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There’s the China you know, and then there’s the China you don’t. We all know the epic beauty that is the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an, and Beijing’s Forbidden City. The well-traveled among us probably also know the skyline of Pudong and the gardens of Hangzhou. But the world’s fourth largest country by land area is home to dozens of other mesmerizing sites, both natural and manmade, that we bet most of you have never heard of. Here are 10 stunning places in China you should get to know.

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Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Forest of Ten Thousand Peaks

China’s Southwestern Guizhou province is likely one of the least-visited provinces in China. But what travelers don’t know is that it is one of the most visually stunning. Take, for example, Wanfenglin, or the Forest of Ten Thousand Peaks. A feast for the eyes, this blanket of dome-shaped mountains spreads out on either side of the highway as far as the eye can see. The vast ocean of bubbled peaks are Karst formations, carpeted in a swath of lush, dark green, giving them a velvety, pastel crayon-colored softness, and as the sun sets behind them, almost an ethereal, haloed glow.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Tianlong Ancient Town

For a real-life glimpse into China’s Ming Dynasty past, none is better preserved than Tianlong Ancient Town in Anshun, Guizhou. Built approximately 600 years ago, this perfectly preserved village shows the Han’s migration up into the mountains. Meander the narrow alleyways, flanked with wooden buildings and dangling red lanterns, pause at hushed, hidden temples, sip local tea brewed from kettles over open flames, and snack on roasted yams and corn.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Huangguanshuo Waterfalls

China’s Guizhou province is also home to the tallest waterfall in China, the Guangguoshu Waterfall, which spills from the Baishui River. Sweeping plumes of water plunge 243 feet down, and 266 feet wide, into a luminescent teal pool below. Behind the waterfall is a secretive series of caves that travelers can explore to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the natural marvel.

Badain Jaran Desert

Not many people know that China has desert. And not just one desert—it has five. One of the most beautiful desert landscapes in all of China, and the world, is the Badain Jaran that stretches across Inner Mongolia Gansu and Ningxia province. The hypnotic sand dunes are some of the tallest in the world, with some reaching up to nearly 1,600 feet.


This national park in Sichuan province is a network of valleys with ancient forests, a monastery and beautiful lakes. But the primary reason for visiting this national attraction is the Five Colored Lake, whose waters shift colors throughout the day. The changing palette is caused by a combination of algae and calcified rock at the bottom of the lake, which works in conjunction with the popping colors of the surrounding landscape.

ALSO: Another must-see to add to your itinerary—Orbitz Rewards! Earn instantly on trips to China and anywhere else.

Rainbow Mountains

Technically called Zhangye Danxia Landform, this UNESCO World Heritage site within the Gobi Desert is made from folded layers of ocean crust that brought out rock strata of brilliant colors and textures. The gorgeous, brilliant colors have a unique striped pattern that makes it look like rainbows painted on earth.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Xuankong Hanging Temple

There may be thousands of monasteries in China, but none quite like this: You’ll find it hanging literally on the side of Mt. Hengshan over the India Gorge, more than 160 feet off the ground. The monastery, an architectural marvel, was built in 491 and over the centuries has drawn construction experts from all over the world. Another unique component of the monastery is that it combines Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, all under one roof. There are 40 halls that contain 80 sculptures of iron, terra-cotta, stone and copper.

Flickr CC: kahumphrey

Labrang Monastery

A slice of Tibet within Mainland China, the Labrang Monastery is one of the biggest and most influential Tibetan monasteries outside of Lhasa. The sprawling complex is home to more monks anywhere outside Tibet.

Flickr CC: 2ilorg

Dongchuan Red Land

South of Kunming City is a kaleidoscope of color. Spanning 77,000 square miles, the Dongchuan Red Land is a blanket of oxidized soil that reflects deep, orange and red. Contrast that with the other brilliant colors of the area, like green barley, white oil flowers, then add a rich blue sky, and it’s a veritable psychedelic color wheel.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Yungang Grottoes

Deep within Shanxi Province is a labyrinth of 53 grottoes, containing more than 51,000 sculptures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The sculptures date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, from the North Wei Dynasty. The most impressive sculpture is a 55-foot-high Buddha that looms from within a shallow cave. The best-preserved caves are said to be grottoes 16-20.

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Tagged: Asia, China

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Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger

Meagan is a New York-based travel writer, though if you give her a plane ticket today she'll be somewhere else tomorrow. Her focus and passion is Mexico, but her travel wishlist never seems to get any shorter.

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