Wide open spaces, breathtaking mountains and lush, green gardens. These may not be words you immediately associate with China, but it turns out there’s more to this amazing country than just densely populated cities and skyscrapers.

Take a trip to some of the places less-frequented by Aussie tourists and you’re likely to find a side of China you never knew existed.

Hangzhou, in the east, is home to the stunning West Lake. A vast open lake so picturesque it inspired artists and poets throughout China’s history. It’s straight out of painting; large, green lily pads arch up toward the sky, while wooden boats lazily glide across the water. On the horizon, huge mountains look down over the area. The water gleams blue and green, reflecting everything off it while willows string delicate lines of leaves from overhead.

Sitting near the West Lake, just to watch the sunset, is a calming experience in itself. The fresh air, the sounds of life and the peaceful vibe are all so soothing. It’s strange to think it’s China, yet it’s stranger to think there are parts of China not like this.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the West Lake is divided into five sections by three causeways and a myriad of temples, pagodas, bridges and gardens that beg you to explore them. Some should be explored slowly on foot, just wandering the path and stopping to soak it all in. Others should definitely be explored by bike.

You can hire an electric bike for the day for around $35AU and whiz through the causeways or around the outside of the West Lake. Once open to cars, these areas are strictly for pedestrians and bicycles, making it safe to get around.

Mt Huangshan

Mt Huangshan

An easy two hour bus ride from Hangzhou is Huangshan, an area that’s home to some of China’s most dramatic scenery. If it looks familiar, it’s because it has been part of Chinese artworks for thousands of years and was also the backdrop for parts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Mount Huangshan, also known as the Yellow Mountain, is a stunning combination of dense, lush forest, wildlife and oddly shaped granite peaks. The views from the mountain are breathtaking and, thankfully, it’s easily accessed by cable car. The mountain is easy to hike, thanks to great pathways that are well-maintained.

Wandering through the paths of the mountain is like being in an enchanted forest. At certain times of year a thick mist rolls in and out of the forest, giving it an ethereal vibe. The trees form a perfect canopy above, some stretching straight up into the sky, others with twisted branches and bright flowers. Paths jut out of the edge of the mountain, forming a winding track to follow.

Sections of the path will lead you up to peaks offering views that you will never forget and watching a sunrise here is considered mandatory. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Huangshan is known for its incredible views of clouds gently touching the sides of the mountains, also known as the Huangshan Sea. It’s also home to spectacular waterfalls, hot springs and winter snow, making it a must-do destination all year round.

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