For a country that was practically razed to the ground during the Cultural Revolution, China is still a hotbed of unspoilt treasures.
I loved Beijing—the craziness, the chaos, the flashes of history and silence in amongst the noise, but rural China is a different beast altogether. It can be desolate, introspective, uncomfortable (both physically and philosophically), and the most remarkably beautiful place you’ll ever travel to.
The Great Wall needs know introduction. Let’s just say my camera couldn’t get enough of this place and neither could I. I travelled to Mutianyu (moderately commercialised) and Huanghua (one lone wares peddler—I saw not another soul the whole time we were there). There aren’t enough superlatives in the English Language to describe this place—it needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. Unless you’re frightened of heights—don’t go to Huanghua if you’re frightened of heights or crumbling monoliths.
The far north-west of China, in and around Datong is not at all commercial, nor is it particularly welcoming for a westernised foreigner. Datong is a mining town and has a fabulously filthy residue all over it, but if you want to feel the immensity of what human beings can create, then I can’t recommend the Cloud Ridge Caves (Gunyang Grottoes) or Hanging Monastery (about an hour drive out of Datong) highly enough. Remarkable feats of engineering and architecture, they are both now largely stripped of their cultural artefacts, but they are not beaten.
Tourism has helped this part of the world, but these attractions are still remote—you have to be pretty dedicated to travel all the way out to Inner Mongolia. It is a bleak place, drenched in photographic inspiration and other-worldliness.
In the far east, in Shandong province, is the seaside resort town of Qindao. It has a spirit all of it’s own, like Croatia with dumplings and Tsingtao beer. Not always on the tourist track, it is near to Lao Shan, a Roswell-esque mountain temple.
What I love about China is it’s varied topography—desert, rainforest, icy mountains, the sea. It’s a huge country of course, and takes some tenacity to get up into the more isolated regions, but for a immersion into a culture that is radically different to most westernised countries, you can’t beat it. And for me, that slightly disorienting jolt you get when you land in China is the attraction. Step out of your Comfort Zone. Put it on your Bucket List. Now.