There’s no doubt that China has a certain charm in its ability to merge old traditions and new development. Although the cityscapes and bright lights are great attractions to China, the rural southern countryside is a diamond in the rough and one of our top recommendations to visit in 2014.
With group tours now being an option instead of a must, and more independence granted to travellers by improved rail links, airports and roads, it’s easier than ever to leave the well-trodden tourist routes and break away to the misty mountains of Lijiang and the winding waters of Yangshuo.
Here’s our top destinations for the active traveller who wishes to delve into the more remote and naturally beautiful side of China, and our tips for activities in each area:
One of our favourite itineraries through China begins with the city of Chengdu, famous for its Panda Breeding Research centre. If wildlife is your thing then taking a trip to see the bears is a must-do. Although technically a zoo, the panda centre is responsibly run and you’ll learn all about their heritage, breeding habits as well as witnessing them being fed. It’s certainly a great start to a more relaxed China holiday.
A great place to stop off after Chengdu is the beautiful ‘old town’ of Lijiang, famous for its beautiful waterways that flow through the centre and are lit up at night by thousands of red lanterns. You’ll be able to explore to your heart’s content through cobbled streets and over tiny bridges that lead to wooden houses and old-fashioned shops. As this part of town is a UNESCO World heritage site, it has been beautifully preserved and retains a real feel of the ancient China that has been lost in the more modern cities.
From Lijiang you could take a short bicycle ride outside the old town and along a paved road lined with snow-capped mountains either side. Here is where you will find peaceful villages and hardly any tourists- perfect for experiencing the ‘real’ China and truly relaxing.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
A real highlight of southern China can be found just two hours outside of Lijiang, ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’. Apart from having one of the most atmospheric names of all of time, this scenic area is perfect for trekking, boasting scenery of pine forests, glaciers and snowy peaks.
When you reach Yangshuo, you’ll realise why so many people dream of visiting this beautiful area. The winding Yulong River is dotted with towering karst mountains and the surrounding rice paddies roll in waves over the farmland. Yangshuo is an active traveller’s dream, with opportunities to cycle along the river, kayak, or simply jump on a traditional bamboo raft and float off at your leisure, taking in the beauty that surrounds you.
A trip to Yangshuo wouldn’t be complete without a night at the ‘Zhang Yumou light show’, which is set along the Li and Yulong rivers. The show’s director is most famous for producing the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony, and the light show follows in the footsteps of the famous spectacle, featuring hundreds of performers and illuminated karst mountains
One of the best ways to be truly immersed with the rural Chinese culture is to visit the local villages of Tang ‘an and Jitang, both of which follow the ancient ‘Dong’ traditions. Heading into the lush green mountains, you’ll meet the local people, visit the bustling markets and perhaps partake in a glass of rice tea. Although the accommodation in this area is modest, the view over the famous wind and rain bridge which is lit up at night, making a great view from your balcony.
Last on the China wish list would have to be misty plains of Ping’an. If you fancy getting up a bit earlier, watching the sun rise over two of the world’s highest rice paddies, The Dragon’s Back Bone and Long Ji, is quite an experience, and will certainly be a highlight of your China trip.
Walking is the best way to experience Ping’an as you’ll be able to go at your own pace and your guide will be able to explain the local area and take you though the most scenic spots. Occasionally you’ll pass a few houses build on poles and the locals will greet you with curious smiles, but on the whole this area is very quiet and peaceful, and the perfect destination to end your trip to rural China.
On our destination site, China Travel Plan you can take a look at our popular itinerary, ‘From misty mountains to hidden villages’
which follows a similar routing and will ensure you make the most out of your time in China. We also offer a great range of shorter
China tours which you can mix and match to create your ideal trip to your desired pace. China Travel Plan is part of Rickshaw Travel and is run by our travel experts who know the country inside out!
‘We wanted to visit China but we are not suited to a group trip as we were keen to get a bit off the beaten track. We also wanted flexibility as to where we went and what we did. We were asked a lot of questions age fitness interests etc. and the answers were used to help them design a suitable trip… We did six stops in 12 days and one of the best things was that the schedule allowed good time between locations and we didn't end up exhausted. Best holiday we have ever had.’
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