1. Everest Base Camp
Regardless of what you call it, it’s still the tallest mountain in the world, and it looms as large as you would expect. Visiting it from the Tibet-China side might have its challenges (i.e. the road from Lhasa to base camp is not the smoothest ride but has improved considerably), but it offers a sight that only a small percentage of people in the world will ever see. If you have the time and the stamina to get there – definitely make the trip. Base camp itself makes an interesting setting when chatting with climbers and sherpas while sipping sweet milk tea. Some people opt to stay at the monastery below the camp, while others choose Tibetan-style tent lodging. Both have their own appeal.
2. Suzhou Gardens
If you’re looking for some of the most beautiful places to visit in China then skip Shanghai and go straight for Suzhou. Just as you’d expect from “Venice of China” Suzhou is a city filled with canals and gardens. Enjoying a boat ride through the canal system is a great way to pass the time on an afternoon, but Suzhou’s gardens are the main attraction of the city. Meticulously Feng Shui, the gardens are calm, relaxing and pure. They are cultivated to perfection and are peacefully beautiful, offering a uniquely Chinese experience.
3. Lake Nam
Autonomous Region and the highest saltwater lake in the world. At an elevation of 4,718 meters, it is quite the sight to see. Vast and blue, this salt lake is surrounded by looming mountains and nomads herding their yak. Tibetans visit the site for its spiritual value, but tourists who make the pilgrimage to the lake will not be disappointed. Whether frozen or flowing, the lake is as blue as the Tibetan sky and absolutely stunning. Take your camping gear if the weather is warm enough or find lodging at local Tibetan homestays.
4. The Great Wall
No list of China’s most beautiful locations would be complete without the Great Wall. It’s easily one of the most popular places to visit in China which is not only a significant historical and cultural icon, but it’s also a gorgeous structure that stretches for 3,889.5 miles. Take a day hike on any number of wall sections or ride the cable car up and then try the alpine slide down! Regardless of how you scale the structure, it is an intriguing area that could be explored for weeks.
5. Eastern Tibet and Lake Basam
Eastern Tibet is one of those places that is so spectacularly beautiful – and yet so little-known by the world – it’s almost ridiculous. Lack of access and poor infrastructure make it difficult to get to, but worth the expense of both time and money. Even in a majestic place like Tibet, it stands out in beauty and intrigue. Unlike the high desert terrain of central Tibet, Eastern Tibet is at a slightly lower altitude and is lush and green. The pine-forest landscape is a striking contrast to the dry, brown mountains of central Tibet. It’s still high enough to offer some spectacular mountains but low enough to support the forested ecosystem. If you are looking for places to visit in Tibet then the road to Lake Basam will take you passed a number of glacier-covered mountains and into the thick pine forest. The lake itself is clear and beautiful, surrounded by pristine forest and impressive mountains. Lodging around the lake is simple but adequate. You will not find foreign-owned, Western-standard hotels in this area. Most of the amenities are catered to the Chinese tourist but are perfectly adequate for the Western traveler.
Lijiang is a cobblestone-street-filled city that has a special appeal unlike any other place in China. Spend time wandering through the lanes and alleys of the old town to appreciate the best of the city. Stop and watch a Naxi group dance in the street or relax at a café and sip some coffee. The old town has an interesting beauty of its own, but if that’s not enough for you, in the distance looms Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Just a short drive from the old town, you can take a cable car all the way to the top of the mountain to enjoy the views.
7. Tiger-Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge. As “China’s Grand Canyon”, the gorge is considered one of the deepest canyons in the world. Local folklore attributes the name to a tiger that once leaped over the gorge at its narrowest point. Tiger or not, the gorge is spectacular, and the trail through the mountains above it is one of the best natural dirt hiking trails in China. Getting a good view of the gorge from above is worth the 3-day hike, not to mention the views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and other surrounding peaks. For accommodation choose one of the Guesthouses in one of the nearby villages.
8. Mount Gongga
Western Sichuan, an area that at one time was still considered part of Tibet, has the third highest peak outside of the Himalaya/Karakoram. Mount Gongga, sitting at just under 25,000 ft., was once misidentified as the tallest mountain in the world. It looms far above vast valleys roamed by Tibetan and Minyak nomads. On a clear day, Gongga’s perfect-shaped peak can be seen from the valleys that lay below. But consider being satisfied with a view from below – the peak is a notoriously dangerous one to summit. The sight of Mount Gongga is not the only attraction in the area. I can highly recommend living among the nomads for a few days. Experiencing the local hospitality and resourceful lifestyle will leave a lasting impression on you.
Kangding is an excellent launch-point for a trip to Gongga Shan but is an incredibly beautiful city within itself. Situated in a steep valley, Kangding winds its way between lovely Paoma Shan and other surrounding peaks. Kangding, sitting at 8,400 ft. is not quite as high as most of the Tibet Autonomous Region, so hiking feels more like hiking in Colorado. Green and pretty, Kangding is a place to stay and relax after trekking through the rugged Tibetan terrain. With almost a European charm, Kangding offers a tranquil environment with some great scenery to boot. A river curves through the center of town and fine accommodations can be found throughout the city. A cable-car can also be taken up Mount Poama if your legs are sore from too much hiking. Kangding definitely has a romantic flavor – no wonder it inspired a famous Chinese love song.
Xinjiang is a whole world to be explored – especially the Gobi Desert. This an area unlike any other terrain within the borders of China.