1. Anhui: Hongcun Ancient Village (安徽宏村)
The 900-year-old village of Hongcun has long drawn in-the-know Chinese visitors, who love its tranquil vibe and distinctive architecture. Its classic structures, Moon Lake and picturesque locals have been an inspiration for art students for decades.Walking the narrow lanes paved with quartzite and seeing farmers working in rice fields, with the reflection of ancient houses in the lake, should provide enough material to get you started on your own visual masterpiece.
2. Anhui: Mount Huangshan (安徽黄山)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site set amidst "the loveliest mountains of China," Mount Huangshan, aka Mount Yellow, is a once-in-a-lifetime trek for many Chinese. The 1,863-meter mountain is renowned for its oddly shaped pines, spectacular rock formations, hot springs and seas of misty and melancholy clouds.
3. Fujian: Mount Wuyi (福建武夷山)
A major landmark in southeast China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Wuyi was the setting for the development and spread of neo-Confucianism, influential in East Asia since the 11th century. Bamboo raft drifting in the Nine Bend River (lower gorge) is a popular activity among visitors. The two-hour, eight-kilometer trips provide grand views of Mount Wuyi.
4. Fujian: Xiapu Mudflat (福建霞浦)
Yes, a humble mudflat is a favorite destination of Chinese photographers. A small region along the southeast China coastline, Xiapu nevertheless has the largest mudflat in the country, encompassing 40 square kilometers and more than 400 kilometers of coastline. Along its tiger-striped beaches, bamboo structures and poles, buoys and fishing vessels provide human counterpoints to the area's natural beauty.
5. Gansu: Echoing Sand Mountain and Crescent Lake, Dunhuang (甘肃省敦煌市鸣沙山和月牙泉)
Echoing Sand Mountain is a series of dunes surrounding Crescent Lake. Named for its distinctive shape and aural characteristics, its echoes can be heard as the wind blows over the dunes. With gardens blooming on its banks, Crescent Lake offers a lovely visual counterpoint to all that sand.
6. Guangdong: Fortress Towers, Kaiping (广东开平碉楼)
Erected mostly in the early 20th century, the fortress towers at Kaiping were built by famously outbound Kaipingers, who brought home the many architectural styles they saw abroad, including Islamic, Roman and even ancient Greek. The towers were built as a display of wealth, and as a practical way of protecting locals from war and theft. Approximately 1,800 fortress towers still stand amid Kaiping's vast rice fields.
7. Guangxi: Yangshuo (广西阳朔)
When the Chinese long for views of the nation's most scenic hills and rivers, they book a bamboo-boat cruise in Yangshuo. The riverside town in southern China is most famous for its karst hills and traditional fishing-village lifestyle.
Downtown is touristy. Visitors can rent bikes and head to the countryside to find a more calming scene: bamboo boats chugging along the river, fishermen setting out with cormorants, farmers toiling in fields with lush peaks soaring high above.
8. Guizhou: Huangguoshu Waterfall (贵州黄果树瀑布)
The highest waterfall in Asia, majestic Huangguoshu "Yellow Fruit Tree" Waterfall plunges a dramatic 77.8 meters across a 101-meter-wide span. It's one of a handful of mammoth waterfalls in the world that's accessible for viewing from almost any angle -- from above, below, front, back, left or right.
9. Hainan: Guanyin Statue (海南南山海上观音像)
Look beyond the beaches of Sanya to find the world's largest Guanyin statue, erected near Nanshan, China's southernmost mountain.
10. Hainan: Yalong Bay (海南省亚龙湾)
Hainan delivers the best tropical setting in China. Yalong Bay is the pinnacle of the resort getaway. The 7.5-kilometer crescent beach is the most popular and developed stretch of Hainan's southern coastline.
It provides all the quintessential experiences of a Southeast Asian holiday, with as many luxury hotels as palm trees -- more than 20 international luxury hotels line the beach of Yalong Bay. The beach is also a haven for water sports warriors, including surfers who sometimes ride uncrowded waves all day.
