6 tourist destinations that just earned China's highest ranking

The Weishan Lake National Wetland Scenic Area (left) and Guizhou Zhijin Cave National Geopark were both promoted into 5A tourist destinations by the Chinese government.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

While it is nearly impossible for foreigners to visit China these days, for domestic tourists the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced last Friday it had given 12 new locations it's highest rating.

The places are "must-see" spots and include beautiful mountain vistas, ancient towns and a massive cave.

The Chinese government breaks notable tourist attractions into five separate tiers in a process called the Tourist Attractions Rating System, with 1A as the lowest and 5A being reserved for the most spectacular or unique locations. Destinations are graded according to safety, cleanliness, sanitation, shopping and transport based on their distance to the nearest airport.

The following is a list of six of the newly promoted attractions to give an idea of what would make for a memorable trip.

The Baidi City Qutang Gorge Scenic Area

A large ship takes a journey down the Baidi City Qutang Gorge. 
PHOTO: Trip.com

It does not get better than this for nature lovers across the country. Located in Chongqing municipality in southwestern China, the gorges along the Yangtze River are steep and often include sheer cliff faces rising out of the water.

The gorge is part of the famed "three gorges" network and, at about 8km, is the shortest of the gorges. At the entrance to the natural wonderland is Baidi City, or the White Emperor City, which is an interesting tourist attraction in itself.

Guizhou Zhijin Cave National Geopark

The stalactites and stalagmites of the Guizhou Zhijin Cave National Geopark.
PHOTO: Trip.com

A karst cave in Guizhou province in southwest China, the site is a short drive (23km) from the provincial capital of Guiyang. Discovered in 1980, the cave is massive, stretching for 13.5km and featuring huge caverns and massive stalactites and stalagmites.

The crown jewel of the cave is the Silver Rain Tree, which is a transparent tower that is 17 metres tall.

Weishan Lake National Wetland Scenic Area

Weishan Lake National Wetland Scenic Area has become a testament to what is possible with positive intervention.
PHOTO: Trip.com

Asia's most extensive wetlands have become an example of how to transform a once deteriorating landscape into a beautiful magnet for tourism. The area also provides water for northern China.

In 2008, a large team of landscape architects and engineers rebuilt the wetlands into one of the great outdoor features in Shandong province in eastern China. The area is now a fantastic place to spot wildlife, take in the romantic lotus flowers that dot the scenery or enjoy some fresh air.

Three Gorges Grand Waterfalls Scenic Area

Stunning waterfalls are the prominent feature of the Three Gorges Grand Waterfalls Scenic Area. 
PHOTO: Trip.com

A stunning collection of waterfalls in the central Chinese province of Hubei, the entire valley is about 10km long and features a large variety of waterfalls.

One waterfall moves huge volumes of water while a taller one looks like something out of fantasy land. The smaller falls throughout the landscape are no less stunning.

Huangyao Ancient Town

Huangyao Ancient Town is like stepping back in time. 
PHOTO: Trip.com

Like stepping back in time, this town in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in southern China dates back to the Song dynasty (960-1279) although the oldest buildings still standing likely date to the Qing dynasty (1636-1912).

The "old town" has remained largely unchanged and started to become a tourist attraction in the late 1990s. The steep mountains and peaceful streams that surround the town add to its mystique.

Another ancient town called Anren Museum Town in southwest China's Sichuan province was also given the 5A rating in the most recent updates.

Jiangbulake Scenic Area

The stunning natural beauty of the Jiangbulake Scenic Spot.
PHOTO: Trip.com

This beautiful natural area in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in western China looks like a scene from The Sound of Music . With rolling hills and snow-capped mountains, the area is called "Source of Holy Water" in Kazakh.

Tulips will start to bloom in the area towards the end of winter, making for a remarkable setting.

The full list of newly-promoted sites are:

Anren Museum Town, Baidi City Qutang Gorge Scenic Area, Guan'egou Scenic Area, Guizhou Zhijin Cave National Geopark, Huangyao Ancient Town Scenic Area, Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River, Jigong Mountain National Nature Reserve, Jiangbulake Scenic Area, Sanbai Mountain National Scenic Spot, Taizhou Fucheng Cultural Scenic Area, Three Gorges Grand Waterfalls Scenic Area and Weishan Lake National Wetland Scenic Area.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.