Eli Orzessek is Travel's Digital Content Producer.

China: From balmy to bolshie

Go beyond the Great Wall for some suprising reasons to visit China, writes Eli Orzessek.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Photo / 123RF
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Photo / 123RF

Hainan Island

Known as the Hawaii of China, Hainan is China's largest tropical island, with natural assets like sandy beaches, rainforest and hot springs. Well-known by Chinese tourists, international interest is widening.

Xi'an

An ancient city with a more authentic Chinese feel than Beijing or Shanghai, Xi'an is a favourite destination for tourists with an interest in Chinese culture. It's the home of the famed army of Terracotta Warriors, as well as the Xian City Wall - the most complete city wall to have survived in China. For another rich experience, take a walk through the city's Muslim Quarter, home to a tight-knit community of 20,000. As well as 10 historic mosques, you'll find bustling markets and a wide array of delicious street food.

Harbin

If the cold never bothered you anyway, head to Harbin in the northeast - with amazingly intricate ice castles, its annual Ice and Show festival certainly looks like something out of Frozen.

Harbin also has a distinctly Russian feel, due to those who fled the Bolsheviks during the Russsian revolution - this is reflected in the architecture and cuisine. Harbin is a major stop on the Trans-Manchurian Railway, which links Beijing with Eastern Siberia. The line eventually joins the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow.

Chongqing

The biggest inland city in China, Chongquing is sprawled along the banks of the famous Yangtze River - a great place to start a luxury river cruise. It was temporarily the capital of China during World War II and there are plenty of interesting cultural sites to explore. Chongqing is known for its hot springs, with plenty of options on offer. For some unusual attractions, check out Foreigner St - an area where foreigners are encouraged to set up shops - which includes an upside-down house, an Australian bar and the world's largest public restroom.

Zhangjiajie

For amazing, other-worldly landscapes, look no further than Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, in the Hunan province of south-central China. It recently attracted attention for being home to the world's tallest and longest glass bridge, which unfortunately closed after two weeks due to high demand. However, even without the terrifying bridge, it's an incredible natural beauty to explore. The floating mountains in Avatar were inspired by the 1080m Southern Sky Column - which has since been renamed the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, with Avatar tours on offer.

- Herald on Sunday

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