WildChina > Destinations > Gansu > Where to Travel in China in Summer 

接天莲叶无穷碧,映日荷花别样红。杨万里 

Green lotus leaves outspread as far as boundless sky; Pink lotus blossoms take from sunshine a new dye. 

This verse from Yang Wanli, a renowned poet from the Southern Song dynasty (around the twelfth century), aptly captures how summer is typically imagined in the eastern part of China, but the country’s vast western provinces—Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan, and Tibet—boast wildly varied and, temperature-wise, pleasantly cooler ways to spend your summer days.  

That being said, the lotus bloom is surely a spectacle to behold, but Yang Wanli probably didn’t have the time or the vision to go to China’s wilder west where grasslands roll on for miles in each direction, dotted only by the occasional colorful Tibetan homes.  

Imagine camping Tibetan-nomad style in Gansu, surrounded by green, expansive fields. Or, embarking on an expedition to Tibet, admiring Lhasa’s mighty Potala Palace against a blue summer sky on the roof of the world. For food lovers, why not set out on a culinary discovery in Yunnan, trying local ham, cheese, and summer mushrooms? For modern-day explorers, trek along ancient trade routes, tracing the steps of merchants and monks of the past in Yunnan and Gansu. 

While summer is the busiest travel season in China, those who choose to travel during this period should expect company, but that doesn’t mean a wonderful journey in the Middle Kingdom isn’t still possible.  

June

Thanks to the high altitude, June feels more like late spring than summer in western Sichuan, offering the perfect weather to hike through its many natural wonders: verdant grasslands, turquoise alpine lakes, and snow-capped mountains. Plus, for those who stay a bit longer, into late June/early July, the 300-year-old horse racing festival held on the Longdeng Grassland is also a wonderful experience to enjoy. 

In Yunnan, June kicks off the main mushroom season, especially for the coveted varieties of matsutake (known as songrong in Chinese) and termite mushroom. Don’t worry, the latter is named such only because termite nests provide the optimal conditions for its growth. The firm texture and meaty taste of the termite mushroom make for a perfectly aromatic stir-fry. Elsewhere in the Dali area rose petals are ripe for picking, waiting to be turned into a local specialty cake. Or, for a more savory option, witness how Shaxi cheesemakers produce a local variety, a remnant of Mongolian influences. 

Where to Travel in China in Summer 
Matsutake mushrooms in a farmer’s market

July & August

During peak summer, while the rest of the country melts away in the sweltering heat, sanctuary awaits in the Tibetan areas of Yunnan, Gansu, and Tibet. Widely considered the inspiration for the mythical Shangri-la, Yunnan is incredibly diverse, with more than 20 different ethnic groups calling the province home. Options range from spending time with local monks and villagers, savoring the slow pace of their lives, to immersing in a journey along the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road connecting Southern Yunnan to Tibet. 

In northern China, two drastically different landscapes await. In southern Gansu on the Tibetan Plateau, verdant fields stretch endlessly, punctuated by blooming summer flowers and resident wildlife. Outdoor enthusiasts can even experience camping with a Tibetan twist, at a site operated by local nomads. The rest of Gansu to the north contains important stops on the famed Silk Road, now replete with temples, tombs and, most notably, mysterious grottoes filled with Buddhist art, thought by many experts to represent the pinnacle of the artform in Chinese history. 

Summer is also a great time to visit Tibet, especially the region’s far west, which is largely inaccessible during wintertime. To escape the crowds in Lhasa, we recommend hiking along ancient pilgrim trails and camping in the Tibetan wilderness, admiring the overlay of snow-capped mountains and isolated monasteries. For those lucky enough to visit in August, Sho Dun Festival should definitely be on the agenda. 

Sho Dun Festival in Tibet
Actor performing a Tibetan opera in Lhasa on Aug. 26. 2014. During Lhasa’s Sho Dun festival, actors from different troupes gather together to perform Tibetan operas in Norbulingka park.

If any of the above summer escapes take your fancy, get in touch with our team to start planning! 

By Yang Xiong