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When planning a trip to China, travelers often envision treks up The Great Wall, adorable panda sightings and bustling cities. But there is much more to the country than just the classic highlights. Our Specialists have rounded up some of the more off-the-beaten-track and unique excursions available when traveling to this diverse and exciting country.

Monks relaxing at Songzanlin Monastery
Monks relaxing at Songzanlin Monastery

Visit the Songzanlin Monastery

The Songzanlin Monastery is over 300 years old and is home to nearly 800 Tibetan monks. Located in the Yunnan province in the town of Shangri-La — the monastery is extremely close to the border of Tibet. This proximity makes a visit to this monastery a fantastic way to experience authentic Tibetan culture without crossing the border.

The town of Shangri-La is located at high altitude, making the clouds seem almost close enough to touch as you stand on the monastery’s open plateau with the wind wrapping around you. For only nine days out of the month, all of the monks gather for prayer, and if you time your trip right you can witness the masses of monks entering and exiting the temple.

Songzanlin Monastery in the wind
Songzanlin Monastery in the wind

Explore the town of Shangri-La

While much of Shangri-La Old Town was destroyed in a severe fire at the start of 2014, the parts that remain intact are well worth a visit.

A giant golden prayer wheel stands high on a hill in the town at 80 feet tall, and visitors can hear local prayers from the area throughout the day. Many Buddhists will climb the hill to spin the wheel and send out their prayers, and travelers can also partake in the process.

In the evening, you can witness locals coming together for dance in the Sifangjie — dancing square — of the town.

I love being in a place where I can stand in a pair of shorts staring at snow-capped mountains; where the light washes across an open plateau alive with animals and the mountains rise all around you; where local minority tribes dressed in vibrant colors have heavy baskets perched on their backs and broad smiles across their sun-kissed faces.
People in Sakyamuni
People dancing in the Sifangjie 

Take the bullet train to Xian

Many visitors to China will visit Xian for a look at the famous Terracotta Warriors. While in the past the journey from Beijing to Xian required a flight or 12-hour journey by car, the new high speed trains that were developed in 2012 allow for a much quicker and scenic journey.

Reaching speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, the bullet train takes only 5 hours to make the journey from Beijing to Xian. Be sure to get a window seat, because along the way you’ll be rewarded with spectacular scenery from rolling hills and mountains to vast bright yellow and green fields. With its impressive speed and ever-changing views, a journey to Xian on China’s bullet train is a unique experience not to be missed.

Bullet train
Bullet train

Visit a local home in Yangshuo

Biking through the town of Yangshuo is a wonderful way to take in rural life in the countryside. While cycling tours between the beautiful limestone karsts and along the Li River are plentiful, very few visitors take the opportunity to personally pay a visit to the home of a local. 

Our local guides can take you into the daily life of the people of Yangshuo to learn about their culture rooted in agrarian traditions of years past. You’ll tour their home, see how they prepare their fresh food from the farm, learn about their trade, and even sample some of the fresh fruit harvested in the region. Conversing with and stepping into a day in the life of the Yangshuo culture will truly allow for a deeper and more rewarding trip to this beautiful region.

Woman in Yangshuo
Woman in Yangshuo

Take the scenic route in Longji

Many travelers will visit Longji in China’s Guangxi Province to experience the beautiful rice paddies, but most will opt for the shorter 30-40 minute walk from the bottom of the village of Pingan up to a designated lookout point. For those wishing to get off the beaten track and experience more of the local life and culture of Longji, the 4 to 5-hour hike beginning in the village of Dazhai will provide the most unique experience.

In Dazhai, you’ll find a far less crowded atmosphere away from the touristy feel of Pingan. You’ll have the opportunity to witness local farmers planting and tending to their rice crops and you’ll walk for miles without spotting any tourists. This more strenuous hike is well worth the effort and will provide you with a more authentic glimpse of life among the rice paddies.

Rice paddies on the hike from Dazhai
Rice paddies on the hike from Dazhai

Start planning your trip to China

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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