An insider’s guide to China

In a recent post, I drew from my own travels throughout China to share five experiences that you can only have in this incredibly diverse and mysterious country. The response was so strong that I decided to dive deeper and interview some of our Chinese tour guides to uncover their insider insights on some fantastic, yet overlooked, activities to enjoy while touring China.

1. Wander the Old Town of Lijang

Escape the hustle and bustle of contemporary Beijing and Shanghai to explore one of the last remaining ancient towns of China — the Old Town of Lijang. Framed against the Himalayas, this 800-year-old city located in the Southwest part of the country, in Yunnan Province, is the ancestral home of the Nakhi people, one of China’s most vibrant ethnic groups. The town, which was recently named to the UNESCO World Heritage List, is home to an array of quaint shops, canals, and winding streets. Visitors can shop for burned wood carvings among local vendors, sample fried yak meat, and purchase a handmade boat to sail down the city’s many canals. At night, attend the bonfire at the central plaza and join locals in traditional song and dance. A trip to the Old Town of Lijang transports visitors back in time, and introduces them to an unknown side of Chinese culture.

2. Hike the Yellow Mountain

Few sites in China are more beautiful than Huangshan — the Yellow Mountain, located in Anhui province in Eastern China. The mountain range, with peaks standing more than 3,250 feet high, seems to have risen out of legend. Visitors can stand at the base and watch the clouds kiss granite mountaintops and gaze at pine trees that extend to the sky. Travelers can spend a day hiking the more than 30 miles of footpaths that wind among the scenic landscape or hop on the Yugun cable car to ride to the summit and explore the forgotten Dawn Pavilion — an alcove that boasts an unforgettable view of the sunrise. The serenity and tranquility of the Yellow Mountain is not to be missed.

3. Explore the Tulou houses in Fujian

Ancient China comes alive by trekking to China’s Southeastern providence of Fujian, and exploring the UNESCO-listed Tulou houses. These round rammed-earth buildings were built by the Hakka people — Han descendants — more than 2,000 years ago. Visitors can explore various Tulou clusters throughout the region, and walk among the locals who still live inside these ancient walls. Purchase crafts and paintings at communal markets, sip tea at rustic tea shops, or just admire and enjoy the perfect union of ancient and modern.

4. Sail the Li River

Cruise down the Li River to glimpse some of the most majestic views in all of China. The river stretches more than 50 miles through Guilin, Yangshuo, and Pingle, and winds through rugged, untouched landscape. Watch fruit salesmen peddle their wares as they paddle upon rickety bamboo rafts; glimpse water buffalo fording the massive river in the safety of their herd; and view fishermen as they ply for their evening dinner. A cruise on the Li River isn’t complete without a visit to the Reed Flute Cave, a magnificent limestone cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The experience brings visitors into the very soul of China, a landscape of tranquility and awe-inspiring natural scenery.

China is best known for the wonders of Beijing and Shanghai, it’s most important and most visited cities, but there’s plenty more to experience in this huge, diverse, and fascinating country. Thanks again to our Chinese tour guides for sharing their must-see Chinese destinations.

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