Tourism has exploded in China, especially the domestic industry. Travel and tourism contributed to 9.2% of the country’s total GDP in 2013, and is forecast to rise by 7.7% per annum in the next ten years. This prediction means that travel and tourism could result in a 10.1% contribution of the total GDP in 2024 – at a total of 11,887.6 billion RMB. Out of all this, 90.9% originates from domestic tourism. All these facts and figures aside, dozens of China’s most iconic attractions have long felt the brunt of mass tourism. From crippling numbers swamping the Great Wall to eternal queues at natural scenic sites, we outline five beautiful places in China “ruined” by tourism – and by ruined, we don’t necessarily mean the sites have been destroyed, they’ve just become – let’s say – increasingly difficult to appreciate. With China’s thirst for domestic tourism showing no signs of quenching, let’s hope that not all sites suffer from the same fate.
A sea of people. Photo: wenzhousx.com
1) Beijing: The Great Wall and Nanluoguxiang Hutong
As the country’s capital, some of Beijing’s top scenic spots have suffered most under the influx of tourism in China. Examples include the famous Nanluoguxiang in Gulou, an old-style hutong alley that has been perfectly fitted for tourism; as well as Badaling, the section of the Great Wall easiest accessible from the city (and probably most restored).
During the high-season, Badaling is so full of people that it takes an hour of walking until you can actually see the wall. Not only is every inch of it rammed with tour groups, tour flags and the tourists wearing the same hats, but it also becomes exhausting to have to say ‘no’ to every little souvenir and drinks vendor. This section of the Great Wall has definitely been ruined as none of the original mystical and atmospheric scenery surrounding the wall has been left, and it is now disappointingly devoid of charm. Some of the watchtowers have also been physically ruined as people have written their names on them.
Nanluoguxiang has suffered a very similar fate. Not only is it clear that the streets are definitely not what they pretend to be – a depiction of the traditional hutong-style streets in Beijing – but they seem to have transformed into the opposite. Shops aimed at tourists cover this little section, along with bars and restaurants aiming at tourists’ tastes. This is perhaps the worst thing, as tourists set out to eat food that is supposedly altered for their tastes, and they do not experience real Chinese food. A much better option is to get lost in the hutong alleys surrounding Nanluoguxiang, as these are more authentic residential neighborhoods where you’ll find some great restaurants.
Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province is beautiful and served as the backdrop for Avatar. However, the nature park has suffered under mass tourism. In order to accommodate the busloads of tourists that come here every year, the park is full of unnecessary infrastructure for queuing (applying the worst queuing system imaginable), buses to different queues, a lift going up the side of a mountain, cable cars heading towards the top of the mountain next to it, buses going to the next cable car station, and finally, a McDonalds on top of Hallelujah mountain.
Lijiang Old Town in Yunnan Province has experienced a similar transformation. As the old political and commercial center for the Naxi people, the old town is a UNESCO Heritage Site. Hundreds of years ago, the city was a meeting point for those embarking upon a journey on the southern side of the Silk Road. Attracting a lot of attention from both foreign and Chinese tourists, the old town now has a lot of Western restaurants in it, as well as a bar street with tacky bars selling fake alcohol to tourists. Although back in the day tourists would go here to get lost in the old town’s alleys, you certainly won’t be doing that anymore without bumping into other tourists.
4) Yangshuo and Guilin
Located in southern Guangxi Province, Yangshuo and Guilin are famous for their hills and their location on the gorgeous Li River. The two cities are also clearly suffering under the expanding pressure of domestic and international tour groups. Not only are the hills in Guilin packed, some have fallen victim to tacky neon lighting and stick out like sore thumbs at night. The picturesque Li River is now filled with tours and cruises shuttling between the two cities. The city of Yangshuo itself has also fallen victim to mass tourism, as its main backpacker road has become a gaudy strip of tourist-geared cafes, bars and restaurants. Even the caves on the outskirts of Yangshuo have succumbed to neon lighting, ironically out-shining their natural beauty.
Xitang is a traditional water village in Zhejiang Province near Shanghai, and was built on canals and rivers. Historically, during the Spring and Autumn period the village was located between the states of Yue and Wu. Nowadays, there are way too many people visiting, and the village has been adjusted to what the local tourism board thinks foreigners wants. For example, some of the houses have been re-styled to take on the shape that foreigners expect them to be – even more ‘Chinese’. All houses and streets are also lined with lanterns. Whereas before you could easily come here and experience real village life, now, everyone’s livelihoods have become entangled with tourists. This means you are also constantly bothered by street vendors and beggars.
