UNESCO is an international organization that recognizes places all over the world that have either unique natural properties or a special culture. Once they are on the list the places get a special level of protection (and access to special funds) but it is up to the individual countries to maintain and control the places. There are 936 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world, 41 of which are in China. I have a new goal: to visit them all.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a travel goal I had. To visit all of the places featured on the back of Chinese currency. But really, there are only 6 bills, and I had accomplished more than half before I realized it was a goal, so that one is too easy to accomplish.

So this goal is a bit harder to fulfill. In fact, I have been to a few areas with a UNESCO World heritage site and I didn’t go visit them, so maybe I won’t be able to hit up all of them, but I want to see as many as I can. I know traveling is not about goals, and ticking off a checklist, but this is a good way to see some historical or natural wonders that I might not have seen before. And if I leave China without seeing them all, well, I’m not going to kick myself.

Here is the list of World Heritage Sites in China:

1. Forbidden City in Beijing: This is the number one tourist spot in China and probably the most visited of any place in China. Accomplished: 2008 

2. The Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an: Another tourist powerhouse. These are pretty remarkable to see in person, but I think it is one of those things that seeing it is not actually a better experience then watching a documentary or looking at a photo book of them, as you can’t get very close in person. Accomplished: Summer 2010.

3. Mogoa Caves in Gansu Province: These are one of the three most sacred places for Buddhist sculptures and painting in China(See #26 and 28 for the others). These caves were on the famed Silk Road and as a result many traveling monks painted a mural or two, and went on their way. They also created many small temples in the rocks to create solitude. This place is on my list for sure. Accomplished Summer 2015

4. Mt.Tai or Tai Shan in Shandong: The mountain the first emperor climbed to proclaim a united China, as did Confucius, and did Chairman Mao and subsequently everyone of importance since, including me!  Accomplished Summer 2010

5. Peking Man near Beijing: This is the home of one of the oldest human fossils ever. I’d like to see it, it’s near Beijing after all, but I’m not going to go too far out of my way. After all, it is more significant to archeologists and history buffs, of which I am neither.

6. The Great Wall: Chairman Mao once said that you weren’t a ‘real man’ unless you climbed the Great Wall. Luckily, I’m a real man, as are millions of tourists a year. Accomplished 2008

7. Mount Huangshan in Anhui: A mere 2 hours away by bus, Mt Hunagshan (known as Yellow Mountain) is one of the most painted mountains by ancient as well as modern artists. I was rained out during a recent attempt, but I’ll go back again. Accomplished Winter 2016

8. Huanglong Scenic Area in Sichuan: Huanglong is an area with snow-capped mountains,hot springs, and calcified pools of amazing colored water makes this place sound pretty amazing. A site like this is why having this type of goal is good. I went to Sichuan, and wasn’t too far away, but I didn’t know about it then and therefore didn’t go. Would love to see the colors of the pools, though I imagine the hot springs smell quite sulphury.

9. Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan: This is a natural area of cascading waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and lush mountains. In fact, one area looks like the lake from a scene in the movie Hero. (You know, the one where they are fighting over the water and never really touch the water at all.) Anyway, looks pretty amazing.

One of the lakes in Jiuzhaigou National Park

10. Wulingyuan in Hunan Province: These are crazy mountain formations in which these sandstone peaks are more like pillars than the typical karst peaks. Many people think these mountains were the inspiration for the hanging mountains in Avatar and I think the area is capitalizing on it and offering special Avatar themed tours.

11. Building in Wudang Mountain: Unesco distinguishes between natural sites and cultural sites and they list this one as a cultural site, so I guess the mountains aren’t all that. Instead there are a lot of Toaist monasteries and temples that are of interest. It also has a long tradition of Chinese arts, including kung-fu which you can still do today.

12.Potala Palace in Tibet: This is also on my goal from the money challenge and yeah, I still want to go. This will take some planning as foreigners need special permission to enter Tibet but if I leave China without visiting Tibet, I will be very disappointed.

13.Mountain Resort in Hebei Province: Back in the day, before a/c, emperors would try to get away from the oppressive Beijing heat by going to this mountain resort. Not too far from Beijing it was made to resemble the Forbidden City and the gardens are copies of famous ones in Suzhou and other places in southern China. So basically it’s a ripoff of other places, but even a 300-year-old copy is ripoff is interesting to see, and I think we might get a chance to see it this summer.

14. House, Temple and Cemetery of Confucius in Shandong Province: This is an interesting place, and an interesting town solely dedicated to the most famous philosopher in China, but here’s the thing. Confucius died a long time ago, and only got super insanely famous after his death, and therefore his relatives basically got all the good stuff. Confucius never lived in the huge mansion complex, and he isn’t even buried in the cemetery, despite there being a tombstone (or several actually). He did spent time in the temple, and you can see the fossilized remains of a tree he once taught under, but as for ‘Confucius was here’ signs there isn’t much as most of what was around in his day was destroyed. Accomplished Summer 2010

This is his tomb, but of course he’s not really buried here because he did not die here.

15. Mount Emei including Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan: Okay, I’m going to cheat a little and consider this one accomplished. You see, I didn’t go to Mt Emei (we were close) but I did go to Leshan and saw the Giant Buddha. It is an amazing site and I don’t know why it isn’t more well known outside of China. Accomplished Winter 2010

16. Lushan in Jiangxi Province: This is a nice looking mountain range, but it doesn’t have any special qualities such as sandstone pillars or unique buildings. It sounds nice, but is known for being very, very cloudy. It could be cool if the clouds are below the mountain peaks and you are above them, or it could suck if your stuck in the middle and all you can see is your hand in front of your face (which would probably happen to me).

17. Pingyao in Shanxi Province: This is an ancient walled city and most of the buildings are original to the Qing and Ming dynasties. Accomplished Summer 2011

18.Suzhou Gardens in Jiangsu Province:These are not far outside of Shanghai and many people make the day trip. I made a day trip as well, and got to see some of the gardens in all it’s wintery glory. Okay, the colors and trees and such weren’t so great in the wintertime, but it was still a pretty amazing place. Accomplished Winter 2011

19. Lijiang in Yunnan Province: If you ask my students where they want to go most in all of China, Lijiang is often at the top of the list. It’s another ancient town with a complex system of waterways and canals running through the narrow cobbled streets. It is the twistiest, turniest place I have ever been and for the first time in my life I got lost, really, really lost, trying to find my way back to the hostel. (In my defense I had a bad cold.) Accomplished Winter 2010

20.Summer Palace in Beijing: I didn’t go here on my first (and only) visit to Beijing, so it is high on my lust of places to see for this summer. Update–went here! It was just okay because the day was so damn hot and sticky I was unable to properly function. But glad I went anyway. Accomplished Summer 2011

21.Temple of Heaven in Beijing: This is another famous tourist site in Beijing that I missed out on the first time. So hopefully I’ll be able to see it this summer.

Okay, there are way too many World Heritage Sites for just one blog entry, so I’m splitting it up. Stayed tuned for part 2 to be published in a few days. 

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