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Matador readers @lezbackpack remembering the time they celebrated the Lunar New Year in Beijing. #travelstoke #china #fireworks #nightphotography

Outside its major cities, China has hundreds of ancient, well-preserved villages. Almost stuck in time, these places are windows into China’s past, and have become part of the latest travel trend in China. The Chinese tourism industry has caught on, and many villages now charge visitors an expensive entrance fee. Here are five free, off-the-radar villages in five different provinces of south China.

Huangyao, Guangxi

Huangyao Guangxi China

Empty old streets in Huangyao after rain

Huangyao (黄姚) is an impressive stone village with slab-stone streets. Lined with 600-year-old residences and ancestral temples, the village spans two rivers connected by more than 15 stone bridges. Situated in southeast Guangxi province, Huangyao is surrounded by karst peaks similar to those that make Guilin and Yangshuo so famous (they are two to three hours north).

Set in this incredible landscape, Chinese poets nicknamed Huangyao “the garden of dreams” (yes, Chinese people love lyrical nicknames). There is actually an entrance fee of 100 RMB, but visitors can easily avoid paying it by entering the village through any of the stone gates other than the main one by the parking lot.

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Last year, more than 100 million people from China traveled abroad, making the country the world’s #1 exporter of international tourists. What’s most amazing about this fact is that, just a generation ago, only the elite and politically connected could get permission to travel abroad. The rest of the population could only dream of such a “bourgeois” activity under the restrictions of the Communist state. But today, with a rapidly growing middle class and a socialist economy that looks and smells a lot like capitalism, Chinese citizens have unprecedented opportunities to travel the world.

The boom in Chinese tourism isn’t just a way for Chinese citizens to learn about the rest of the world. It’s also an opportunity for the rest of the world to learn about the Chinese. As the anthropologist James Clifford once said, not only do tourists travel, but their cultures travel as well.

Here are some of the things the new Chinese traveler would like you to know.

Elephants, wineries, and soap operas are at the top of our bucket list.

Thailand is a favorite for Chinese travelers due to the ease of getting tourist visas, the popularity of a recent movie called Lost in Thailand, and the promise of white sand beaches and elephant rides. More affluent travelers flock to France, where wine tours are all the rage as Chinese consumers are starting to appreciate the once unknown beverage. The craze for wine is so intense that imitation French chateaus and wineries are popping up all over China, even in places like the Gobi Desert.

South Korea is also a popular destination because of Chinese fascination with Korean soap operas. Tours of Korean film sets, complete with meet-and-greets with hunky male stars, are a dream come true for many young women in China today.

We’d rather spend our money on shopping than hotels.

Middle-class travelers from China will forgo luxury living conditions and settle for simpler accommodations if it means more in our pockets to go shopping. Global hotel brands are starting to take notice, developing inexpensive hotels near prime shopping locations and big brand outlets. Which brings us to the next key trend among Chinese tourists…

We can’t get enough of luxury goods.

For the vast majority of Chinese travelers today, traveling abroad means a chance to buy high-end luxury brands like Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. It’s not unusual to see a Chinese tourist wipe out a store’s inventory of handbags, each one costing hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Life in China today is all about conspicuous consumption, and luxury foreign brands are the best way to show off one’s status. It’s far cheaper to buy these products abroad because the Chinese government slaps a 50% tariff on these items sold domestically. You can bet a Chinese tourist’s suitcase won’t be filled with cheap t-shirts and trinkets.

Tour groups are still the norm, but independent travelers are gaining ground.

When you encounter Chinese travelers these days, you’re likely to see them getting shuttled on and off buses in big groups, wearing matching t-shirts, and following a tour guide around. But as more Chinese, especially younger travelers, gain confidence in navigating the world on their own, independent travel is seeing a remarkable rise. And, like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, they’re making their plans on the internet.

