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7 of China’s coolest outdoor activities
Dive through a lost city or flip between Shanghai skyscrapers -- China is growing as a thrill seeker's destination
China is not famous for adventure tourism, but it’s actually one great destination to seek a new adrenaline high.
And here are seven ways (in no particular order) to travel the Middle Kingdom with a new heart rate.
1. Kiteboarding, Fujian
If you crave speed, like getting wet, and are willing to tear up your life-insurance, then this full-throttle activity, which fuses sailing, windsurfing and wakeboarding, must be attempted at least once.
The sport only made it to China a few years ago, but the locals have chucked themselves into it (quite literally).
There’s now a kiteboarding epicenter along Xiaman’s sandy enclave -- where ferocious winds create the perfect conditions to pull off spins, flips, loops and mega-jumps, while riders hurtle along at up to 92 kph. Learn the ropes in less than 10 hours.
Price: Kiteboarding courses start from RMB 3,000 (US$445) for eight hours of tuition, including equipment hire.
Details: Contact Windshield Outdoor Sports for lessons on +86 152 5925 6904 or +86 159 6082 0204. Visit www.chinakitesurf.com for more info.
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2. Hiking, Tibet Autonomous Region, China
Glaciers thousands of meters high, untamed forests and antelopes, Himalayan black bears and wild yaks -- this land of rocky desert and incredible mountains is as untainted as it is unmissable.
Hikers spend years exploring these unchartered realms, with piercing blue skies, fascinating culture and picture perfect scenes in every direction.
One of the most challenging walk across the "Roof of the World" starts in Lhasa, where you can acclimatize with a gentle climb up the 1,036 steps of the Potala Palace, then watch the solitary monks debate, chant and prey at the Drepung and Sera Monasteries.
When your head has stopped pounding from the altitude, venture into the countryside and the Kyi-chu Valley for a view of scattered multi-colored Buddhist prayer flags against serrated rocks -- in this area you’ll also meet lone nomadic families living off the land.
From here the road continues to Tibet’s most iconic scene -- the highest mountain range in the world. Stop, gaze, and try and identify Mount Everest among the fabled peaks.
Price: Package tours start from RMB 16,000 (US$2,545) per person (excluding airfare) for a private tour based on a group of four people. Price includes accommodation, meals, equipment and an Alien's Travel Permit to the region.
Details: Contact Tibet Tour Travel Experts on +86 21 6431 1184 or visit www.tibet-tour.com for more info.
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3. Diving, Zhejiang
With only a high-powered flashlight to guide you through the murky, dark waters, it’s easy to lose your dive partner and be stranded in the vast abyss of Qiandao Lake (aka Thousand Island Lake).
However, intrepid divers will understand the appeal when they descend to 24 meters and bump into a wall that surrounds a giant dormant city.
The 1,300-year-old gated Lion City (狮城) was evacuated more than 50-years ago due to a deliberate flood started to create a reservoir, yet the eerie and forgotten remains, including detailed pai fangs, houses and intact furniture, still sit under the water waiting to be discovered once again.
Move in the shadows on this fascinating adventure dive and snap away at the gruesome gargoyles guarding the gateway, which pop out of the sinister surroundings, and discover new routes through the remarkable sunken buildings.
Price: Three-day, two-night dive trips to the lake cost from RMB 3,280 (US$525), including equipment, accommodation and meals.
Details: Contact the Big Blue dive company to book a trip leaving from Shanghai on +86 21 6291 2110 or visit www.big-blue.cn.
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4. Mountain biking, Yunnan
One of the rides of your life consists of a challenging climb up to 1,900 meters on two wheels.
Cycling around 40 kilometers per day on varied terrain, from cobbled streets, tricky dirt tracks and sheer cliff faces, you’ll snake past incredible sights such as the ice-capped Jade Dragon Mountain and one of the world’s deepest river canyons -- Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Along the way you’ll meet the friendly Nakhi people wearing striking tribal costume and find farmers carrying firewood, collecting wild herbs and mushrooms.
Soak your aching muscles and blisters in Shaxi at Bailongtan natural spring, surrounded by lush vegetation where it’s possible to spot mustached laughing thrush and spot-breasted parrotbill.
Price: RMB 13,650 (US$2,150) including a guide and accommodation. RMB 1,000 for bike hire.
Details: For a 14-day guided cycle trip with Bangkok-based Spice Roads, contact +66 2 712 5305 and visit www.spiceroads.com for more info.
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5. Parkour, Shanghai
A core group of enthusiasts have turned Shanghai into an urban gymnasium -- flipping, spinning and traversing high towers, walls and obstacles effortlessly. Now you can join them.
If you’ve got the balls, it’s possible to learn how to handstand on the side of the Jin Mao Tower or back flip off of the Oriental Pearl Tower. Shangahi Parkour Center offers the chance to learn these moves, plus how to use your body as effectively as possible to cross our modern and varied landscapes.
They’ll teach a variety of climbing, martial arts and acrobatic techniques. And, while you’re at it, you get to see one of Asia’s most iconic cities from an entirely different perspective.
Details: Contact Martin at Shanghai Parkour Center to train at various spots around the city, including Metro Line 1 Huangpi Nan Lu Station, Metro Line 7 Chuanchang Lu Station (near the Huangpu River) and Yan’an Xi Lu. Call +86 186 2133 7903 to check sessions and lesson timings.
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6. Surfing, Hainan
Mellow glassy swells or three-meter peeling rides are available at this untouched teardrop-shaped island.
The surf scene in this laid-back tropical setting is how we imagine Hawaii in the 1960s, with a super-friendly Beach Boys vibe.
Here you can carve uncrowded waves all day.
We recommend the mellow beach break at Houhai Bay (great for longboarders and beginners) or Riyuewan (where the annual Hainan Surf Open is held) for a decent rock-bottomed point break.
Price: Rental from RMB 40 (US$7), surf lessons from RMB 300 (US$50, for two hours).
Details: Contact Surfing Hainan in Dadonghai for lessons, surf safaris and board hire on +86 135 1980 0103. Or visit www.surfinghainan.com for more info.
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7. Skiing, Hebei
While this place is no Aspen or Whistler, it’s a lesser-known ski spot meaning the pistes are uncrowded and stress free. There are a 18 powdery slopes at Wanlong, including the resort’s sweet 2,500-meter Jade Dragon piste.
There’s also a good variety of advanced and intermediate runs and a 500-meter baby run where beginners can get a taste of the action.
If you’re a park rider, try the decent immaculately crafted pipes, big air ramps and smooth grinds in the snow park.
Plus, if there’s no guarantee of snowfall at the resort, they’ll blast it with their snow cannons, meaning you’ll always be able to ride. Happy days.
Ski season in Wanlong runs from October-March.
Price: Lift tickets cost approximately RMB 300 (US$50) on weekday. Ski rental starts at RMB 250 (US$40).
Details: Contact China Ski Tours on +86 150 3111 6227, or visit www.chinaskitours.com for more info.
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