This travel blog used to be about my adventures as an English teacher in China from 2008 to 2010. For better or worse, I totally scrapped all of those old posts, but I at least wanted to preserve my overall list of favorite tourist spots in China. So here goes…
There are plenty of “water towns” in China, and I’ll admit I haven’t seen them all. I did have the most fun at Tongli, though, because I went during the off-season when the crowds were tolerable. But you could probably choose any one of these. They’re all very rustic and quaint, and the canal setting offers a picturesque look at life outside the metropolitan cities.
9. Slender West Lake
West Lake in Hangzhou is a bigger and more famous body of water, but I prefer Slender West Lake in Yangzhou. The tighter environment makes it easier to appreciate the scenery on the other side of the lake. And the park ends at one of the more interesting temples in China: Daming Temple with its tall, square-shaped pagoda.
8. Zhangjiajie National Forest
This was the first national park dedicated in China. As such, it’s very busy and overly commercialized, which keeps it a bit lower on my list. But it’s also like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The tall, thin spires covered in vegetation are absolutely stunning.
7. Li River
Guilin is surrounded by odd-shaped mountains. You don’t necessarily need to take the Li River cruise to see them, but you’ll get some of the best photo opportunities along the ride. The cruise also drops you off at Yangshuo, a smaller town that’s worth spending a few days in to really get to know the area.
6. Lingshan Buddha
The Spring Temple Buddha is China’s largest statue, which I have not seen. But I did see the bronze, 88-meter tall Lingshan Buddha in Wuxi. And 88 meters is no laughing matter! It’s an impressive statue. It’s also not in the middle of nowhere, unlike the Spring Temple Buddha. Wuxi has a lot of other fun things to see while you’re there.
5. Great Wall of China
Obviously, if you’re going to go to China, you have to see the Great Wall. Many of the other famous attractions (like the Terracotta Warrior Museum) ended up being a disappointment for me, but the Great Wall was the one thing that exceeded my expectations. I’ve been to it three times now and still wholeheartedly recommend it.
Huangshan, also known as the Yellow Mountains, has a lot of cultural significance. This is where the iconic “welcome pine” comes from, after all. It’s also just a really impressive mountain range, looking like an enormous pile of leftovers from other mountains.
3. Ice and Snow World Festival
Every time I see pictures of Harbin, I have a hard time believing I was actually there. The whole city felt like stepping into the ice world of a video game. The snow and ice sculpture venues were particularly surreal, because they’re so different from all the other tourist spots in China. It’s damn cold, but this seasonal festival is well worth the visit.
Huanglong, meaning “yellow dragon,” gets its name from the bright blue pools of water that look like the scales of a yellow-skinned dragon. The scenery here isn’t very diverse, though. It’s just one long trail full of blue pools that cascade all the way to the bottom of the mountain. But that’s still a sight to behold.
1. Jiuzhaigou Valley
Usually, I would pair this with Huanglong, because they’re in the same vicinity and both feature gorgeous blue water. But Jiuzhaigou wins for being so much bigger and offering so much more. Colorful lakes, big waterfalls, striking mountains, and quaint Tibetan villages. This is the most beautiful natural park I’ve ever seen.