What to see and do in Mainland China

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According to the World Atlas, China is the fourth largest country in the world and the second largest in Asia. It’s approximately 9.6 million square kilometers big! That’s huge compared to my home country, the Philippines. Despite how massive this country is, people tend to conclude that the whole of China is dirty and unpleasant to travel. In this article, I want the rest of the world to see the beauty and diversity of Mainland of China.

33 Provincial Level Administrative Units

The People’s Republic of China includes 22 provinces, 4 municipalities, 5 autonomous regions and 2 special administrative regions. The special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau, aren’t part of Mainland China. In this article, I will only feature Mainland China.

For easier understanding, let’s refer to the municipalities and autonomous regions as “provinces”. This adds up to 31 provinces. I have been to 20 provinces plus 2 special administrative regions. I will only use pictures that were taken from my trip so I won’t have pictures for the 11 provinces that I haven’t been to, but I will write a short description based on what I have learned about those provinces.

China has 55 minorities and more than 100 dialects! So get ready to see Mainland China like you’ve never seen before. Enjoy its karst mountains, historical sites, and clear, pristine lakes and rivers.

Anhui province

Read more about Hefei

Read more about Huangshan

huangshan

Read more about Beijing

This city is composed of 16 urban, suburban and rural districts. It also hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Water Cube, now a huge waterpark, and the Bird’s Nest, also known as the Beijing National Stadium, are definitely worth seeing.

What I love most about this city are the historical sites within the city. When in Beijing, don’t forget to check out Nanluguxiang (a “hutong” or old street) the Forbidden City (the emperor’s home), and the Summer Palace (the emperor’s Summer vacation house). Beijing used to have an underground city that Chairman Moa built to shelter the people in case of a nuclear attack. It was never used and unmaintained, so they decided to close it.

Beijing

camping on the undeveloped part of the Great Wall

Chongqing

Chongqing used to be known as Chungking. This is one of China’s 4 municipalities. This city is well known for the very spicy hotpot. It is very much similar to Sichuan culture, the food, and the language.

Read more about Yichang

Another tourist attraction is the Tea Mountain Bamboo Sea. If you enjoy a peaceful walk surrounded by thousands of bamboo trees and tea plants, then this is the place for you.

Fujian province

The capital city is Fuzhou. This is where a lot of Filipino-Chinese come from. It used to be called Fukien but is now changed to Fujian. They speak the Hokkien dialect.

Gansu province

The capital city is Lanzhou. This province contains unique geological formations. An example is the Rainbow Mountains within the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park (see the picture below). You can also enjoy a variety of scenes from mountains to the Yangzte river to the Gobi desert.

Gansu province is a very important part of the silk road. Therefore, tourism is focused on the historical significance of this province. If you have time, you can visit the Silk Route Museum in Jiuquan or the Gansu Provincial Museum in Lanzhou.

Dunhuang (the Mogao Grottoes), Jiayuguan (the west end of the Great Wall), and the Labrang Monastery are some of the stopovers from the people who used to travel along the silk road thousands of years ago.

gansu province

rainbow mountains

Guangdong province

Read more about Guangzhou

Read more about Shenzhen

Guangzhou

the Guangzhou library is my favorite place in the city

Guangxi province/ Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region

The capital city is Nanning. The Zhuang minority is more prevalent in Guangxi province.

Read more about Guilin

If you can ride a motorbike, you can rent one in Guilin and ride your motorbike all the way to the Longji Rice Terraces. Take note that this going to the opposite direction from Yangshuo so you’ll have to go back to Guilin if you come from Yangshuo.

Don’t forget to try the Guangxi rice noodles and the beer fish.

Guangxi province

bamboo raft from Guilin to Yangshuo on the Li River

Guizhou province

The capital city is Guiyang. This province is rich in culture with one of China’s most diverse provinces. It is home to at least 11 different minority groups. Huangguoshu Waterfall, which is the largest waterfall in China, is located in Guizhou province.

