Adventurous China: Three Spectacular Domestic Escapes to Visit in 2017
Not enough money or time to leave China? Fret not – there are plenty of opportunities to suit every type of traveler, regardless of the season. Just make sure you’re packing enough layers and head far away from Beijing into landscapes you won’t see elsewhere in the world.
For the Nature Lover: Huangshan (pictured above)
Standing over 1,800 meters above ground with 36 impressive separate peaks, this granite massif has inspired artists throughout Chinese history, being depicted in numerous paintings and described in centuries of poetry. With many of these peaks shrouded in a mysterious mist, they appear to float on the clouds.
To get into the scenic area (entry fee: RMB 230), take the official shuttle bus from Tangkou to Yunge cable cars (RMB 19 each way for the shuttle bus, RMB 80 each way for the cable cars). Technically you could walk in, but it is a better idea to save your energy for the top of the mountain. From the cable car station you can decide whether to hike to the top, or take the cable car up.
Upon alighting, most people head east. While you can easily see the popular landmarks in a day (Black Tiger Pine, Dawn Pavilion, Cloud-Dispelling Pavilion), allowing two days means you have time to check out some of the quieter paths, such as the so-called Fairy-Walking Bridge on the western side. Visiting during winter means you’ll see a different side to Huangshan than most tourists do; just make sure you wrap up.
For the Historical Explorer: Kashgar
This gateway to Central Asia feels far from Beijing geographically, and also presents you with an array of cultural, religious, and linguistic differences. Historically, Kashgar is the junction between two branches of the old Silk Road, and to this day remains an important trade center. Although winter here is cold, visiting off-season has a certain charm and ensures you aren’t stuck in the crowds.
Make sure you’re in Kashgar on a Sunday to visit the Mal Bazaar, the livestock market located approximately 40 minutes from the city center, where locals from surrounding villages come to buy and sell their animals. Although a popular tourist destination, the market is large enough to still feel authentic rather than ersatz, which can’t be said about many Chinese tourist traps. For souvenirs, head to the daily Yengi Bazaar, which sells handicrafts, cloths, carpets, and local snacks such as dried fruit.
Spend the rest of your time wandering around the old town and soaking up the Islamic architecture at the Id Kah Mosque and the Tomb of Apak Hoja, the holiest sites in Xinjiang province.
If you’ve got more time, Khotan, once the center of a Buddhist empire, is a 7-10 hour bus journey away, and will take you well off the beaten track. Learn about Khotan’s history at the Khotan Museum, which houses two 2,500-year-old mummies, and visit the livestock market here if you did end up missing the one in Kashgar. By comparison this one, held every day, is more chaotic and sees fewer foreign visitors.
For the Foodie and Animal Lover: Chengdu and Leshan
Perhaps the warmer choice of the three, here you can cross two iconic China sights off your list in just one trip: the (apparently no longer endangered) giant panda, and the largest Buddha statue in the world.
First off, Chengdu, the Sichuanese capital is one of the homes of spicy food, and a trip here warrants burning your face off (and later another part of your body, but we won’t go into too much detail) with some mala hot pot and local snacks.
Spend a day wandering around Wuhouci Temple, Jinli Ancient Street, and Wenshu Temple, or head straight to the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. For those with more money and time, you can even sign up to volunteer here. Who wouldn’t want to pay money to scoop up cute panda droppings?
Travel to Leshan, where you can see the largest Buddha in the world. Carved into the side of a cliff by a river, the Buddha’s purpose was to watch over an area that claimed many lives due to converging river currents. Since its completion, fewer people have died here. Whether that is due to Buddha’s gaze or the fact that the incredible amount of rock displacement into the water actually altered the currents, we will never know. Regardless, the imposing statue is best taken in from the water by boat, which you can catch from the dock (RMB 70).
While Chengdu is the warmer option out of these three, make sure you’ve packed some layers as most houses do not have public heating.
This article first appeared in our November/December magazine. To read the entire issue online, please click here.
More stories by this author here.
Photo: Francois Phillip, Wikicommons