As travel in China gets easier, more visitors are searching for experiences outside the ordinary. These 20 destinations and experiences are among the most memorable
1. Xanadu: the town where two legends met
The spot where Marco Polo allegedly met Yuan Dynasty founder Kublai Khan 800 years ago still exists and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2012.
The fabled Yuan summer capital in modern Inner Mongolia, Xanadu is now in ruins, but it's a site with potent atmosphere.
Xanadu (Yuanshangdu) Relic Site, Xilingol League, Inner Mongolia; open daily 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; adults RMB 30 (US$5), children free
2. Suma Bay Eco Park: easy beach getaway
Reached by a causeway from the mainland, Suma Bay Eco Park on Liandao Island is a sheltered cove in the midst of a lush patch of jungle.
Located in Lianyungang city in north Jiangsu, the seaside park is a perfect beach break midway between Shanghai and Beijing (these two cities are always contained in affordable China travel packages).
Suma Bay Eco Park, Liandao Island, Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province; open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; adults RMB 50 (US$8), children RMB 25 (US$4), vehicles RMB 15 (US$2.40)
3. Mati Temple
Mati Temple in northwest China is an extraordinary labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways carved into the inside of a cliff face over six palpitation-inducing levels. This Buddhist temple and monastery dates back 1,500 years.
Mati Temple, Sunan, Zhangye, Gansu Province; open daily 9 a.m.-5.30 p.m.; adults RMB 70 (US$11), children RMB 35 (US$5.60)
4. Zhangbi Underground Castle: ancient underground fortress
Below Zhangbi (a village of about 1,000 people in southern Shanxi Province) is a complex network of tunnels, booby traps, secret passageways and cubbyholes built 1,500 years ago as a military hideout large enough to hold an entire army.
Some 1.5 kilometers of the tunnels have been restored and can be explored with a guide.
Zhangbi Underground Castle, Zhangbi Village, Longfeng Town, Jiexiu City, Shanxi Province; +86 354 708 6001; open daily 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; adults RMB 60 (US$9.60), children RMB30 (US$5), English-speaking guide RMB 40 (US$6.40)
5. Hotan wild livestock market
On the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, Hotan holds a wild and chaotic livestock market every Sunday.
The streets leading into the market are lined with bleating goats. Inside, the real action takes place -- cattle, sheep and camels are bought and sold on a handshake.
Hotan Sunday Animal Market, San Xiang Connection Line, Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region; open every Sunday 7 a.m.-noon
6. Jiayuguan: fortress at the end of the Great Wall
At the westernmost point of the Great Wall sits the ancient fort of Jiayuguan. It's located in far-flung Gansu Province(a destination for Silk Road travel) in the midst of spectacular desert broken by the winding canyon of the Great North River.
Jiayuguan Gliding Base flies ultralight planes over the area, allowing travelers a breathtaking view of the edge of the former Ming Empire.
Jiayuguan Fort, Jiayuguan, Gansu Province; open daily 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; adults RMB 120 (US$19), children RMB 60 (US$9.60)
Jiayuguan Gliding Base, Jichang Bei Lu, Xiongguan District, Jiayuguan, Gansu Province; ultralight flights RMB 300 (US$48) per person for six minutes
7. Black glacier
Cleaving its way through an alpine valley in western Xinjiang, the black ice of the Oytagh Glacier is an impressive sight from the warmth and comfort of a traditional felt yurt.
Filled with firs and meadows, the secluded Oytagh Valley is accessed through an impressive ravine from the Karakoram Highway.
Yurts RMB 150 (US$24) per person, per night including dinner and breakfast. Park entry fee adults RMB 50 (US$8), children free.
8. Little Austria
You can find a little bit of Austria in Inner Mongolia and take to the warm waters in the resort town of A'ershan which is an optional attraction for China travel packages.
The town's natural hot springs are set among quirky Viennese-style architecture where open carriages trundle up and down the main street, pulled by handsome ponies.
The 40-room A'ershan Haishen Hot Springs Spa Hotel has direct access to the springs.
A'ershan Haishen Hot Springs Spa Hotel, Wenquan Lu, Aershan, Inner Mongolia; +86 482 715 8888; nightly rate from RMB 900 (US$144); no website
9. Hairy crabs
From January to August, Yangcheng Lake is a quiet little town northeast of Shanghai. This changes in September with the arrival of hairy crab season and an influx of food lovers from all over China who enjoy these small crustaceans from the lake's protected waters.
The lakeside Fairmont Yangcheng Lake hotel has seasonal hairy crab weekend packages from around RMB 2,388 (US$383), which include one-night stay, breakfast and hairy crab dinner for two.
Fairmont Yancheng Lake, No. 3668, Ma’anshan Xi Lu, Kunshan, Jiangsu Province; +86 512 5780 0888; nightly rate from RMB 1,680 (US$269), plus 15 percent
10. Amdo: Tibet without a permit
It's possible to visit Tibet (listed as destination of top 10 China tours) without the hassles of getting a Tibet Alien Travel Permit and following restricted itineraries.
In the Amdo region of neighboring Qinghai Province, the population is predominantly Tibetan and the high altitude and cool weather add to the experience.
Tongren (also known as Rebgong) is home to the graceful Longwu or Rongpo Monastery, which dates to 1301.
Local men, women and children circle the monastery every day from dawn till dusk.
Longwu Monastery, Tongren, Qinghai Province; open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; adults RMB 30 (US$5), children free
Welcome to FC2!