So you’re planning a trip to China, or you may already live here. We’ve all heard of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, but where else is there to go in China? China is much more than its biggest cities. China is s a huge country with different cultures, languages, foods and customs. From bustling cities to lush countrysides, I’ve created a list of recommendations to suit any kind of traveler.
Here’s my list of the 10 Best off the Beaten Path Places to Visit in China!
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1. Xi’an and Shaanxi Province
Best for: Adventurous types, thrill seekers, history buffs, foodies, culture
Time: 2-3 days
Trust me: I studied abroad here for 3 months summer 2012, and headed back for 10 days in the fall of 2016!
The Terracotta Warriors
China’s ancient capital Xi’an is home to the famous Terracotta Warriors! Commissioned by the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, the massive pit of reconstructed terracotta soldiers and horses is awe-inspiring and a must-see for anyone visiting China. These soldiers are life-size and every single one is individually different from the others.
Explore the City
However, Xi’an has much more to offer than just the UNESCO World Heritage site; it also contains one of the only ancient city walls still left standing in China. Rent a bike and ride around the city wall where you can get great views of the whole downtown area.
Xi’an is also home to a thriving Hui Muslim population. Check out the city mosque and Muslim Market (Huimin Jie) where you can snack on noodles and lamb kabobs while souvenir shopping. If you love food, Xi’an is the place to be. While Xi’an is famous for its many different types of noodle dishes, my favorite Xiannese cuisine is rou jiamo, the Chinese version of a pulled pork sandwich!
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Hua Shan and the Plank Walk
If you’re a thrill seeker and adventure lover make sure you tack on an extra day or two to visit Hua Shan, the most dangerous hike in the world. While most of the climb consists of stone steps, there are a few sections where hikers must walk along faint-inducing wooden platforms while harnessed to a rope line drilled into the mountain. For those that would rather not risk their lives, Xi’an has a few more mountains in the area suitable for basic hikers and families.
Best for: Families, cruises, spicy food lovers, history buffs
Time: 3 days or more
Trust me: I spent 4 days here the summer of 2012 and returned again in May 2015
Spicy Chinese Food
A haven for spicy food lovers, Chongqing is the birthplace of hot pot: order any sort of meat or vegetable imaginable and cook it in a boiling spicy broth. Trust me, you’ll leave with a full belly, a numb mouth and a giant smile on your face. Keep in mind, most places also offer a non-spicy version, but if you order spicy make sure to order “wei la” (medium) or you may not be able to taste anything for a few days.
Ciqikou and the Yangtze
In addition to one of my favorite Chinese cuisines, Chongqing has a great “old town” street called Ciqikou where you can wander, buy souvenirs and eat traditional snacks. If you visit Chongqing be sure to book a day tour through your hostel or hotel to the Dazu caves. Dazu is a UNESCO heritage site for good reason. Built into the stone walls are ancient Tang dynasty Buddhist carvings. While a lot of the color has worn off due to exposure, the carvings are extremely detailed and intricate.
Finally, if you have a few days to spare, book a cruise down the Yangtze river. While western tours can be a bit out of budget for backpackers, Chinese cruises are much cheaper (but lack in amenities and cleanliness).
Read more about my adventures in Sichuan and Chongqing
3. Sichuan Province
Best for: Backpackers, panda lovers, spicy food, adventurous types, families
Time: 5 days-1.5 weeks (depending on if you go to northern Sichuan)
Trust me: I spent a week and a half backpacking through Sichuan in June 2012, and three days in Chengdu in May 2015
The Giant Panda Reserve
Sichuan is one of my favorite provinces in China. The capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, is home to the Giant Panda Reserve. Here you can watch baby giant pandas playing with each other while adults scarf down bamboo with surprising voracious speed. The reserve also has red pandas, which are just as cute as their larger cousins.
If you like spicy food, be sure to try out Sichuan’s famous fish dishes as well as my personal favorite, mapuo dofu (soft tofu in a spicy sauce).
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Day trips to Leshan and Emei Shan
Just south of the capital are two of the most famous sites in China: the Leshan Buddha and Mt. Emei. The Leshan Buddha is the largest carved stone buddha in the world! The average person is about the size of this giant’s pinkie toe. Not too far away is Mt. Emei, known for its monkeys and the golden statue at its peak. Extreme hikers can try to hike the mountain over the course of two days, while most people want to consider the bus pass which will take you most of the way to the top.
Note to travelers: don’t try to hike 10 hours down the entire mountain in one day. Trust me, your legs will never forgive you.
