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China Should Be At The Top Of Your International Adventure List

I had overlooked this area of the globe for far too long.

By: Michael Gabbert + Save to a List

For years, the country of China was completely off my radar. Dense populations, language barriers, and a lack of notable destinations pushed it to the far back page of any adventure list I  put together.  However, two years ago work travel necessitated a bi-annual trip to China. It was at this moment where I was pushed to dig deeper into the country and re-evaluate my preconceived notions. As I researched adventures I could take after my work commitments, I encountered a myriad of options I never knew existed. After experiencing the uniqueness and sheer variety of options that China has to offer along with the amazing opportunities I’ve had over the past 18 months, it was evident that I had overlooked this area of the globe for far too long. Do yourself a favor and add China to your adventure list. Here are a couple of the reasons why:

1. Under the Radar

Unlike Iceland or Yosemite or Machu Picchu (or insert any other highly photographed, highly admired destination), China flies largely under the radar. Outside of the Great Wall of China – which I’ll discuss shortly – there aren’t many Chinese destinations which are popping up on people’s Instagram feeds. Yet it is this very reason which lends China to such a unique experience and such unbelievable adventure travel. In many of the experiences which follow, there is a vast solitude and an overarching lack of crowds at each location.  Don’t get me wrong, getting to these destinations requires effort and research (whether from yourself or that of a guide) but an effort that is rewarded more than any other destination I’ve visited prior. Without pictures or hype surrounding these areas, you feel as though you are discovering these places for the first time. A feeling which I’ve found is difficult to attain in much of today’s adventure travel.

2. The Great Wall of China (as you’ve never seen it before)

The Great Wall of China was always a place which I figured could be told and seen by the hundreds of photos I had viewed of it over my lifetime. A historic achievement no doubt, but one which seemed overcrowded and overhyped. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While certain sections can be a circus (just google Great Wall of China Badaling Section, National Day and enjoy those images), the wall is much more than the main tourist sections. After all, there are 5500 miles of the Great Wall. While some of that distance can’t be explored, a lot of it can be. “Wild” sections of the wall, named for their lack of renovation since their original construction 500 to 2000 years ago, are abundant along the entire span of the wall. Sections such as Jiankou & Gubeikou offer sweeping panoramic views, miles upon miles of hiking and an experience of the wall like you’ve never seen before. The ability to walk a complete section of the Great Wall without a soul in sight for its entirety, as I experienced on the Gubeikou section, is something that simply cannot be missed.

In addition to hiking the wall, the Gubeikou section allows people to camp within any of its watchtowers. Trust me when I say camping on the wall should be on everyone’s bucket list. A somewhat creepy, spectacularly surreal, and ultimately unforgettable place to set up camp.

3. The Village of Xingping & its Surrounding Adventures

Quite possibly my favorite city in China, the town of Xingping sits 30 minutes outside of Guilin. Surrounded by mountainous karsts and nestled next to the Li River, simply sitting in the town itself is reason enough for this list. However, it’s the copious amount of adventures within such a small proximity which set this area apart. Fishing with Cormorant Fishermen, Hiking Mt. Laozhai, Rafting Down the Li River, & Hiking Fairy Maiden Peak are just a small handful of hikes and experiences located within 5 miles. The town itself has an amazing amount of character and history. Furthermore, I had no issues getting around as a solely English speaker. With absolutely no knowledge of the language, finding a hotel/hostel to stay, an area to enjoy my morning coffee and a bar to enjoy my afternoon beer(s) couldn’t have been easier.  Lastly, as a testament to the city, the next opportunity I get to travel back to China, Xingping is likely the only city I plan to visit and explore (even with all of the other areas I have yet to visit). It’s a true gem.

4. The Rice Terraces & Villages of Longji

While the Philippines & Vietnam can lay claim to some extraordinary rice terraces as well, the village of Longji and its miles upon miles of rice terraces is a place not to be missed. It’s yet another distinct section and landscape of China. Nestled into the sloped hillsides of Longsheng County, these terraces stretch for miles upon miles. In addition to the awe-inspiring nature of the rice terraces themselves, the adventure also yields an extraordinary cultural experience. The Yao and Zhuang minorities inhabiting this area remain true to their ancestral traditions and historic culture. Walking through and inhabiting their village you can’t help but be engulfed in their way of life and develop a general appreciation for their ancient Chinese traditions.

5. Limitless Hiking

For a country so rich and dense with people, there are seemingly limitless opportunities for true backpacking and hiking. Great examples of this are Climb Mt. Xiaowutai, Tiger Leaping Gorge, & the Jade Dragon Glacial Trough. Yet these only scratch the surface of what is out there. The key for any hike will be research. Know the area, know the laws of that particular hike and know any of its nuances.  If possible, a hired guide or local source might be a great person to reach out to for detailed information regarding many of these hikes or any others you discover through research.

If possible, I’d recommend contacting a hired guide or local source for detailed information before embarking on a hike.

6. The Sheer Variety and Range of Adventures

China is a huge country. With that size comes an inherent variety to the landscape and adventure travel experiences available. That said, the destinations and adventures shared above simply can’t do such large scale justice. From camping in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (an area which inspired the movie Avatar’s landscape) to hiking the untapped trails in the Shadow of Mt Everest known as Chomolungma, opportunities to find and explore new areas and unique landscapes are endless. Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, mountain biking, diving, or any other number of outdoor activities don’t look past China. It just might surprise you. 

Happy exploring!

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We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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