Asia | China
April 9, 2008
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China chillouts

- 8 top traveller rest stops in China

Li river valley near Yangshuo
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1. Lijiang (Yunnan): Take time out in this infinitely appealing highland town of colourful Naxi tribespeople, set at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. With quaint old wooden buildings and clear-running streams babbling alongside the cobbled streets, feel tensions and hassles drain away in the clean mountain air. Beijing will seem a planet away.

2. Yangshuo (Guangxi): It’s the landscape that launched a million willow-pattern dinner services. Whilst you won’t be on your own, you’d be crazy to miss this iconic destination that doubles as the numero uno traveller flop-stop in southern China. Once rested, mountain-bike through the karst pinnacles or cruise down the serene Li River.

3. Turfan Oasis (Xinjiang): A real oasis in every sense of the word, Turfan has been welcoming desert travellers since the days of the Silk Road. On the edge of Central Asia, the locals are predominantly Muslim Uygurs, with a reputation for hospitality. During your stay, enjoy the oasis-grown fruit - China’s sweetest - and visit the mosque with its Afghan-style minaret.

4. Lhasa (Tibet): (Making no comment on whether this is China at all) Lhasa is immediately and obviously a place apart. Overwhelmingly spiritual and intoxicatingly exotic, it’s brimming with Buddhist culture and world-class landmarks – the Potola Palace and Jokhang Monastery to name just two. A sunny, spring-like climate and awesome railway journey add to the draws.

5. Xishuangbanna (Yunnan): Grey cities and endless hassles grinding you down? Head to China’s Garden of Eden. Or at least, that’s how the Chinese see their very own slice of South-East Asia. Centred on the country town of Jinghong, on the banks of the Mekong, the local Dai are kissing cousins of the Thais - even celebrating Songkran, Thai New Year, with water fights.

6. Qiongzhong (Hainan): Hainan island, hanging off China’s extreme southern tip, can claim to be the Sri Lanka to the mainland’s India - all of the colour (and more), but a kinder, gentler travel experience. The tropical beaches of Sanya are getting more known. But for life a little less bling, head to the steamy green central highlands where Li minority market towns like Qiongzhong offer stunning scenery and rich local tradition.

7. Leshan (Sichuan): An eminently likeable small town at the confluence of two swirling rivers, Leshan has two extra special reasons to visit. First up, its hill-sized Giant Buddha – the world’s largest (yes, even bigger than the one the Taliban blew up), and second the sublime hike up Emei Shan, one of China’s four holy mountains.

8. Yongding (Fujian): Perfumed tea gardens, mist-dripping mountains and silent forests. It’s a secret, but you don’t have to make the long trek out to China’s South-West for sublime scenery and rural quiet – Fujian’s rugged interior, hard by the eastern seaboard, has it all. For a specific objective, head for the circular, UFO-like, Hakka earth buildings of Yongding county (startpoint: Xiamen).

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