11. Hebei: Chengde Mountain Resort/Rehe Palace (河北承德避暑山庄/热河行宫)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this mountain resort was once a summer palace used by Qing Dynasty emperors on holiday. Delicate gardens and a 70-meter pagoda remain. Lush grasslands, marvelous mountains and tranquil valleys still make it a cool place to avoid the heat.
12. Heilongjiang: Saint Sophia Cathedral, Harbin (黑龙江省哈尔滨市圣索非亚大教堂)
The largest Orthodox church in East and Southeast Asia stands in China's most Russian-accented city, Harbin.
13. Henan: Longtan Valley (河南龙潭大峡谷)
This 12-kilometer, U-shaped valley marked by a stripe of purplish red quartz sandstone has earned the name, "The No.1 Valley of Narrow Gorges in China." Its steep cliffs, lush vegetation and jagged valley attract sightseers from all over China.
14. Hubei: One Incense Pillar, Enshi Canyon (湖北恩施大峡谷一柱香)
This incense stick-shaped structure is 150 meters tall, but only 4 meters wide, making it incredible that it stands at all, let alone that it's survived several major earthquakes.Local legend holds that the pillar is a piece of incense given by a deity to the ingenious Tujia people. The residents could light it in times of disaster and the deity would descend to help.
15. Hubei: Shennongjia (湖北神农架)
More than 400 people claim to have seen a Bigfoot-like creature among the lush vegetation of Shennongjia over the past century, yet no hard evidence has been found to prove the "yeti's" existence.
The 3,200-square-kilometer nature reserve also purports to be "the only well-preserved sub-tropical forest ecosystem in the world's mid-latitudes," with more than 5,000 species of animals and plants. It's home to snub-nosed or golden monkeys, a rare and protected species in China.
16. Hunan: Fenghuang (湖南凤凰)
These stilted houses are the dream lodgings of Chinese art and literature lovers. Every year, armies of young backpackers flock to the ancient town of Fenghuang (which literally means "Phoenix") for its rich Miao and Tujia ethnic culture. Many also come to pay homage to celebrated Chinese writer Shen Congwen, whose novel "Frontier City" put the 1,300-year-old town in limelight.
17. Hunan: Zhangjiajie (湖南张家界)
The giant quartz sand pillars of Wulingyuan are said to have been the inspiration for James Cameron's floating mountains on the planet Pandora in his Oscar-winning movie "Avatar."In reality, the Wulingyuan area in Zhangjiajie, a city in Hunan Province in southern China, is home to more than 3,000 of these stone columns. The tallest pillar in the stone forest stands more than 400 meters high.
18. Inner Mongolia: Singing Sand Bay (内蒙古响沙湾)
Singing Sand Bay, aka Yinken Sand Bay, is a 110-meter-high dune, 50 kilometers from Baotou, a major city of Inner Mongolia. Sliding off a 45-degree angle, the wind here is said to sing in soft whispers.
19. Jiangsu: Brahma Palace (江苏梵宫)
Feng shui and Buddhism have deep influences on China. Both can be found at Brahma Palace. Beneath the foot of Little Lingshan Mountain, and near Taihu Lake and the 88-meter-tall Lingshan Giant Budda, the palace epitomizes Chinese feng shui -- it's surrounded by mountains and water, portending both good fortune and health.
20. Jiangxi: Mount Lu (江西庐山)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, Lushan National Park, with its centerpiece of Mount Lu, is more than a tourist attraction. It's a cultural and spiritual symbol of China. Upward of 1,500 famed painters and poets from various periods of ancient and modern China -- Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty and Xu Zhimo in 1920s, to name two -- have traveled here to be inspired by Lu. Masterpiece poems are engraved in calligraphy on the mountain cliffs.
21. Jiangxi: Wuyuan (江西婺源)
"One of the most beautiful rural areas in China."That's how Wuyuan (a small county located at the junction of Anhui, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces in eastern China) is best known. Colorful blossoms and a relaxed, countrified pace attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each spring.
22. Jilin: Heaven Lake, Changbai Mountain (吉林长白山天池)
The vodka-clear Heaven Lake is said to resemble a piece of jade surrounded by 16 peaks of the Changbai Mountain National Reserve. With an average depth of 204 meters, it's the deepest lake in China.