The Tibetan Plateau
Finally, if you have some time to spare, head up to northern Sichuan located on the Tibetan plateau. Budget travelers can take a seven-hour bus up to Songpan, while those with a bit more cash can opt to fly. Songpan is a great starting point for 1-3 day horse treks in the mountains of the Tibetan plateau where you will be greeted by cute, fluffy yaks. There is also a lot of great hiking in the area. Don’t let Lonely Planet fool you, the city of Songpan itself deserves a day of exploring.
In addition to Songpan, the must-see destination of the north is Jiuzhaigou. A world-famous UNESCO heritage site, Jiuzhaigou is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Mountain snow melts down into a valley of rivers and pools where the water is crystal clear. So clear, in fact, that you can see all the way down to the bottom of these deep pools. Since the pools act as mirrors, the mountains and clouds are perfectly reflected into the water. While you may google Jiuzhaigou and think the images are photoshopped, just know from a fellow traveler that it really is that beautiful. My digital camera photos don’t do it justice.
*Chongqing is a two-hour train ride from Chengdu, making it convenient to visit these two places together.
Best for: Adventurous types, hikers, Avatar fans
Time: 2-3 days
Trust me: I visited for four days in summer 2014!
Zhangjiajie, otherwise known as the “Hallelujah Mountains”, is the inspiration for the floating mountains in the movie Avatar. Visitors can purchase a three-day pass where they can hike through these beautiful mountain peaks. One look at these mountains on a cloudy day and you’ll know where the inspiration came from. Adventure lovers can also choose to river raft through the mountains at an additional cost. The inspiration of many travel Pinterest Boards and bucket lists, Zhangjiajie is a must-see.
Zhangjiajie also hosts the Tianmen mountains where one can take a hair-raising 30-minute cable car through the mountains to witness shockingly vertical cliffs and wander out onto a glass platform floor! Visitors can also hike up hundreds of stairs to the “Heavenly Gate”, a hole in the side of the mountain with stunning views. Just note that the Tianmen mountains boast an additional entrance fee (but it’s worth it!)
Best for: Winter China trips, festival lovers, people who can handle extreme cold, culture buffs, art lovers
Time: 2-3 days
Trust me: I went there for 4 days this winter (February 2014)
The Harbin Ice Festival
Harbin is most famous for its Ice Festival that lasts all winter until the snow melts. The Ice Festival is a winter wonderland of buildings, statues, and interactive exhibits all made of ice. The ice is even lit up with colored lights placed inside the ice blocks, so it is best viewed at night. During the day, visitors can walk across the frozen lake to Sun Island where giant snow carvings await. Both the ice and snow exhibits are works of art that are worth braving the cold to see.
Located in China’s Heilongjiang province, Harbin was once a part of Russia and still contains a vast amount of Russian culture, architecture, and food. Spend an afternoon wandering Zhongshan street, and make a quick trip to the St. Sophia church to appreciate the Russian historical architecture. Be sure to also try the local sausage and homemade bread, as well as the large, cheap bars of chocolate. Finally, Harbin is home to the Siberian Tiger Park, where visitors are the ones in cages! You can wander above the park on elevated walkways and ride a jeep through the park within a few feet of these giant tigers. The park even has a Liger!
It’s a bit chilly in Harbin
Winter is by far the best time to visit Harbin, but keep the temperature in mind: Harbin is FREEZING COLD. I wore three pairs of pants and my legs would still get numb from the cold. I also got teeth freezes just from breathing. Be prepared for your electronics to randomly loose battery as well. Never fear, though! You can take out the batteries, warm them up and put them back in to restore the charge. While Harbin is the coldest place I have ever been in my life, it still doesn’t stop tourists from enjoying the local ice cream; I still don’t understand.
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Best for: Culture buffs, gamblers, those already planning a trip to Hong Kong
Time: Day trip
Trust me: I visited spring 2012
For those of you planning a trip to Hong Kong, be sure to reserve an extra day for Macau. Most known for its casinos, Macau is a great day trip from Hong Kong. A quick two-hour ferry ride will take you to the island of Macau, another autonomous region of China, with its own currency and distinct culture.
While Hong Kong was a British colony, Macau belonged to the Portuguese. Spend the day admiring Macau’s Portuguese architecture and European influence. In the evening, check out Macau’s famous casinos, especially the Venetian, the largest casino in the world. Staying in Macau is pretty pricy, but the ferry runs late, so it is entirely possible to return to the mainland in the evening. Just be sure to buy the ticket home in advance so you’re not stuck on the island!
