With the Chinese May Day holiday this week, I have a ten day vacation. Where should I go? What should I do? I’ve already hiked the Great Wall in Beijing, admired the Bund from a fancy restaurant rooftop in Shanghai, and laid out on the beach in Hainan. I’ve also found myself in Lianyungang, Changzhou, and Hangzhou over the last six months. So, how would you spend ten days in China? I’ll tell you five places to visit in China without visiting Beijing or Shanghai.
Xinjiang is China’s largest province and largest provider of natural gas, yet only a small portion of the land is inhabited. But that shouldn’t deter you from visiting. Why is this? A lot of the land consists of desert and mountains. It’s a mecca of natural beauty from Heavenly Lake to the Taklimakan Desert to the Karakorum Highway.
If riding a camel through the desert; dipping your toes in ice cold, fresh lake water; or awing at the beauty of snow-capped mountains aren’t enough to peak your interest, you’ll still be excited to learn that Xinjiang is home to the Muslim population of a Chinese minority referred to as Uighur. And they’re far from the traditional Beijinger or Shanghaier. While some of their cities are being modernized, you’ll still be able to experience their culture in the Old City section of Kashgar.
When you think of China, you can’t not think of giant panda bears. And if seeing panda bears close up is what you’re dying to see, you’ll be happy to know that Chengdu has two research centers that provide comfortable homes to dozens of giant panda bears and red panda bears. You can even volunteer to help the research center by cleaning the panda’s living space, preparing their food, or monitoring their behavior to collect data about their habits.
If volunteering isn’t your interest, you’re free to visit the research center at a small charge to watch them eat and play while snapping pictures and recording videos. And if you want to get even closer to the endangered fellows, you can even pay (a hefty donation) to hold and feed one.
If you’re looking for the glitz and glamor feel of Las Vegas in China, Macau will be your port of call. While gambling is illegal in mainland China, you won’t be able to visit Macau without pulling a few levers or rolling a few dice. Hey, maybe you’ll get lucky!
While gambling in Macau is a must do if you’re visiting, the former Portuguese settlement is home to some beautiful architecture, such as the Sao Paulo Cathedral and the Guia Fortress. Of course, the Portugese-inspired cuisine makes it an easy pick, as well. And the best part, you don’t even need a Chinese visa to visit Macau.
Waterfalls, multi-colored lakes, and Tibetan villages. Need I say more? Jiuzhaigou literally translates to “Nine Village Valley” to presents the nine Tibetan villages that inhabit this land. The park attracts more than 2.5 million visitor annually.
It is suggested to spend two days exploring the area, one day visiting Five Flower Lake, Panda Lake, Pearl Shoal Waterfall, Nuorilang Waterfall, and Zhongcha Canyon and one day visiting the Tibetan villages. The best time to visit is September through November so you can experience the backdrop that the changing autumn leaves provide to the clear blue-green lakes. While it’s still considered “high season”, the crowds will be thinner. And although the weather will be cooling, the trails and boardwalks will still be open.
With one of the most backpacker friendly cities and some of the best food in China, you have to include Yunnan on your trip to China. While there are a lot of developed and developing cities in the Yunnan Province, you’ll be happy to know that Dali is a beautiful stop for backpackers looking to take in the mountain scenery and smell fresh air (something difficult to find on the east coast of China).
But it’s not generic mountains or forests that should attract you to Yunnan. Yunnan boasts one of the most beautiful water cities in China and one of the deepest gorges in the world. Lijiang, like many other cities in China, is a collaboration of old city meets new construction, but you’ll still be impressed with the water town that is home to many canals and Black Dragon Pool. If you couldn’t care less about water cities, you may be interested in exploring the Tiger Leaping Gorge on a multi-day trek.
What do you think?
With such a large mass of land, you won’t be shocked to learn that there are more than five places to visit in China that aren’t Beijing or Shanghai. With that being said, I think there will be a second addition that includes the theme parks in Shenzhen, the mountains in Tibet, and the food in Sichuan.
What do you think about this list of five places to visit in China? Have you visited any of these places?