Private Luxury China Travel

Wild China: Beyond the Tourist Spots


(Post written by Pete Saville)


The Great Wall of China and Forbidden City in Beijing, the Terra Cotta warriors in Xian, the stunning skyline of mega cities like Shanghai are all synonymous, big star attractions associated with China. But for those inspired by Earth’s natural beauty and wildlife, China is blessed with a plethora of amazing sites that stretches the imagination.

Here are some of our best picks when it comes to China’s scenic beauty and fascinating wildlife:

1. Dragon’s Backbone: Longshen Rice Terraces


Longshen rice terrace, China Travel

Aptly named for its sprawling terraced rice paddies that scale the Longji Mountains in incredible patterns resembling a dragon’s scaled backbone, the Longshen Rice Terraces are uniquely spectacular. Thankfully, getting there is a pleasant (but very winding) 2 hour drive through the mountains from Guilin to Longsheng Town, a trip of around 100 kilometres.

The highest points the terraces reach are between 600 and 800 metres, and there are ample opportunities for hiking that will appeal to casual walkers as well as more intermediate trails. The effort is well worth the stunning panoramas you will experience, as well as the minority villages you will pass through belonging to the Zhuang and Yao people who created these terraces some 650 years ago.

Arguably the best time to visit is at the end of May, because the fields will at this time be full of water as the rice growing season begins. This lends itself to some pretty spectacular dusks and dawns, as all this water reflects the sun’s technicolour rays as far as the eye can see.

However, each season the terraces morph and change into their own different colours and flavours: In summer, the layers are filled with lush green rice shoots which turn golden in autumn months, and in winter, layers of sparkling frost. Longsheng and the Longji Rice Terraces are featured on our 2-week Luxurious China Tour that absolutely overloads the senses.

 2. Panda Bears of Chengdu


Panda Bears in Chengdu, China Travel

Chengdu is located in the Sichuan Province and is the provincial capital, located only 1 hour west of the Tibetan Plateau’s foothills and the great mountains of western Sichuan.

The city itself has some impressive attractions such as sacred and religious sites of Mount Qingcheng and Wenshu Yuan Monastery, but if you go north out passed the outskirts of the city and head for the Chengdu Panda Research Base, you will have the opportunity of a lifetime to get a look at the biggest facility in the world dedicated to Panda conservation and some close encounters with some 60 giant pandas.

The views you get of these cute and cuddly beasts are much closer than you’ll ever get in Western zoos. You used to be able to hold a panda but currently this option appears to be suspended (as of June 2016), though like many things in China this may likely change again at the time of writing!

Either way, visiting the Panda base you will get a full educational experience of the plight of this endangered and much-loved bear through documentaries screened in an onsite cinema, a museum and helpful and friendly staff and volunteers who run the centre.

The best times to visit are right at opening time at 7.30am: This is because Pandas are at their most active at this time of day and the crowds are thinner. So it’s well worth the early start. Pandas sleep during the day due to the heat so they won’t be as active during the daytime. Feeding time is 8-9.30am, making the early start even more worth it.

To get to the Panda base, you can get a taxi easily from downtown Chengdu or go on an organised tour. Explorient’s China Family Spectacular Tour takes you there in style.

3. Yunnan Province


Stone Forest, Kunming China

Located in the deep south of China – bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam – Yunnan is where the limestone karst mountains of South East Asia weave their way into China. Indeed, southern Yunnan is more ethnically related to South East Asia than China. But interesting ethnic minorities aside, the nature in Yunnan is really what sets it apart from the rest of China.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is carved out by the mighty Yangtze River, and the skyline is dominated by the breathtaking Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, standing at 5596 metres above sea level. Hikes into the gorge provide spectacular views of jungle cliff edges, misty mountains and snowy peaks, as well as waterfalls, and generally last 2-3 days. Be aware however this is not a particular easy hike and requires a certain level of fitness.

However, if you prefer to visit the Gorge without any hiking, there is a road that enters the gorge from the south and will stop at a parking lot where you can disembark and walk on a fairly even surface to the upper Tiger Leaping Stone. This can easily be arranged through a tour from nearby Lijiang.

The other highlight of Yunnan (amongst its hundreds!) is undoubtedly the Stone Forest (Shilin). Easily accessible from Kunming by bus, train (2 hours slow, 22 minutes bullet) or tour, the Stone Forest is an incredibly vast karst region and was designated a UNESCO site in 2007. Indeed, the karst ‘forest’ is so immense that you may feel like you have been whisked away into Lord of the Ring’s fantasy realm of middle-earth!