6. Guilin and Yangshuo
Best for: outdoor adventures, hiking, rice terraces
Time: 4 days- 1 week
Trust me: I visited for 10 days in fall 2013
Guilin and Yangshuo are some of the most beautiful places in China. An hour apart by bus, these two cities are perfect for exploring China’s outdoors and enjoying the warm southern weather. Spend a day or two wandering the city of Guilin and explore its famous rock formations. Venture out of the city by bus to visit Guilin’s rice terraces, which are golden in the fall. Stay overnight in a village and hike around the terraces if you have time.
While Guilin is a bustling city, Yangshuo is a smaller city popular with tourists. Littered with hostels, international restaurants, and bars, you can spend many afternoons and evenings walking around Yangshuo’s West Street. Yangshuo is also a great starting point for outdoor activities like biking, hiking and enjoying the river on a bamboo raft. I would personally recommend taking a trip to the mud caves and hot springs!
8. Yunnan Province
Best for: hiking, backpackers, culture buffs, outdoors, Chinese minority culture
Time: 10 days
Trust me: I traveled through Yunnan spring 2012
Yunnan is another one of my favorite provinces in China. With so much to do and so many places to see, it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to this vast province. The capital Kunming, otherwise known as “Spring City”, is the only large city in Yunnan. Many of the places worth seeing in Yunnan can only be reached by bus or private car (if you have the cash).
Dali and Lijiang
The first must-see place in Yunnan is Dali. Situated in the mountains near a beautiful lake, Dali is one of the most picturesque cities in China. It’s also home to many western hippies and locals who may or may not offer to sell you marijuana.
The next stop in Yunnan is Lijiang, home of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which can be reached by cable car. Be sure to check out the Chinese minority dance performance at the base of the mountain; it’s absolutely spectacular. Lijiang is also home to an “old town” with many shops and food stalls. Locals may perform choreographed dances at night and encourage you to join in!
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Far to the north is Tiger Leaping Gorge, an awe-inspiring canyon surrounded by terrace farms, guest houses, and villages. It’s possible to hike the best parts in a full day, but many enjoy hiking along the gorge for a few days, staying at guest houses along the way. Tiger Leaping gorge is one of the most incredible places I have ever been and by far the most amazing hike I have ever done. Finally, Xishuangbana to the south is a beautiful, tropical oasis near Vietnam. Rent bikes and ride through plantations while enjoying the humid weather.
Read more about my adventures in Yunnan
9. Xinjiang Province
Best for: Culture buffs, Muslim culture, Chinese minorities, foodies, history lovers
Time: 10 days
Trust me: I traveled here summer 2012
Uighur Muslim Culture
Most famous for its separatist political strife, Xinjiang is a mecca of Uighur Muslim culture. Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, has been slowly becoming more and more “Chinese” as the government encourages Han Chinese to move to the city. While Urumqi may not seem so different from the rest of China, it’s a great place to see the famous Caucasian mummies!
The Caucasian Mummies!
In the distant past, Xinjiang was populated by a group of people known as Proto-Indo-Europeans. These people had blonde and red hair and wore Celtic patterned wool cloth. While these mummies are technically “petrified corpses”, the Proto-Indo-Europeans purposely buried their dead to preserve their bodies. The Chinese government intentionally designs the museum to make it seem like ethnic Chinese and Proto-Indo-Europeans inhabited Xinjiang at the same time, so make sure to read up on the history beforehand.
Urumqi also has a very large bazaar that sells beautiful Xinjiang cloth, saffron and tea among many other things. Finally, head out to the Tianshan “Heavenly” mountains to see yurts and rocky red cliffs.
Kashgar and Yarkent
After Urumqi, take a two-hour flight to Kashgar where you can see the “real Xinjiang”. Kashgar is almost entirely inhabited by Uighurs and Hui minority peoples. Many Uighurs look Kazakh, while a rare few have “Western” features like blonde hair and blue eyes. People in Western Xinjiang speak Uighur, a Turkic language, and almost everyone is Muslim. While ladies do not need to cover their heads outside of mosques, it is respectful to dress conservatively and not wear anything low-cut or above the knee.
Kashgar is famous for having the largest mosque in China. It’s also a great starting point for a quick trip to Yarkent, a small city that most Westerners have never been to. Yarkent was a very prominent city in the Uighur kingdom and has many beautiful historical sites worth visiting. There is also a large local outdoor market that sells everything from donkeys to fresh honey and even severed goat heads!
Finally, Xinjiang is a great place for amazing food. Famous for its lamb kabobs, naan bread, and fruit, Xinjiang is a great place to sample the local fare. Be sure to buy the fresh local honey. Some vendors even grind nuts in with the honey, which you can eat as a healthy snack.
