Met a lot of people in China, and when I asked them, where they have been in China, most of the answers are those five cities : "Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hongkong"
Well, I've only lived in China for less than two years now and as an ordinary students from an average family, my income is limited to only scholarships and part-time jobs, but I could proudly say that I've traveled to at least 12 provinces in China and about 20 different cities. Some of them are because I participated in activities and programs, some of them are because some relatives or friends invited me to go with them, but most of them...I went there on my own, with one or two traveling companions.
There are a lot of wonderful places in China and it's a pity if you don't at least see some of them. Next time you have a chance to be in China, don't waste your money shopping in "Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hongkong". Instead, take out your map, buy train tickets, and go visit these places :
6. Xi'an (西安)
My Chinese teacher said that "If you have never been to Xi'an, you haven't seen the real China"
And I agree with him. If you go and visit big cities in China, you will only see tall buildings, traffic jams, some crowded overly-commercialised fake "ancient towns", and also dark skies due to heavy pollutions. That's not the case with Xi'an. Compared to today's Beijing, Xi'an is much much smaller. As a capital for around 13 dynasties in the past, Xi'an still retain most of its ancient glory. There are a lot of historical sites around the city, ancient buildings, wonderful museums, tombs, pagodas, Terracotta Army, delicious cuisine, and most of all, The City Walls.
- Terracotta Army 兵马俑
- Xi'an Historical Museum in Small Goose Pagoda area
- Muslim District 回民街 near the Bell Tower
- Hanyangling Museum
- City Walls
Eat : Yang Rou Pao Mo 羊肉泡馍 (Bread Crumbs Soup with Goat's Meat), Rou Jia Mo 肉夹馍 (Chinese Hamburgers, found in Muslim District)
Do : Ride a bike atop the city walls
The taxi drivers in Xi'an is a jerk. Aside from refusing to use meter rates and giving you unreasonable prices, they could even drop you off in the street if they found another passenger with a more "beneficial" route. Try to use public bus more as Xi'an is quite a small city.
5 Xining (西宁)
Chinese people call Xining "The Summer Capital". Most of hotels in this city doesn't have air conditioner. Why? Because they don't need it. Even in summer, the weather is cool, winds blowing all the time, and at night, you will need to wear blankets. There is not much to see in the city except for some mosques and islamic buildings. But if you get out from the city, you will experience the "Tibetan flavors" as Xining is the gateway to Tibetan plateau.
- Ta'er Si (Kunbum) Monastery -> a beautiful Tibetan monastery
- Tongren -> a small Tibetan town just a few hours away from the city, go with bus
- Xiahe -> a small Tibetan town, just a few hours away from Tongren, go with bus
- Guide (Gui De) -> a small ancient Tibetan village located in Yellow River's bank, just a few hours away from the city, go with bus
- Qinghai Lake 青海湖 -> the largest inland saltwater lake in China, just a few hours away from the city, go with bus
- Qilian Mountains -> If you go on a road trip to this mountains, you can see a very impressive scenery and interact with a lot of Tibetan peoples on the road.
4. Datong (大同)
Datong is a small city located in mountainous Shanxi province. The people in this city have a very little experience with foreigners. When I visit Datong in Spring 2013, the city was under a heavy construction. Many streets are being torn up while buildings are being torn down; rubble and debris is littered all over the city. Other than the city walls, there is not much to see in the city itself. The main attractions in Datong, is not inside the city, but outside of it. The Hanging Temple is pretty impressive architecture wonder, and Yungang Grottoes is the second biggest grottoes in China, even bigger and better than Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang.
- Hanging Temple 悬空寺
- Yungang Grottoes 云岗石鼓
3. Guilin (桂林)
Guilin is a beautiful city that is often portrayed in ancient Chinese paintings and poems. Surrounded by two rivers and four lakes and studded with sheer sided karst mountains, Guilin is a home to 12 ethnic minorities. Mountains, rivers, cities, and people, one in harmony. That is Guilin. There are many scenic places within short traveling distance in Guilin.
