The Roaming Landscapes of Western China You Need to See

western China

There are so many beautiful places to see in China.

When most tourists visit they tend to stick to the large cities that surround the east coast, but if they stay east they’re missing out on some of the most scenic and beautiful parts of China.

Exploring Western China

Western China is large (about 5.4 million square meters) and home to a variety of providences, autonomous regions, and rich cultures.

There are a lot of natural landmarks, architecture, and people to see and a photograph.

We could write an entire series on the sheer amount of things to do in all of western China. To make things easier, we’re going to highlight four areas and some of their most popular attractions.


Sichuan (popularly known as Szechuan) is located in the majority of the Sichuan Basin. Its location next to both the Daba and Himalayan mountains makes this area perfect for photography. There’s a lot of natural parks and sites to see in the province.

Yading is a reserve located in Daocheng County, and it’s home to one of China’s best preserved alpine habitats. It’s full of scenic fields, mountains, and streams that are begging to be photographed. There are 1,344 square miles to explore in Yading, so make sure you carve out enough time to see them!

If you haven’t gotten your fill of photographing mountains after you’ve spent time in Yading, you should head over to the Four Girls Mountain.

These mountains are located in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, and is lovingly referred to as “The Eastern Alps”.

A local legend claims that the valley was constantly battered by heavy winds. Four beautiful girls turned into mountains to help shield the area from the harsh winds.

This is the ideal area for people that want to capture some wildlife along with gorgeous scenery.  The mountains are home to plenty of black bears and golden monkeys.

For truly unique wildlife photography, Huanglong in northwestern Sichuan is a must see. Aside from the truly breath-taking scenery (which includes waterfalls, hot springs, and colorful calcium deposits), it’s home to some of China’s rarest species.

The giant panda and Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey are endangered species, but they both call Huanglong home.


Qinghai is named after Qinghai Lake, the largest lake in the country. It’s located on the vast Tibetian Plateau and is home to a variety of ethnic groups.

If you’d like to see some examples of classic Chinese history and architecture, the Qutan Temple should be your first stop in Qinghai.

It was established in 1392 during the Ming Dynasty and is home to some of the most well-preserved examples of Ming architecture in all of northwestern China.

The temple is divided into two perfectly symmetrical parts and has become a popular destination for religious travelers and tourists alike.

While you’re on your religious architecture kick in Qinghai, plan to visit the Dongguan Mosque. Dongguan is the largest mosque in Qinghai and was built in the 14th century. The mosque has beautiful white arches and combines elements of middle eastern and Chinese architecture.

After you’ve seen some architecture, take some time to soak up some of Qinghai’s natural beauty.

The Three Rivers Nature Preserve (formally known as the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve) was established in 2000 to protect the headwaters of three rivers. The Yellow, Mekong, and Yangtze Rivers all meet at this preserve, and the preserve is one of the largest wetlands in China.

Wetlands aren’t the only thing to see at this preserve. There are also ample mountains, grasslands, and rivers to photograph.


Xinjiang borders 8 different countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Xinjiang is also different from the other areas we’ve mentioned.

Unlike Qinghai and Sichuan, Xinjiang is an autonomous region of China. Despite its difference, it still offers the same beautiful landscapes and architecture as the rest of the country.

The Heavenly Lake of Tianshan used to be known as Jade Lake, but its name change has affected its natural beauty.

The lake’s surrounding snowcapped peaks makes this a beautiful alpine lake. Its crystal clear waters have made it a popular destination for vacationers and photographers alike. Some may even call it the most beautiful lake in all of western China.

The Jiangbulak Scenic Spot looks like it was made for photography enthusiasts.

This large grassland is nestled in the eastern section of Tianshan Mountain. It doesn’t have the extreme summers and winters other places have, so it’s great to visit throughout the year.

If you want to see a mix of nature and human culture, Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves is a must see.

These caves sit on the cliffs west of the Mutou Valley which is right under the Flaming Mountain. These caves are filled with art, as murals cover 1, 200 square meters of the cave system.

57 of the original 83 caves are still intact and ready for you to capture on film!


Gansu is comfortably nestled between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus and also borders Mongolia.

Art and architecture lovers will want to visit the Dafo Temple (also known as the Wofo Temple) in Zhangye City. It’s home to the largest indoor sleeping Budda statue in China. The buddha is 34.5 meters long with a shoulder span of 7.5 meters!

If you want to see an actual oasis, take a few pictures at scenic Crescent Lake. This lake (also known as Yueya Spring) was in danger of being swallowed up in the surrounding desert, but the government stepped in to save it.

After you spend some time snapping pictures, you’ll find that there’s a lot to do. You can visit a sand spa, ride camels, or even do some sand surfing.

Wrapping up

Now that you’ve decided to visit western China, you need to make sure that you’re fully prepared. You may be tempted to explore on your own, but since this area of China is so big you may want to consider going with a group or tour guide.

Have you explored western China?  Did we leave out your favorite spot?  Tell us about it in the comments!

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