It’s sometimes said that talking about China as a single country is a bit like referring to the nation of Europe. The People’s Republic is as diverse in its languages, varied in its food, broad in its many customs as a sub-continent.
China also spans a huge geographical area, which encompasses all manner of beautiful landscapes. On a tour of China, you’re unlikely to be able to visit all the places that you could. Here’s a top pick to get you started on some of the geographical wonders for your China holiday.
1. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province
A landscape of sandstone pillars, mysterious caves, and waterfall networks, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park ranks high for stunning, immersive environments. It is one of four national parks in the surrounding scenic area, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Avatar’ mountains, as the pillars and mountains inspired parts in James Cameron’s film.
2. Zhangye National Geopark, Gansu Province
Perhaps one of China’s most striking scenic treasures are the ‘painted’ mountains of the Zhangye National Geopark. This ‘danxia’ land formation (pronounced like ‘dan-shyah’), one of several in China, displays different colours of sedimentary rock across its cliff faces and mountains. Over millions of years, the elements have sculpted the rock into all kinds of peaks, towers, and ravines. Photos of Zhangye don’t do the park justice, and look cheaply edited. This one has to be seen to be believed.
3. Lijiang River, Guangxi Province
The surroundings of Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi province are perfect if you’re looking to get off the beaten track. The landscape here is defined by huge limestone karsts which rise up from the ground. The town of Yangshuo is thrown down in between the karst landscape, and gives you a true sense of venturing deep into the countryside. The Lijiang river which runs through the area has been the inspiration for generations of Chinese painters and poets. There are plenty of remote boutique hotels in the area to enjoy your visit from, as well.
4. Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan Province
Sichuan province is home to numerous national parks, none better known than Jiuzhaogou national park on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This UNESCO World Heritage site runs along the river valley, and is renown fir its water which changes colour throughout the year. The valley takes its name from nine Tibetan and Qiang villages along the river, seven of which you can still visit today. From the Zharu valley, more daring travellers can hire a guide and hike into the wilds, immersing themselves in this area of rugged beauty and natural diversity. Reaching the park alone will present something of an adventure.
5. Great Wall of China, Beijing
Of course, no list would be complete without a nod to the Great Wall of China. Accessible from Beijing, the wall stretches across mountainous terrain to the north of the capital, and does not make for easy walking. On clear days, the Wall gives a commanding view of the crags and hills rolling away from the Wall. It’s the combination of the ancient structure and the way it snakes across the land that makes this such a magnificent sight.