With so many great destinations at our fingertips from Bali to Tokyo, you might be tempted to overlook the 9,596,961km2 mothership of mainland China. Yet China offers so many travel opportunities from clambering up the Great Wall to gasping in awe at the ice sculptures during the Harbin ice festival. Depending on how far you want to travel, here are some ideas outside the usual hotspots of Beijing, Shanghai & Shenzhen…
Yangshuo is a laidback tourist town surrounded by karst mountains, rice fields and the Li river. This is the perfect spot for those craving the outdoors from rock climbing and hiking to biking and taking a boat ride on the river. Book tickets for the nighttime open air show, Impression Sanjie Liu.
Best time to visit: April to October
Where to stay: Charming guesthouses galore from the Giggling Tree to Yangshuo Tea Cozy
Getting there: Fly to Guilin with Hong Kong Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair
Browse Yangshuo hotels on Booking.com now
Chengdu is the place to go if you want to see pandas. The Panda Breeding Research Center is home to several different breeds of panda in a spacious and well-maintained setting. Once you’ve had your fill of cuddly animals, head out of the city to climb Mount Qincheng. Engineers will enjoy a tour of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, about an hour from Chengdu city centre.
If you have time, catch a 40-minute flight to Jiuzhaigou and visit the breathtaking waterfalls, ponds and lakes of the Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve.
Best time to visit: March to June and September to November
Where to stay: Luxury at the Shangri-La, or boutique at BuddhaZen
Getting there: Fly direct to Chengdu with Hong Kong Airlines, Dragonair, Cathay and Air China
Shangri La, Yunnan
In 2002, Zhongdian changed its name to Shangri La to reflect its heavenly scenery. Explore the charming streets of Shangri La’s old town and pay a visit the Songzanlin Monastery.
For the trip of a lifetime, start your journey to Shangri La in the beautiful Lijiang, spending a couple of days exploring the area before embarking on a hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge (2 hrs from Lijiang). The gorge is located between the Yulong Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain and the two-day trek involves an overnight stay in a mountain guesthouse. At the end of the trek, catch a bus from Qiaotou to Shangri La.
Best time to visit: Shangri La (May-June and Sep-Oct), Lijiang (March to May and Oct-Nov). For Tiger Leaping Gorge, avoid rainy season mid June to mid September.
Where to stay: Lijiang – Banyan Tree or The Bivou, Shangri La – Songtsam or Arro Khampa
Getting there: To get to Shangri La, fly with China Eastern to Kunming (1hr 45) then catch another China Eastern flight to Diqing (1 hr). For Lijiang, there are few direct flights (China Eastern) but most involve a stopover in Kunming.