Whether you’ve already hit all the big names or you’re looking to avoid crowds and save money, you might want to check out some of these lesser-known places in China for your next Asian excursion.
1. Luoyang — Located in Henan province in east-central China, Luoyang was one of the “Four Great Ancient Capitals of China” (中国四大古都) alongside Beijing, Nanjing, and Xi’an. It is home of the Baima, or “White Horse,” Temple — known as the first Buddhist temple in China. It also boasts the beautiful National Peony Garden, which draws visitors during the Natioanl Peony Festival from mid-April to mid-May.
2. Wuxi — Wuxi is a fairly large city located between Shanghai and Nanjing, now known for its industry and commerce but it is also a beautiful place to visit. I particularly enjoyed the Li Garden during prime peach and cherry blossom season. The garden also has some important mythos/history behind it, as home to one of the “Four Great Beauties of Ancient China” (四大美女), Xi Shi. (China really likes to group things in fours!) If you are a fan of Chinese tv, literature, or history, you may also be impressed by the Water Margin and Three Kingdoms scenic area, a tv-set-turned-tourist attraction with music and dance performances and reenactments of famous scenes.
3. Quzhou — Hangzhou too touristy for you? Check out this nearby city in Zhejiang Province known for its Nanzong Confuciuan Temple. The Quzhou City museum right beside it was also very interesting. I happened to go when a group of students were participating in some sort of science fair. Many Chinese people have not even heard of this place, but if you want a taste of “real China,” this is the type of place to check out. It is also close to Longyou, a small town which features some interesting ancient man-made caves if you have time to explore further.
4. Xining – Located in Western China, Xining is mostly seen only as a stopover point on the way to visit Tibet. It has historical significance as a major hub on the ancient Silk Road and as a defense against nomadic invaders. If you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism, you can check out some temples in Xining that have a very similar atmosphere to the ones in Tibet but less touristy. I had a lot of fun watching the monks at the local temple going about their everyday lives, doing things like washing their car or horsing around, rather than putting on a show.
5. Changzhou – I’m a little biased and sentimental about this city because it was my home for 10 months. Situated right next to #2 on this list and in between Shanghai and Nanjing, Changzhou is almost like China’s version of a suburb, but it’s still a large city by American standards. Its main attraction is the dinosaur-themed amusement park, China Dinosaur Park, built around a museum of dinosaur fossils. A little way outside the city in a sub-city called Liyang is the gorgeous Nanshan Bamboo Sea, which features a light hiking trail through a bamboo forest and even a couple of giant pandas on display! You will need a car or a tour to get here as it is not easily accessible by public transportation.
There are so many amazing places to see in China, including hidden gems like these that you rarely find in the top travel brochures. One can never see them all, but that doesn’t stop us from trying! Feel free to share more suggested sites in the comment section below!