Read more about my adventures in Xinjiang
Best for: adventure, culture, historic sites, hiking, social justice knowledge, scenery
Time: 8-15 days
Trust me: I took an 8-day tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu this summer 2013
Last but not least, Tibet is one of the most revered “off the beaten path” places to visit. Let me preface by saying that visiting Tibet is extremely difficult, but it can be done. There were definitely times I wanted to pull my hair out or give up, but I am so incredibly glad I persevered.
How to Find a Tour
Firstly, to visit Tibet you need to book a tour; you will not be allowed into Tibet without a tour guide. Most Tibetan tours are extremely expensive for a young person, and some of the tour groups are very large. Through the advice of a friend, I found Tibetan Shaman Tours*, which I highly recommend. These tours are run by a Tibetan man named Lumbum, and a few fellow Tibetan guides.
My tour guide Denzin was extremely knowledgeable, adventurous, and hilarious. He is also Buddhist and gave us great insight into all of the temples we visited. Lumbum also allows custom-designed tours, and all accommodation, food and temple fees are paid for separately, meaning you can make your trip as cheap or expensive as you want!
*Lumbum’s website isn’t working right now, but you can still book a trip to Tibet with him! Contact me for more details.
Booking the Right Tour
Most tour companies will do short Lhasa tours, week-long trips to Kathmandu, 10-15 day trips to Everest and back, and multi-week long treks through the Tibetan countryside. Obviously, it’s important to pick the tour that is right for you, but I would definitely recommend seeing more than just Lhasa. Tibet is such a difficult country to enter; make the most of your trip! I did the
I did the 8-day tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu, and it was incredible! We stayed in a different place every night, and I took so many amazing photos. The tour even allowed me to spend a few days in Nepal, a country I never imagined I would visit! I highly recommend trying to enter Tibet while you can. Save up the money, it’s a trip of a lifetime!
If you travel to Tibet, make sure you acclimate yourself to the Tibetan altitude. This means no caffeine or alcohol a week before your trip (I know, it’s hard for us coffee lovers) and lots of water. Be sure to take Dayquil and Advil: Trust me, I caught a cold in Tibet and it was horrible!
While most sites recommend taking the train, the train itself isn’t always enough. Spend a few days in Xining, Qinghai (another “off the beaten path” place), enjoy Qinghai lake and acclimate to the altitude. You may experience some altitude sickness in Qinghai (especially if you go to the lake), so take it easy, enjoy Qinghai and take the train to Lhasa from there.
Read more about my adventures in Tibet
There’s So Much More to China!
If China wasn’t already on your list, I hope it is now! China is so much more than the polluted, dirty, crowded images of Beijing or the giant cosmopolitan skyscrapers of Shanghai. I’ve spent years exploring China and I still haven’t seen it all! Take my advice and check out some of these gems. You may just have the trip of a lifetime.
Looking for a place to stay in China? Make sure to check out timeshare resale rentals online for steep discounts off of resort-style rooms. If you already own a timeshare, you can use your RCI timeshare to exchange into one of more than 200 timeshare resorts in China!
Your ULTIMATE Guide to China
I get it, China is an intimidating destination. From the sheer size to the language barrier, the strange food, and the internet censorship, China isn’t the easiest country to plan a trip.
For the last few years, I’ve been answering question after question about travel in China. Where to go. What to eat. How to get around the internet censorship.
But now I’ve compiled all of the answers into a detailed 6,000+ word guide that contains everything you need to know for your trip. Help me help you by grabbing your FREE Ultimate Guide to China below!
80 comments on “10 Best “Off the Beaten Path” Places to Visit in China”
I don’t know if I’d call Xian or Macau ‘off the beaten path’ – they’re both hugely touristy destinations! I’d add them in with Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong as the best-known places in China. Anyway, that’s just me, and I’m sure there are plenty of folk who haven’t come across them before, and don’t read an inordinate amount of travel blogs like me haha!
The food in Sichuan sounds like it would be right up my street, and I’ve been trying to find a place in Taipei that serves up food from the region! There are a couple of restaurants that do food from Xinjiang, and I absolutely looooove it – so much so that I’m considering visiting the region next year! Yunnan sounds wonderful too, ditto Harbin. I’d love to go to the festival in Harbin, but I’ve booked up all my holiday now and it won’t refresh until mid-February 2015, so it’ll have to wait until 2016. Oh well! But I WILL go there someday…
Hi Tom! I definitely agree with you that Xi’an and Macau definitely aren’t too “off the beaten path” for those of us who do a lot of travel research or live in Asia for a while. I was more basing my reference off of the reactions I get from talking about these places with people back home. You should see the confused looks I get when I tell people I studied abroad in Xi’an (“Where….?”).
If you like spicy food you should definitely hit up Chongqing and Sichuan. That plus the really amazing sites like Dazu and the Leshan Buddha make that area a must-see for sure. You should also definitely consider visiting Xinjiang! I went with my study abroad group, but it would be really easy to do on your own too.
