This is a guest post by travel blogger Jonny Blair a wandering Northern Irishman who has visited over 80 countries, covering every continent. We’d probably even go as far to say he’s a bit of an expert on China, with an obvious passion for the country he’s visited 12 out of the 29 provinces so far. We asked him where his favourite places were on the road less travelled…
1. Shuhe Old Town, Yunnan Province
Yunnan is my favourite province in China. From the cold mountains which meet the border of Tibet through to the Vietnam and Laos borders and the endless rice fields, Yunnan has probably the most diversity in all of China. Winters are cold, summers are hot. Instead of staying in touristy Lijiang (which sadly even has a McDonalds these days), head out to Shuhe and spend a night in an old-style Chinese village away from all the tourists. Shuhe even has a “Pub Street” and an awesome Food Market, as well as being a spot to truly relax and breathe in Yunnan’s lofty charm. In winter months, this place gets cold and acts as a gateway to the impressive Tiger Leaping Gorge.
2. Danxiashan Mountains, Guangdong Province
Teenage girls chuckle as they hike up a mountain which has a very phallic-shaped rock by the side of it. This huge rock resembling the male organ sits proudly, and erectly in some marvellous mountainous terrain. The sunset hike to Fortress Hill provides sensational views over landscape that even the Chinese think is cool. To make things equal, the Danxiashan Mountains also has a female version! Don’t be shy, get your camera out and marvel at the landscapes. Boat cruises, hikes and outstanding views are the main attractions at Danxiashan.
3. Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
I love the charm of Zhuhai for two reasons – one is its location and two is the fact that it is basically a great seaside resort to relax. The beaches at Zhuhai are among the best in China. The location of Zhuhai is also perfect, with it sitting right on the border with Macau to keep Casino buffs happy. It’s also only a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. It’s also interesting to note that most nationalities can get a visa on arrival by ferry into Zhuhai, something which doesn’t really happen in other parts of China.
4. Luoping, Yunnan Province
The yellow canola fields in springtime make Luoping a feast for the lover of nature. As well as visiting the two viewing points of “Screw Tin” and “Jin Ji Cun”, there is also a very unknown national park with the most amazing waterfalls. The Nine Dragons Waterfalls are mostly crowded with Chinese tourists, so you’ll be the only foreigner in sight if you head there. There are a load of hikes in the national park as well as a cable car ride.
You might wonder why I’ve included the colossal city of Chongqing in this list, but basically, despite its size, it’s not touristy at all! It has been cited as the largest metropolitan area in the world with population figures of 33 million people brandished around and it’s hard to argue. A never-ending skyline of skyscrapers and the gorgeous chocolate Yangtze River merges here in a city which needs to be seen to be believed. You can visit the world’s largest toilet complex, the old city and get a cable car across the Yangtze. Amazing place.
6. Taxia Village, Fujian Province
Staying overnight in one of the famous Fujian Tulou Earthen Buildings is something you should definitely do. The only chance to spend a night in one of these buildings is in the Qingde Building in the town of Taxia Village. These Fujian Earthen Buildings are either round or rectangular in shape and are moulded with the help of rice believe it or not. Inside they used to house clans of people, all self-sufficient. The village of Taxia itself is a dreamy river resort, miles away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Xiamen.
7. Jiangling Viewpoint, Jiangxi Province
The Jiangxi Province of China is one of the least touristy parts of China I’ve been to. When we visited Jiangling, there was nobody else about and we had the entire viewpoint to ourselves. You stare down into the lower villages at Jiangling – this is old school China. No advertising, no banks and just a wilderness of fields, mountains, villages and farms. You can spend the night in the nearby river settlement of Little Likeng and feel like you’ve gone back years in time. Local tea houses and endless rice dishes will remind you this is China to the core.
8. Dandong, Liaoning Province
Dandong is a big city in the northeast part of China. Winters here will freeze you, but there’s a famous thing for tourists to do here, a top spot which is off the beaten track. But the tourists that do make it have the chance to see North Korea. You can walk along the bridge that used to lead to North Korea. The bridge has now become a pier and you can stand at the end of it and stare at North Korea, one of the least visited countries in the world. You can also get a train from here to Pyongyang (yes – the route is open) as well as arrange day tours across the border.
9. Jo Yuen, Guangxi Province
Jo Yuen is in countryside near the village of Yangshuo. While Yangshuo itself is hardly off the beaten track (it’s flooded with tourists every year), then Jo Yuen certainly is. Get on a bamboo raft and float down the river for a couple of hours, admiring the limestone peaks and pretty countryside, unobscured by the normal skyscraper drenched Chinese towns.
10. Suzhou, Jiangsu Province
I’m sure those who have been to Suzhou will remember it, but may also be surprised to find such a popular place on this list. Well the reason is simple – Suzhou is only 45 minutes from Shanghai yet tourists that visit Shanghai don’t often venture out to what Marco Polo once described as “The Venice of the East”, while that moniker doesn’t really live up to expectations, what you will find is a relaxed city with pretty streets, canals, gondolas and enchanting Chinese Gardens. These gardens have an entry fee and it’s no wonder they do – they are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage. A fact that passes most casual tourists to Shanghai by. Get out of the city and head to Suzhou, it’s more authentically China than Shanghai.
So there you have it – just 10 of my many top spots in China that are slightly off the beaten track. It really pays to get out there and see the world’s most populated country. It offers endless possibilities. To read more of my adventures in China, check out my countless posts on it, Jonny Blair on China.
All words and photos by Jonny Blair. Jonny has ben backpacking for ten years and travel blogging for 6 years of that on his travel lifestyle site Don’t Stop Living. Jonny also cites Taiwan, Bolivia, North Korea and Ethiopia as some of his travel highlights. Through his blog he aims to help others travel with visa advice, border advice and money-saving tips.