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If you’ve heard anything of China, you will have heard of her ancient towns and cities. Towns like Lijiang, Pingyao, and Huangyao. Or cities with thousands of years of history, like Beijing, Xi’an, and Chengdu.
Here are a few more you may not have heard of, but which offer you a beautiful glimpse into ancient history. In these villages, you can experience lifestyles that have been passed down from generation to generation, tucked away in ancient buildings, hidden among the graceful landscapes of remote China. Just bring with you your camera, hiking gear, and curiosity!
Tuvas (Tuwa in Mandarin) is a small valley village of some 80 homes, nestled among pine and birch, and a short distance from the Lake Kanas. For centuries, locals have told tales of monstrous mysterious creatures which swim its depths… No one has confirmed what this creature is, but it doesn’t hurt to check it out for yourself!
The Tuvas, who inhabit the area, are an ancient minority group. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, it is said that they are the descendants of a group of Genghis Khan’s troops. Today their homes are made of wood, which some call “swiss-style homes”. They are well known for kumiss (a drink made from fermented mare’s milk), yogurt, milk tea, and butter.
Accommodations: You can choose an inn or with a local family. Be prepared for very basic conditions.
Activities: You can visit a local family, go herding with the locals and experience the peaceful ancient village life. Additionally, it is possible to get tours of Kanas Lake.
When to visit: If you visit in autumn (August – October), you will see Tuvas Village at its most colorful, surrounded by brilliant red or yellow trees. However, it might snow in October, so remember to bring warm clothes.
Transportation: Tuvas Village is about 2.5 kilometers south of Lake Kanas. Lake Kanas is about 902 kilometers from Urumqi (by road) and is about 200 kilometers from the nearest city, Altay City. Lake Kanas Scenic Area is one of the best places for autumn photography in China, second only to Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan Province. Check out other China destinations with great autumn scenery.
Jiaju Tibetan Village is known as "Tibetan fairyland". The 140 or so homes of the village sit on a slight hill slope, their unique crown-shaped roofs, red eaves, and white walls making them look like mini castles among the trees.
When to visit: This Tibetan village is a great destination for photographers, especially between February and April, when the ancient village is decorated with colorful wildflowers, white pear blossoms, and green grassland. If you’re interested in photography, also check out China’s Top 7 Places for Spring Photography.
Transportation: The village is about 8 kilometers from Danba Town, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Kardze is 718 kilometers from Chengdu. There are two options for getting to Jiaju Village from Chengdu: 1) take the bus, or 2) hire a private car.
Having a private driver is best for enjoying the beautiful landscapes along the way, and for saving time. To learn about other picturesque destinations in Western Sichuan, check out How to Explore Western Sichuan: A 9-Day Tour Plan.
The bus leaves from Chadianzi Bus Station (成都茶店子车站) in northwest Chengdu to Danba (丹巴). From there it’s about another 11 kilometers to Jiaju.
Baoshan Stone City (宝山石头城), Lijiang (丽江), Yunnan, is made up of about one hundred houses built on a huge mushroom-shaped rock. The houses are laid out in an orderly way, and linked by stone steps. The locals often chisel the local rock into stone tables, stone benches, stone hearths, and stone water vats.
The Naxi people have cut rice terraces and planted crops such as rice, wheat, and corn on the hills around the mushroom rock. They still lead a traditional life, vibrant with color and culture. There are only about 330,000 Naxi, and most of them live in Yunnan province.
If you have time, plan to visit Old Town Lijiang, too. It is famous worldwide as a UNESCO Heritage Site, dating back over 800 years.
When to visit: The best month to visit is October, when the fields around the ancient village are bright with green wheat and gold rice.
Trip time: Plan at least 2 days for your visit.
Lodging: There are family hotels in the village.
Transportation: Baoshan Stone City is in the canyon of Jinsha River (金沙江), the upper section of the Yangtze River, and is about 110 kilometers from Lijiang City, which is an hour’s flight from Yunnan’s capital city, Kunming (昆明). The bus can take you directly to the village, or you can get off at the nearest town, walk to the village, and make the most of the beautiful landscape. Walking takes about 3 hours.
Hongcun (宏村) and Xidi (西递) in southern Anhui province are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the way they have largely preserved their traditional non-urban lifestyle, from street plans to decoration, to architecture, to manmade waterways. They have experienced a thousand years of continuous transformation and development, and today retain the original features of Anhui villages between the 14th and 20th centuries. The mountains, the rivers, and the ancient dwellings make these villages well worth visiting.
Location: Only about 40 kilometers from the Yellow Mountains (黄山), you can take a bus from Yellow Mountain Scenic Area to Xidi or Hongcun. The distance between Hongcun and Xidi is about 25 kilometers. You can hire a bike after you arrive at one of them, and then cycle to the other village.
Note, the Yellow Mountains are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you can, also take the time to discover it’s oddly-shaped pines and rocks, and its mystical seas of cloud.
For artists: When visiting these ancient villages, you might want to bring your sketch pad to capture their beauty on paper.
If you are interested in the Miao Minority, then Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village (西江千户苗寨) in Guizhou Province is a great destination for deepening your understanding of their history and culture. They continue many of their traditional festivals, the two most famous of which are the Miao New Year and the Guzang Festival (牯藏节), fa festival for ancestor-worship.
Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village consists of more than ten natural hamlets, including the famous Silversmith Hamlet, which are all built on hills. The Miao people work with silver to craft unique and exquisite silver ornaments.
Transportation: You can take the high-speed or a regular train from Guiyang City (贵阳), the capital city of Guizhou Province, to Kaili South Station (凯里南站), and from there find a private car to take you the last hour to Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village.
The high-speed train station from Guiyang North Station (贵阳北站) takes about 40 minutes to get to Kaili and costs 58.5 RMB. The regular train from Guiyang Station (贵阳站) takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to get to Kaili and costs 28.5 RMB.
Wuyuan county (婺源县) in northeast Jiangxi is noted for having "the most beautiful villages anywhere in China". It boasts many well-preserved ancient Ming and Qing style architectural features, from ancestral halls to mansions and homes, to bridges.
Every village in Wuyuan is built with a river in front, and mountains behind. Hiking in the surrounding countryside is a popular activity. Seas of yellow rape flowers bloom the spring, and the fall is alight with reds and golds.
Transportation: Wuyuan is only about 90 kilometers from the Yellow Mountains, and buses linking these two attractions are available every day. Additionally, you can take the high-speed Yellow Mountains North Station to the Wuyuan Station for 35 RMB.
Hakka villages are mainly in Fujian Province, especially in Nanjing Prefecture (南靖县) and Yongding Prefecture(永定县). They are famous for their fortress-like homes. These homes were indeed built with defense in mind, made of earth and stone with walls in excess of 1 meter thick. Each multi-story round or square building also served an extended family with bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, warehouses, etc. Read “Yongding Hakka Roundhouse” to learn more about these amazing buildings.
If you want to have a visit, we recommend two villages: Hongkeng Village (洪坑村) and Chuxi Village (初溪村) in Yongding Prefecture. Both of these villages have a history of hundreds of years and are built among hills and by rivers. There, you can learn about the construction of earthen buildings, the history of the Hakka people, and enjoy the peace brought by the natural scenery.
If you are interested in any of these places, you can consult us for details for free, and have us tailor-make for you the tour of your dreams.
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