Seda in western Sichuan
Home China Travel Guide 8 Forbidden Zones in China: No-Go Places for Foreigners

8 Forbidden Zones in China: No-Go Places for Foreigners

Despite being endowed with extensive historical and cultural heritage and numerous breathtaking natural landscapes, there are several forbidden places in China that foreigners are not allowed to visit. These places may be border or military areas, or require protection for their unique ecological environments and cultural heritage, etc., the reasons are various. And the restrains just add to their allure and intrigue.

Our purpose in this list of China’s forbidden Zones is to raise your awareness of these charming places that are out of your easy reach. Also, we have listed some alternative places that are equally captivating and worth exploring to alleviate your regret when traveling to China.

1. The Laojun Mountain in Luoyang, Henan

Location: Luanchuan County, Luoyang City, Henan Province

The main peak of the Funiu Mountain Range, part of the Qinling Mountains’ extension, Mount Laojun is widely claimed as the heavenly palace amidst the clouds. According to the legend, Taishang Laojun (the Supreme Venerable Sovereign, a high Taoist god) once practiced alchemy here, hence its name Mount Laojun.

Renowned for its rich Taoist cultural atmosphere, Laojun Mountain is home to many ancient Taoist temples and inscribed stone tablets which all bear witness to the profound cultural heritage of Taoism.

Beyond Taoist culture, the mountain also draws tourists for its stunning scenery, showing distinct landscapes in different seasons. Some highlights of its natural beauties include the lush ancient pines reaching for the sky, majestic peaks of various shapes, and crystal-clear streams and waterfalls meandering through the mountains.

Laojun Mountain in Henan
Laojun Mountain in Henan

Alternatives to Laojun Mountain in Henan

Boasting breathtaking natural landscapes and rich Taoist culture, the following three famous mountains can be considered as alternatives for the Laojun Mountain in Henan:

  • Qingcheng Mountain: Southwest of Dujiangyan City in Sichuan, about 68 km from Chengdu downtown. It is a Taoist sanctuary featuring tranquil temples, geological relics, unique soil types, and evergreen scenery.
  • Huashan Mountain: About 120 km (74.5 miles) east of Xi’an; Hailed as one of the most dangerous mountains in the world, offering thrilling hiking trails, breathtaking cliffs, stunning sunrises, and ancient Taoist temples.
  • Huangshan Mountain: The most famous mountain in China, Mount Huangshan is known for its four wonders:  strange pine, absurd rocks, sea of clouds and hot springs. The mountain is also home to over 100 ancient Hui-style buildings and nearly 300 inscriptions.

Best China tours including the above mountains:

2. Jinkou Grand Canyon of Dadu River in Sichuan

Location: Shengli Village, Yonghe Town, Jinkouhe District, Leshan City, Sichuan Province

Nestled in the heart of the Xiao Liangshan in southwestern Sichuan, the Dadu River Jinkou Grand Canyon is about 120 km from the Leshan Giant Buddha, and about 80 km from Mount Emei. Featuring sheer cliffs, crystal-clear streams, and dense forests, it is one of the 10 most beautiful canyons in China.

The canyon spans 26 kilometers in length and a maximum of 2600 meters in depth, which even surpasses the depth of the Grand Canyon in the United States. When looking from afar, the canyon is just like a massive crevice on the Earth’s surface winding away with a majestic and picturesque presence.

Thanks to its strategic location, the canyon was once important for defensive purposes during wartime, and was left with a wealth of military relics. The layered rocks in the canyon are rich in ancient biological fossils, recording over a billion years of the Earth’s crustal movements and the historical process of biological evolution.

Jinkou Grand Canyon of Dadu River
Jinkou Grand Canyon of Dadu River

Alternatives to Jinkou Grand Canyon of Dadu River

Tiger Leaping Gorge: One of the deepest canyons in the world setting against the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain in Yunnan; Thanks to its dramatic scenery,  profound depths, towering cliffs, and challenging trails, Tiger Leaping Gorge is a popular place for hiking and adventure enthusiasts worldwide.

Recommended tours including Tiger Leaping Gorge:

3. Xisha Islands (aka Paracel Islands) in Hainan Province

One of the southernmost territories of China, the Paracel Islands, or Xisha Islands is where you can marvel at the pinnacle of China’s seascape. Featuring pristine white sandy beaches, lush coconut groves, colorful coral reefs, various tropical fish, crystal clear waters, and a variety of seafood, Xisha Islands is a paradise for those who are keen on relaxing beach getaways.

