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5 offbeat China trips for 'Golden Week'
See the ecological, exotic and eccentric side of China without the tourism madness
October is the month when it seems all 1 billion Chinese leave home to take advantage of the rare week-long Golden Week holiday celebrating National Day (October 1).
But it doesn’t mean vacationers can’t escape colored baseball-capped tour groups and screeching guides waving annoying flags.
Here are five offbeat routes that take in the country’s exotic life, not its tourists.
1. Moganshan, Zhejiang Province
It would be easy to get lost and reinvent yourself as a Chinese warrior in Moganshan’s dense bamboo forest.
Scenes from "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" were filmed here, where the sunrays beam through the ranks of trees like lightsabers.
The 758-meter mountain is also ideal terrain for hiking, through the atmospheric mist and snaking stone paths leading up to the summit.
"The air in Moganshan is incredibly fresh, especially if you've been sweltering in Shanghai," says British traveler Helen Elfer, 29, “and you feel like you're staying in a remote hideaway, even though it's only three hours away from one of China’s major cities.”
Other activities on Mount Mogan include tea picking, fishing in Laoling Lake and the reservoir, plus mountain biking. The Moganshan Lodge serves breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and fresh coffee all day -- and is the area's most stylish and relaxed hangout.
Where to stay: Naked Retreats, a (non clothes-optional) eco resort in the woods with a number of individual bungalows and cabins made of recycled local woods and materials. Rooms are equipped with a fully functional kitchen, board games and an outdoor barbecue set.
Getting there: Take the train from Shanghai Railway Station to Hangzhou, then transfer to a long-distance bus from Hangzhou to Moganshan.
Or, take a long-distance bus from Shanghai old North Station (老北站) or Shanghai Long-distance Bus Terminal near Shanghai Railway Station to Huzhou (湖州), then transfer to a bus from Huzhou to Moganshan.
Call Moganshan's Shanghai office (+86 21 5603 7055) for direct shuttle bus information in summer. Admission to Moganshan is RMB 80.
Naked Retreats Home Village, Sanjiuwu, Laoling Village, Moganshan Town, Deqing County, Huzhou City, Zhejiang Province 浙江省湖州市德清县莫干山镇老岭村三鸠坞; +86 21 6431 8902; www.nakedretreats.cn
The Moganshan Lodge, Songliang Shanzhuang, Yin Shan Jie, Moganshan; +86 572 803 3011; www.moganshanlodge.com
2. Lugu Lake, Yunnan Province
Home to the Mosuo people, a minority group in China, Lugu Lake is also known as the "The Kingdom of Women," where female rule supreme over men.
The locals still live by the ancient concept of "walking marriages" -- women here have the right to pick and change their husband as many times as they wish.
In addition, they own all property, land and any children they give birth to (who take their mother’s name, rather than their father’s).
This incredible community is a little-known phenomenon even to Chinese, and well worth the visit to interact with the colorfully dressed tribes.
"These women are fascinating, not only do they rule the roost, but they are warm friendly and gentle," says 30-year-old U.S. traveler Nonnie Warren. "Lugu Lake is an incredible place to visit."
Aside from the culture, the scenery is salivating -- big skies, glistening lakes and a countryside dotted with Tibetan-style temples.
Where to stay: The Silver Lake Island Hotel Lugu is a property overlooking the gorgeous lake. The hotel houses 127 clean rooms and a cabin-style stay. The restaurants serve up local Yunnan cuisine, as well as Sichuan, Cantonese and Hunan dishes.
Getting there: Take a mini van or fleet bus from Lijiang bus station to Lugu Lake. Buses leave at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. daily. The journey usually takes six hours (and should cost under RMB100). Alternatively rent a local driver, which will cut down your journey by more than an hour.
The Silver Lake Island Hotel Lugu, Hongyazi, Ninglang Yi Autonomous County, Lijiang, Yunnan 云南省丽江市宁蒗彝族自治县红崖子片区, +86 888 588 2888
More on CNN: 40 beautiful places to visit in China
3. Dwarf Empire Amusement Park, Yunnan Province
As part of a butterfly ecological park in Kunming, the controversial "dwarf empire" was set up as a tourist attraction by Sichuan businessman Chen Mingjing (陈明镜), so little people could have the stable income that’s not often available to them in China due to prejudice in the "tall" world.
All staff are less than 1.3 meters tall.
The experience is certainly as bizarre as it is enthralling.
