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20 Weird and Wonderful Places to Visit in China

June 1, 2016

With mega cities, millions of people, a thriving economy, and a historic past, many people view China as a bustling country diving quickly into the future. Although major cities like Beijing and Shanghai offer tourists and visitors a glimpse into the future with mega malls, skyscrapers, and hundreds of crowds, many of the lesser known parts of China remain forgotten.

In the north east and south of the country, there are many unbelievable landscapes that have inspired famous writers, producers, and painters worldwide. From giant statues to naturally created mountains and rock formations, China offers not only a glimpse into the future, but also one into the ancient past.

Whether you are looking to experience something old or something new, or even a bit of both, a visit to China spoils you with choices. Here are 20 weird and wonderful places to visit in China.

 

1. Stroll Along the Great Wall of China

No trip to the country is complete without a visit to the Great Wall of China. With over 13,000 miles of wall stretching almost entirely across the north of the country, the Great Wall was constructed to keep out several nomadic groups and prevent raids and invasions by various empires. Although it is possible to see the wall in just one visit, a magnificent experience is to hike along the wall and camp on it for a night or two, allowing you to truly grasp the incredible amounts of labour that went into creating this giant fortified structure.

For spectacular views of the wall, visit Jinshanling, where you will also skip the crowds and enjoy the wall to yourself. The wall is incredibly well preserved in most places and the views will reward you with the endless wall wrapping over the mountainous region in the north of the country and disappearing into the distance.

 

2. Marvel at the Leshan Giant Buddha

One of the lesser visited sites of China is the Leshan Giant Buddha. This buddha is a massive 71 meter stone statue carved into the cliffside on the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu, and Qingyi Rivers. Built in 713, this ancient Buddha is the largest stone Buddha statue in the entire world, making it well worth the trip out to the rural city of Leshan. With plenty of detail and beautiful views, the Leshan Giant Buddha faces the nearby sacred mountain of Mount Emei.

 

3. Live on the Edge at the Hanging Monastery

The Hanging Monastery located near Mount Heng in the north of China is a sight to truly marvel at. This Hanging Monastery was built into a cliff somewhere between the years of 386 and 535 in the Northern Wei Dynasty. Constructed over 1,500 years ago, not only is the temple incredibly unique because it is suspended on a cliffside, it is also incredible because it houses three different religions in harmony.

Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are all represented in the monastery, each with their own rooms of prayer. Wander around the monastery’s three floors and marvel at the magnificent construction of this old building. It is easily accessed from the major city of Datong, which is located a couple hours drive north of the monastery.

 

4. Visit the Yungang Grottoes

While in Datong, take a trip out to the Yungang Grottoes. Here, you will be rewarded with thousands of stone carvings of Buddha, ranging in size from a few inches to 20 meters. Altogether there are 252 grottoes with over 51,000 carvings of Buddha, dating from the 5th and 6th centuries. This fantastic site is well worth wandering through as some of the carvings and creations are unique and will leave you dreaming of the ancient past. Don’t forget to visit the temple and marvel at the pagoda.

 

5. Take in the Breathtaking Yangshuo Views

Located in the south of the country close to the Vietnamese and Laos borders, are the cities of Guilin and Yangshuo. These two cities are quickly becoming part of the tourist grind due to the unique and breathtaking landscapes. A sail down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo on a bamboo raft is a once in a lifetime experience. Along the way, views of the incredible Karst mountains bobbing around the horizon will leave you feeling like you are in a Dr. Suess book.

Upon arrival, the city of Yangshuo offers incredible bike rides, chances to walk through reed flute caves and marvel at the stalagmites and stalactites, and options to dip into mud baths inside dark caves. Rent a bike and cycle to Moon Hill. A thirty minute hike to the top will reward you with unbelievable views of the landscape as well as the naturally formed arc known as Moon Hill.