Luckily for you though, you won’t have to clamber over millions of razor sharp rocks (like poor Frodo!) to get around this natural wonder: There are numerous small green electric buses that loop from the parking lots and bus terminal and then back to the bus terminal and park entrance.

Other sites and activities in Yunnan include hikes on the Mekong on the border regions with Laos and Myanmar, as well as visits to see the rice terraces of Yuanyang. While they aren’t as impressive as the Longshen Rice Paddies, it’s still well worth a visit. If Yunnan sounds like your cup of Tea, check our our 6-night Yunnan Highlights tour that features Kunming, Lijiang and Shangri-la or, our Spectacular Yunnan package, a luxury tour of Lijiang Shangri-la, Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai.

4. Xinjiang


Xinjiang Village, China Travel

Take a look at a map and you’ll see Xinjiang is a world away from the capital of Beijing, and that is true for both its landscape, topography and culture.

Located in far North West of China, and sharing a land border with Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the culture here is varied, with the Uyghur people being the dominant ethnicity, with their own language (alongside Mandarin), as well as large minorities of Mongols, Russians and so forth.

You can get here by train from Beijing and most other Chinese cities or by plane to the provincial capital Urumqi.

Xinjiang used to be a gateway on part of the silk road that cut through here bypassing much of the desert: However, for tourists it’s the surrounding desert regions and the amazing scenery of the snow-capped mountains on the Karakoram Highway, plus opportunities for camel trekking near Hotan that are the real delights of visiting this far flung adventurous region of China.

Tours are offered from Hotan and can range from 1 day trips all the way up to 20 day treks into the very heart of Xinjiang. This will give you the opportunity to take in the desert and mountains whilst also seeing what it was like for caravan riders back in the day when they used to ply this route trading goods to and from Europe.

5. Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province


Jiuzhaigou, China Travel

Located right in the heart of central China, Jiuzhaigou was the first ever nature reserve to be established in china back in 1992, when it was also declared a UNESCO site.

The reserve is known mainly for its numerous multi-tiered waterfalls, colourful turquoise, blue and green lakes and its wild pandas; though you have to be very lucky indeed to spot one here in the wild. The lakes in particular are favoured by Chinese domestic tourists, rivalling those found even in places like Canada. The striking colours of the lakes are all down to Jiuzhaigou’s high concentration of minerals such as calcium carbonate, which has the added advantage of making the lakes so clear you can often see the bottom even from the deepest depths.

The flora of the park at lower altitudes is a nice mix of valley grasses, reeds and then as you ascend slightly higher, magical bamboo forests. At even higher altitudes deciduous and conifer trees abound, and beyond them are the snow-capped mountains of the Min Shan mountain range.

The park is located at heights of between 2000 metres and 3000 metres, so the best time to visit is in the summer months (or late spring/early autumn), when temperatures are pleasant and temperate, and the waterfalls are at their best with most the annual rain falling in the summer months. Winters are harsh, cold with heavy snow fall and many hiking trails closed, so it’s best to avoid the winter in general.

Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve, China

To get around the park, note that cars, motorbikes and even bicycles are banned: You can only take the reserve’s special bus service that will take you all around the main sites of the park if you don’t want to walk or hike.

It’s possible to see the whole park in a day on the buses, but you wouldn’t be doing it justice: It is best to take your time and really absorb everything it has to offer.

Highlights include:

Long Lake, at an altitude of 3000 metres is the biggest and deepest lake in Jiuzhaigou and its crystal clear waters beautifully reflect the Min Shan Mountains dominating the skyline behind it.

Five Colour Pool is also unmissable, with its multicoloured lakes, and the Pearl Shoal and Pearl Shoal Falls, which drop 21 metres over a cascade that looks like a shawl of pearls from a distance (hence its name).

To learn more about planning a trip to Jiuzhaigou, check out of Yangtze & The Pandas Tour featuring Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong plus a cruise on the Might Yangtze River.

So, if you thought China was all about megacities, a colourful history and culture, think again: The nature and wildlife in China is arguably the best reason of them all to visit this vast, rapidly changing nation.

For our comprehensive array of private luxury tours of China and beyond, be sure to check out our China page.

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