China’s biggest non-cultural holiday, October 1, is now less than two weeks away. By now, flights and hotels for the most popular destinations are filling up or full, and travelers who still think they can book their vacation just before they plan to head off are going to be disappointed. But fear not: here are four destinations with tickets still available and worthwhile, two that require a border crossing and two that are little more than a flight away.
A hot travel spot in Asia right now, it’s been called “Thailand 30 years ago,” with all the implied road-less-traveled experiences. The capital Yangon’s Buddhist sites are integral to the country’s history, including the city’s centerpiece, the Shwedagon Pagoda. The visa process takes time, so be sure to apply early. Read anything George Orwell wrote about his time there as a bit of scholarly travel literature.
Air China flies to Yangon from Beijing Sundays and Wednesdays, or connect via Bangkok on Thai Airways or Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.
Southeast Asia’s only landlocked nation offers all the Buddhist charm of Myanmar, and amazing archaeological sites like the Valley of Jars. Sip strong Lao coffee and watch boats chug by on the Mekong River. It’s an active destination, with outdoor pursuits like kayaking on the Mekong River, rock climbing, and boat trips through the caves. For spectacular natural beauty, the Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang provide refreshment, with shallower pools open to swimmers.
Fly to Vientiane via Kunming on China Eastern Airlines.
The Sichuan provincial capital seems never to fade as a popular destination. Authentic Sichuan cuisine, pandas, and the convenience of a big city that isn’t quite as big as Beijing are doubtless reasons why. Chengdu is designed using Beijing’s square grid pattern making the city easy to navigate for seasoned Beijingers. The Bookworm has an active outlet there, and the Grandma’s Kitchen chain was started in Chengdu. Sample one of the many tea houses for which Chengdu is famous.
China’s major airlines all fly from Beijing to Chengdu.
No travel permit is required for Qinghai province and there is as much Buddhist culture (and Muslim culture) as you care to explore, though the altitude will still slow you down the first few days. China’s largest lake is about a two-hour, yak-filled drive away. The peak summer season will be past, and Qinghai Lake’s deep blue waters and snow-capped scenery are far better with fewer people. If you’re looking for someplace different, Qinghai is the place none of your friends are going to.
There are eight flights per day from Beijing to Xining.
There’s a final option that might require a tad more money but not much planning: Pack a bag and head to the airport or train station. Ask what’s available, buy a ticket, and go. It’ll be one of the best trips of your life.
This post first appeared on thebeijinger.com on September 22, 2014.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons