China is a vast, vast country so of course there are many beautiful, spectacular, dramatic etc etc landscapes within it. Called “National-level Scenic and Historic Interest Areas” in China, but National Parks to you and me, China’s protected areas encompass both scenic and historic sites. And there are 225 of them, currently anyway, many of them also enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status. As much as I am sure you would all love to read what I have to say about all 225 of them (ahem), instead here is a list of Asia Inspirations’ top park picks. There are some parks that are obvious choices, and for very good reasons, Jiuzhaigou National Park (or Nine Villages Valley) with its jewel-coloured lakes, Guilin Li River National Park with its jaw-dropping riverside karst scenes and Huangshan National Park, with its otherworldly, jagged granite peaks. So instead we’ll focus on the ones that aren’t quite as well known…
Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area
Located in Hunan Province, in south-central China, Wulingyan has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. It’s 690 square kilometres is full of towering quartzite sandstones pillars, as well as peaks that form ravines and gorges, plus plenty of water features – waterfalls, pools, lakes and streams. There are also 40 caves and 2 naturally-formed bridges. Wulingyuan incorporates 4 protected areas, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve, Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve and Yangjiajie Scenic Area. The best known is Zhangjiajie, whose unique, foliage-cloaked pillar formations are said to have inspired the look of Pandora in the film Avatar – the picture above shows perfectly why you should go here! As well as handy cable cars to whisk you up amongst the peaks, it’s easy to escape the other explorers by heading out on some of the many hiking trails. Zhangjiajie City is Wulingyuan’s gateway, with a daily flight from Beijing and Kunming and several daily flights from Guangzhou (for Hong Kong), Xian and Shanghai.
Zhangye National Geopark
Also known as the ‘Rainbow Mountains’, the Zhangye National Geopark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, encompasses 322 square kilometres of undulating, rainbow-esque ridges in the green foothills of the Qilian Mountains. These unique ridges, considered by many as a geological wonder of the world, are made up of layers of different coloured rocks (and I mean all sorts of colours – yellow, green, blue, red) which then, over millions of years, were eroded to look like waves. The area, in Gansu province, northwest China, also has a variety of unusual rock formations and there have also been discoveries of dinosaur fossils. The closest city to the park is Zhangye, which has an airport with flights from Xian.
Shennongjia National Nature Reserve
Shennongjia was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. This 3,200-square kilometre protected area has long been a destination for adventurous home tourists, but now the word about its mystery and peaceful solitude is out! The mountains and forests that make up the reserve’s spectacular landscapes are full of diverse flora and fauna. Of the 5,000 species of plants and animals that call it home, of particular note are the rare and protected Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys, Clouded Leopards and Asian Black Bears. Shennongjia is also rife with rumours about an alleged Big-Foot-Wild-Man type creature that has been spotted roaming the woodlands – a fascinating attraction we think you’ll agree! Shennongjia is accessible via the city of Wuhan, from where you can travel on to Muyu, Hongping or Songbai to start your explorations.
Lushan National Park
Set just south of the Yangtze River, Mt Lu (Lushan) is one of China’s original spiritual centres for both Taoists and Buddhists. Surrounding Mt Lu is 500 square kilometres of spectacular landscapes, that are made up of towering peaks grooved with dramatic ravines and grottoes alongside lakes and waterfalls. All this is then dotted with beautiful, old temples, which, along with the swirling cloud cover that descends on the area 200 days a year, perfectly adds to the spiritual atmosphere. It is one of those places that has been inspiring artists for centuries – in fact, you’ve probably already seen it on one of those quintessential paintings of a Chinese landscape! The gateway to Lushan National Park is Jiujiang, which is about 4 hours’ drive from Wuhan.
Qomolangma National Park
The must-see sight of the Qomolangma National Park is Qomolangma itself – that’s Mt Everest, by the way. This is the world’s highest altitude park, and as well as Everest, encompasses more of the Central Himalaya’s sky-scraping peaks, valleys, hot springs and forests. It is nearly 78,000 square kilometres! Located in the south of Tibet, on the Nepal border, the park was set up to halt activities such as deforestation and illegal poaching of wildlife. Standing at Tibet’s Everest Base Camp staring up at Everest’s north face is an experience that will stay with you forever – it’s an intrepid journey to reach it but well worth it! Travel overland from Lhasa or Shigatse.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.