Hainan province

Read more about Sanya

Hebei province

The capital city is Shijiazhuang. The east end of the Great Wall, also known as the “Wall Meets the Sea” or the “First Pass of the World”, is located in Shanhaiguan (translated to Shanhai pass). Shanhaiguan is significant to the Manchu/Qing dynasty, which was the last imperial dynasty of China. The Manchu forces passed through Shanhaiguan to conquer China and rule for nearly 300 years.

Shanhaiguan

where the Wall meets the sea

Heilongjiang province

Read more about Harbin

Heilongjiang province is located in the northeastern part of China. Its location makes it popular for winter sports. Minority groups and Russians can also be found in this province. The tacky tourist shops in Harbin sell a lot of Russian dolls and chocolates.

Heilongjiang province

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Henan province

Read more about Luoyang

My highlight of this trip was getting to know the guy selling noodles in the middle of the mountain. We stopped by to rest and eat while talking to the noodle guy. He told us he used to teach kungfu and we convinced him to show us his moves and to teach us a few moves. I wish I had more time to learn kungfu with my new “shifu” (master).

 

Henan province

longmen grottoes

Hubei province

The capital city is Wuhan. Wuhan’s strategic location in Central China hastens the economic development of this city. It is also known as the transportation and education center of Central China. Two hours away from the capital city is a hidden gem called Yichang. Among the things to see in Yichang are the Three Gorges Dam, the Three Gorges Tribe (Sanxia Ren Jia), the Tujia Mountain and the Chinese Sturgeon Museum.

Hubei province

Tujia mountain

 

Hunan province

Read more about Zhangjiajie

Aside from the unique rock and mountain formations of that inspired the magical world of Pandora, this province also boasts red rocks (from the Red Rocks National Geopark) that took 450 million years in the making! I haven’t even mentioned the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon with the world’s longest and highest glass bridge.

If you still have enough energy and time to get lost in a Chinese ancient town, check out the Pheonix Ancient town, also known as Fenghuang. Not convinced of Hunan’s awesomeness? The great Mao Zedong was born in Hunan province. What can be more awesome than Hunan province?

Hunan province

Hallelujia mountains

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Inner Mongolia

Read more about Hohhot

Inner Mongolia

horses drinking water a few meters from our yurt

Jiangsu province

Read more about Nanjing

Read more about Suzhou

suzhou

the Humble Administrator’s garden

Jiangxi province

The capital city is Nanchang. This province is supposed to be the birthplace of Taoism.

Jilin province

The capital city is Changchun. Jilin province borders North Korea. The most popular tourist attraction is the Heavenly Lake, a crater lake within the Paektu Mountain. If you’ve seen a crater lake before then you know what to expect, if you haven’t then this is a sight to behold!

Liaoning province

The capital city is Shenyang. Like Peurto Princesa, this province also offers a boat ride through an underground river located in Benxi Shuidong National Park. Not a fan of a subterranean river? What about jade or Buddha? Anshan has the world’s largest Buddha made of jade located in the Jade Buddha Palace.

Ningxia province

The capital city is Yinchuan. This is one of the 5 autonomous regions of China. Majority of the people are Hui people.

The grassland and desert can also be experienced here.

Qinghai province

The capital city is Xining. Qinghai is very interesting as it is a melting pot of different minorities and is located in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. This province is famous for the Qinghai Lake, which is the largest saltwater lake in China and is located 3,600m above sea level. The water is so blue that people say it’s hard to tell the difference between the sky and the lake.

Shaanxi province

The capital city is Xi’an. Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China. The famous Terracotta Warriors were discovered a few hours from this city. While you’re there, enjoy the treats along the Muslim quarters and ride a bike on the City Wall to enjoy the view of the city. Xi’an is also the start/end of the Silk Road. Its historical significance gives this city a nostalgic feel.

Shandong province

The capital city is Jinan. Shandong province is famous for Qingdao, which is a beach city and also where Tsingtao beer originates. If you are a hiker, try hiking on Mount Tai, which is closer to Tai’an city. It is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of China. Make sure you’re ready for the steep steps because this hike isn’t for the faint of heart, but you can always take the bus and the cable car to the top.