This is also a hot spot for water monster fans -- in the last two decades China travelers have reported accounts of a lake creature as long as 20 meters.
23. Liaoning: Benxi Water Cave (辽宁本溪水洞)
Exploding with color, the Benxi Water Cave was formed more than five million years ago. Today its main sections are a "drought cave" and a "water cave." A dramatic array of stalagmites and stalactites are covered in vibrant greens, yellows and reds. The water cave contains the world's longest underground river at 5.8 kilometers.
24. Liaoning: Golden Pebble Beach National Resort, Dalian (辽宁金石滩)
Along 30 kilometers of Golden Pebble Beach (it's also known as the Jinshitan Scenic Area) just outside downtown Dalian, ancient rock formations have been twisted by time and elements into bizarre replicas of animals -- camels, monkeys, tigers, even dinosaurs.The largest is a 40-meter-high rock named after a "dinosaur who explores the sea."
25. Ningxia: Sand Lake (宁夏沙湖)
More than 1 million migrating birds of various species stop over at this wetland in Ningxia twice a year (April-May, September-October). The rest of the year, around 200 species of birds call the wetlands home, including a large number of protected species.
Desert, water and reed mashes blend in this 80-square-kilometer area, which forms a unique geographic phenomenon called sand lake ("sha hu" in Mandarin).
26. Qinghai: Qinghai Lake (青海省青海湖)
China's largest inland saltwater lake. This view is one of the great draws of Qinghai Province in China's far northwest every June and July. The lake sits 3,205 meters above sea level and is a three-hour bus ride from the nearest traffic hub of Xining. Few tourists make it to this part of China to enjoy this oil painting of a scene, not counting packs of mad cyclists who come for Tour de Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race every summer.
27. Shaanxi: Xi'an City Wall (陕西西安城墙)
In addition to the world-renowned Great Wall, the city wall belonging to Xi'an, first constructed more than 2,000 years ago, also represents the power and wisdom of the Middle Kingdom in its ancient heyday. What exists of the wall today are remains from 1370, when during the Ming Dynasty the fortification was 13.7 kilometers long, 12 meters high and between 15 to 18 meters wide. It now surrounds downtown Xi'an. Spend three or four hours biking along the wall and you'll get great views of China's old capital city.
28. Shandong: Trestle Bridge, Qingdao (山东青岛栈桥)
As old as the city of Qingdao, the Trestle Bridge has sat astride the Yellow Sea since 1892. First built for the reception of Li Hongzhang (李鸿章), a prominent statesman during the Qing Dynasty, Trestle Bridge has since become a symbol of the city. Walking the 440-meter-long bridge is a great way to enjoy breezes coming off the sea. At one end is Huilange Pagoda, a classic beauty that hosts historic and cultural exhibits throughout the year.
29. Shanxi: Hukou Waterfall (山西壶口瀑布)
According to some, the most magnificent waterfall in the country. As the largest waterfall on the Yellow River, and second largest in China, Hukou Waterfall is known around the country for once gracing the RMB 50 note.
At 20 meters high and 30 meters wide, the fall is located on the border of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. The May to October flood season is the best time to visit, when water flow and velocity increase, sometime swelling the fall into a 50-meter-wide spectacular scene.
30. Shanxi: Yungang Grottoes (山西云冈石窟)
This 1,500-year-old site is an important Buddhist landmark. It houses 252 caves and more than 51,000 Buddha statues, most carved between the fifth and sixth century during the North Wei Dynasty. The sandstone statues -- the tallest stands 17 meters, the tiniest two centimeters -- combine multiple styles of Buddhist art, including Chinese, Gandhara and Persian. Grottoes 16 through 20 are the five best preserved caves. They shelter five Buddhas modeled after five Wei emperors.
31. Sichuan: Hailuogou Glacier National Park (四川海螺沟)
Legend holds that only the lucky will be treated to this view. Also known as "Conch Gully," Hailuogou park sits at the eastern foot of Gonggar Mountain in southwest China's Sichuan province.
