China the endlessly fascinating destination that seemingly everyone wants to explore, is now arguably most famous for its rapid and dizzying modernisation. Despite overwhelmingly growth and change, if you stay clear of the cities there are still many unspoilt places left to visit. Kasia Soszka the talented blogger from Photo Wanderer has called China her home for the last six years, after exploring many off the beaten track destinations here’s her favourite collection of beautiful places to visit in China you’ve probably never heard of…
Badain Jaran desert
This remote desert stretches across the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Ningxia and is the third largest desert in China. What makes it so special are the mesmerizing sand dunes, which are some of the highest in the world. The average dune is 200m high, with some giants reaching up to 500m. Scattered through the desert are numerous colorful lakes, where you can swim as camels and other animals take a well-earned drink. Badain Jaran is also one of the few places in the world where the “singing dunes” phenomenon occurs.
Located in north-west Xinjiang, Nalati Grassland is one of the world’s four largest grasslands and the highest one in China. The first words that come to mind when you arrive in Nalati are idyllic, pastorial, and serene – rolling hills with sheep and horses grazing on lush green meadows, shimmering streams, fresh air, all surrounded by high, snowy mountains. Summer, when the grassland is covered in colorful wild flowers, is the best time to visit.
Kanas National Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is located in a valley in the Altay Mountains in the very northern tip of Xinjiang province. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in China and is famed for its alpine scenery and Kanas Lake. Kanas borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia and most of the locals living in the Kanas Vallay are either Kazakh or Mongolian, so while still in China you can experience a totally different local culture.
Splendid Labrang Monastery is a small slice of Tibet outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which means it’s easily accessible for independent travellers. Located in Gansu in Xiahe town, and part of the traditional Tibetan area of Amdo, Labrang Monastery is one of the biggest and most influential Tibetan monasteries outside of Lhasa. It’s a huge, sprawling complex and also home to the largest number of monks outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Just outside of Xiahe town spread the epic Sangke Grasslands, a place where you can forget about everything and just enjoy the nature and breathtaking scenery of Tibetan Plateau. Near Xiahe town, some parts of these stunning pastures have been spoiled by large circus tent attractions catering to tourists, but they can be easily avoided and left behind, and you can just get totally lost in nature. The best way of exploring Sangke is by bicycle or on horseback.
Qinghai is the largest lake in China and it’s so crucial to the region, that it had a province named after it. It’s located on the Tibetan Plateau on over 3000m above sea level, but the area around it is rather flat, making it a great cycling route. Despite being a salt lake, it has an abundance of fish, which attract large population of birds, making Qinghai Lake a popular destination for bird watchers.
Tongren is a small monastic town situated on Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai Province that attracts great number of pilgrims and art-oriented travellers. There are three temples inside the town: Longwu Monastery, Yuantong Temple, and the Mosque (which serves Tibetan Buddhism, Han Buddhism and Islam), but it’s Wutong Monastery, located just outside of the town, that attracts most visitors. It’s famous for producing some of Tibetan world’s best thangkas – religious paintings that depict Buddhist deities, scenes from the sutras or mandalas.
Zhangye Danxia Geological Park
The magnificent scenery of Zhangye Danxia Landform is completely out of this world and is a stunning place to visit in China. The astonishing multi-colored mountains, cliffs and valleys are referred to as rainbow or layer cake mountains, and the Chinese say they were colored by the paint palette of God. In 2010 Zhangye Daxia was added to UNESCO World Heritage list.
The stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jiuzhaigou is a very popular destination for Chinese people, but still comparatively unknown by foreign tourists. Located in high mountains of northern Sichuan, this beautiful valley is famous for its crystal clear, blue, green and turquoise lakes, spectacular waterfalls and charming Tibetan villages. Jiuzhaigou’s Mirror Lake must be seen to be believed – a perfectly still body of water that reflects the surrounding valley of pine forest like glass.
Shennongjia Nature Reserve
Listed on UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, Shennongjia is a truly marvelous place, famed for its dramatic scenery, abundance of medical plants and wildlife, and also for being a home to the mysterious Yeren, a Chinese mythical creature akin to the Yeti or Big Foot.
All words and photos by Kasia Soszka find more of her work at Photo Wanderer.