Almost all of us are familiar with the great man-made attractions in China: The Forbidden City in Beijing, The Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an, and Shanghai's skyscraper forest in Pudong. For a country of its massive size and varied geography, however, it's surprising how few people outside China appreciate the extent of the country's other attractions, many of them natural wonders to rival any in the world. Here is an alphabetical list of some of those places.
1. Jiangxi: Wuyuan(江西婺源)
"One of the most beautiful rural areas in China." That's how Wuyuan (a small county located at the junction of Anhui, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces in eastern China) is best known. Colorful blossoms and a relaxed, countrified pace attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each spring.
The nearest traffic hub in Wuyuan County is Jingdezhen, a major city in Jiangxi Province. It's about 98 kilometers away. Major cities connected to Jingdezhen Airport by direct flights include Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
2. Jilin: Heaven Lake, Changbai Mountain (吉林长白山天池)
The crystal-clear Heaven Lake is said to resemble a piece of jade surrounded by 16 peaks of the Changbai Mountain National Reserve, near the border of North Korea. With an average depth of 204 meters, it's the deepest lake in China.
This is also a hot spot for water monster fans -- in the last two decades China travelers have reported accounts of a lake creature as long as 20 meters. Sunny days here are rare. July to September is the best time to visit. Even then, it can be chilly and wet.
The nearest traffic hub to Heaven Lake is Changbai Mountain Airport. It's about 60 kilometers away. Major cities connected to Changbai Mountain Airport by direct flights include Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang.
3. Liaoning: Benxi Water Cave(辽宁本溪水洞)
Stalagmites and stalactites? You never know when those school lessons will come in handy. Exploding with color, the Benxi Water Cave was formed more than five million years ago. Today its main sections are a "drought cave" and a "water cave."
A dramatic array of stalagmites and stalactites are covered in vibrant greens, yellows and reds. The water cave contains the world's longest underground river at 5.8 kilometers. Of this, only 2.8 kilometers are accessible by boat.
The drought cave is rather small. Only 300 meters are open to the public. The temperature in the cave remains a constant 10 C. Sweaters and pants are highly recommended.
4. Liaoning: Golden Pebble Beach National Resort, Dalian (辽宁金石滩)
Along 30 kilometers of Golden Pebble Beach (it's also known as the Jinshitan Scenic Area) just outside downtown Dalian, ancient rock formations have been twisted by time and elements into bizarre replicas of animals -- camels, monkeys, tigers, even dinosaurs.
The largest is a 40-meter-high rock named after a "dinosaur who explores the sea." It's said to resemble a giant dinosaur bathing in the sea.
Golden Pebble Beach is in the northeast of Dalian City. It can be reach by Dalian's light rail which runs regularly.
5. Ningxia: Sand Lake(宁夏沙湖)
More than 1 million migrating birds of various species stop over at this wetland in Ningxia twice a year (April-May, September-October). The rest of the year, around 200 species of birds call the wetlands home, including a large number of protected species, such as black cranes and the Chinese merganser.
The area is also the reported habitat of giant salamanders that grow as long as 1.6 meters. Desert, water and reed mashes blend in this 80-square-kilometer area, which forms a unique geographic phenomenon called sand lake ("sha hu" in Mandarin).
Sand Lake is 56 kilometers north of Yinchuan, the provincial capital of Ningxia. Buses are available daily between Sand Lake and Yinchuan's North Gate Bus Terminal.
6. Qinghai: Qinghai Lake (青海省青海湖)
China's largest inland saltwater lake. This view is one of the great draws of Qinghai Province in China's far northwest every June and July. The lake sits 3,205 meters above sea level and is a three-hour bus ride from the nearest traffic hub of Xining. Few tourists make it to this part of China to enjoy this oil painting of a scene, not counting packs of mad cyclists who come for Tour de Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race every summer.
Tour companies in Xining organize trips to Qinghai Lake. Buses bound for Qihai Lake are available every morning (7:45 a.m.) from Xining Train Station.
7. Shaanxi: Xi'an City Wall (陕西西安城墙)
In addition to the world-renowned Great Wall, the city wall belonging to Xi'an, first constructed more than 2,000 years ago, also represents the power and wisdom of the Middle Kingdom in its ancient heyday.
What exists of the wall today are remains from 1370, when during the Ming Dynasty the fortification was 13.7 kilometers long, 12 meters high and between 15 to 18 meters wide. It now surrounds downtown Xi'an. Spend three or four hours biking along the wall and you'll get great views of China's old capital city.
Climb up the city wall from Yongning Gate (永宁门) on Nan Jie in Xi'an's Xincheng District.
8. Shandong: Trestle Bridge, Qingdao (山东青岛栈桥)
So that's why they call it the Yellow Sea. As old as the city of Qingdao, the Trestle Bridge has sat astride the Yellow Sea since 1892. First built for the reception of Li Hongzhang (李鸿章), a prominent statesman during the Qing Dynasty, Trestle Bridge has since become a symbol of the city.
Walking the 440-meter-long bridge is a great way to enjoy breezes coming off the sea. At one end is Huilange Pagoda, a classic beauty that hosts historic and cultural exhibits throughout the year.
Seaside Resort, 11 Jingshan Lu, Qingdao, Shandong Province (山东省青岛市京山路11号海滨风景区)
9. Shanxi: Hukou Waterfall (山西壶口瀑布)
According to some, the most magnificent waterfall in the country. As the largest waterfall on the Yellow River, and second largest in China, Hukou Waterfall is known around the country for once gracing the RMB 50 note.
At 20 meters high and 30 meters wide, the fall is located on the border of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. The May to October flood season is the best time to visit, when water flow and velocity increase, sometime swelling the fall into a 50-meter-wide spectacular scene.
The nearest traffic hub to Hukou Waterfall is Yuncheng Airport. It's about 82 kilometers away. Major cities connected to Yuncheng Airport by direct flights include Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Yellow River Hukou Waterfall Scenic Area, Hukou Town, Ji County, Linfen, Shanxi Province (山西省临汾市吉县壶口镇黄河壶口瀑布景区)
10. Shanxi: Yungang Grottoes (山西云冈石窟)
This 1,500-year-old site is an important Buddhist landmark. It houses 252 caves and more than 51,000 Buddha statues, most carved between the fifth and sixth century during the North Wei Dynasty. The sandstone statues -- the tallest stands 17 meters, the tiniest two centimeters -- combine multiple styles of Buddhist art, including Chinese, Gandhara and Persian. Grottoes 16 through 20 are the five best preserved caves. They shelter five Buddhas modeled after five Wei emperors.
Yungang Grottoes are 18 kilometers west of Datong city. Direct flights are available between Datong and Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Source: edition.cnn.com / Photos: Internet