- Elephant Trunk Hill 象鼻山
- Sun and Moon Pagoda 日月塔 (best visited at night)
- Diecai Mountain / Fubo Hill (one of them is enough, just to see Guilin's scenery from above)
- Yangshuo 阳朔 -> Once a small beautiful backpackers town, now is heavily commercialised and jam-packed with Chinese tourist. Still, there are a lot of wonderful places around it. Just use it as base camp for your adventures in Li River area.
- Xingping -> A beautiful places just one hour away from Yangshuo (by bus). Here you can see the beautiful scenery portrayed in Chinese 20 yuan paper bill.
- Longsheng & Longji Paddy terraces
- Xiang Gong Mountain -> Climb this mountain and see the beautiful sceneries of Li River from above
Eat : Guilin Rice Noodles 桂林米粉, Shao Kao 烧烤 (Street BBQ), and Beer Fish 啤酒鱼. You can find the last one in Yangshuo.
- Ride traditional bamboo rafts in the river
- Watch locals fishing using Cormorant bird
- Ride a bike around Yangshuo to see beautiful sceneries on the countryside
- Take a mud bath inside underground caves around Yangshuo
- Visit ethnic minorities' parks and watch their performances
- Guilin is famous tourism city in China, so there will be a lot of people who tried to scam you. Plan your trip carefully before you go.
- Some places in Guilin is not worth a visit. The Jingiang Prince City for example. The ticket price is the same like Forbidden City in Beijing, but inside the parks, Only the city walls and some of the foundation of the original buildings are left, the buildings themselves are all new. Avoid this tourist' trap and do not waste your time here.
- Be careful of pickpockets.
Next time, I will write a more detailed guide for Guilin because I have lived in this city for almost one year now.
2. Harbin (哈尔滨)
Known as the "Winter Paradise", Harbin is one of the coldest place in China. Located on the bordering province with Russia, Harbin is heavily influenced by it, especially in architecture styles and foods. The weather is cool in summer, and in winter, the city hosted the annual "International Harbin Snow and Ice Festival"
- Harbin's International Snow and Ice Festival on January and February every year, when the weather is the coldest all year's around (minus 15-25). The festival was held in 3 different venue : Sun Island, Ice and Snow World, and Zhaolin Park. If you could only visit one of them, Ice and Snow World (冰雪大世界) located in Songjiang River Banks is still the best out of three.
- Zhongyang Dajie (Street) -> The most famous pedestrian only street with a lot of Russian buildings, restaurants, and shops that sells Russian stuff.
- Siberian Tiger Preservation Area
- Harbin Polar Land (located in Sun Island)
- Yabuli Ski Resort
1. Dunhuang (敦煌)
Located on the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, Dunhuang is one of the most important city in ancient China. Today it is a small beautiful town in the Gobi Desert with population less than 200.000 people. With a rich history of over a thousand years old, Dunhuang is a great place to visit for those who wishes to experience a life in the desert.
- Mogao Grottoes -> The biggest and most important grottoes in China filled with exquisite Buddhist arts and manuscripts. To protect the artifacts, the number of visitors is limited and advanced booking is needed.
- Yueyaquan National Park -> A great place for those who wishes to experience the desert. Go early in the morning and ride camels to see the sunrise. Climb to the top of sand dunes and slide down using a "giant wheel". The oasis itself is not too impressive up close, but very beautiful from afar.
- Yadan Landforms / Devil City -> A beautiful landforms resembling an ancient city in the middle of the desert.
Do : Watch locals performances. Ask your hotels/guide. Some of them are good, some of them are bad. I watched the one about the Goddess of Dunhuang and I like it. Depends on your self preference.
Eat : Lamb Meat Skewers. Very delicious.
The people in Dunhuang seems nicer than any other places in China. The prices for fruits etc is more expensive than any other cities though because they need to import them from the South. Well, we're in the middle of the desert anyway.