It’s been a difficult start to the year in China and around the world. After months of limited movement, most of us are no doubt itching to do some traveling and shake off the frustrations and confinement that have marked 2020 so far. However, with China still blocking entry to most foreigners, many expats will be unable or simply unwilling to travel abroad this year. This summer presents a good opportunity to travel domestically, but doing so, particularly during national holidays, can result in a vacation typified by noise and crushing crowds. I therefore bring you seven lesser-known domestic holiday destinations for expats stuck in China.
Source: 郑 无忌
(I’ve personally traveled to some of the places listed below. For the rest, I’ve relied on suggestions from Chinese friends and coworkers.)
1. Food-focused city break in Lanzhou, Gansu
This first suggestion is by far the largest city on the list. Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, is a transportation hub connecting the cities of eastern China to points out west. A large metropolis set alongside the Yellow River, Lanzhou is the birthplace of one of the most iconic dishes in China: Lanzhou lamian.
These hand-pulled noodles can be found in nearly every city in China, but only one can claim to be their birthplace. For those of you who don’t know, Lanzhou lamian start out as a slab of dough, which is expertly pulled into thin strands and then boiled in a steaming vat of water. The noodles are then combined with a seasoned broth, green vegetables and thin slices of beef and served piping hot. In my mind, it’s the perfect comfort food. With a fascinating history and some cool architecture to boot, China’s “noodle city” is high on my list of places to visit this summer.
2. Chilled Great Wall experience at Jiayuguan, Gansu
If you’ve already been to better-known sections of the Great Wall and found yourself put off by the enormous crowds, rest assured that there is another option. Also in Gansu, this next spot has been highly recommended by several of my acquaintances. Located farther west than the stretch of the Wall nearest Beijing, the Jiayuguan Great Wall in Gansu province offers a much more relaxed experience.
Constructed during the Ming Dynasty (roughly mid-14th to mid 17th centuries) and representing the western frontier of Ming-era China, the wall is quite remote, requiring a bit of a hike to reach but cutting down the crowds in return. Visitors up for the challenge will be rewarded with amazing views of mountains and deserts from their lofty perch on the ancient ruin.
3. Cultural awakening at Mount Emei and Kangding, Sichuan
Staying out west, we come to Mount Emei, the tallest of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China. Located in western Sichuan, this majestic mountain is nestled in one of the most scenic regions in China. At the peak of Mount Emei is the Golden Summit Monastery, which frankly has to be seen to be believed.
Just a three-hour drive from Mount Emei is Kangding Town, the capital of the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Kangding offers visitors a little slice of Tibet without the need to travel all the way there, which can be costly, time consuming and politically/ethically dicey. Kangding, known throughout China as the home of love songs and ancient legends, is a truly unique and fascinating place. There are several daily coach routes between Emei and Kangding for those who want to combine the two into one trip.
4. Spiritual wonder at Wuzhou Mountain, Shanxi
Wuzhou Mountain, only a few miles from the mid-sized city of Datong, enjoys the double-whammy status of being lesser-known but also easy to reach. Within striking distance of Beijing, Wuzhou Mountain is home to literally thousands of sculptures carved onto the face of the mountain. Known collectively as the Yungang Grottoes, the carvings serve as a kind of open-air museum. The grottoes, all Buddhist in nature, date back to the 5th and 6th centuries and are quite a sight to behold.
5. Classic seaside fun at Rizhao, Shandong
Qingdao is famous for several reasons: its beautiful landscapes and beaches, its fascinating history, and the commercial and touristic delights of a highly developed and globalized city. But just a few hours’ drive down the coast is the much smaller and lesser-known resort town of Rizhao. This is a place frequented by locals from the Shandong-Jiangsu area but rarely sought out by Chinese travelers from farther afield and practically unknown to foreigners.
Having visited with my wife a few years ago, we found it to be the perfect mix of a fun beach resort and a traditional Chinese city. Arriving on Chinese National Day, we were surprised to find there were very few tourists, even though the water was still pleasant enough for a swim. You won’t find the same shopping and dining options that you would in Qingdao, but there are plenty of beach activities and good food at a fraction of the cost.
6. Beach it up on Putuoshan Island, Zhejiang
Sometimes you just want to go to a beautiful beach. A stone’s throw from Shanghai and Hangzhou, Putuoshan Island is likely to be the most crowded place on this list, with holidays and weekends being the busiest times, as with any beach destination.
But don’t let that discourage you. Putuoshan is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in China, according to my friends and coworkers. Aside from its stunning landscape, the island also boasts several sacred Chinese Buddhist landmarks, the most famous being the 33-meter-tall statue of the deity Guanyin. Sun yourself by day, contemplate the eternal mysteries of existence by night!
7. Old China charm at Qian Dao Hu, Zhejiang
Zhejiang province is rightly considered among the most scenic in eastern China. The famous and historic city of Hangzhou has been a must-visit destination since the time of Marco Polo, but few foreign travelers strike out a little farther to reach Qian Dao Hu, the Lake of a Thousand Islands.
While the name reflects literary license more than an exact accounting of geography, the lake and its islands are stunning. Much of the area has been well preserved, offering up an authentic (if not slightly sanitized) “Old China” feel. The lake and its surroundings have been tastefully modernized to accommodate a growing tourist interest, but seldom does it feel overly commercialized or packed.
China is your oyster!
In closing, I see the upcoming summer as a bit of a disappointment but also a tremendous opportunity. I had, like many expats in China, been looking forward to returning home and/or taking a vacation abroad. The — I guess we’ll call it fluidity — of Chinese immigration law at this time has put those plans on hold, but I am now starting to get excited about traveling to corners of China that I’m yet to discover. There’s still so much I haven’t seen!
While this list offers up a few of the places that I think are most interesting, there are literally thousands more. Wherever you go this summer, I hope you see something new and memorable. Just be sure to do some thorough research and call your accommodation in advance whenever possible to ensure you don’t get hit by unexpected COVID-related restrictions.
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An alltogether nice and flowery article, however a word of caution. On 22 June 2020 at Chongqing airport I was nearly detained and quarinteed for 14 days, despite a normal temperature and no virus symptoms. The overly zealous health official had targeted me because I was the only 'wageren' at the boarding gate heading home to Xi'an,
Jun 24, 2020 14:43 Report Abuse