Few countries have a scenic spectrum like China. It’s landscapes span the range from alpha to omega: take your pick from the sublime sapphire lakes of Tibet or the rainbow coloured peaks of the Zhangye Danxia; bike between fairy-tale karst pinnacles around Yangshuo or swoon before the rice terraces of the south; take a walk on the astonishing glass walkways of Tianmen Mountain or get lost in the picturesque riverside towns of Guilin.
Jiuzhaigou National Park
Jiuzhaigou National Park, an enchanting Unesco World Heritage Site, is one of Sìchuān’s and even China’s star attractions. More than two million people visit annually to gawk at its famous bluer-than-blue lakes, rushing waterfalls and deep woodlands backlit by snowy mountain ranges. The park’s major sights are easily accessed on foot, via kilometres of well-maintained boardwalk trails, or by bus. There are even opportunities to camp.
Jiuzhaigou means ‘Nine Village Valley’ and refers to the nine Tibetan villages scattered in the parklands. According to Tibetan legend, Jiǔzhàigōu was created when a jealous devil caused the goddess Wunosemo to drop her magic mirror, a present from her lover the warlord god, Dage. The mirror dropped to the ground and shattered into 114 shimmering turquoise lakes.
Wulong Karst, an important destination of Southern China, is situated at the lower reaches of the Wujiang River in southeast Chongqing. It was named as a world natural heritage by UNESCO in 2007. The region’s rugged scenery is beautiful and unusual like that around the Guilin Province. As visitors descend down the first of the three massive stone archways, a mystical building set directly under Tianlong Bridge comes into view. This ancient outpost was featured in Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower (a fact proudly inscribed in a rock next to the building), and later in Michael Bay’s blockbuster hit, ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’.
Wulong Karst is a valuable natural treasure. It is a cluster of several landscapes, consisting of gorges, natural bridges, caves, eroded dolines, shafts and underground streams. These landforms developed in the carbonate rocks, vividly recording the development and evolution of the terrain in the Three Gorges area since Pleistocene Era. The Furong Cave, Three Natural Bridges and Houping Doline are the three representative karst landforms, developing under the condition of intermittent uplifting movement of the earth.
Zhangye Danxia Geological Park
Zhangye Danxia Geological Park is on the eastern foothills of the Qilian Mountains in Gansu Province. The swirling red, orange, yellow, white and brown lunar landscape of this national park is the result of sandstone and mineral deposits that have eroded into odd shapes over the course of millennia. These ‘rainbow mountains’ have been quietly drawing photographers for the last few years.
Infrastructure was installed inside the park after it was named a national geopark in 2011, making it very accessible to tourists. Wooden stairs and platforms allow visitors to reach the tops of the hills without damaging the delicate landscape and offer stunning views over the coloured strata.
The park opens early for a reason: the best time to visit (and photograph) this magnificent landscape is at sunrise on a clear day.
Tianmen Mountain in central China’s Hunan Province is among one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Some unique features of the ridge include ‘Heaven’s Door’ and the 99 Bends, vertical cliffs, the thrilling cliff-hanging walkways, and the world’s longest cable car ride.
Visible from anywhere in the city of Zhangjiajie, this distinctive mountain range features Tianmen Dong, a prominent keyhole cut through the mountainside. The seriously lengthy 7km-long Tianmen Mountain cable car takes half an hour to hoist visitors up, and there are several glass-bottomed walkways at the top, including a nerve-shredding 100m-long stretch over a 300m drop that opened in 2016.
Yuanyang Rice Terrace
Located at the south of the Yunnan Province, the Yuanyang Rice Terraces have been a masterpiece of the ingenuity of the Hani people for generations. Picture hilltop villages, the only things visible above rolling fog and cloud banks, an artist’s palette of colours at sunrise and sunset, centuries-old rice covered hills, with a few water buffalo eyeing you contentedly nearby. It’s hard not to become indulgent when describing these rice terraces carved from the rolling topography by the Hani throughout centuries. They cover roughly 125 sq km and are one of Yunnan’s most stunning sights.
There are three observation points that are part of the UNESCO world heritage, and platforms have been built on these open-air observatories to accommodate tourists and photographers.