The Southwest

Encompassing the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhdu, Guangxl, and Hainan Island, this region is home to some of China's most spectacular mountain scenery and three of Asia's mightiest rivers, resulting in some of the most breathtaking gorges and lush river valleys in the country.

Even more appealing is the fact that this region is easily the most ethnically diverse in China. Twenty-six of China's 56 officially recognized ethnic groups can be found in the southwest, from the Mosu in Lugu Lake to the Dai in Xlshuangbanna, from the Miao around Kaili to the Dong in Sanjiang, each with different architecture, dress, traditions, and colorful festivals.

THE YANGZl RIVER

In addition to shared borders, the landlocked provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, and Hunan and the municipality of Chongqing have in common the world's third longest river, the Chang Jiang ("Long River," aka Yangzi or Yangtze). The home of five holy Buddhist and/or Daoist mountains, this area contains some of China's most beautiful scenery, particularly in northern Sichuan and northern Hunan.

Sichuan deserves exploration using Chengdu as a base, and the Hunan should be explored from Changsha. If you're taking the Three Gorges cruise (available indefinitely despite what you may have heard), try to at least leave yourself a few days on either end to explore Chongqing and Wuhan. And a day trip from Chongqing to the Buddhist grottoes at Dazu is well worth the time.

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