The five China destinations you shouldn’t miss!

My final visit to this banger. Can't believe that I've got less than two months left in China

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I’m Jordan, a 24-year-old Brit who has spent the last 10 months based in one of China’s largest and busiest cities, Chongqing. I moved to China in pursuit of a more travel-focused lifestyle, with a desire to see for myself and photograph a country not often found on the typical backpacking route through Asia.

I’ve extensively explored some of China’s best kept secrets, and having filled more memory cards than I can keep count of, STA Travel invited me to present to you some imagery of my five favourite travel destinations in The Middle Kingdom right now…

1. Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Couldn't think of a better place to sort her hair out

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This is the mystical China you may not have heard about, but has the potential to redirect your travel plans in an instant. Forged by the Hani people hundreds of years ago, the Yuanyang Rice Terraces are about four and a half hours south of Kunming, and give stunning performances of their own at both sunrise and sunset. My advice: skip the designated viewing platform and find the next turning onto the terraces, where you will be able to watch the light show amongst a handful of locals and animals alike on their daily commute.

2. Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province

If you've got a bucket list, make sure Zhangjiajie is somewhere near the top

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Set in the subtropical northwest of Hunan Province, Zhangjiajie is home to 243 jaw-dropping peaks and karst formations. As you walk amongst it trying to absorb it all, you can’t help but feel you’ve walked on to the set for James Cameron’s Avatar. If you’re fortunate enough to view the morning mist rolling through the valleys and light rain, you’re in for a treat. For those free of time constraints, plan an extra day in Zhangjiajie city and head to Tianmen Mountain for views of spectacular mountain roads and of course, the 999 steps leading to the world-famous Heaven’s Gate.

3. Xiahe, central China

Whoever said daily routines were lethal?

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With the sound of Tibetan trumpets blasting from the mountains, 3km of creaking prayer-wheels and tight-lipped chatter amongst the town’s residents, Xiahe is sacred in every way imaginable. The harmonious town’s star attraction has to be the world renowned Labrang Monastery, home to quite possibly the country’s most welcoming red-robed Tibetan monks (around 1800 of them!). Arrive there before midday and stand amongst the pilgrims in the main courtyard, as what’s to follow is simply mesmerising. One-by-one, the monks, now adorning vibrant yellow hats, begin chanting in total synchronisation, eventually leading you through the Prayer Hall’s main door to observe their service. One even gifted me with his lucky coin, the only reason being that I had the same sunglasses as him!

To attain an idea of the monastery’s size, I’d recommend encircling it in it’s entirety, using the prayer wheels, stupas, hillside meditation cells and bead carrying pilgrims as your guide. Xiahe is around an hour’s drive from the city of Gannan.

4. Jiuzhaigou, Central China

I've become a little bit obsessed with Jiuzhaigou recently. Wish more places in the world looked like this!

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When I saw this place in pictures for the first time, I became transfixed. With more than 114 shimmering lakes and alpine infused mountain backdrops, Jiuzhaigou really is the Jewel of The Middle Kingdom’s crown, and perfect Instagram material. The bluer-than-blue water and heavenly waterfalls have been preserved entirely, with calcium carbonate deposits taking the form of mystical shapes beneath it all. Give yourself a full day to traverse the park, as rising early to hike the first half will give you the lakes all to yourself later on. Enjoy!

The Jiuzhai National Park is located between Chengdu and Gannan – and is definitely worth the journey from Chengdu if you’ve time time!

5. Dunhuang

One of my favourite moments from 2016. Anyone down for a trip to China this year? The noodle withdrawals are slowly setting in

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Perched on the perimeter of the Gobi Desert is the oasis town of Dunhuang, best known for it’s dramatic desertscapes and out-of-this-world kebabs, a must-see for any keen Silk-Road traveller. Impressive forts, caves and temples lay scattered across the town, but amongst the dwarfing sand dunes is where you’ll find yourself most impressed. By the time I reached the peaks, I’m certain I’d taken on as much weight in sand as I lost in sweat, but boy are the views something else. As the sun begins to recede towards the horizon, the shadows amongst the dunes create a photographers dream; a truly remarkable experience destined for all bucket-lists out there.

Inspired much!? Who knew there were giant sand dunes to rival the Sahara in the heart of the Orient? If you’re thinking of heading out to China, feel free to contact Jordan through his incredible Instagram – @jordhammond and get started with our China travel guide which includes discounted tours and cheap flights to Beijing, and beyond…