China is an enormous country, but one that’s surprisingly boiled down to just a few attractions all too often. Everyone wants to see the Great Wall for example, and the major cities more or less speak for themselves. I would absolutely support the idea of touring all of these legendary areas. But the idea here is to also give some space to places to visit that don’t get as much attention.
Leshan Giant Buddha
Most people who have an inkling of Chinese culture are familiar with the idea of statues of the Buddha. We see them in all shapes and sizes, sometimes as small tokens or ornaments for people’s homes, sometimes in Chinese restaurants around the world, and sometimes in photos of Chinese temples or monuments. But the Leshan Giant Buddha, remarkably, doesn’t seem to be particularly well known among China’s attractions.
Carved into cliffs by the river at Leshan (south of Chengdu), this is a sitting statue that was built in the 1st century A.D. It stands some 70 meters high and can be viewed from below or from near the top, as visitors are able to climb up staircases built into the cliffs. Seeing it in person it’s hard to believe such a statue was carved so long ago.
Dujiangyan Panda Base
We imagine pandas in all kinds of ways, both realistic and otherwise. From a fictional standpoint, we think of them with regard to things like the animated film Kung Fu Panda and numerous online games that involve panda characters. One of these games, called “100 Pandas” and comprising one of the internet’s largest slot reels, also hints at a more natural way to imagine pandas: relaxing to the soothing sounds of the Chinese jungle and viewing them in their natural habitat.
The Dujiangyan Panda Base an hour or so outside the city of Chengdu is probably different than anything you’ve imagined, fictional or otherwise. Here you’ll see pandas up close and personal, and you can actually assist their handlers in caring for them. It’s a wonderfully unique activity, and a way to enjoy perhaps China’s greatest natural treasure: the giant panda.
Yuangyang Rice Terraces
There are other places in the world where the rice terraces are often mentioned among the best attractions. The most prominent example would probably be Vietnam. However, the Yuangyang Rice Terraces in the Yunnan province are an incredible sight to behold in China. You may know how rice terraces in general tend to appear, as shelf-like tiers crafted into the sides of mountains and hills. But at Yuangyang in particular, the terrace layers are known for filling up with water and creating an altogether different (and arguably more beautiful) sort of sight.
Hongcun Ancient Village
If you want a feel for the sheer age of Chinese culture, this is a must-see destination. CNN actually listed it first in a piece on beautiful places to see in China, and tabbed the striking Huangshan mountain backdrop as its second item. Hongcun is a 900-year-old village and is still inhabited. Visitors can enjoy the old, distinctive architecture, the calming atmosphere surrounding the town’s lake, and the locals to whom the village is simply home.