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Yulin, Shaanxi

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IT'S a good idea to visit northern Shaanxi if you want to avoid the crowds in Xi'an, the province's capital. The city you should not miss in the region is Yulin, where you can find a lake, red stone cliffs and even a piece of the Great Wall in Zhen Bei Tai ― “Pacify the North” Tower ― complete with Ming Dynasty relics.

Yulin, with an airport and better accommodation, is a good launch pad for exploring north Shaanxi, including two tiny but beautiful towns, Mizhi and Suide.

There's a saying, “Ladies in Mizhi and men in Suide," referring to the belief that the former is home to many beautiful women, and the latter has more than its fair share of handsome men.

Appropriately, Mizhi is also believed to be hometown of Diao Chan, one of four legendary beauties in Chinese history. For art and history lovers, Suide is also home to a museum featuring artwork created during the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago. There's also a well known bridge in the town decorated with statues of stone lions.

Last but not at least, be ready for chatting with locals. They are renowned for their warmth and friendliness, and many will be keen to share with you their life ― whether xintianyou, special songs in Shaanxi style, or huangmomo, a delicious local food made of flour and jujube.