According to legend, the gully was a wasteland until a renowned Tibetan monk played his treasured conch there and attracted many animals, who became so enchanted with the place that they took up residence. To memorialize the monk and his conch, the gully ever after became known as Conch Gully.
The magnificent glacier, which drives through woodlands, cliffs, peaks and gullies, is accessible all year round. It appears at its best in early morning sunshine. More than 10 hot springs are spread beneath the glacier. Two are open to the public, including one at an elevation of 2,600 meters.
32. Sichuan: Jiuzhaigou (四川九寨沟)
This massive lake is the crown jewel of Jiuzhaigou, a region full of stunning alpine lakes and waterfalls.
The lake is filled with incredible water that changes color throughout the day and year. The color comes from the reflection of the surrounding landscape, as well as algae and calcified rocks at the bottom of the shallow lake. Autumn is the best time to visit, when the lake surface appears as a multihued painter's palette.
33. Tibet: Potala Palace (西藏布达拉宫)
This nine-story attraction stands 3,700 meters above sea level, making it the highest palace on the planet.
34. Xinjiang: Lake Karakul (新疆喀拉库勒湖)
This stunning view is the reward after a thrilling ride over one of the world's most dangerous roads, Karakoram Highway. The many "landslide site" signposts along the way haven't stopped devoted travelers. Standing 3,600 meters above sea level on the Pamir Plateau, the glacier lake's water reflects the surrounding mountains like a huge mirror. Best time to go is May to October.
35. Xinjiang: Nalati Grassland (新疆那拉提草原)
This sub-alpine meadow is so distinct in northwest China that, according to legend, one of Genghis Khan's troops was so awed by its color that he gave the area the name "Nalati" (meaning "place where the sun emerges" in Mongolian). The prairie is a great place to experience Kazak customs. Locals still play traditional sports, live in yurts and raise falcons to hunt for the family dinners.
36. Yunnan: Three Pagodas, Dali (云南省大理崇圣寺三塔)
These Buddhist towers are the chief landmark of Dali, an ancient town in China's southwest Yunnan Province. The main tower was first built in mid-ninth century in the hope to easing regular flooding. At 69 meters and 16 stories high, it was a "skyscraper" for the Tang Dynasty and is still the tallest pagoda in China. Each of it tiers is decorated with Buddha statues.
The other two identical towers stand 42 meters and were erected almost a century later. The three holy structures form an equilateral triangle. Shutterbugs can get great shots from many different angles.
37. Yunnan: Pudacuo National Park, Shangri-la (云南香格里拉普达措国家公园)
Pudacuo is the first national park in China to meet the criteria set by The World Conservation Union, a major global environmental organization. More than 20% of the country's plant species and around one-third of its mammal and bird species call this wetland plateau home. Photographers especially love the area's many types of orchids and China's highly endangered black-necked cranes. In Bita Lake in the park, the Bita double-lip fish is an ancient fish dating back 2.5 million years.
38. Zhejiang: Nanxi River (浙江楠溪江)
With its mountain backdrop and shores lined with ancient houses, the Nanxi River inevitably became the cradle of classic Chinese water-and-ink painting. By drifting down the Nanxi River on a bamboo craft, travelers can enjoy views of locals doing laundry along the river and fishermen employing traditional methods of using cormorants to catch fish.
39. Zhejiang: Thousand Island Lake (浙江千岛湖)
Outdoors activities are the draw of this ginormous recreation and resort area -- speedboating, water skiing, animal-themed island-hopping, mountain climbing. Travelers can also find excellent seafood and everything from budget cabins to five-star hotels.
40. Zhejiang: Yunhe Rice Terrace (浙江云和梯田)
Literally meaning "peaceful clouds," Yunhe and its surrounding rice terraces have been home to farmers for at least 1,000 years. Winding in a maze up mountainsides from 200 to 1,400 meters, individual terraces can be constructed of as many as 700 layers. Rainy days are the best time to visit, when steam from evaporating river water floats through the terraces, creating a kind of agricultural dreamscape.