From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, you’ve heard all about China’s hotspots. But sometimes you have to go off the tourist track to really get to know somewhere. To celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Dog, we’ve compiled a list of some of China’s lesser known gems for globetrotters who want something a little different from their trip.
1. Guo Li Zhuang, Beijing
Chinese food is famed the world over, both for its perks and its quirks. Little is off the table when it comes to this inclusive cuisine. And if you can stomach it, Beijing’s Guo Li Zhuang Restaurant offers a suite of unusual dishes for the braver diners out there. That includes the private parts of goats, sheep and even snakes. With many of the dishes said to be endowed with magical qualities, you may walk away with enhanced libido or increased beard growth as well as a full stomach.
2. Badain Jaran Desert, Gobi Desert
China is packed with jaw-dropping natural beauty and charm, from the epic heights of the Himalayas to countless forests, lakes and rivers. But did you know that visitors to the Badain Jaran Desert are not only able to see the world’s tallest dunes, but hear them too? These gargantuan dunes, some as big as Chicago’s Will’s tower, can be heard ‘singing’ and ‘booming’ as they are shifted by the wind. The bizarre phenomenon is caused by an electromagnetic charge created when the top layer of sand is blown by the desert winds. At 105 decibels this low-pitched noise is as loud as the sound of a helicopter up close.
3. Longyou Caves, Zhejiang
The village of Shiyan Beicun in Zheijang Province is home to one of China’s most fascinating mysteries. The village pond was always said to be ‘endlessly deep’ by villagers, but it wasn’t until Wu Anai, AKA ‘Grandma Wu’, decided to investigate this claim by draining the waters did the townsfolk realise these were no ordinary ponds. The drained pools revealed vast caverns expertly crafted out of the rock - complete with bridges, pillars, rooms and even intricate pictures carved into the stones. Continued pumping revealed a network of 36 grottoes covering a whopping 30,000 square meters. The caves are so large and structurally impressive it’s been estimated it would have taken 1,000 people working continuously for six years to build them, but no historical record or archaeological evidence has been found to explain how, or even why, the Longyou Caves were constructed.
4. Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai
Confucius was a philosopher whose teachings influenced and shaped the world’s most populous nation for thousands of years. Now, for the first time, you have the opportunity to see one of history’s most influential figures...in the bath. Yep, visitors to Rockbund Art Museum can share an intimate moment with the historic heavyweight as a giant animatronic model of his head and shoulders rises out of shallow waters installed on the museum floor. This incredibly detailed model reproduces the great mans’ face in impressive detail, ‘warts n’ all’ and makes for fascinating, if a little terrifying, viewing.
5. People’s Park Marriage Market, Shanghai
Cast your mind back to the early days of a relationship. Chances are it was you that introduced your partner to your parents, not the other way around. Well, for the (un)lucky sons and daughters whose faces are photographed and pasted to the walls of Shanghai’s People’s Park Marriage Market, things may turn out a little differently. Every weekend well-meaning parents market their progeny’s qualities here via pen-and-paper marriage profiles. In China there is still a social stigma against unmarried over 30s, yet the one child policy has made finding a partner more challenging.
6. Fujian Tulou, Fujian
Sometimes it can feel like living as part of just one family is challenging enough. But for the ancient Hakka, safety in numbers took precedence over avoiding long waits for the bathroom. Mostly found in Fuijan, south-eastern China, the Hakka created thick-walled, circular villages with only one entrance and room enough for dozens of families to live in, side-by-side, room-by-room. These self-contained village-fortresses provided safety and community for up for 800 people, with many being so successful at withstanding attacks they still stand today. The most famous of these, Tianluokeng, features five circular fort-like structures around a central square building. Built in 1796 and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these buildings showcase a way of life totally unique to this part of the world.
7. Toilet Bowl Waterfall, Guangdong
For something truly ‘potty’ look no further than Foshan (Guangdong province) for an installation that takes the concept of the public lavatory to new levels. For reasons known only to himself, Chinese artist Shu Yong chose Foshan’s Pottery and Porcelain Festival as his chance to create a 100-metre wide, five-foot tall wall of toilets, sinks and urinals in the city’s Shiwan Park. This bonkers wall of loos and basins was so loved by the people of Foshan that it’s now a permanent fixture. The toilets are periodically flushed in unison to create a porcelain waterfall. So if you’ve ever wondered what thousands of toilets flushing together would sound like, this is your chance to find out. Though an empty bladder is strongly recommended.
8. Beichuan Earthquake Museum, Sichuan
There are few places that demonstrate the awesome power of nature more poignantly than the town of Beichuan. After being almost totally destroyed by an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in 2008, the Chinese government took the decision to preserve the devastation of the town as a monument to the disaster. Along with keeping the buildings of the town exactly as they stood in the moments after the quake, a museum was created that tells the story of the event and its aftermath. Visitors to the museum are able to learn about the story of the disaster and can get an experience of what it feels like to be caught in an earthquake in the museum’s earthquake simulator.
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