China spans five different time zones from east to west, and it is home to all different kinds of climates from tropical to sub-frigid. So it should be no surprise that some of the most beautiful sights in the world are here. The country is filled with hidden gems and attractions just waiting to be discovered (once travel resumes!) From beautiful sand dunes to some of the tallest statues on the planet, here are some of the most beautiful places in China you need to see!
1. Zhangye National Geopark, Gansu
Known for its colorful rock formations, Zhangye National Geopark has been voted by major media outlets as one of the most beautiful places in China. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is known for its danxia landforms, which is the result of sandstone and other mineral deposits over 24 million years. It looks similar to a layer cake, created by the action of the same tectonic plates responsible for creating parts of the Himalayan mountains. Wind, rain, and time then sculpted these extraordinary towers, pillars, and ravines, with varying colours, patterns, and sizes.
2. Yunhe Rice Terraces, Zhejiang
‘Yunhe’ literally stands for ‘peaceful clouds’, and the rice terraces here have been around for over 1,000 years. Rainy days are the best time to visit, when steam evaporating from river water floats through the terraces, creating an agricultural dreamscape. Its landscape varies throughout the year, but it consistently draws in many amateur and pro photographers looking to capture the unique rice terraces, and also the traditional Chinese countryside life and minority culture. The She ethnic group lives here, a minority population with very small numbers in China. Visitors can learn about and experience their unique culture and customs while visiting Yunhe.
3. Fenghuang Ancient Town, Hunan
The ancient town of Fenghuang is often praised as ‘the most beautiful town in China’, thanks to its natural beauty, rich history and colorful culture. It harbours unique ethnic languages, customs, arts and distinctive architectural remains of Ming and Qing styles. Several ethnic minority groups still live in Fenghuang, including the Miaos and Tujias where their customs and culture live on. Apart from being one of the most beautiful ancient towns in China, there are lots to see and do here, including taking a leisurely boat ride on the river.
4. Kanas Lake, Xinjiang
Nestled in the deep forests and valley of Altai Mountains, Kanas Lake is a truly beautiful mountain lake. It takes on different colors during the four seasons. Sometimes it’s crystal blue, sometimes it’s dark green, or even gray. Xinjiang has received some bad press in recent years and what is happening to the Uyghur people is horrific. For foreign travellers, the result of the cultural genocide is increased police checkpoints and some restrictions on movement. But overall, Xinjiang is still safe for foreigners. In fact, the Ugyhur people need more advocates, and more people should hear from the locals about what is happening.
5. Guanyin of Nanshan, Hainan Island
Hainan delivers the best tropical settings in China, but look beyond its beaches to find the world’s largest Guanyin statue. Standing majestically at 108 metres near Nanshan, China’s southernmost mountain, the statue has three ‘faces’. One side faces inland and the other two face the South China Sea, representing Guanyin’s blessing and protection over China and the rest of the world. The Nanshan Temple is also here and the area’s highlights include gardens, sculptures, ocean views, and different sites dedicated to Buddhism. There is also another buddhist statue here, the Golden Jade Kwan-yin Statue. Constructed out of gold, diamonds, jade and other precious stones, the statue is considered a national treasure.
6. Huangguoshu Waterfall, Guizhou
At 77.8 metres high and 101 metres wide, Huangguoshu Waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls in China and East Asia. It’s also one of the waterfalls in the world that’s accessible for viewing from almost any angle – above, below, front, back, left or right. The waterfall looks different according to where you are standing, and that’s why it’s an AAAAA scenic area. At the back of the waterfall is a naturally formed cave called Shuiliandong (水帘洞), or Water-Curtain Cave. It is believed that this is where the monkey god, Sun Wukong lives!
7. Echoing Sand Mountain and Crescent Lake, Dunhuang
Echoing Sand Mountain, or Mingshashan (鸣沙山) is a series of sand dunes surrounding Crescent Lake. Named for its distinctive shape and aural characteristics, the sand dunes look like a golden dragon winding its way over the horizon when seen from afar, and its echoes can be heard as the wind blows over the dunes. Some might think that much like fire and water, a desert and a spring cannot coexist. But the lake appears as a natural wonder, like a crescent moon in the Gobi Desert. Many visitors here will also visit the UNESCO site, Mogao Caves.
8. Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan
Jiuzhaigou is undoubtedly one of the most popular beautiful places in China that draws in both domestic and foreign tourists. It is home to a series of waterfalls and an enormous lake filled with water that changes color throughout the year. This is caused by a combination of algae and calcified rocks found at the bottom of the lake, as well as the reflection of the surrounding landscape. Autumn is the best time of year to visit, as that’s when it takes on a rainbow of different hues!