 

6. Get Lost in the Summer Palace

Back in Beijing, the Summer Palace is a stunning place to visit. On a warm summers day, take a stroll through the grounds of the palace and explore the many rooms. With lakes, gardens, and palace rooms, there are many places to get lost in the palace grounds. Take a boat across the lake and view the palace from there, or walk along the boardwalk and watch the locals picnic and mingle with friends and family. Admire the details in the paint work at the palace and climb up the many steps to be rewarded with views of the entire city, stretching for miles and miles before your eyes.

 

7. Stroll Along the Bund

Shanghai is a bustling metropolis with thousands of streets entwining and encompassing visitors. For a breath of fresh air, take a stroll along the famous Bund, a walkway created along the riverside of Shanghai. Views from the Bund, both day and night, provide spectacular ones of the most iconic buildings in the city. During the day time, hundreds of boats sail down the river, delivering goods and people across the city and the world. As night falls, these iconic buildings light up and provide unforgettable moments of your time spent in one of the busiest cities in the world.

 

8. Enter the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is located in the centre of Beijing and offers a glimpse into dynasties long passed. This city was created as an imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. With beautiful colours and details, the Forbidden City is a fantastic place to delve into the long, and often gruesome, past of the country and understand how it came to be today. With giant gates, museums, courtyards, and treasures of the past, it is easy to get lost in the Forbidden City for a day.

 

9. Climb to Mount Emei

Located inland in the Sichuan Province, Mount Emei is a large sacred mountain located near to the Leshan Giant Buddha. This mountain is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China, and is also iconic due to it being the highest one of the four. Views from the top will amaze you, especially from the tiny Buddhist temple built near the summit. Climbing the mountain and reaching the top before sunrise will provide you with an unforgettable experience watching the sun come up over the stunning landscapes. Often clouds can appear both above and below you, fooling your senses into wondering where you are!

 

10. Marvel at the Zhangjiajie Landscapes

Located in the Hunan province near the south east of the country, Zhangjiajie is a city that houses one of the most fantastic natural landscapes in all of China. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has thousands of pillar like formations rising from the depths of the gorges. Wild monkeys live in the massive park and beg for fruits and snacks. The landscapes here were created by thousands of years of physical erosion caused by weather and the surroundings. The lush landscape of Zhangjiajie will leave you satisfied both spiritually and physically.

 

11. Escape to Jiuzhaigou Valley

Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park is a stunning national reserve and a park located in the northern Sichuan Province, relatively close to the sacred Mount Emei. One visit to this national park and you will understand why tourists and locals alike flock to marvel at the views and the waters. With plenty of waterfalls, colorful waters of turquoise and blue, and snow capped mountains in the distance, there are landscapes to please the eyes of every visitor. Spend a few days camping in this area at one of the lodges where they serve up delicious and spicy local foods. Spend your days exploring the park and your nights with perfect views of the stars.

 

12. Work in the Hot Sun at the Longji Rice Terraces

Also known as the Longsheng Rice Terraces, the Longji terraces are arguably the most magnificent rice terraces in the country. With perfect conditions in the wet season and many mountains, the terraced rice fields are built from the bottom up and wind along to the top of the mountain. Venture to the top of the terraces for the best views and try your hand at gathering some rice in the right season. Many fantastic lodges allow you to rest for a few days with some of the most incredible views in the south.

 

13. Play with Pandas in Chengdu

As one of the up and coming metropolis of China, the bustling city of Chengdu is located inland, far from the coastal cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Chengdu, located in the Sichuan Province, is known for its incredible natural wildlife. Chengdu is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot due to its giant panda research base. Each day, hundreds of visitors flock to watch the pandas eat and play. Take a stroll through the research base and learn about how much bamboo pandas actually eat each day and how much they love to eat, sleep, and play. No trip to Chengdu is complete without visiting the playful giant pandas.

