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China’s Tourist Sites: Nature and History
Escape the Big City
China has lots to offer nature lovers far beyond its teeming metropolises. Here are a few highlights:
- Huangshan (the Yellow Mountains): This national park is located in eastern China near Shanghai. It is renowned for five wonders — its sunrises, seas of clouds (seen from above), oddly-shaped rocks, twisted pine trees, and hot springs. As the mountains are within easy access from major cities, it is a popular and busy sight. In ancient times, almost 60,000 granite steps carved out of the mountains led up to their summits. Today most visitors prefer the convenience of the modern cable cars.
- The Li River: Taking a cruise down the 83 km long stretch of the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo is an unforgettable experience. The route is lined with quaint farming villages, vibrant rice terraces, jagged karst peaks, and lush bamboo groves.
- Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve: This park, located in Sichuan Province, is known for its 118 multicolored lakes and magnificent fall foliage. If you like hiking, then you’ll love this national treasure. Don’t think you’ll have the park to yourself, however. Despite its out-of-the-way location, it’s a very popular destination.
Terracotta Soldiers and a Giant Buddha
History and culture lovers will get their money’s worth by traveling around to the following important sites scattered around China. Many of these locations have even been granted a place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well, the Terracotta Army, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, is one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. Thousands of minutely detailed figures were built over 2,000 years ago to the represent the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, whose battles were pivotal in forming a united China. To date, about 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses carved in exquisite detail have been unearthed. It is estimated that much still remains buried.
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, is the symbol of Tibet. It houses a treasure trove of precious sculptures, murals, Buddha statues and scriptures, murals, religious jewelry, and antiques. The complex contains two palaces, the White Palace (Potrang Karpo) and the Red Palace (Potrang Marpo). It was the residence of the Dalai Lama until the 1959 Chinese invasion.
Located 25 km southeast of Dunhuang at a former crossroads of the Silk Road, the Mogao Caves contain a system of 492 temples. Here you can see Buddhist art spanning from the 4th to the 14th century.
The Leshan Grand Buddha is located in Sichuan Province in the city of the same name, about 150 km from Chengdu. This gigantic 71-meter-high Buddha was carved out of the cliff face from 713–803.
The Giant Pandas: The World’s Cuddliest National Animal
Your bucket list of must-see sites in China won’t be complete until you add visiting somewhere where you can see the famous giant pandas. You have three main options:
- Chengdu: This capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China is home to about 50 giant and red pandas that live at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center.
- Bifengxia Panda Base: To see pandas in a more natural habitat, you can travel to this panda breeding center located two hours southwest of Chengdu.
- Dujiangyan Panda Valley: Those with a bit more time on their hands can join a volunteer program where you actually get to help take care of the pandas.
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