Tiger Leaping Gorge
It’s almost 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) from the top of the Hābā Shān Mountains to the rushing waters of the Jīnshā River. And it begs the question — did the river carve this death-defying gorge, or did the mountains rise around it? Either way, this 16 km (10-mile) long river gorge is beautiful every step of the way, but you’ll have to earn it. The high trail trek will have you stepping carefully over loose stones on the edge of the mountains as you pass locals leading donkeys. Of course, you can always tour the Tiger Leaping Gorge from the low trail on a tour bus if you’re not feeling so adventurous.
Lijiang Old Town
Lijiang Old Town is one of China’s four best-preserved ancient cities. Cobblestone streets lead you over stone bridges as babbling canals drive waterwheels. After taking some time to admire the giant goldfish in the canals below, you’ll notice the ancient streets are now lined with shops, family-owned hotels, restaurants and bars. But the city has lost none of its old world charm. Four main streets lead out of Sifang Square at the center of town, and they connect a network of laneways with over 350 bridges. Hop over the rain bridge, stone arch bridge, slab bridge and plank bridge to get to sites like Mu’s Residence, the Wangu Tower and the Black Dragon Pool that perfectly reflects the snowcapped mountains in the distance.
A centuries-old medieval moat awaits you in the city of Guilin. Local boats still travel the moat and other waterways connecting the city’s two lakes — Shanhu and Ronghu. The sun and moon temples light up at night on the shores of Lake Shanhu to help light up the dramatic limestone karst mountains that crown the landscape. This beautiful but aging city serves as the gateway to Guǎngxī. It’s full of modern amenities, and plenty of the locals speak English. Guilin is a beautiful rest stop where you can plan your Li River cruise and journey deep into scenic Guǎngxī.
Step into another world in Yangshuo County. This beautiful stretch of land is an ethereal landscape of unbelievable karst mountains. You’ll be floored by the dramatic Green Lotus Peak and even more impressed that there’s a hiking trail to the top. The main tourist town of Xijie has grown quite a bit in recent years. You’ll hear plenty of loud club music as the sun sets, and you’ll have to battle your way through a maze of selfie sticks to get about town, but you can still escape to quiet rooftop bars to take in the serenity of the surroundings. As the day breaks, you can take dreamy bamboo raft rides or cycle through magical valleys out of Yángshuò town as the landscape grows more surreal.
This idyllic lake sits nearly 2,700 meters (9,000 feet) above sea level. To get here, you’ll have to ascend an ancient switchback road, and the first site of the lake will leave you breathless. Forested hills slope out of pristine waters while small towns dot the shores. And Lugu Lake is home to one of the last matrilineal societies on earth. Luoshui is home to the Mosuo people where children take their mother’s last names, and daughters are preferred over sons. This unique culture draws crowds of tourists, but the trek up to Lugu Lake is worth it.