 

14. Count the Statues at Xi’an

A few hours south west of Beijing lies the city of Xi’an. With a fantastic city wall and plenty of character, this city is famously known around the world for housing the Terracotta Army. This giant army of warriors depicts the armies of Qin Shi Huang, a famous emperor of China. This giant memorial houses his tomb and offers him protection in the afterlife. The site is covered to protect the exposed warriors, however it is easy to get up close to see the magnificent detail and craftsmanship that went into creating the hundreds of warriors.

 

15. Watch the Sunset over the Temple of Heaven

Back in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven is a must see. This beautiful and colourful temple is located near the downtown area, and on a clear day, provides a beautiful backdrop. With large grounds containing many religious complexes, the most iconic building is arguably the three tiered Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This beautiful and detailed circular temple provides a magnificent place to watch the sunrise or sunset from. Explore the large grounds of the temple and watch the locals play instruments, sing, and dance.

 

16. Marvel at the Quirky Statue of Lao Zi in Quanzhou 

Located outside of the lesser known city of Quanzhou, a large stone statue of Lao Zi can be found. This statue of the bearded philosopher is an incredible and quirky one to set your eyes on. If you are looking to head off the beaten path and explore the lesser known parts of China, this is a great place to start. In the premises, there are also statues of Confucius and Lao Zi consulting one another. With plenty of other ancient artefacts and sites around, there are plenty of other incredible reasons to head to Quanzhou.

 

17. Sail the Rivers in Zhouzhuang

An hour or two away from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai, lies the beautiful water town of Zhouzhuang. Although it is the most commercialized ancient water town of Shanghai, the beautiful architecture and stillness of the village will take your breath away. With plenty of culture, it is a remarkable experience to take a ferry along the small river and take in the sights from there. Enjoy the delicious cuisines served up in the authentic restaurants and stay a night in one of the old dwellings so you can see the village dimly lit up at night.

 

18. Ride Through the Sand Dunes of Dunhuang

Located in the far north west of China in a region that many tourists and visitors don’t make it out to, is the city of Dunhuang. More like a desert oasis, the city was once a major stop on the infamous silk road leading across the entire continent of Asia. The lush oasis of Dunhuang has a lake and plenty of fantastic sights to see. Ride a camel or ATV across parts of the desert, an experience like no other in China. With fantastic night markets, friendly locals, and museums, the city of Dunhuang provides a unique experience for visitors.

 

19. Stroll Back in Time at the Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves are located near to the rural area of Dunhuang. The caves are comprised of 492 temples and contain some of the most magnificent Buddhist art, sculptures, and sights in the entire country. Well worth the trip far inland in the northwest of the country, these caves offer a glimpse into ancient artwork, paintings, and sculptures. Get lost in the hundreds of caves and temples and marvel at the work that was completed thousands of years ago.

 

20. Barter for Goods at the Dirt Market

Beijing is a maze of winding streets, little shops, and delicious restaurants. Located near to the downtown area of Qianmen is a fantastic outdoor market commonly known to locals and tourists alike as the “Dirt Market”. The Dirt Market is a true thrifter and antique lovers paradise. It serves up some of the tiniest, largest, and most beautiful souvenirs of China. From minuscule Buddha pendants to 10 foot tall stone elephants, old books, chess sets, and paintings, there are many things to barter for at the Dirt Market. Be sure to barter with the locals and get a good price for anything you buy, and ensure that it is real if you are purchasing something that is said to be antique or gold.

 

After discovering these 20 weird and wonderful places in China, it is magnificent to note that China is filled with so many natural landscapes, ancient sculptures, and plenty of culture. Whether you prefer to spend your days wandering old palaces and setting your eyes on massive stone carvings, or you would rather be in nature viewing naturally formed landscapes and mountainous views, China offers every type of landscape and every type of wonder.

 

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Emma Balmforth
Emma is a part time travel writer and full time world explorer. Discovering nature, lazing on beaches, and exploring the seas are a few of her favorite things!