5 Gems to Visit in China

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Although China may not be at the top of your travel bucket list today, the country has beautiful offerings. When you are ready to head there check out these amazing places!

China is the 3rd largest country in the world (by area) and is located in the continent of Asia.

While planning your visit to China, Beijing and Shanghai may be at the top of your to-go list as they are nice, big cities (and you should definitely add them to your checked-off list), but if you are planning a longer stay in China, here are 5 other gems to visit while in-country.

Karst mountains stand on either side of the Li River with rafters fishing on it. Taken at dusk in Yangshuo, one of the gems in China.
Yangshuo, Guizhou, China

1. Yangshuo

Yangshuo is a tiny, quaint city nearby Guilin City in the Guizhou province. This city is well-known for its karst mountains (tall, spiky peaks) that stand out immediately.

Yangshuo sits on the Li River which comes down from the neighboring city, Guilin. Out on the Li River, you can see a few boats and rafts sitting out to fish or touring the beautiful mountains.

Pafoua standing in a bright pink shirt in front of some karst mountains in Yangshuo, China.
Pulling over on our scooters to snap a picture

Pro Tip: To get to Yangshuo, you would need to take the high-speed train to Guilin and then catch a bus to Yangshuo.

There are no airports either, so if you are traveling by air then you would also need to land in Guilin.

Since the Li River runs through Guilin to Yangshuo, you can opt to do the Li River cruise. Keep in mind that you would need to get a bus on the way back to Guilin as the Li River only flows down toward Yangshuo.

6 ladies sitting in the bus on their way to Yangshuo, China.
On our way!

To see the mountains, we rented scooters and drove along the windy roads, stopping to take pictures along the way. We definitely felt like Chinese natives as we packed THREE of us onto a teeny scooter (some families can pack more!).

You can’t hike on the karst mountains, but Moon Hill is a popular hiking trail with steep steps. During the early morning hours, a walk along the city is a great way to experience the peace and calm of this city.

For shopping, you can tour the shops along Xi Lu (West Street) and find everything you need here, as well as your meals.

More Excursions in Yangshuo

Since this has become a tourist hotspot, there are other areas to explore as well:

Yangshuo Wada Youth Hostel — since there is a sister hostel in Guilin where we had planned another day of travel, we got a deal for staying here.

Time Spent: 3 days

Views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang, another gem in China.
Lijiang, Yunnan, China

2. Lijiang

Lijiang is located in the Himalayan foothills of the Yunnan province of China. Take a flight to Lijiang from any of the airport hubs.

You can choose to take a train, but there is no high-speed train it may take over a day to get there since the terrain is so massive!

Trekking through the cobblestoned city, tourists can enjoy the old town and various local foods. The city of Lijiang is also home to various ethnic groups such as the Lisu, Naxi, Pumi, and Bai people. Walking through the local shops, you can purchase beautiful goods made by these people groups.

You can also check out the Black Dragon pool (featured above) which will give you a beautiful view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

For some reason, we were on a mission to find a llama on this trip–and we did it!

Pafoua standing with a Llama on the cobblestoned streets of Lijiang, China.
We found a llama on the streets!

This gem hosts the beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is a 2-day trail best hiked during the winter season. To get to the trailhead of Tiger Leaping Gorge, you will need to purchase a bus ticket, which only goes out once in the morning for drop-off and again in the evening for pick-up.

Although the weather can be pretty cold, once you get hiking you will start to warm up.

The steepest part of the hike is in the beginning, and one of the most proclaimed difficult parts of this hike is the 28 bends; these are switchback steps that just keep going up.

About 5-6 hours into your hike, you’ll come across a local guesthouse where you can spend your evening. (It’s not recommended to hike this trail in one day, but can be done if you are an avid hiker.)

The guesthouse is simply a hostel with bunk beds that can sleep up to 4 people. Keep in mind that if you are hiking solo, you might spend the night with strangers.

You should arrive here around 4 or 5 PM, maybe even 6. But when you’re able to sit down and take in the views, the mountains in the evening light are BEA-U-TIFUL!

After staying the night, you’ll hike about another 2 hours down the mountain to the bus pick-up point.

But wait!

There’s more! If you decide to hike during the winter, you will be able to hike down to the river in the gorge–and the water is roaring!

So you’ll need to be careful. After hiking down, you’ll climb a 90-degree ladder back up and go a few more hundred feet to get back to the bus stop area.

More Excursions in Lijiang:

  • Explore the Old Town in the city center
  • Cable car up to the Jade Snow Dragon mountain
  • Treat yourself to yak butter, cured pork, and coffee

October Inn Hostel — the owner was very hospitable. He took us out to dinner one night, showed us around the old town, and was very accommodating.

Time Spent: 4 days (but 3 is plenty of time to explore everything!)

A view of the Stone Forest Park with rainclouds coming in from the right, taken in Kunming, another gem in China.
Kunming, Yunnan, China

3. Kunming

Kunming is the capital of the Yunan province and is one of its largest cities. This city is also known to the Chinese as the spring city or flower city because the temperatures stay around 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year round with blossoms in bloom.

