Here are seven of the best hidden China travel destinations, which are not so famous and thus are far less crowded.
Yi Chun in Heilongjiang: Appreciate the lingering charms of autumn
Yi Chun (伊春) is the definition of a quaint forest town. It is in the region of the Lesser Khingan Mountain Range (小興安嶺), which borders Russian territory. In the fall, you can travel through the forest, which has yellow leaves lying on the ground and stone walls lining both sides of the road. You may also see one or two wooden houses after driving a long distance. Cooking smoke rises from the nearby houses as if to greet you and invite you to stay and rest awhile.
Benxi’s beautiful autumn scenery
Located in Liaoning Province, Benxi’s (本溪) October foliage is the most gorgeous you’ll see. The Yanghugou Ecological Tourist Area in Benxi is famous for its beautiful fall scenery, but Benhuan (本桓) Highway, the highway that connects Benxi to the adjacent county, Huanren (桓仁), receives even higher praise.
Benhuan Highway is famous for its flame-red leaves. From late September to early October, red leaves adorn this highway’s country-like expanses. The scene is fascinating, not to mention the fallen autumn leaves lining the road in piles, the babbling brooks, and the hillsides.
Kubuqi, Inner Mongolia: The closest desert to Beijing
Inner Mongolia’s expansive desert could be refreshing for the traveler who’s seen it all. Many hikers consider Kubuqi Desert a favorite destination because of its undulating sand dunes and spectacular sunsets.
Visiting Kubuqi (庫布齊), however, is not suitable for people with health problems. In addition, people who are not very active outdoors are strongly discouraged from going to Kubuqi Desert alone.
Laoniuwan in Shanxi Province: Where the Yellow River meets the Great Wall of China
The point where the Yellow River, the nurturer of Chinese civilization, meets the Great Wall, a symbol of China’s indomitable spirit, represents a combination of tenderness and fortitude. It is in this spirit people come to Laoniuwan, admiring its muddy river and fortifications in disrepair.
Even with such a history, Laoniuwan (老牛灣) has not attracted many visitors for some years, perhaps due to its remoteness. Nevertheless, people who make the trip treasure the experience.
Laoniuwan is at the starting point of the Jinsha Gorge (晉陜大峽谷) on the Loess Plateau (黃土高原), a favorite spot for many local hikers. The eroded and bumpy landscape tells how many changes the plateau has been through, and haunts visitors with memories of the plateau’s long history. Between fall and winter, as the temperature drops, the scenery becomes more remarkable.
Arxan in Inner Mongolia: A land of golden hues
In Arxan (阿爾山), rivers flow through the mountains and into the white birch forests and steppes. The land here is covered with exciting textures and golden hues in the fall.
Due to being located over a famous volcanic region, Arxan has great hot springs. Soaking in Arxan’s hot springs at night will relax your mind and refresh you from your travels.
The scenery in Arxan is comparable with that of Hulunbuir Grassland (呼倫貝爾) on the northeastern tip of Inner Mongolia, and the Argun River (額爾古納), the northeastern river that separates China from Russia.
Qinling Mountains: A natural geographic dividing line between North and South China
Backpackers and photographers are fond of Mount Taibai (太白山), the tallest mountain of the Qinling Mountain (秦嶺) Range. Mount Taibai contains many protected species of plants and animals. It is also known as a great place for magnificent autumn-time views.
On the way to the Qinling Mountains, many people make a point of visiting a beautiful small town called Qingmuchuan (青木川). If you find it too challenging to hike the mountains, stay in Qingmuchuan and appreciate the mountain scenery in comfort.
Wulanbutong: A dreamland of white birch forests
Travelers often miss seeing Wulanbutong (烏蘭布統) when arriving from Beijing. This is due to tourists confusing the different sections of the Bashang (壩上) Pleateu. Bashang is the sharp, rising area between the North China Plain and the Mongolian Plateau. Be sure to seek out Wulanbutong, which is north of Saihanba (塞罕壩).
Hamaba (蛤蟆壩), a site in Wulanbutong, has the most idyllic scenery. I visited Hamaba one year on a tour. Everyone on the tour, including the most shy and reserved, couldn’t contain themselves over the breathtaking views.