Qunar, which translates as “where are you going?” is one of the most exciting websites to emerge in China recently. In addition to helping with booking, it lets users share their travel itineraries and crowdsource the best ideas. Online resources are also encouraging Chinese travelers to break out of the norm and go to places that are less often visited by their compatriots — including India, South Africa, and Brazil.

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12 Signs you’ve been in China too long

1. You greet people by saying, “Have you eaten yet?”

A typical Chinese way to say hi is “Chi le mei?” which means, “Have you eaten yet?” Like “How are you?” in English, this is a question not really requiring a literal answer. So often you’ll tell someone you’ve already eaten over the roar of your growling, empty stomach.

2. You consider it a compliment when a Chinese person remarks that you’ve gained weight, and you catch yourself saying the same thing to others.

In traditional Chinese culture, the chubbier a person is, the more prosperous and healthy he or she is deemed to be. So a comment about your weight, especially coming from elderly Chinese, is not meant to tell you to lay off the fatty pork belly.

But in general, people in China can be pretty frank with comments about other people’s physical appearance. You know you’ve been in China too long when the first thing out of your mouth on seeing an old friend is an exclamation about his or her weight.

3. You break out your umbrella on sunny days to avoid getting tan.

People in China consider darker skin a sign of a peasant background, while lighter skin means high status in that you haven’t had to labor outside. As unfair as it is, women with darker skin are considered less attractive. Skin whitening products are a multi-billion-dollar industry in China. The latest trend to hit beachwear is the facekini, which is essentially a big sock you wear over your head with a few slits for your eyes, nose, and mouth.

4. You know how to gracefully drink tea with the leaves floating around in your cup.

For people in China, drinking tea made in teabag form is akin to drinking instant coffee in the US. It just doesn’t cut it once you’ve had the real thing. You’ve learned how to drink tea with loose leaves floating around without choking on them or being forced to chew them down. You know it’s all in the way you use your teeth as a strainer. And you know that yellowed teeth are an unfortunate byproduct of your tea snobbery.

5. You’re no longer color blind.

Red denotes good luck, fortune, and happiness in China. Traditional Chinese wedding outfits are red. Red envelopes are used to give out money during Chinese New Year. You know that people in China don’t shy away from wearing red during holidays or celebrations.

You also know white is the color of mourning and death, and you avoid wearing white in your hair as it means a relative has passed away. You know there are all kinds of exceptions (brides in China now wear Western-style white gowns), but you do your best to be color sensitive, especially when there are elderly Chinese in the mix.

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#MatadorN reader @3cupsoftiffany climbed #Huangshan last week and got this amazing misty shot. These mountains helped inspire the landscape of Avatar. #Travelstoke!

#clouds #landscape #mountains #nature #china #travel

Double tap if THIS is your favorite first look at a new city! #MatadorN reader @meyz snapped this shot of #Guangzhou from his window seat in the sky. Thanks for tagging #travelstoke!

#nightphotography #cityscape #china #windowseat #fromabove #light #travel

Hua Shan (Shaanxi, China)
One of China’s “Five Great Mountains,” Hua Shan holds religious importance, and various temples adorn its slopes and peaks. The hike includes steep stairways, a gondola ride, a wall-hugging walk on narrow wooden planks, a nearly vertical climb up a mountain wall (don’t worry, there are a few footholds cut into the rock), and a final steep pathway. The reward for reaching the top of the southern peak? A teahouse, resting 7,087 feet above sea level.

Méi bànfǎ, rén tàiduō. “There’s nothing you can do, too many people.”

In a country of 1.3 billion people, it only takes a small percentage of them to wreck your trip. When my Chinese husband and I traveled to Beijing during the national holiday in October, we spent half the day slogging through a mob that stretched across Tian’anmen Square just to get into the Forbidden City. I’ve also had to stand on crowded trains because I couldn’t get a seat and, while living in Shanghai, experienced my share of being sandwiched between anonymous butts and groins on rush-hour subway cars.

From: 10 extraordinarily useful Mandarin Chinese phrases