If you are planning to travel to the Yunnan province, Kunming is a must-see. Kunming is also a huge transportation hub, but it is also located in one of the far western provinces so I would recommend flying in.

Any overhead view of the city of Kunming from a high hotel room.

One of the biggest highlights in Kunming is Stone Forest Park. You may have to book a mianbao che (breadbox taxi car) or a tour for pick up and drop off service.

This is one of the easiest options to the Stone forest unless you speak Mandarin and can hail a taxi to drive you there–even then, they may charge a higher fare if they think you don’t know the area well.

Beware that it may rain and that could potentially ruin the walk around the park, but have no fear! The Chinese are always prepared with ponchos to purchase in the square before entering the park itself.

Stone Forest is filled with tall mountains (or are they petrified trees?) of black stone. There is one area where you can climb to the top and view the whole park (featured above).

The Chinese tour guides may have had great information, however, if you don’t speak Mandarin then you can just take a self-guided tour. This is a great opportunity for some great photos and random rock climbing!

Pafoua posing on rocks in the Stone Forest Park in Kunming, China.

More Excursions in Kunming:

  • The Kunming Kundu night market
  • Get a massage
  • Kunming department store on Dongfeng road

Any hotel in Kunming is worth a stay. There are some super nice hotels for a very affordable price for foreigners visiting. Make sure you have your passport handy!!

Time Spent: 2 days

A ferry floating down one of the rivers in Suzhou, another gem in China.
Suzhou, Jiangsu, China

4. Suzhou

Suzhou is located west of Shanghai and is known as the Venice of China. Since is one of the few stops before Shanghai, take the high-speed train to get to Suzhou. The city is filled with canals, bridges, and classical gardens.

Take a walk through the cobblestoned pathways, walk down the main street and visit shops along the way, and venture through the bridges to find local hotspots.

Along the streets, fruit vendors are also selling beautiful and bright-colored fruits. (They looked delicious, but didn’t taste so! Take a picture and let that be fulfilling.)

A table full of colorful and unique fruits on the streets of China.

Since there are so many classical gardens in Suzhou, choose one or two to visit while you’re here.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest one and is considered to be the ideal classical garden; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are many pavilions and pathways through this garden that you should plan 2-3 hours to stroll and admire everything.

Viewing Pafoua's back as she stares into the pond filled with lotus flowers in Suzhou.

Another Garden to check out is the Lingering Garden with its beautiful circular archways and floating rock formations.

More Excursions in Suzhou:

  • Take a tour around one of the numerous classical gardens: Lion Forest Garden, The Lingering Garden, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, and many more!
  • Walk along Pingjiang Road and visit local shops
  • Visit the Suzhou Museum
  • Take a ride on a ferry through the canals

Blue Gate Hostel – Being in the heart of Suzhou, the Blue Gate Hostel is within a 5-20 minutes walk from the gardens, museums, and restaurants. You’ll get 24-hour wifi and a clean bed.

Time Spent: 2 days

Rock formations with fog found in East Lake, Wuhan, the last gem of China in this post.
Wuhan, Hubei, China

5. Wuhan

Wuhan is the capital of the Hubei province and is the largest city in Central China with a population of around 12 million people. Wuhan’s motto is that “it’s (Wuhan) different every day!”

To get to Wuhan, you can fly to the airport and take a taxi (highly recommended as mianbao che’s can highly inflate the prices) or take the high-speed train into Wuchang.

One of the most popular tourist areas is East Lake (Dong Hu) located in Wuchang. It is a very large freshwater lake with numerous walking paths, boats that go out on the lake, beautiful nature views, and temples to visit.

At East Lake, you can walk around, jog, or bike through the paths. If you would like to stay awhile, definitely pack a picnic and a blanket to hang out in the park. Also if you’re wondering, those sheep aren’t real!

More Excursions in Wuhan:

  • Climb the steps of the Yellow Crane Tower
  • Hubu Alley–great alley for street food (watch out for your personal belongings!)
  • Take a hike on Mulan Mountain
  • Try Wuhan’s famous reganmian, otherwise known as “hot, dry noodles”
  • Talk a walk along the Yangtze River–try a ferry if you’re up for it

I would recommend staying in a hotel in Wuchang, the education district, or Hankou, the business district, as there is much more to do in these areas. My home was in Hanyang, but it’s also the manufacturing district with few excursions.

Time Spent: 3-4 days

Map of the 5 Gems to Visit in China

Wrapping up 5 Gems to Visit in China

These five cities are worth the trip if you’re looking for smaller cities to visit. They are on my top China cities list and offer so much culture and fun explorations.

On a personal note, since having lived in China for 4 years, my only regret is not exploring more of its cities! After you travel through Beijing and Shanghai, definitely try out some of the smaller cities for there are numerous places to discover!

Where are some gems you have been to in China? Got anything to add to my own? Comment below.

Onto more Asia-related posts!

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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources

Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.

  • Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
  • Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
  • Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
  • Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
  • Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
  • Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
  • What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.