Just because most of us can’t travel abroad right now, doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of the exotic right here in China. A vast country containing many different climates and cultures, China is home to a whole host of destinations that bear striking similarities to other places in the world. As we wait for the world to get back to normal, here are seven Chinese destinations where you can pretend to be abroad.
Cruise the canals in the Venice of the East
Where else could we start but the place Marco Polo once dubbed “The Venice of the East.” When the Italian explorer visited in the 13th century, he was impressed by an intricate network of canals, waterways, and bridges that reminded him so much of the city of his birth. A lot might have changed in China in the eight centuries since, but if Polo were to visit Suzhou today, he would still find many of the same sights.
The most famous of Suzhou’s various water towns is Zhouzhang, where many buildings date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. But visitors are also recommended to check out Tongli and its surrounding by five lakes and seven islands, and Luzhi, known for its ginkgo trees and artistic residents.
Enjoy the laid back lifestyle of Chiang Mai
With fast paced careers and even faster paced social lives, expats can often find it hard to unwind in China. You may think you need to travel to some sleepy backpacker town in Southeast Asia to get your detox fix, but in fact you can find it right here on the mainland. Deep down in the south of Yunnan is the fascinating city of Xishuangbanna.
Nestled between Laos and Myanmar, the city exhibits strong influences from its neighbors. Get back to nature at the Wild Elephant Valley, where hundreds of wild Asian elephants roam free, or head to Manting Park and visit the beautiful holy shrines. Finally, ensure you make at least one trip to the Gaozhuang Night Market to sample the delicious regional snacks, including Nanmi, a Dai-style tomato salsa, and Buoluofan, a fragrant pineapple rice.
Chill out on Cebu-style beaches
You may find yourself longing for the beaches of Cebu in the Philippines when you’re stuck in a Chinese city, but don’t fret. You don’t have to leave the country to enjoy a spot of sun and surf. The tropical southern island of Hainan is home to the best beaches in China.
There are a bunch of spots to check out in this resort-centered destination. Adjacent to the downtown is Sanya Bay, which stretches for 20 kilometers and is backed by many luxury hotels. Head east of the city to find the stunning Yalong Bay, known for its famous clear water. Alternately, stay closer to the city center at Dadonghai, a flat beach that’s great for young families and has plenty of lively food and drink options. For something a little more boho, try Riyue Bay or Houhai, both popular surfing spots. After a week in the sun in Sanya, you’ll forgotten all about Cebu.
Explore a winter wonderland reminiscent of Moscow
If sun and sand are not for you, swap them out for ice and freezing temperatures at Heilongjiang’s very own winter wonderland. Each year, the artists in this northern city create the most amazingly elaborate ice sculptures that attract tourists from all over the country and, in previous realities, the world.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which usually runs from the start of January until the end of February, is the largest festival of its kind in the world. Visitors can marvel at stunning sculptures of everything from popular cartoon characters, to giant Buddhas and entire palaces. As you wrap up warm against the chill and take in the sights, you could very easily pretend you’re at Moscow’s Winter Festival.
In fact, Harbin is reminiscent of Moscow in other ways, too. You’ll find a strong Russian influence in the local cuisine, from the Harbin-style smoked sausage, which was first introduced to the region by a Russian merchant 100 years ago, to Dalieba, a sour and chewy Russian-style bread. So if you’re looking to get your fix of freezing cold communism, there’s no need to travel any farther north.
Source: Rod Waddington
Enjoy a taste of neighboring Vietnam
While taking a boat ride up the Yulong River looking out on the misty mountains and fog-covered trees, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in Halong Bay, Vietnam. But the Yulong River isn’t the only characteristic that Yangshuo shares with its Southeast Asian neighbor.
Sitting close to the border, Yangshou takes its cues from Vietnam’s climate and culture. From Xianggong Mountain, which overlooks the city, to the Guilin Rice Noodles that originate from across the border, reminders of Vietnam can be found all round. Many travelers are drawn to nearby Guilin, but only Yangshuo is home to that chill Nam vibe.
Source: js hsu
Feel the Middle Eastern influence in this unique region
China is so large, it can sometimes feel like it’s made up of a number of smaller countries. This is perhaps truest in the case of Xinjiang. A visit to China’s majority Muslim most western province feels like a trip to the Middle East… albeit a part of the Middle East with very high security.
You’ve probably enjoyed the region’s amazing cuisine in restaurants throughout the rest of China, so come for the truly authentic lamb kebabs, pilaf rice and braised chicken you love so much, and stay for the beautiful scenery. When you see the sub-alpine Nalati Grasslands, known locally as “The Sky Grasslands”, you’ll see just how much the province resembles the stunning landscapes of the Middle East.
Experience the world of Pandora at this natural wonder
Okay, I admit this may be cheating a little, but no list of places in China that remind us of somewhere else would be complete without Zhangjiajie. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the inspiration for the alien world of Pandora in James Cameron’s box office smash Avatar.
After the success of the 2009 movie, Zhangjiajie boomed as a tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers. Located four hours’ drive from Changsha, Zhangjiajie’s must-see spots include the glass walkaway, the 99 bends on Tianmen Mountain, the glass bridge at the edge of the forest park, Tianzi Mountain and, of course, Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. You may not be able to travel to Pandora, even post-pandemic, but Zhangjiajie is the next best thing.
What other places in China remind you of foreign destinations? Drop your tips in the comments box below.
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