2. Hike around Karakol Lake
Karakol Lake, Xinjiang
High up on the Karakoram Highway at 3600m, this is the highest lake on the Pamir Plateau. The higher you get above the lake, the more turquoise the lake appears. And they have bactrian camels too, which is pretty neat!
Visiting this area might be difficult as a foreigner might be difficult whilst there are issues between the Government and the Uyghur people. Read more about this in the Kashgar section.
3. Walk along the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China, Beijing
Ok so the Great Wall of China isn’t an off the beaten path location in China but it’s a staggering sight to see so one that can’t be missed. Try to visit an unrestored section of the wall to escape the crowds. Avoid Badaling which is the closest section to Beijing so it’s very, very busy.
4. Enjoy a gondola ride in Qibao
If you visit Shanghai then you need to take a day trip Qibao. This is one of several towns in the area dubbed as the Venice of China, due to its impressive canal system.
5. Visit China’s cutest asset
Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base, Sichuan
China’s cutest asset is without the giant panda and the top place to see them is at the Giant Panada Research Base in Chengdu. You’ll even get to see baby pandas which are unbelievably small for such a large animal!
My favourite place to stay in Chengdu is the Xishu Garden Inn. Clean, air conditioned rooms, really helpful staff and an amazing rooftop bar!
6. Be amazed by the Terracotta Army
Terracotta Warriors, Xian
The Terracotta Warriors are a very popular sight to see in China so aren’t off the beaten track however they are incredibly impressive. These have to be seen to be fully appreciated. Guided tours in English are available.
7. Wander around the geothermal springs at Huanglong
Huanglong Scenic Area, Sichuan
Huanglong are spectacular geothermal springs to rival any that I have seen in the world. Just breathtaking to explore. This photograph is featured in an article I wrote for Dreamstime which provided tips for nature photography. You can check it out here!
8. Enjoy the serenity at Langmusi Monastery
Langmusi Monastery, Gansu/Sichuan
This is a monastery that borders two provinces and is quieter than the more famous Labrang monastery in nearby Xiahe.
9. Haggle for a yak at Kashgar Sunday market
Kashgar Sunday Market, Xinjian
Visiting Kashkar and Xinjang province as a whole is an unpleasant experience as a tourist which has only gotten worse over the years. During my first visit in 2015 I had an enjoyable experience but by 2018 that had completely changed. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Uyghur reeducation camps really started expanding in 2017.
This territory is home to the Turkic Uyghur people who have faced what can only be described as a genocide in recent years. Chinese authorities deny the mistreatment of this ethnic minority claiming the “education centres” offer optional education for the Uyghur people. From the tensions I felt on my last visit I’m uncomfortable with what’s going on in this area, so include Kashgar in this list to raise the plight of this minority group.
If you get to visit Kashgar, time your visit so that you don’t miss the opportunity to visit the amazing Sunday market. Yak anyone?
10. Escape the crowds in Wutai Shan
Wutai Shan, Shanxi
There is plenty of opportunity here to hike in these mountains and have the place all to yourself. A rarity in China!
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