Central Yúnnán covers a big swath of land, including key destinations such as the capital Kūnmíng, long-time travellers favourite Dàlī, and the surrounding Ěrhǎi Lake and mountains of Cāng Shān, as well as the legendary rice terraces of Yuányáng, perhaps Yúnnán’s finest photo opportunity.
As the birthplace of Mao Zedong, Communist Party cadres might wax lyrical about the sacred standing of Húnán (湖南) in the annals of Chinese history, but it's Húnán’s dramatic scenery that is the real draw. A magnificent landscape of isolated mountain ranges and jagged, karst peaks envelops more than 80% of the province.
Synonymous with the Silk Road, the slender province of Gānsù (甘肃) flows east to west along the Héxī Corridor, the gap through which goods and ideas once streamed between China and Central Asia. The constant flow of commerce left Buddhist statues, beacon towers, forts, chunks of the Great Wall and ancient trading towns in its wake.
Hēilóngjiāng (黑龙江) means 'Black Dragon River', and this particular coiling dragon is the separating line between China and Russia. Across the province a neighbourly influence is evident in architecture, food and even souvenirs. Capital Harbin (Hā’ěrbīn), famed for its cobblestoned streets and European-style facades, is ground zero for this hybrid experience.
Affluent Chinese may roll their eyes at the mention of impoverished and land-locked Hénán (河南), but the province’s heritage takes us back to the earliest days of Chinese antiquity. Ancient capitals rose and fell in Hénán’s north, where the capricious Yellow River (Huáng Hé) nourished the flowering of a great civilisation.