China can be a bit overwhelming when you start diving into where to spend your holidays, there’s just so much choice. It’s a massive country with so many options, but often it’s harder to find those off the beaten path travel options.
Sure, we all want to go to The Great Wall (although two and a half years of living in China and I never got round to going…!) Xian and the Terracotta Warriors, and see the pandas in Chengdu. But there is so much more to see and tick off that ever growing bucket list!
1) Guizhou Province
Not all our off the beaten path locations in China will be whole provinces, but Guizhou is a special exception. Known as the ‘Switzerland of China’, this landlocked province in South West China, with beautiful mountains and lakes, a refreshing climate, and people speaking in different languages in different regions… it sound a bit like Switzerland!
Some of you may have heard about the famous Huangguoshu waterfall in Guizhou, the largest waterfall in the whole of Asia. A quick google search will show you just how beautiful it really is, but it is also crowded with bus loads of tourists. For our off the beaten path travel in Guizhou province, we recommend the villages of Matang, Langde and Zhouxi.
Matang village is home of the subgroup ethnic minority of the Miao people, called the Gejia. It is a village famous for the beautiful, handmade wax batik pieces.
Langde is a very picturesque village with well-maintained, traditional Diaoujiaolou houses (wooden houses set on stilts). It is a fantastic starting point to hike along the river and out into the rice fields.
Zhouxi is the most relaxing of all the villages, and definitely recieves less tourists. It is famous for indigo dyeing, and you can see women rolling out their lengths of material to dry by the river.
2) Huanglong National Scenic Reserve
A UNESCO world heritage site, Huanglong is located north west of Chengdu in Sichuan Province, and is known for its colourful lakes, snow clad mountains, valleys and forest. You may be more familiar with the nearby, and more famous Jiuzhaigou National Park, but Huanglong offers a rather special treat to visitors – their famous fairy pools.
3) Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province
Known as the Porcelain Capital of the World, Jingdezhen in north eastern Jiangxi province is the home of China’s beloved blue and while porcelain. Watch skilled craftsmen sculpt, paint, and fire delicate porcelain wares once fit only for emperors. Then, hike into the mountains that once provided the precious clay for the workshops, and visit Tao Xi Chuan District where contemporary ceramics students display their latest creations.
4) Wuyuan, Jiangxi Province
Staying within Jiangxi province is the stunning Wuyuan scenic area, and most importantly, the amazing Wuyuan Skywells hotel. The 300 year old, restored Chinese mansion is the prefect location to explore the approximately 50 ancient villages still in use today dotted around the scenic area.
If you want to step back in time, this is the place to be. Take a hike through meadows, rice paddies, forests and ancient villages. The locals will carry on with their busy days, walking their ox, washing their clothes in the river, or chatting away in little circles. There are also waterfalls that allow wild swimming, as well as endless cycling and hiking routes. And it’s only two hours away from our York English HQ of Fuzhou!
To enjoy the beautiful countryside and the peace and quiet, avoid visiting during March/April. This is when the famous flowers come into bloom, and the tourists descend!
You can check out our full blog post on Wuyuan, as well as our York English special offer for Wuyuan Skywells, here.
5) The Karakoram Highway, Xinjiang
While not getting into the politics of whether this is China or not….the Karakoram Highway is definitely the most amazing road trip I have ever personally been on. Traveling from the ancient Xinjiang city of Kashgar, all the way to the border town of Tashkurgen, the natural beauty and the cultural difference of this region is so special.
The whole trip takes a day, with a stop at the jaw droopingly beautiful Karakul lake, well as lunch with local Kazakh people, who spend their summers in the region. You can even ride their horses there!
The difficulties in the region mean traveling the Karakoram Highway requires a permit and a guide. We recommend Old Road Tours. They made the process simple and enjoyable!
6) Kashgar, Xinjiang
We couldn’t visit Xinjiang without mentioning the wonder that is Kashgar. The city has a history of over 2000 years and was once a stop on the Silk Road.
Kashgar is predominantly populated by Muslim Uyghurs, and the architecture and food of the region is more Central Asian than Chinese. Visit Kashgar old town with its beautiful terracotta buildings, or the lively Sunday livestock market, where farmers meet to trade and sell their animals.
7) Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture
If you want a taste of South East Asia, without leaving China AND avoiding the SE Asia tourists, look no further than Xishuangbanna. Located in China’s southwestern Yunnan province, it shares a border with Myanmar and Laos. It’s known for Dai culture, distinctive temples and tropical rainforests, as well as it’s tea!
According to history, the first tea trees in Xishuangbanna were planted by the Dai people some 1,700 years ago. The ancient tea planters have since grown, picked and manufactured the prized pu’erh tea in the historical “Six Famous Tea Mountains” region.
8) Qinghai-Tibet Railway
This is the world’s highest altitude railway at 4,000 meters above sea level. Connecting China with Tibet, this near 2,000 kilometre stretch of rail covers some of the most visually stunning landscapes.
This phenomenal railway goes through mountains, across rivers, passing by blue lakes, green oasis’ and prairie land. As with the Karakoram Highway, you will need to arrange a Tibet tour ahead of your trip, as independent travelers are not permitted inside Tibet.
If there is anywhere you have travelled to in China that you consider off the beaten track, let us know in the comments!