Around the islands are numerous little islets of different charms, offering visitors more variety and exploration opportunities.

Since once served as a hub on the ancient maritime Silk Road, the islands are also teemed with a wealth of historical and cultural relics, allowing historical and cultural enthusiasts much to explore here.

Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands)
Xisha Islands Paracel Islands

Alternatives to Xisha Islands or Paracel Islands

  • Gulangyu Island in Xiamen: Though the landscape and experiences are distinct from the Paracel Islands, Gulangyu Island will impress you with its unique European-style architecture and captivating seaside scenery. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the cobblestone paths and immerse themselves in the charm of ancient buildings and rich culture.
  • Zhoushan Archipelago: The largest archipelago in China, Zhoushan Archipelago is home to two national marine scenic areas: Mount Putuo and the Shengsi Archipelago Scenic Area. A visit here will reward you with not only stunning seascapes but also experiences of traditional fishing life and spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

Recommended tours including Gulangyu Island:

3 Days Xiamen Leisure Tour to Tulou and Gulangyu Island

4. Nanyi Valley in South Tibet

Location: within the Nanyi Luoba Ethnic Township in Milin County of Nyingchi City, Tibet Autonomous Region

Extending over 40 kilometers in depth, Nanyi Valley is praised as the “Valley of the Medicine King of Tibet” for being believed to be the origin of the enigmatic Tibetan medical culture. According to the legend, Yutok Yontan Gonpo, the progenitor of Tibetan medicine, once practiced alchemy and taught medicine in the valley.

Besides experiencing the mysterious Tibetan medicinal culture, Nanyi Valley also offers visitors unique natural beauty. Its moist climate provides the valley with a wealth of flora and fauna. The ancient and towering “Milin Spruce King” is a top highlight here.

Not only are the lush plants abundant, but also dotted throughout the valley are many traditional Luoba ethnic dwellings and Tibetan-style architecture, offering great chances to experience the diverse ethnic customs in this region.

Nanyi Valley in Tibet
Nanyi Valley in Tibet

Alternatives to Nanyi Valley

Lulang Town in Nyingchi: Similar to Nanyi Valley, Lulang Town is also located in Nyingchi and known for its distinctive natural landscapes and Tibetan culture. Its temperate plateau monsoon climate blesses this region with abundant sunshine throughout the year. A visit here will envelop you with dense forests, meandering streams, tranquil pastoral scenes, stunning views of Mount Namjagbarwa, and cultural experiences of local Tibetan group.

Recommended Tibet Tours including Lulang Town

7 Days Best Scenic Tour from Lhasa to Nyingchi

5. Shennongjia in Hubei

Location: between the Yangtze River and Han River, at the junction of Hubei Province and Chongqing City

Scattered along the 30th parallel north on Earth are several unsolved mysteries, and the Shennongjia Forest Area in Hubei is one of them, because wild men were said to roam in this region. According to the legend, the ancient Emperor Shennong, the Divine Farmer, once tasted various herbs in this area, hence its name.

As a UNESCO World Geopark, Shengnongjia boasts its well-preserved pristine ecosystem, featuring rich rare flora and fauna, pristine forests, alpine meadows, bamboo groves, and meteorological phenomena.

Influenced by Yin and Shang cultures, Qin and Han cultures, Ba and Shu cultures, and Jingchu culture, Shennongjia is also blessed with a wealth of folk cultural resources. Its unique customs and practices, including annual festivals, weddings, and funerals, add to the area’s unique charm.

Shennongjia in Hubei
Shennongjia in Hubei

Alternitaves to Shennongjia

Jiuzhaigou Valley: Nestled in the Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaigou Valley is a top destination for photography and outdoor adventures. The whole scenic area is like a fairy-tale world, blessed with snow-capped peaks, pristine forests of various colors, mesmerizing lakes, and awe-inspiring waterfalls. Inhabiting the valley are some Tibetan villages, where visitors can immerse themselves in the rich culture and traditions of the region.

Recommended tours including Jiuzhaigou Valley

3 Days Classic Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Tour

6. Wuming Buddhist Academy in Seda, Sichuan

Location: Larung Gar in Sertar Town, Seda County, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.

