When I first got to China in 2012, I put together a list of ten places not named Beijing or Shanghai that I would love to visit in China. This ‘Different Places to Visit in China‘ list ran the range from the tropical beaches in Hainan to the beautiful ‘water city’ of Lijiang City in Yunnan province to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial right here in my own backyard.
It’s a bit embarassing to confess that after a year in China I’ve only managed to hit two of them: a week in Hainan over Christmas and a very recent visit to the somber memorial here in Nanjing.
With my second year in China underway and my international travels not likely to be quite as adventurous as they were in the past year – I thought I’d put together a list of five more different places to visit in China. Some I’ve been to (like Xinjiang) and others remain high on my list (like Macau).
Five Different Places to Visit in China
#5 – Dalian
You won’t find it in many tourist guidebooks, but this city in China’s north west is worth a visit if you’re in the region and looking for a way to spend a few days as close as possible to the Koreas without visiting them. With its relatively quiet beaches, Dalian offers a glimpse into a part of China often completely overlooked.
Just as Hong Kong and Macau were influenced by their British and Portugese settlers respectively, Dalian is heavily influenced by the Russians who had such a large hand in building the city. While you can also interact with Russians in China’s southern province of Hainan, you get a much clearer glimpse into the fusion of cultures here.
Dalian is also home to a pretty rocking summer beer festival and the native dongbei people make some of the best food you’ll find in China. Seriously, the sweet and sour pork is to die for.
#4 – Inner Mongolia
It catches a few people by surprise when they read that Inner Mongolia happens to be in China. I know it did me. But you can experience much of the natural beauty you’d find in Mongolia proper without needing an extra stamp on your passport or a pesky visa, right here in China.
The wind-swept grasslands aren’t just pretty to behold either, they also hold the resting place of a little known ruler by the name of Genghis Khan. Might be worth a look.
But the big draw of the region are its sweeping grasslands, and they’re nothing if not plentiful. Getting a chance to interact with one of China’s many ethnic minorities is another great reason to visit – much as interacting with Uighur in Xinjiang made my trip there so memorable.
#3 – Macau
Asia’s Las Vegas is the former Portuguese settlement of Macau, and much like Hong Kong – it offers a delightful blend of China’s ancient culture with the westernization that came with colonialism. With gambling illegal across mainland China, a visit to Macau gives you a chance to trade online roulette for the real deal.
But if gambling isn’t the sole reason you live and breathe; Macau remains an appealing option.
Portuguese architectural gems such as Sao Paulo Cathedral and Guai Fortress, delicious Portuguese inspired food, and all of it against the backdrop of one of the most ancient and fascinating cultures in the world? Macau’s certainly a place I sorely need to visit before my time here is through.
#2 – Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan
It’s not really a little known corner of China, but the wilds of Yunnan province in China’s south-west are just begging to be explored. If your idea of China comes from the startling imagery from Kung Fu Panda, Yunnan is going to take you closest to those beautiful mountains and stunning cities that a bumbling panda staggered through.
The temptation to spend a few days (or weeks or months) relaxing in backpacker friendly Dali while making day trips out to the mountains and other cities such as Lijiang and Shangri-La might be enough to lure you there, but it’s Tiger Leaping Gorge that really begs to be explored.
You might not get a whole lot of peace and tranquility as you deal with Chinese crowds, but there’s plenty of beauty to go round as you trek through the gorge, terraced farmland, and up around towering mountains. It’s not a short trek (taking 2-3 days at a good clip and more if you want to really soak it in), but it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
It’s an experience I’d love to have before my time here is through.
#1 – The Karakorum Highway, Xinjiang
I was lucky enough to visit Xinjiang this time last year and was floored by the natural beauty of the largest province in China. While all of Xinjiang bears visiting, the two day trip along the Karakorum Highway is without a doubt my favourite experience since relocating to China.Starting from ancient and beautiful Kashgar – your bumpy trek along the highway takes you through deserts, snow-capped mountains, tiny villages, and arguably China’s most picturesque city, Tashgorkan. The day drive out to the Kunjerab Pass, where China ends and Pakistan begins, is a bumpy one – but one laden with cultural opportunities and it’s a real photographic goldmine to boot.
It’s not particularly easy to get too – Kashgar is about as far from Beijing as Perth is from Sydney – but it’s well worth it. You see an entirely different side of China.
Between my original post (Different Places to Visit in China) and this one, what have I missed? I don’t doubt there’s more of China I sorely need to see.
Have you been to any of the above? Were they worth the visit?