If you are tired of the usual summer holiday hotspots of France, Italy and America and are looking for hidden gems off the beaten tourist trail then China may just be the perfect destination for you. From the months of May through to October most of China basks in the warm summer sun making it the ideal time to see this enigmatic country at its most alluring. Whether you want to cruise the Yangtze River, relax on the beaches of Hainan or roam the endless steppe of Inner Mongolia, this travel guide to the best places to visit in China will let you plan your summer adventure with ease.
Cruise the Yangtze’s breathtaking Three Gorges
Rivalling Xi’an’s Terracotta Army and the Great Wall for the title of China’s most iconic attraction, the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges, which run from the megacity of Chongqing to Yichang, are one of the country’s must-see destinations. What is more, there is no better time to see this jaw-dropping landscape than during the summer, when the river is languid and sunshine illuminates the sheer cliffs.
While the gorges themselves are certainly beautiful, the joy of a Yangtze River cruise is that you can hop off at various historical attractions along the route, including Fengdu Ghost City, which depicts the Confucian version of the underworld, and the fairytale Shibaozhai Pagoda. Moreover, onboard Yangtze tour guides will be able to fill you in on the region’s rich history as a vast battlefield during the wars of the Three Kingdoms.
Step into a real-life Chinese watercolour at Hangzhou’s West Lake
Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, is one of China’s most loved summer destinations. Despite the throngs of tourists who descend on the historic city daily, it remains one of the world’s most idyllic locations – largely thanks to a small army of public officials and tour guides who keep the city picture perfect. The city’s main attraction is undoubtedly the West Lake, which looks like a scene straight from a Chinese watercolour painting with its willow banks, hazy mountain vistas and countless pagodas. The lake itself was ‘constructed’ in the 8th century when the city’s governor ordered the dredging of a swamp to create a perfect representation of classical Chinese beauty. Indeed, even the causeways, islands and surrounding rockeries are all man-made! For the best experience, make sure to explore the site with a West Lake walking or cycling tour guide who will be able to reveal more about its rich history.
Spend a night in a Mongolian ger in the Hulunbuir Steppe
When you think of China you most likely imagine Confucian temples, idyllic lakes and misty mountains, which are all a far cry from the rolling Mongolian grasslands inhabited by nomadic horsemen and a few-million wild reindeer. To make your way to this expectation-confounding region, depart from the Inner Mongolian city of Hailar, which has a noteworthy Genghis Khan statue, on a guided jeep safari. Once in the Hulunbuir Steppe, you will be able to get a taste for nomadic life by riding horses along the Russian and Mongolian borders, explore the local wildlife with Hulunbuir Steppe guides and camp out in a traditional ger, which is similar to a yurt.
Explore the rock formations on the Li River
With fewer tourists than the Yangtze and arguably more dramatic scenery, the Li River is one of China’s hidden gems. Immortalised by the artists of the 10th century Song Dynasty who were mesmerised by the region’s towering columns of karst rock that rise out of the flat landscape of paddy fields, the Li River basin is best explored as part of a guided river tour or on terra firma by bike. For the most dramatic scenery, make sure to head to the UNESCO listed Lijiang Scenic Zone near the town of Guilin. For those who are more interested in history, do not miss the 3rd century BC Lingqu Canal, which is the world’s oldest, and the cavernous Reed Flue Cave that contains pre-historic carvings.
Laze on China’s best beaches in Hainan Province
If your ideal summer vacation is lazying on a beach with a top-class cocktail, some of the world’s freshest seafood and taking part in exhilarating water sports then look no further than Sanya on Hainan’s southern coast. Packed with everything from traditional Chinese inns that serve up spectacularly good dishes of crab, prawns and sea fish to seaside hotels that face onto the golden sand and turquoise sea, Sanya has something to please every visitor. For adrenaline seekers, make sure to head to nearby Yalong Bay, which is a mecca for water sports.
Hike on the Great Wall of China at Huanghua Cheng
While summer in China can be very warm, the mountain areas north of Beijing that contain some of the best-preserved sections of the iconic Great Wall remain remarkably cool even when the nearby city is sweltering. Indeed, summer is the best time to explore these sections of the wall, as the weather will be dry and the stones less slippery to walk on. While the famous sections of wall at Jiankou, Gubeikou and Mutianyu are all worth a day trip from the city, the best of the bunch – and the least touristy – is undoubtedly Huanghua Cheng with its vertiginous rises and breathtaking vistas of forest-clad mountains. The section of the wall dates from the Ming Dynasty and has been partially restored making walking its 11-kilometre length a joy – even if some of the steeper sections will leave even the fittest visitor out of breath. For the best experience, book a day tour to Huanghua Cheng from Beijing and take a guided tour for at least some of the wall’s length to get a better understanding of its rich history.
“Over the past decade, Ross Cameron has travelled extensively across Europe, Southeast Asia, North America, North Africa, and the post-Soviet space. As someone who has areal passion for these regions of the globe, he is able to offer an expert opinion that highlights the best off the beaten track destinations.”
Image details and licenses: Great Wall at Huanghua Cheng: https://flic.kr/p/6ykPJ8 (dericafox, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)