Guest Post: Top 3 China trips off the beaten track by Agness & Cez (etramping)

In this week’s guest post… we join Agness & Cez from etramping as they lead us on their Top 3 China trips off the beaten track, helping us to discover the land of the dragon. Exploring this vast land’s hidden treasures and taking us to places that most tourists miss out on…

Boat ride, Fengguan, China - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

Nowadays, China is one of the most common travel destinations in Asia for both, experienced and inexperienced, budget travelers. Why? The answer is simple. It offers stunning natural scenery with historical and cultural relics, affordable prices and a great possibility to learn one of the most difficult languages in the world, so the number of foreign travelers in China is increasing every year. What I have noticed after over 2 years of living, working and traveling in the Land of Dragons is that many tourists, backpackers and holiday makers have strictly planned itineraries which most likely include travels to such big cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi’an. This is reasonable, since the size and variety of this country makes it hard to comprehend in less than a month, however there are some places worth seeing, but often missed out.

Fenghuang - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

Why should you explore China off the beaten track? First of all, getting to see off the tourist paths in China will allow you to spend much less money than you would spend when visiting big cities. Once you come here, you will experience an extraordinary hospitality from Chinese people, who will often invite you for a free meal, drink or even let you stay in their houses for free. After travelling for a week, you will see your wallet is much bigger than you though it would be. Second of all, you will have an incredible opportunity to learn some Chinese and try traditional Chinese cuisine which differs a lot from westernized food in Beijing or Shanghai. Lastly, by going to a place less travelled, or not travelled to at all, you will know for certain what is part of contemporary culture, architecture and customs, and what is not.

Chinese girl - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

In my opinion, there are 3 most beautiful and undiscovered places in China every adventurous traveler should add to his/her list:

Fenghuang (5) - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

#1 Frozen in time Fenghuang

There is one town in China where every visitor feels like the time has frozen for centuries. This place can be found in Hunan province and it’s called Fenghuang, translated as the “Phoenix” which symbolizes good omen and longevity in Chinese mythology. This is definitely one of the most authentic Chinese towns where you will be surrounded by ancient scenery and architecture which will make you feel like one of the locals. Fenghuang is quiet, calm, harmonious and peaceful. There is a picturesque river and lovely wooden boats so you can admire the view of the town from a local boat.

Fenghuang - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

Surprisingly, Fenghuang is not visited by many travelers what makes it even more unique and affordable. The best way to get to Fenghuang is to firstly go to Zhangjiajie (described below), which is located in the same province, then take a local bus which costs RMB100 ($16). If you travel with someone, the cheapest option would be to rent a car for RMB100 and share the bill. Fenghuang is surrounded by budget hostels, so don’t pay more than RMB100 ($16) per night for a room with a river view. In order to save some money on food, grab some local snacks during your walk though the town. Each snack costs about RMB1-3.

Fenghuang - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

#2 Zhangjiajie: Pandora World

Without a doubt, the Land of Dragons has been favored by Mother Nature and Zhangjiajie, a city located in northern part of Hunan Province, proves it. Let me ask you one simple question. Have you ever watched or heard of the movie called Avatar? If so, you should know what I am talking about as this place and these mountains have inspired James Cameron to film some of the scenes. Zhangjiajie and its Hallelujah Floating Mountains are hidden gems of Chinese nature, well-known to locals and Chinese, but still undiscovered by foreigners.

Zhangjiajie National Park, Hunan, China - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

The town itself is located very far from any other famous spots what makes it a very rare destination for most western travelers. That is a real pity as the landscape will leave you speechless for some time and then turns you into a story teller. If I have not convinced you yet, let me tell you that in 1992, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site for the sake of its beauty and specialty. When it gets foggy here, the mountains look like they were floating in the air and moving from the left to the right. That’s so unreal and hard to describe, but this is something incredible and you can feel like if you were in Pandora. The sandstone pillars are up to 1000 meters high so you can just imagine how massive they must look, not only in the picture, but also in real life. As you can see, it’s not only about the views, which will take your breath away, but it’s also about their heights.

Zhangjiajie National Park, Hunan, China - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

The entrance ticket to the park costs only $40. For this amount of money you can spend here up to 3 days there admiring the scenery, going cycling, going climbing or having a picnic. There are budget hostel around the park so there is no need to book anything in advance as you can easily find a cheap room when you are already here.

Zhangjiajie National Park, Hunan, China (4) - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

#3 Picturesque Bian Cheng

Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

Bian Cheng is, right after Fenghuang, my favorite China destination. This hidden germ is located in Hunan province and it is a little ancient town which will definitely surprise you with its well-preserved ancient look, hospitable locals, colorful boats and picturesque scenery of Bing Cheng River. Bian Cheng is surrounded by high mountains what makes it a great place for mountain biking or hiking. It’s very charming and cozy, always peaceful and full of magic. Everywhere you go, you will be welcomed by smiley locals who will never let you go hungry. There is always someone to have a lunch or dinner with you!

Chinese writing - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

The best way to get to Bian Cheng is to firstly get either to any local town/village in Hunan or Chongqing province from where there are local buses going to Bian Cheng (RMB25-80 per one way ticket).

Great Wall - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track

As you can see, China is not only about the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, the Great Wall of China in Beijing or Shanghai Ta in one of the busiest cities in the world. This country has plenty of hidden spots which are still undiscovered by many. If you are planning to make it here soon, don’t forget to add one of these spots to your list and I bet you won’t regret it!

written by: Agness & Cez (etramping)

Agness & Cez - Top 3 China trips off the beaten track“We are Agness and Cez, a Polish duo, world explorers, dreamers and founders of On our travel blog we share budget travel tips on how to travel the world with $25 in your pocket. We are both photography passionates obsessed with Chinese cuisine and culture. If you would like to read more about China, you can check out our Add the Brick to the Great Wall:” Experience-based Advice for China from Expats e-book which sums up our two-year experience of teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.”

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  • I’m glad to be give this opportunity to share top 3 gems of China. I hope everyone can make it there and enjoy the authentic Chinese culture, cuisine and traditions.

  • Great post!
    Is there an entrance ticket to Bian Cheng? It seems that most ancient towns and other tourist hot-spot like the three you mention all have an expensive entrance fee!
    So, you were actually able to enjoy Fenghuang without thousands of tourists swarming the streets?
    I was in Fenghuang earlier this week (thinking that in the middle of the week, low season I would almost have the town for myself) and it was more like “bustling with intense tourist activity, noisy, overcrowded and almost too commercial to appreciate the old town”. It seemed all the Chinese tourist were in Fenghuang.
    When did yo go? I hope I can enjoy a ‘quiet, calm, harmonious and peaceful’ Fenghuang.

  • Great list of things to do that are off the beaten track in China! I would love to visit Zhangjiajie – the landscape is absolutely spectacular and I would love to float around Fenghuang – the perfect place to watch life pass you by!!