I’ve called Shanghai home for a few years now and it’s a great city to live. You have the comforts of western life here with cheaper living costs than a city like New York. As the biggest city in China, Shanghai is constantly evolving so you are always experiencing something new. It’s also a great place to base yourself when exploring some of China’s hidden gems.
Before moving to Shanghai, I lived and grew up in Kissimmee, Florida. A relatively quiet region of Florida full of large plots of farmland and good ol’ country boy culture. I lived a sheltered life without much travel until I did a study abroad program during university and my whole world expanded.
I studied in a university in Shanghai, China and fell in love with the city. Once I graduated I came back to work in the video game industry as a designer and art director. I always had a visual eye but never realized my love for photography until later in life when I hired a photographer to do portraits of me for a company I was starting.
A photography shoot was new to me but I totally fell in love with the adventure of it. After picking it up as a hobby it felt like a missing piece of me was finally filled. Thus, I started doing it full time after a year of daily shooting and studying on how to improve myself and my passion!
Where to Find Some of China’s Best Hidden Gems
China is a massive country with endless hidden gems to discover. To start off — there is a hidden gem off the coast of Shanghai that I plan to go visit called Shengsi Island. It’s an abandoned fishing village with 100’s of vine covered houses on a tiny island. It looks like something out of a fairytale.
Probably my favourite of China’s hidden gems would be Gansu as I had quite an amazing experience there. I rented a car with some friends and drove through the province. It’s so hidden and off-the-map that you’d be the only foreigner some of these people would see their entire lives. You actually feel like a celebrity in some parts of the region.
Not to mention the many scenic and beautiful destinations you could stop and admire along the way in Gansu. I’ve never seen so many breathtaking scenes in my life! Unfortunately this was before I became a photographer so I only have bad iPhone photos. I need to go back!
Another hidden gem that every traveller should visit in China is the recently popular Mount Fanjing. There have been a few viral videos on Facebook & Instagram of drone footage flying over the Fanjing Mountains that got a couple million views. Mount Fanjing recently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site — so there was a lot of buzz to go check it out.
It’s definitely not a casual trip to go see this mountain though! Mount Fanjing is located in Guizhou, the poorest province in China with not a lot of convenient transportation, so you would need to hire a driver. If you don’t speak Chinese it can be quite difficult.
Guizhou is also big. Bigger than you’d ever think. I underestimated just how big it was and thought I could get around all of its amazing places with ease. I was very wrong! Guizhou kicked my butt as a destination as a lot of its cities have limited bus and train options. You can’t really buy tickets spur of the moment to get around.
My Favourite Mainstream Destinations in China
My favourite destinations in China that aren’t necessarily “hidden gems” would be Shanghai, Chongqing and Taiwan (although not technically part of mainland China). Shanghai will always have a special place in my heart as it’s a place I’ve called home for many years. I consider myself almost a local now and my growth through my 20’s has been in this incredible city.
Although, I’m pretty much a homebody unless I’m out shooting or traveling! I do it so often now and lived in Shanghai for so long that I don’t go out much anymore without all my camera gear. My favorite thing to do in Shanghai would be to shoot sunrise here and enjoy some delicious ‘Jianbing’ which is like a Chinese version of a crepe.
Outside of Shanghai, I’d have to say that my favorite city would be Chongqing for its beautiful temples and Cyberpunk feeling. There are a lot of great contrasts between modernization and traditional Chinese life.
Finally, there is Taiwan which I love so much! I’m actually considering moving there! Taiwan has retained a lot of its culture and the temples there are gorgeous. I love Kaoshiung and Taipei. My favorite thing to do there is to wander their many night markets and eat the delicious street foods.
Try their sweet potato balls — they are amazing!