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19/02/2013

Top off the beaten path places in China

Still haven’t made up your mind for the October Holiday yet? Don’t want to bother leaving the country, but have already done Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and the like? The following can help you.

1. Pingyao, Shanxi - Planning on going to Xi’an and Beijing, but feel like you have a few extra days in your trip? Well is this ever a perfect spot for you! While this city may lack a certifiable “A List” sight, that is simply because the entire city is a sight unto itself. Pingyao is a quaint Ming Dynasty era city, full of incredible charms, windy streets, and a virtually unrestored city wall. If you are the kind of person who likes to just wander aimlessly then this may be the best little town in China for you. When I went in 2007 it was becoming a backpacker mecca very quickly, be sure to go before it becomes a centre for red hats everywhere.

2. Chongqing – Most travelers arrive to Chongqing for one purpose: the Yangtze River Cruise, and often ignore the city itself. A large number of travelers had told me to skip over Chongqing, so I only arrived two days before my flight last summer. I found that I was unable to do all that I had hoped. The city has an interesting bit of 20th century history as the war time capital, and very thorough urban planning museum. Sadly, I did not have enough time to get to the Dazu County rock carvings. The best part of Chongqing? The food! Warning though, it is not for the week of heart (or stomach or taste buds..)

3. Tongren, Qinghai –Tongren (Repkong in Tibetan) was a highlight on the trip. It is a sleepy monastery town that sees very few foreign tourists, but is very friendly to them all. It is home to the large and impressive Longwu Si (Rongwo Gonchen Gompa in Tibetan) which was virtually deserted every time I meandered my way through. Also there are two other excellent monasteries just outside of the town which can make for a very pleasant day’s stroll.

4. Xishuangbanna Region, Yunnan – Another part of China that “isn’t China” anymore. Instead of turning into Central Asia like Xinjiang does, it begins to turn into Southeast Asia. There are exciting chances to go jungle trekking and visit elephant sanctuaries. After visiting Xishuangbanna, you can turn to start Shangri-la tours.

5. Luoyang, Henan – An absolute tower in Chinese history, which seems to be ignored for sexier locations like Beijing and Xi’an. Luoyang served as a capital in multiple dynasties, most recently for the Later Tang until 936, and is home to what is considered to be the oldest Buddhist Temple in China. Most excitingly, one of China’s premier Buddhist caves, the Longmen Grottoes lies just outside the city. These caves are awe inspiring, as it has tens of thousands of Buddha carvings that range in size from minuscule to simply gigantic.

6. Xiahe, Gansu – Speaking of backpacker meccas, we have Xiahe. Like Pingyao, this is very rapidly becoming a backpacker locale, and would be well worth a trip to before it becomes a stop on all of the tour buses. I had the pleasure of going here back in August, and it absolutely pained me to leave. Xiahe is home to Labrang Monastery, which is the largest Tibetan Monastery outside of Lhasa which always included in Tibet travel. While I have yet to go to Lhasa, it certainly felt like what I imagined Tibet to be. The monastery was simply stunning, and worth a wander through at all times of the day.

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