Co-authored by Yang Wenling and He Yumeng
When traveling to China, which do you prefer: culture or nature? It shouldn’t surprise you to know that most choose culture, which is why big cities like Beijing and Shanghai — and places of historical importance, like Xi’an with its Terracotta Warriors — are high on the list of most-visited by tourists. But China is a big, and its natural resources and diversity of geography has historically been a source of pride for its people. Below, for those who’d prefer to get out of the city, we’ll show you some natural wonders in China, spread across all four cardinal directions, covering mountains, grasslands, lakes and rivers.
We’ve selected eight locations. They’re all worth a visit.
1. Changbai Mountain (长白山) National Reserve (top picture)
Changbai Mountain National Reserve is part of the Changbai Mountain Range on the China-North Korea border, specifically to the southeast of Baishan, Jilin Province. There are several natural landmarks here — Heavenly Lake sits on a mountaintop, with 16 peaks “guarding” it and Changbai Waterfall running between the Tianhuo and Guanri peaks.
Heavenly Lake, a crater lake, covers an area of nearly 10 square kilometers. The water is achingly blue during summertime, with flowers blooming around the edges.
2. Hulunbuir Grasslands (呼伦贝尔草原)
The Hulunbuir Grasslands is situated in the city of Hulunbuir in the northeastern part of Inner Mongolia. Said to be the birthplace of Genghis Khan, it is currently the best preserved grasslands in China — the country’s “most unsullied prairie” — and retains some age-old customs, such as Mongolian wrestling, where competitors try to, very simply, take their opponent off their feet:
Impossible to miss is the enchanting Mergel River, dotted with nomadic tribes along its sides. The Golden Horde Mongolian Tribe (金帐汗蒙古部落) is open for tourists, with reproductions of tents used during Genghis Khan’s time.
3. Hukou Waterfall (壶口瀑布)
Hukou Waterfall is the second largest waterfall in China, but probably the most dramatic, owing to its status as the largest waterfall on the Yellow River. It runs through the intersection of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. In summer, i.e. flood season, dark yellow torrents roll over huge rocks and thunder over riverbanks, creating a roar that can be heard from afar. Summer is the best time to witness the fury of these falls:
Winter’s not a bad time to visit, either:
Fun fact: the 1999 movie Lover’s Grief Over the Yellow River (also known as Heart of China《黄河绝恋》, starring Paul Kersey and Ning Jing) was filmed here.
4. Nyingchi (林芝)
Nyingchi, an area in southeastern Tibet on the middle and lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, is remarkable for its picturesque sceneries, including glorious rivers and mountains, precipitous cliffs and canyons, spacious grasslands and blossoming peach trees. It’s a land blessed with breathtaking beauty.
Namcha Barwa Mountain, the most worshipped mountain in Nyingchi, becomes bathed in bright sunlight in summer while wreathed in clouds and mists in winter:
Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon ranks among the top in the world in length and depth. Its lofty mountains are densely sheltered by old green pines and verdant cypresses:
Peach Blossom Ditch, braced on three sides by green mountains and irrigated by the Yarlung Tsangpo River, is a vast expanse of green fields sprinkled with fallen peach blossoms:
5. Yading (亚丁)
Yading, a national reserve in Daocheng County, Sichuan Province, has been called the world’s “last Shangri-la,” hardly touched by modern civilization. Yading means “sunny land” in the Tibetan language. It’s a place kissed by snow mountains and dotted with big and small lakes. Thick forests and vast grasslands stretch to the sky.
Three holy mountains here — Chenrezig, Jampayang and Chenadorje — are named after three bodhisattvas, are perennially snow-topped and viewed as sacred guardians.
Milky Lake, at the foot of Mt. Jampayang, is a limpid, crystal-watered lake. According to Tibetan legend, the water becomes pure white as milk during the spring.
As if that wasn’t enough, here’s Chonggu Meadow — at about 3,800 meters above sea level — with the Gongga River winding through:
Picture by Teng Jin Ong
6. Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟, literally “Nine Village Valley”)
This one isn’t really overlooked — it’s always among the top destinations for domestic travelers — but we can’t exclude Jiuzhaigou from this list. As a National Reserve, Jiuzhaigou is a cradle for wild giant pandas, Sichuan golden-hair monkeys and other rare animals. With alpine lakes, waterfalls, colorful forests, snow-capped peaks, blue ice and Tibetan customs, it’s been hailed as a “fairytale land” with the “most beautiful waterscape in China.”
Legend has it the Five-Color Pond is where the Tibetan goddess Semo washed her hair:
And of course, pandas:
7. Mount Fanjing (梵净山)
Mount Fanjing, located in Tongren, Guizhou Province, became a Buddhist mountain during the Ming Dynasty, and remains one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in China today.
The mountain is 1.4 billion years old, making it a natural habitat for rare animals and plants, such as the Guizhou golden-hair monkey —
— and Davidia involucrata, i.e. the dove-tree:
On the top of the mountain you’ll find the Golden Peak —
— Thousand–Layer Scriptures (seen below: giant rocks formed over millions of years by shale pieces), mushroom rocks and other natural wonders.
Also worth mentioning: “The Buddha’s Halo” is a spectacular natural phenomenon that can be seen on sunny days:
8. Mount Wuyi
Mother Nature really showed off its craftsmanship when creating Mount Wuyi. Located in the northwest of Fujian Province, the scenery here is a splendid combination of lofty mountains and green waters, highlighted by Danxia landforms (colorful rock formations unique to China). Noted for its relics of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism — and descriptions in ancient literary works — Wuyi has become one of the most valuable natural and cultural heritages in China.
Tianyou Peak of Mount Wuyi, in blinding cloud and mist
Jiuqu River of Mount Wuyi, thus named (“nine bends”) because it bends in nine different places around the mountain
Qinglong Falls, or Green Dragon waterfall, with water that falls 400 feet
How many of these places have you been to? Which would you visit first? Let us know in the comments.
Yang Wenling is a student at Southwest University, Chongqing, majoring in English. She is interested in intercultural studies.
He Yumeng is an English major who has a deep love for Chinese culture and regards Chinese as the most beautiful language in the world. She likes to communicate with people to broaden her horizons.
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