The park has no amusements or fairground rides but mushroom-like stone houses, which look like a scene from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
It also houses a dwarf theater. More than 100 small people clad head to toe in various fantasy outfits, from guard’s uniforms to king and monk costumes, sing songs and break dance for visitors.
Where to stay: There are dozens of hotels to choose from in Kunming including the Bank Hotel Kunming, right in the city center. The 23-story hotel has super large modern bedrooms, is very reasonably priced and serves tasty Yunnan grub.
Getting there: Go to the West Bus Station in Kunming, get on any bus towards Haikou and get off at World Butterfly Ecological Park, which is approximately 40 kilometers out of Kunming city center.
World Butterfly Ecological Park, Heiqiaomu Village, Biji Town, Xishan District, Kunming, Yunnan 云南省昆明市西山区碧鸡镇黑荞母村, +86 871 850 0600, admission: RMB 120
Bank Hotel Kunming, No. 399, Qingnian Lu, Panlong District, Kunming, Yunnan 云南省昆明市盘龙区青年路399号, +86 871 315 8888
4. Dandong, Liaoning Province
This sleepy river town separates China from its neighbor North Korea across the Yalu River.
The Great Wall of China extends to this very point in northeast part of the country. At Hushan (虎山) section of the Wall, you can see clearly into the forbidden territory.
A city of nearly 2.5 million, Dandong is also the north-most point on China’s 18,000-kilometer coastline.
Curious tourists can take a speedboat close to the banks of the North Korean side, but don’t pull up too near to the bank, the nation’s citizens have been known to throw stone at those who get to close.
Those in-the-know don’t just come here for the views, though.
The city carries importance on China’s contemporary history for its relation to the Korean War.
The Chinese army embarked from here to enter the War on the side of North Korea in 1950, and there are stories that some of bombs missed the North Korea and hit Dandong’s antique market instead.
The city still houses a dedicated memorial of "resisting U.S. aggression and aiding North Korea" with anti-US propaganda.
Dozens of Korean restaurants across Dandong serve up sweet and sour treats from both North and South.
Where to stay: If you don’t make it to the Great Wall you don’t have to miss out on the North Korean view, have a peek from the Crowne Plaza which is located right by Yalu River.
Getting there: Flights are available to Dandong Langtou Airport from most parts of China. A taxi to the Hu Shan section of the Great Wall from city center takes less than 30 minutes and costs under RMB 50.
Crowne Plaza Dandong, No. 158 Binjiang Zhong Lu, Zhenxing District, Dandong, Liaoning Province 辽宁省丹东市振兴区滨江中路158号, +86 415 318 9999, www.ichotelsgroup.com
5. Everest Base Camp, Tibet Autonomous Region
This wild and untamed landscape is probably as off-the-beaten track as you can get away from loud tour groups.
Plan the trip from Lhasa and travelers can meet pilgrims on the way, who appear to be from another century. They usually carry all their worldly possessions with them, having traveled for hundreds of miles on foot to their final destination -- the Potala Palace.
Out of the city, locals travel by horses and carts instead of cars -- it is a humbling existence that hits visitors smack in the face.
It’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture en route to Everest -- the bright blue roof of the world is within spitting distance, the air is utterly smog free and shimmering lakes are scattered around the landscape.
Meanwhile, the Himalayan mountain range is goose-pimple-inducing and the camp at the base of the world’s tallest mountain offers the chance to camp next to, and meet, serious explorers the day before their big climb.
Where to stay: The new St. Regis Lhasa Resort is a real treat for visitors who’ve previously only had the choice of very basic accommodation in Tibet.
Getting there: The only way to get to Tibet is to book a trip through a recognized company in China and stay with them the entire time you are in the region. There are numerous companies you can apply for your Tibet Alien travel/PSB permit through.
The regulations often change regarding permits to this region, but contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get access to Tibet.
Visitors will need a Chinese visa as well as a travel permit and will fly, or travel by land, from China into the region.
It’s advisable to book a trip well in advance as it will take the specialist travel company at least 10 days apply for the documents.
Fly into Tibet from Sichuan (though there is a higher risk of altitude sickness) or enter overland from Golmud via four-wheel drive. From Lhasa, four-wheel drives will join the road and stop along the way at Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse, Shigatse and Sakya Monastery before arriving at Base Camp.
St. Regis Lhasa, No. 22, Jiangsu Lu, Lhasa, Tibet 西藏拉萨市江苏路22号, +86 891 680 8888, www.starwoodhotels.com