By the way, I’m actually heading to Taiwan at the end of June for two weeks if you want to meet up. I may be hitting you up for some trip-planning advice.
This is such a great list! I was in China 2 summers ago and absolutely loved my time there exploring some of the lesser known destinations such as Leshan and Jiuzhaigou. I’d add the Gansu province as being my favourite area in China- so beautiful and diverse and also very much influenced by Tibet.
My parents went to China and told me all about how amazing Xi’an is, but hadn’t heard of the rest of these places. Definitely want to check them out now though!
Yeah I think Xi’an is one of those places that a lot of people have never heard of until they start actually planning a trip to China. I love Xi’an though, I studied abroad there a few summers ago.
been reading your of the beaten path in in china,going there for 3 weeks in october this year,starting of with a 2 day train ride from Hanoi (Vietnam) to Beijing .Been to Vietnam 4 times now so looking forward to China
Two day train ride? Wow that’s intense! Make sure you pack a bunch of ramen because the train food is horrible (but hot water is free!). I hope you really enjoy your time in China! It’s a great country with a lot to see :)
Hi Ben, instead of being stuck in a train for 2 days, why don’t you take a detour at Nanning and head to Guilin & Yangshuo for a day or 2 before continuing to Beijing. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a train that long. I’ll be doing China (September) too from Hanoi, but I’ll take the west route and do a hike at Tiger Leaping Gorge;Lijiang, Pudacuo National Park; Shangri La & Yading Nature Reserve; Daocheng. Cheers
Awesome advice Hafiz! Guilin and Yangshuo are beautiful.
I hope you have a great time in Yunnan. Tiger Leaping Gorge is amazing and I really loved Lijiang’s old town. Have a great time on your trip!
This is a great list – thank you for sharing!
Unfortunately, we only have 5 days in Beijing so I doubt we will get to get too far from the city. But we were thinking that maybe we could at least do something off the beaten track near Beijing and go to a more remote part of the wall (relatively!). Or we were thinking of taking a fast train out of town for a couple of days even. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks!
If you’ve only got 5 days consider going to Jinshanling, it’s the most remote of the Great Wall sections near Beijing. It was almost empty when I went there in the spring. It hasn’t been refurbished so it’s the most realistic and natural. Just be sure to bring good hiking shoes!!
Also, I’d recommend checking out 798 Art District. It’s a bit out of the way in Beijing, but it’s really cool! I’m not even an “art person” and I really enjoyed it. There are free and paid art exhibits, graffiti art, cafes/restaurants and cool shops. Just be sure to go in the morning because everything closes around 5pm.
While in Beijing be sure to check out the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace! I prefer both of these to the Forbidden City :)
Thank you! This is super helpful. We are currently in Bangkok, but don’t have winter clothes or hiking boots! might have to try and score some at the local markets before flying out!
And thank you for the 798 Art District – art has been a theme for our trip so far!
You should definitely try to get some warm clothes before you come to China. It’s freezing here! Tennis shoes should also work if you don’t have hiking shoes. That’s what I used :)
I think you mean Jin shan ling. I would say Jiankou is a lot more remove and intense as well ?
Oh wow you’re right! 2015 me wrote Jinlingshan instead of Jinshanling. Whoops. Fixed it now. However, as of now I think Jinshanling is still closed for a bit. I did bring my parents to Jiankou and wow that was intense! Especially since you have to spend an hour hiking just to get on the wall, and then you need to hike all of Mutianyu to get off. I was dead by the end of it!
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Good post for Off the Beaten Paths. Some i do not think should be on it like Giant pandas and Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors are anything far from off the beaten paths. But the other ones were good.
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I disagree about Xi’An not being off the beaten track. The beaten track for most tourists in China is Shanghai, Beijing, maybe Guangzhou if they’re really adventurous, plus Macao and Hong Kong. Adventurous travel in China is getting out to Xi’An for the Terracotta Warriors or to Chengdu for the pandas. But there’s a lot more to Xi’An than the Terracotta Warriors and most tourists who visit Xi’An never see more than that. Xi’An is also a fabulous gateway to the west of China (which is why it is where it is) and there is so much to see west of Xi’An! We explored two years ago, going all the way to Lijiang and we had a ball!
I totally agree. Most people may have heard of Xi’an, but never actually get there. If they do, it’s just for the Terracotta Warriors, and they miss out on the muslim market, mosque, city wall and other amazing things Xi’an has to offer. Xi’an is also a great starting point for a silk road trip to Gansu and Xinjiang!
