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When you’ve finished exploring the amazing historical and cultural offerings of China’s many urban areas, if you’re interested in seeing the natural beauty of the landscape, there are many places you should visit, but there’s no place you should make a bigger push to see than Jiuzhaigou, China’s first national park.

Inexplicable beauty

Jiuzhaigou, which translates literally to “Valley of Nine Fortified Villages,” is located on the northern edge of the Sichuan province, bordering the Tibetan Plateau. It covers about 180,000 acres, and is known for beautiful lakes and snow-capped mountains, as well as multi-level waterfalls. The nine villages to which the name refers are Tibetan villages that border the park, and have been inhabited by Tibetans for centuries. In fact, the area is so remote that it was only “discovered” (that is, made known to those living outside it) in 1975! The Chinese government saved it from logging and made it a national park in 1982, and it was opened to tourism in 1984.

Geography of the valley

Jiuzhaigou is actually three valleys in a Y shape. Rize Valley, the southwestern branch, contains the most sites, including the ancient woodland called Primeval Forest, the picturesque Swan Lake named for the many swans that visit, a shallow lake with intricate vegetation patterns called Grass Lake,  a shallow, multi-colored lake known as Five Flower Lake, Mirror Lake, and others.

Zechawa Valley has the most spectacular, though smallest, feature: the Five-Color Pond, which has bright, clear water and a richly colored underwater landscape.

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We’ve spent a lot of time talking about cities on our site – and rightfully so, as China has so many cities with historical significance, cultural intrigue, and economic importance. But China is so much more than just its urban landscapes. In fact, China is one of the only places in the world that has a Kegelkarst landscape – that is, a tropical karst terrain with cone-like hills. The karst landscapes of China are renowned for their beauty and wonder – let’s have a look at some of the most beautiful and famous ones.

Guilin: Forest of Sweet Osmanthus

One of the best-known karst landscapes in China is Guilin. It’s name means “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus, a name given because of the Osmanthus trees located in and around the city. Because of it’s beautiful landscape, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of China. The city itself is on a flat plain, where erosion has evenly worn away the ground. But surrounding Guilin are incredible peaks of limestone that are taking much longer to erode, leaving huge peaks of greenery-covered mountains all around.

The best place to see the gorgeous karst hills is to float down the Li River, which is closer to the city of Yangshuo. Along the banks, you’ll find women washing clothes and farmers following along behind their livestock, including water buffalo. It’s an incredible sight to behold, one that can be enhanced by find the right guide: a good local can point out the animal formations in the rocks, like camel point.

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If Golden Era China piques your interest, you’ll want to be sure to visit China’s other famous capital Xi’an. Xi’an was China’s capital during the golden eras of the Han and Tang dynasties, and is thus home to a great number of Golden Era relics and historical sites.

Home to one of China’s most famous historical sites

Xi’an is home to one of China’s most famous historical sites, which also happens to be a contender for 8th World Wonder: the Terracotta Army. This collection of warriors and horses made of terracotta, a type of earthenware made of clay, is a recreation of the armies of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. The army was created in order to protect the emperor in the afterlife, and is a prime example of ancient funerary art.

In addition to the Terracotta Army, Xi’an is home to two of the great historical Buddhist pagodas, the Big and Small Wild Goose Pagodas, the Great Mosque, the Ancient City Wall, and a perhistoric civilization museum at the Banpo Site.

Starting point of the Silk Road

With all of these historical sites to visit, it’s no wonder that Xi’an is one of the most popular destination cities in all of China. It’s also the original starting point of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that ran from China to Europe and helped shape the cultural and economic exchanges between the East and the West for centuries. Don’t miss this city if you have any interest in the history of relation between the East and the West!