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Giant Buddhas, hidden grottoes, centuries-old houses – this group of culture sites can only be found in China
Leshan Giant Buddha

A must-see for all those visiting Chengdu, the Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone Buddha statue in the world and by far the tallest pre-modern statue. Constructed during China’s Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), the UNESCO World Heritage site is carved from Cretaceous red bed sandstone cliff face, located at the confluence of two rivers, Min River and Dadu River, in the southern part of Sichuan province. Emphasising the sheer size of the figure, the statue’s head reaches the top of the mountain, and its feet stand at the base of the river. Its insteps are capable of holding over 100 people. Numerous private tours are available to both trek or take in the panoramic scenes by boat. Prices start from AUD $132.

PICTURE THIS The Giant Buddha’s total height is 71 metres. The head itself measures 14.7 metres!

Mogao Caves

Situated at a strategic point of the Silk Road, Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves are etched into the cliff above the Dachuan River in the south-east of Gansu province. At the crossroad of trade, religious and cultural influencers, Mogao’s 492 cells and cave sanctuaries comprise the most extensive and richly endowed collection of statues and wall paintings, documenting 1,000 years of Buddhist art. Inaugurated in 366 AD, the site represents the great achievement and development of Buddhist art from the 4th to the 14th century. The word Mogao itself means “high up in the desert” – befitting when describing the cave openings, which are stacked five storeys high and reach up to 50 metres.

FACTS AND FIGURES UNESCO preserves the 492 caves, which house more than 2,000 sculptures.

Gulangyu Island

Just a short five-minute ferry ride from Fujian’s capital city, Xiamen, sits the perfectly preserved Gulangyu Island. After the Opium War in 1842, 13 countries occupied the island and built consulates, churches, hospitals and living quarters making it a mix bag of architectural styles from Britain, France and Japan. The pedestrian-only island attracts over 10 million tourists a year. Most of these tourist flock to Shuzhang Garden. First built in 1931 on the south side of Gulangyu Island, Shuzhuang Garden was once a private villa. It became a garden park open to the public in 1955. The serene garden is dotted with seating pavilions, ponds and is filled with vibrant native bougainvillea. If you want to get a look at the island as a whole, take a short hike up to Sunlight Rock.

DID YOU KNOW? Gulangyu Island was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2017.

Hangzhou West Lake

Hangzhou’s West Lake encapsulates the very definition of traditional Chinese beauty, a mesmerising world away from the city’s multiplying skyscrapers and futuristic architecture. The man-made willow-lined waters play host to boats drifting at a leisurely pace, while impromptu ballroom dancing, opera singing and tai chi sessions take place along the lakeside shores. Initially a lagoon adjoining the Qiantang River, the lake didn’t come into existence until the 8th century. It has since seen multiple pagodas, parks and benches strategically erected to take full advantage of the picturesque scenes. To avoid the crowds, the best time to visit is bright and early
in the morning, when you will also catch the picture-perfect moment of the sun rising over the lake.

TRAVELLER’S TIP The best way to explore the 3.2-kilometre lake is by bike or on foot.

Fujian tulou

Three-and-a-half hours from the island city of Xiamen, you will discover one of the world’s oldest monuments that continues to exemplify the richness of China’s history today – the ancient Fujian tulou. Directly translating to earthen (tu) and building (lou), the tulou spread across a south-western section of the province. Each circular edifice remains as remarkable in its ingenuity as some of China’s most modern buildings. What makes the cultural site so fascinating is that it’s one of the very few live UNESCO World Heritage sites that locals still call home. The Hakka and the Minnan (Fujianese) people have lived in the fabled earthen structures for centuries and welcome visitors day or night. You’ll have to pay an entry fee to take a look at the ground floor, but if you manage to come across a friendly local, for just a few generous dollars, they’ll invite you upstairs to their private living quarters. From here you can see clearly the structure’s layout of rings within rings. It’s also one of the best spots to get a photo. The real money shot is a short drive up a cliff where you can see the largest tulou from a look out. 

BY NUMBERS There are 50,000 tulou in Fujian. A single tulou is capable of housing up to 800 people.