What a great list of “Off the beaten path” places in China, Richelle. I would love to visit Jiuzhaigou, Zhangjiajie and Harbin for the Ice Festival. I have travelled across Tibet from Lhasa to Kathmandu and through Gansu and Xinjiang on my overland trip from Beijing to Kashgar. Furthermore I have been to Xi’an three times, twice to Chengdu, Leshan and Yangshuo and once to Chongqing when boarding the Yangtze boat to Yichang and I also travelled across Yunnan twice.
As you are a travel blogger as well and since have been to Tibet, I am wondering if you find it risky to write about your travels to Tibet on your blog?
I would really love to write about my travels across Tibet on my blog, but I am anxious that I might get in trouble then when applying for a chinese visa or when entering China the next time. Since I absolutely adore China and have friends in the Middle Kingdom that would be an absolut worst case scenario and truly a nightmare.
Wow it sounds like you’ve been all over! I honestly wouldn’t worry about what you write on your blog. I’m doing my master’s dissertation on internet censorship in China, and from what I’ve found, they couldn’t care less what people write in English as long as you’re not super popular like BBC or NY Times. They have way more important things to worry about that what an expat writes on her blog. Unless you write in Chinese you’ll be fine.
Thank you so much for your response, Richelle, which is so helpful. It’s also a bit what I have hoped, now I am very relieved. Honestly, I have asked a few people who I thought might be able to answer this question, but all I got to hear was “Oh, I would love to read about your adventures to Tibet and along the Silk Road”.
I wish you the best of luck for your master’s dissertation and I am looking forward to read about your future travels and about your move to Beijing.
Thanks so much Vanessa! My master’s dissertation is in (FINALLY), and I’ll be moving to Beijing next week :D
Richelle, I have a business trip in October, and an extra week for vacation. I am simply overwhelmed by the size and options in China. My original plan was to see and hike through natural beauty, visit traditional towns filled with culture (and good food), so Lijiang area was my original front runner . I see many of your options have all of these. Can you please recommend your top pick that includes all of these elements that would fit into a Monday-Friday schedule?
No problem Jared! I would probably recommend either Yunnan or Sichuan. With only 7 days, you could go to Lijiang and Dali. That area has a lot of natural beauty, and I really enjoy the old town areas of Lijiang and Dali. In Lijiang you can hike the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and see a traditional minority dance performance show, which is famous in the area. Dali is a beautiful hippie town in the mountains that I also really recommend. You can take a ferry across the lake to a small island with a temple, and the whole old town area with the mountain backdrop is stunning!
Thanks for the great rundown of some interesting places that aren’t massive cities along the coast. I’ve definitely noted a few down for our trip and now it seems like a quickie 2 week jaunt on our way to Vietnam may be too short and we should lengthen it a little bit if possible. However, a quick question, while you were in China, did you use any tour groups and if so, do you have any recommendations?
Yeah two weeks is definitely too short for China but you can get a good taste! Thankfully, China offers visas that are good for one year, and if you’re from the US or Canada you can get visas for 8-10 years! If you get a good visa it’s a great excuse to come back. As for tours, I actually hope to open my own off the beaten path tours in China one day, but for now I would probably recommend Intrepid Tours :D
I love this website page and even though I thought we were spending a lot of time in China, you make me want to have several months instead of a few weeks! Have you started a travel agency? My husband and I are taking our two teenage sons out of school this fall and spending seven weeks in China, Tibet and Nepal. We would like to use a guide for a few days here and there, and we know we have to have a tour guide into Beth. I’ll look at the intrepid travel website, but I would love to talk to you if you have started your own business. I have a lot of questions! Do you still Skype chat? And what kind of consultation fee do you charge? :-) Thanks for all this great info!
Hi Marian, thanks so much for getting in touch! I actually don’t do tour guiding at the moment (but I’d love to in the future!), but if you need some help planning your trip, I do definitely still do Skype chats! All the information you need is right on this page here :)
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We’ll have about a week to travel between X’ian and Shanghai and looking for suggestions of places to stop off and visit. Can’t decide whether to take the high road and go to Luoyand (and then where…?) or take the low road and go to Wuhan and weave our way up the river into Shanghai. All suggestions welcomed!
Hey! I’m not sure if you want a direct route or not, but I would actually suggest Sichuan if you have a week. You can take an overnight train from Shanghai to Chengdu (or fly) and then you can explore the surrounding area, and even go up to Northern Sichuan’s Songpan and Jiuzhaigou. Then from there you’ll probably have to fly to Xi’an, or you can head back to Chengdu and take the train.
Another option is to spend your week visiting the cities around Shanghai like Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing, and then head to Xi’an. You can spend a little extra time in Xi’an climbing the mountains and hiking outside the city. You can even stay up in the mountains there!