Taishan

hike up the peak of Tai mountain

Shanghai

Shanghai is one of the 4 municipalities. It is known as “the New York of Asia.”Ballets, musicals, plays, and concerts are often held in Shanghai. The first Victoria Secret fashion show in Asia was held in Shanghai in November 2017 and the first Hollywood movie premiere in Asia was held in Shanghai Disneytown for Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. From the traditional architecture of the Yuyuan Gardens to the modern skyscrapers of the Bund, Shanghai is definitely full of wonder.

Shanghai

view from The Vue Bar on the Bund

Shanxi province

The capital city is Taiyuan. Shanxi means “west of the mountain.” No wonder the monks decided to carve 50,000 images and statues of Buddhas and Boddhisatvas on the mountain. The Yungang Grottoes is one of the 4 most famous grottoes in China. The other 3 are the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, Maijishan Grottoes in Tianshui and the Mogao caves in Dunhuang.

Aside from the images and statues carved on the mountain, the monks also carved a whole temple on the mountain. It is called the Hanging Temple and it has been “hanging” on that cliff for 1400 years!

Another tourist spot is the Hukou Waterfall, which is the 2nd largest falls in China.

Shanxi province

hanging temple

Sichuan province

The capital city is Chengdu. The home of the cutest bear on this Earth…the pandas! When in Sichuan, it is a must to go to the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary. You can even take a picture next to the panda if you are willing to pay 1000yuan for a picture. Nevertheless, the sanctuary is worth going to. If you’re lucky, you will see baby pandas. They also have other animals such as a peacock and the red panda.

Sichuan province is also famous for super hot and spicy food. So this can be heaven or hell to some people.

Read more about Jiuzhaigou

Sichuan province

Read more about Tianjin

This city is an hour away from Bejing. We took a day trip from Beijing. We enjoyed the beauty of the colonial buildings in the Old Concession, had lunch at the German restaurant, then crossed the bridge and walked towards the Old Town for snacks.

Tibet

The capital city is Lhasa. This is one of the 5 autonomous regions of China, but it’s important to know that everybody, including Chinese citizens, needs another visa to get in. People who like wandering on their own are not allowed to be on their own in Tibet. You also need to apply for a visa with an agency. It’s a bit of a pain to get there and that is why I chose to travel to other provinces, such as Gansu, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Qinghai, with strong Tibetan influence.

If you do get a chance to go to Tibet, maybe you can challenge yourself to hike up the base camp of Mt Everest or even go all the way to the peak! One of the places I would love to see is the Potala Palace, which is the former residence of the Dalai Lama.

Tibet, with its history and culture along with its snow-capped mountains and vast lakes, is definitely on my bucket list.

Xinjiang province

The capital city is Urmuqi. Xinjiang borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Russia. Because of this, you will meet a lot of people traveling all the way from the West (mostly Europeans) to the East.

The landscape and scenic views are unreal! The highlight of my trip is the Karakoram Highway. Another must-see is the Sunday Livestock Market of Kashgar. From what I’ve read and heard, people from different ethnicities (mostly Ugyurs, Kyrgyz, and Kazak) come together to trade livestock. You will get to see people shouting at each other trying to haggle, and dozens of animals such as cows, sheep, yaks, goats, donkeys, and even horses. This market has been open for trade for thousands of years! Unfortunately for me, my visa expired on a Saturday!

To add icing on the cake, Xinjiang cuisine is one of my favorites in China.

Xinjiang

the Muztagh Ata mountain view from the Karakoram Highway

Yunnan province

Read more about Kunming

Don’t miss the Potatso National Park in Shangri-La.

Zhejiang province

The capital city is Hangzhou. Tourists flock to this city to see the West Lake and buy tea from the Tea plantation.

Another famous tourist attraction is the Moganshan (Mogan mountain). The rich people of Shanghai used to come here to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. A lot of foreigners used to have summer houses on this mountain. Nowadays, more people can afford to travel and stay on this peaceful mountain, but it can still be a luxurious vacation with the Naked Castle and Naked Stables. The Naked Castle is a British style castle built in 1910 which offers sleeping quarters, an outdoor pool, horseback riding, mountain biking and other sports. It feels like Europe without leaving China.

Zhejiang province

Hangzhou tea plantation

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