China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Its home to a rich culture, a few millennia of history, great food, significant historical sites, and over 1.3 billion people. Most tourists head for the obvious tourist attractions – the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors, the Shaolin Temple, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. While they are all amazing (and amazingly crowded), there is much more to China than these crowded tourist sites.
China has amazing areas of beauty that are great to escape to, even if the road leading to them isn’t as beaten down by throngs of tourists. These three places will help enjoy the historical and natural wonders China without the Disney World crowds:
The Longmen Caves
The Longmen Cave has an extensive collection of Buddhas near Luoyang. Though still popular, there is more breathing room and more natural scenery here than in other tourist areas of China. Thousands of Buddhas, from neck-craning enormous statues to thumbnail-size ones, are carved into cliffs along the Yi River. From a distance, the cliff looks like a honey comb network. On the opposite side of the river from the giant Buddhas lies a romantic tea house tucked away in the woods, alongside a stream to offer weary travelers a rest. The site is very cheap at 40 RMB.
Don’t Miss the Xi’an City Wall
The oldest and most well-kept city wall in China is in Xi’an, a modern city with a lively and chaotic nightly carnival. The red-lantern-lined wall overlooks traditional Chinese buildings, with towers every 100 or so meters, and makes you feel like you are truly in China and not a whitewashed tourist attraction. Start your bike ride before sunset and you’ll be able to ride when the lights along the wall and the lanterns light up to guide your way in the dark.
Fans of the movie Kung Fu will know the Shaolin Temple well. Sadly, nearly the entire original temple has been destroyed and you share this faux-site with hordes of tourists. However, nearby and included in the Shaolin admission ticket, is one of China’s holy mountains – Song Mountain. To reach the mountain, you must take a 60 RMB lift, which offers a nice view of the surrounding landscape. Once on the mountain, you can walk around cliffs where stacked rocks look like dominoes about to collapse over each other. You can get excellent views of the cloud-covered mountains that look out to the jungle. And the best part? It’s an easy hike, leaving you with no excuses not to explore.
Don’t fall into the trap of only seeing the “must-see” sites in China. In such an old and large country, the secondary sites can give you the same feel of China’s amazing history and natural beauty without the crowds, noise, trash, and lines. You’ll have a better and more relaxed experience.
Laura Ksyer is a teacher in China. For more about living, teaching, and touring China, check out Laura’s China Blog.