Good comments Richelle. We have decided to go from Xian to Zhangjiajie pending about 3-4 days in each place. We then have a few days left before we have to fly out of Shanghai. Anything you can recommend between Zhangjiajie and Shanghai – heading in a Shanghai direction?
oops forgot to say we are not keen on visiting the pandas, but are keen on experiencing some traditional chinese lifestyle, remote villages etc.
Oh! Then again possibly do some off the beaten path stuff in Hunan where the Avatar mountains are. I think you’d love Yunnan but it will take a while and it’s very out of the way.
If you can make it work, you can stop in Hangzhou for a few days! I absolutely love that city and West Lake is beautiful. You might also want to explore more of Hunan which is so much more than just the avatar mountains!
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Erm, I’d say all of these places are fully on the beaten path. Any suggestion of places for good hiking that are actually off the tourist map? Not these parks that you pay a fortune to walk along pavement with another 20,000 people…
Hi Debbie, not all of these places are expensive parks where you pay a fortune to be surrounded by Chinese tourists. For example, Tiger Leaping Gorge, where you can hike trails along the gorge wall. I only saw one group of Chinese tourists right as I was leaving. Xinjiang and Tibet are also very off the beaten path. Outside of Lhasa, I rarely interacted with big tourist groups. Also, if you’re headed to Beijing, two weeks ago I hiked a section of the Great Wall where my friend and I were literally the only two people on that entire section. We paid a farmer 5 kuai to climb a ladder to get on, and we only saw other people right as we were leaving.
This post is geared more towards getting visitors in China to travel to places outside of just Beijing and Shanghai, but there will be more in-depth guides coming soon where I talk about really off the beaten path places (by Western standards… Chinese tourists go everywhere), along with ways you can avoid the huge Chinese tour groups.
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I am Florian and I really appreciate some info or tips for my future travel in China if you can give me. I saw you did a lot of travelling around China so I thing your info will be helpful for me.
My Trip will be from 19 st April to 5 May 2017 with landing in Shanghai and departure from Beijing.
I did by myself one itinerary based on research from internet: Shanghai-Xitang (Suzhou) – West lake-Huangshan-Guilin-Yangshuo-Beijing.
Unfortunately my itinerary it overlaps also with these days of Labour Day. I will be in Guilin and Yangshuo from 29 st April to 1 st May and after in Beijing 2-5 May. After my last research I got really worry about the crowds in these days so I really need some info and tips.
1. Do you thing I can find other places similar with Guilin but less crowded (maybe rice fields, rivers, charming villages, beautiful nature landscape) to spend these days?
2. Do you thing is madness to visit Beijing (Great Wall and Forbidden City) on 3-4 May?
3.Which option do you think is better to choose for transport Guilin-Beijing(in case I will go in Guilin) (will be on 1 st May) :
-bus Yangshuo – Liuzhou and flight from there to Beijing or
-Guilin-Beijing by train(I am bit worry about buying of tickets).
Thank you very much in advance for your help.
Hi Florian! If you’re worried about GUilin, there are other rice terrace farms around China you can check out, otherwise you can visit a tea plantation near Hangzhou instead. Those plantations are also really beautiful! As for Beijing, I would avoid Badaling at all costs and possibly Mutianyu, and head for less touristy sections of the Great Wall like Jinshanling and Gubeikou. Hope this helps!
Thank you very much for info’s . I replied to you on your email for getting a few more details. I really apreciate what you did on your blog :)
Thanks so much Florian! I hope you have a great trip :)
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Nice spots you have identified to visit in China. No one can visit all these great attractions in single tour. However, these are worth visiting tourists sights in China.
I definitely agree, it will take a few trips to see all of these places. I usually recommend for a two week trip: Beijing, Xi’an and either Sichuan or Yunnan!
Thanks for the list – After being down in Shenzhen for a couple of years, I’m living in a small Henan province city (Xinyang) and want to use it as a launching-base for most of the places you’ve talked about here, and just free-wheeling exploration to places not on guidebooks on my bike (bicycle).
My first little trip was over a couple mountain ranges into Hubei province, riding on dirt trails and country roads, which lead me up a mountain near Suizhou to be completely amazed to find a huge 400 year old Buddhist temple complex.
It was soooo cool to be riding through villages and stopping to say hi to kids who certainly would have never seen a foreigner before, and be offered free fruits, etc from friendly farmers. Just amazing.
But now I really do also want to go to some more “famous” places such as around Luoyang, Xi’an, Huangshan, and up into Shiyan. But also keep doing weekend rides just through countryside farmland, hills, forests, and mountains.