It is definitely time for China to consider expanding its ecotourism sector, or to start seriously thinking about preservation of historical and natural sights. Not only does tourism bring the usual environmental damage, but it also has the ability to destroy communities or cultures, as well as traditional livelihoods, without really improving living standards.
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Keywords: places in China ruined beautiful places in China
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Stay off the beaten path and public holidays, and you might get a better traveling experience. My friends and I drove to inner Xinjiang where few tourist groups tread. It's an awesome trip, breathtaking scenary, nice uyghur people and delicious local food. The most important, soooo far away from the crowds!
Jun 05, 2014 10:33 Report Abuse
Tourism in China is not about tourism at all, it is about showing other people how much money you have. Everyone goes here so we must go too, here is expensive so we must go to show our friends and family how rich we are. I have been to some of the mentioned places plus many others and the common point with all of them is masses of Chinese who take a look at this thing for ten seconds and then move onto the next must see item. It does not matter whether it is a scenic spot, a city or a museum I have never seen Chinese who appear to just enjoy being where they are. Added to the pushing, the dropping of rubbish, and the street sellers all selling the same cheap crap travel in China to most tourist spots is not a pleasure at all.
Jun 05, 2014 12:32 Report Abuse
I live in china and I truly agree. I have being to such places , just because friends and neighbours ect they do then we ( my wife ) must do too... blah blah.... I really do all to awoid such places and especially the socalled chinese holidays ( festivals ect can be great but it the same , only to show you was there and bla bla ) best places are narural places far away from any kind of turism. believe it or not .. This exist but you must be creative to find them.....
Sep 12, 2014 16:40 Report Abuse
I went to Guilin, and that place sucks. It is a lovely place, but overran by touts, who constantly bugged me to buy stuff, or to eat in their restaurant. Just never ending. From getting off the bus forward. I am rude to these people telling them to get lost, fuck off, whatever I have to say, and I should not have to say it. Chinese are horrible tourists anyway, too many Chinese really mucks things up. Never been to Zhangjiajie but saw those mountains when going from Hangzhou to Chengdu, and I did not know of them at the time. It was really beautiful.
Jun 05, 2014 16:32 Report Abuse
No, I have to disagree about Guilin. If you go during a regular week, the place is great and the sights are breath-taking. The key to any China travel is to search beforehand for the dates of Chinese holidays...and then search again, to make sure your travel will not coincide with those.
Jun 06, 2014 00:11 Report Abuse
From my experience, ANY place where Chinese tourists visit will end up ruined. From spitting everywhere, dropping and flicking cigarette butts in gardens, lakes, walkways etc etc... not using a trash can even when one is 5 meters away, being rude and obnoxious, behaving like they own the place and therefore the signage that's clearly states what NOT to do does not apply to them. The Department of Home Land Security in the US just issued a "what to do if Zombies attack" guide. I hope they really do know how to handle said situation as 2000 zombie tourist have just recently landed there!
Jun 07, 2014 12:28 Report Abuse
Sorry guys but, Yangshuo is perfectly beautiful and still wild. Of course there are many people, many tourist, but if you take a bike and go on the wild then you'll feel and breath fresh air. You'll be in peace with mother nature. I truly know what is pollution, and there, it's pure, of course not as our western countries, but it's remind me the beauty of wild. Last but not least, the touts are here to make their business up, so let's play the business game ;-)Sure I will be back there... Best regards ;-)
Jun 10, 2014 22:46 Report Abuse
I used to live in guilin for a long time and i must say its spot on. They rather than educate the children to not shit in the streets and the general people to stop with the littering and spitting they rather Re-re-Construct a park and make it super taking for example 7 stars park... Still a great place to spend sometime in.
Jul 04, 2014 20:24 Report Abuse
There are beautiful places in China and some are off the beaten to a pulp track. I went rafting in the mountains of Guanxi thru caves, past waterfalls and hardly a person in sight. Huangshan is spectacular but to wait for 2-3 to go up or down the chairlift even at 5 in the morning is crazy. Rule 1: Don't travel in the golden weeks. Rule 2: Go somewhere where domestic tourism doesn't want to go. They will have to start introducing quotas for some place like they did for Piano Island at Xiamen. Raise entry prices. That will drive the Chinese crazy. It all comes back to ren shan ren hai (people mountain people sea)
Sep 28, 2014 10:43 Report Abuse
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