China’s attractions are endless and you will never run out of things to see. Especially near the coastal regions, if you run out of things to see in one city, the next one is usually only a short train ride away.
Whether you are a history buff, a nature lover or someone who just wants to relax on a beautiful beach, China has it all, from the majestic Forbidden City in Beijing to the stunning scenery of Jiuzhaigou. Even if you have lived in China for many years, you will find that there is always something new to discover in a different part of the country. Perhaps because of its sheer size and long history, it is not surprising that China has the third largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites after Italy and Spain.
The rubbery mountains and steeply sloping forested hills with bizarre rock formations favoured by traditional Chinese artists are not a creative fantasy. In fact, much of southern and southwestern China is covered by strangely eroded rock formations known as karst. Karst is a type of limestone formation named after an area in Slovenia. As the limestone layers erode, the denser rock layers or pockets of different rock resist erosion and form peaks. Caves form under the mountains, which can collapse to form sinkholes and channels that lead to underground rivers. In its most unusual form, karst erodes to form labyrinths of pinnacles, arches and passages. The most famous example is found in the Stone Forest (石林 Shílín) near Kunming in Yunnan. Some of China’s most famous tourist areas have spectacular karst landscapes – Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi, and large parts of central and western Guizhou province.
Mountains are an important part of Chinese geomancy, and there are many mountains that have religious significance in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism. These mountains often serve as popular backdrops in Chinese historical dramas and have traditionally been associated with various Chinese martial arts sects. Today, these mountains continue to house many Taoist and Buddhist temples and continue to serve as a scenic backdrop that attracts many local tourists.
Five big mountains
The Five Great Mountains (五岳) are associated with the five cardinal directions in Chinese geomancy and are said to have originated from the body of Pangu (盘古), the creator of the world in Chinese mythology.
- Mount Heng (恒山), the northern mountain (北岳), is located in Shanxi province. Literally the “eternal mountain”.
- Mount Heng (衡山), the southern mountain (南岳), is located in Hunan province. Literally the “balancing mountain”.
- Mount Tai (泰山), the eastern mountain (东岳), located in Shandong province. Literally the “peaceful mountain”.
- Mount Hua (华山), the Western Mountain (西岳), is located in Shaanxi province. Literally the “magnificent mountain”.
- Mount Song (嵩山), the central mountain (中岳), is located in Henan province. It is also home to the famous Shaolin Monastery (少林寺), historically known for its warrior monks. Literally the “sublime mountain”.
Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism
The four sacred mountains of Buddhism (四大佛教名山) are traditionally associated with four different bodhisattvas who are very highly revered in Chinese Buddhism. Even today, these mountains are scenic spots with important Buddhist temples.
- Mount Wutai (五台山), traditionally associated with the Bodhisattva Manjusri (文殊菩萨), is located in Shanxi province.
- Mount Emei (峨眉山), traditionally associated with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra (普贤菩萨), is located in Sichuan province.
- Mount Putuo (普陀山), traditionally associated with the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (观音菩萨), probably the most popular bodhisattva in Chinese Buddhism, is located in Zhejiang province. Technically not a mountain, but rather an island off the Chinese coast.
- Mount Jiuhua (九华山), traditionally associated with the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (地藏菩萨), is located in Anhui province.
Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism
Although there are many sacred mountains in Chinese folk religion, the Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism (四大道教名山), along with the Five Great Mountains, are widely considered the holiest among them. They continue to be scenic spots with important Taoist temples.
- Mount Wudang (武当山), considered by most Chinese to be the holiest of all sacred mountains for Taoists, is located in Hubei province.
- Mount Longhu (龙虎山), located in Jiangxi province.
- Mount Qiyun (齐云山), located in Anhui province.
- Mount Qingcheng (青城山), located in Sichuan province.
Some itineraries include trips that are entirely within China:
- Along the Yangtze River
- Along the Yellow River
- Along the Grand Canal
- Hong Kong to Kunming by Land
- Yunnan Tourist Trail
- Overland to Tibet
- Long march
Others are partly in China:
- Silk Road – ancient caravan route from China to Europe
- Karakoram Highway – Western China to Pakistan through the Himalayas
- In the footsteps of Marco Polo