And I’d also recommend that to any other traveler. China is an immensely safe place to travel in. Anyone really can hire or just buy a very cheap bike from any almost any city/region of China, leave the bulk of your gear in a cheap hotel, and do cloverleaf unguided daytrip and/or overnight countryside adventures.
I’ll look forward to reading more of your blog in the future. Thanks again for making the effort!
PS – I also love the cites. Beijing is cool! And yes, 798 for sure.
Wow Peter, that sounds really incredible! Some of my friends did a two-week motorbike adventure through southern Yunnan and I’d love to do something similar. You’re definitely far off the beaten path! I’m hoping that next year I can really get to work on my “China off the beaten path” series to cover each province in detail. Although that calls for a bit more traveling!
Thanks heaps for this great guide. It’s given me great insight to other parts of China that would be amazing to explore.
No problem!! Good luck on your China trip and be sure to contact me if you need any help :D
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Hi Richelle; Loved your blog. Wish you all the luck and success when you open your own travel company. I’m planning to go to China with my 18 year old son. We have 11 days. We are arriving and leaving from Beijing. I thought of staying 2-3 days in Beijing. If you will be kind enough to give me your advice – what should we do then? (We can fly from one place to another, not bothered by the expense). I thought maybe Xi’an-Jiuzhaigou-Zhangjiajie. We love nature and magical old towns & villages, a bit of history and folklore is okay too. I hate crowds and very touristic-commercial places. I understand I can’t avoid these entirely in the mentioned places, but what do you think? Maybe Dali & Lijiang are better options? In your honest opinion what will be the strongest experience in China for us – Mother and son trip who love people and beauty in the most authentic way? Thanks a lot, Michele
Hi Michele, Thanks for getting in touch! I would definitely see Beijing and Xi’an, and while you’re in Xi’an you can hike Hua Shan which is awesome! Then I might recommend Yunnan province: Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping gorge etc. Those places are all close to one another and not super crowded big cities. Jiuzhaigou and Zhangjiajie are also great but they are very far away from one another. If you go to Yunnan, you can see many different places all within a few hours of one another. The area is beautiful, and it’s very underdeveloped. I’m actually doing the same route with my parents this September for their 13 day trip!
Thank you so much! I appreciate your help. It sounds great! Good luck and enjoy your parents in September :-)
Thanks so much! I really hope they have a good time in China :D
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Have heard a lot about Harbin’s Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Its in my bucket list now!
Thank you for sharing the blog. Its perfectly articulated.
Thanks so much Paul! You should definitely go, I really loved it. Just be sure to bring a LOT of warm clothes!
Very informative! Thanks for sharing this information, our next travel to China and its helpful for us.
So glad I could help! Be sure to let me know if you have any questions :D
You list a number of great locations, but the headline is highly misleading :D These places are not off the beaten path at all, I think a suitable headline would be “The 10 most touristic places in all of China”.
The goal of the post is to talk about places that people who haven’t been to China may not have heard of. Most people just go to Beijing and Shanghai, and don’t know about places like Xinjiang and Yunnan. For a list of more off the beaten path things to do, please feel free to check out my China Bucket List post, which has a good mix of on and off the beaten path things to do in China.
Hi Richelle, we are going to Guangzhou for Canton Fair and will have a week time to see around, I would prefer a place which is in the lap of nature, forest, mountains, ancient culture. Can you please help me out. TIA
No problem! If you don’t have much time and want something nearby I recommend Guilin and Yangshuo, if you have a bit more time definitely look into Yunnan!!
Hi, We are planning a 3 week trip to China this Summer (end of July start of August) and I are planning to visit alot of places on your list. Just wondering what temperature will be like at that time of year? We are hoping to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge and in Zhangjiajie National Park and maybe Yellow mountain also. Is this feasible in mid-summer or are temperatures cooler in these areas at this time?
Thanks for your help! Elaine
Hi Elane. Great question! It really depends on the location since China is HUGE so temperatures vary. For Tiger Leaping Gorge, summer is actually the best time since it’s not rainy or extremely hot up in the mountains at that time! But many cities are going to be pretty sweaty. If you don’t mind a bit of humidity, you should have a great time!
I’ve been reading your blog and it’s great!!! Thank you for sharing all this info!
One question, do you have Lumbum’s of Tibetan Shaman Tours contact info?
Hey Noelia, Lumbum actually isn’t doing tours anymore, but I’m looking hard for the perfect replacement! I’ll be sure to reach out if I find anyone I can recommend :)
I really wish to explore China someday. Even though my country (India) and China do indulge in conflicts every now and then. Keep up the good work :)
Thank you so much! I hope you can make it to China someday :)