If you’re planning a trip to China, then certain destinations and landmarks might spring immediately to mind. The Great Wall would probably feature near the top of the list, with terracotta warriors and inner-city Shanghai falling someway behind.
But China is a vast nation, in which is hidden an incredible diversity of sights and sounds. There are windswept deserts, unspoilt valleys, and historical treasures to uncover. And then, of course, there’s the food!
To discover many of them, you’ll need to take a risk and venture from the well-trodden path. Let’s take a look at some of China’s hidden gems.
Hongcun Ancient Village, Anhui
This nine-hundred-year-old village was propelled into the global imagination by the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was partially filmed here. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, located at the foot of the yellow mountain. The architecture dates from the Ming and Qing dynasties, and is exceptionally well-preserved. If you’re looking for countryside seclusion for a half-day or so, then this is a great place to stop.
Guanyin Statue, Hainan
If you look at a map of China, you’ll find a large island to the south. This is Hainan, and it differs considerably in culture to the mainland. Most of the population are Han, with a significant minority of Li being indigenous to the island. In Sanya, you’ll find the tallest statue of Guanyin in the world (and the eighth tallest statue of anyone). The statue is around twenty-five miles from downtown Sanya, so if you’re visiting the area, a visit is almost mandatory.
Rice Terraces, Yunnan
Just over two-and-a-half millennia ago, the ancestors of the modern Hani came to settle in this mountainous region. They endured, in part, thanks to their agricultural ingenuity, with the farmers taming even 75° gradients. The scale of the rice terraces is truly gobsmacking, with thousands of steps littered across the valley to create a vista that’s unlike any other in the world. Obviously, you’ll want to indulge in some rice noodles while you’re here.
This part of the world experienced quite a severe earthquake in 2017, and it was decided soon after that the park would receive only 2,000 visitors a day. It’s vast, beautiful, and unspoiled. You’re best off visiting in autumn, when the climate is favourable and the greenery is at its most picturesque. Before you get here, it’s worth noting how high you’re going to be – the nearest airport sits at a frankly ridiculous 3,500 metres above sea level. For a minority of visitors, altitude sickness might be a problem, and walks through the forest and alcohol are therefore best avoided.
Qinghai Lake, Qinghai
This is the largest saltwater lake in China, with a surface area of more than 1,600 square miles. It makes Lake Geneva look like a puddle, frankly. The lake’s location at more than three-thousand metres above sea level, and a three-hour bus ride from the nearest town, means it’s only really accessible if you’re a committed cyclist. Get there, however, and you’ll be able to enjoy a landscape that truly is unspoiled – with barely another tourist in sight!