Gansu Province/甘肃省

When I say that Gansu is one of my favorite provinces in China, I get a lot of skeptical looks. True, most Westerners would be hard-pressed to know that Gansu Province even exists, and many east-coast Chinese people I meet wonder why I wouldn’t want to find a beach or just go to Sichuan and stuff myself silly with hot pot. But considering Gansu’s important location along the Silk Road, it deserves a lot more love than it gets.

Shaped vaguely like a napkin being wrung, it contains some of the best natural scenery China has to offer, and some of the wildest. Imagine this: Rainbow-colored mountains. Tibetan villages with fully-functional monasteries. Sand dunes. Mountain trekking. Horse-back riding. This is all within the same province. In a way, Gansu is like a sample platter: you can try a lot of diverse things without having to actually look that hard. While not as stupefyingly beautiful as Yunnan, or as mind-bogglingly vast as Qinghai, like the sample platter, you can’t help but want to order it when your friends are with you, and you’ll definitely want to order it more than once.