Nestled within the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, with an average elevation of 3,900 meters, Seda is a mysterious “red wonderland” where souls awaken. The county is mainly inhabited by Tibetans and is steeped in religious belief, making it a sacred Buddhist site and an essential checkpoint when visiting western Sichuan.

A can’t miss in Seda is the Wuming Buddhist Academy, the largest Tibetan Buddhist academy in the world. People flock there not only for spiritual practice, but also to seek their inner peace and wisdom. The academy’s serene setting amidst the continuous mountain ridges of Larung Valley offers a sanctuary for enlightenment.

Dominated by red and white hues, the architecture here is all rich in Tibetan cultural elements, with the rooftops being adorned with golden yellow glazed tiles.

Seda Wuming Buddhist Academy
Seda Wuming Buddhist Academy

Alternatives to Seda Wuming Buddhist Academy

Daocheng Yading: Another mysterious land in western Sichuan, Daocheng Yading is also rich in Tibetan culture and Tibetan monasteries. Here, visitors can dive deep into the local authentic Tibetan lifestyle and look into Tibetan Buddhist culture in numerous hidden monasteries, such as Bangpu Temple, Chonggu Monastery, and Yading Monastery.

Moreover, this region is also the ideal destination for either hiking or photography due to its captivating natural landscapes. A visit here will mesmerize you with majestic snow-capped mountains, verdant meadows, clear lakes, and more.

Recommended Tours including Dacheng Yading:

4 Days Best Daocheng Yading Hiking Tour

7. Gaoligong Mountains in Yunnan

Location: in the western part of Yunnan Province, borders the Tibetan Plateau to the north and extend to the Indochinese Peninsula to the south

Stretching along the western bank of the Nu River, the Gaoligong Mountains is an integral part of the Three Parallel Rivers in Yunnan and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Thanks to its unique geographical feature of spanning five latitudinal zones, the reserve is the only one on Earth encompassing a vast range of forests.

It is always confident for its variety of rare wildlife and flora. The “Eight Famous Flowers of Yunnan” and the “King of Rhododendrons”, which blooms with over 40,000 flowers annually, are two highlights here.

Additionally, the reserve is also blessed with cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, and volcanic hot springs, making it a paradise for hiking, photography and more outdoor adventures.

Pristine forests in Gaoligong Mountains
Pristine forests in Gaoligong Mountains

Alternatives to Gaoligong Mountains

Pudacuo National Park: Located in the Shangri-La region, the park is also a pristine ecological sanctuary rich in rare fauna and flora. The park hosts a variety of ecosystems from lakes, wetlands, forest meadows to river valleys. It will not disappoint you whether you seek to capture picturesque natural landscapes or enjoy awesome hiking.

Recommended tours including Pudacuo National Park:

5 Days Classic Shangri-La Tour with Meili Snow Mountain

8. Dachaidan Emerald Lake in Qinghai

Location: in Dachaidan Town within the Qaidam administrative region of the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province

Dachaidan Emerald Lake is a stunning artificial salt lake that is transformed from a mining area. Spanning an area of about 15 square kilometers, the lake boasts waters of crystal clear and highly saline, showcasing the emerald green color under sunshine.

It is good to visit all year round as the consistently sunny weather ensures it remains unfrozen throughout the year, charming visitors in every season.

Dachaidan Emerald Lake in Qinghai
Dachaidan Emerald Lake in Qinghai

Alternatives to Dachaidan Emerald Lake

  • Chaka Salt Lake: Praised as the “Mirror of the Sky,” it features a mirror-like surface. Walking around the lake is just like strolling amidst the clouds, since the lake mirrors a vast expanse of the sky’s reflection.
  • Qarhan Salt Lake: Another famous salt lake in Qinghai, Qarhan Salt Lake is much larger than Dachaidan Emerald Lake, and also glistens with an emerald hue under sunshine.

Recommended Xining Tours including Chaka Salt Lake:

4 Days Classic Xining Tour with Qinghai Lake and Chaka Lake

Discover China’s Hidden Treasures with Us

While the above-mentioned forbidden zones in China may be inaccessible to you, our professional team can assist you in crafting a personalized China tour to places with a similar allure. As local experts, we know our country intimately and can guide you through enchanting places that echo the landscapes and cultural experiences of China’s forbidden places.

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