2019 Year in Review: The Travel Destinations That Got Us Hooked

Getting to the end of a year in Beijing tends to leave?you with more questions than answers, and when you're not searching in vain for that long-gone jianbing seller, you're dealing with quiet closures, noisy neighbors, and if you're really lucky, surprise laduzi. One thing's for sure: there's never a dull day in China's capital, and we?hope for nothing less from 2020. For now, however, let's take a look back at the year that was 2019.

Travel headlines were dominated by one thing this year: the Big Orange Starfish. After years of anticipation, the Beijing Daxing International Airport (the world's largest) finally opened?in October, and so far, things seem to be going pretty smoothly, although we're sure to hear more feedback once expats begin to flee the city for Christmas. Two big high-speed train projects were also completed this year, the first zipping travelers from Beijing to the Inner Mongolian capital of Hohhot in a staggering three hours, and the second bringing us even closer to Qingdao in even less time. At the other end of the scale, passengers can now take a 16-day train trip from Beijing to Xinjiang. What a world. Furthermore, visa-free travel to China?got a lot easier in 2019... for some countries.?

So where have we been spending all of our tourist dollars? Here were some of our favorite travel destinations for 2019:

The Philippines
The Sulu Sea is an azure oasis of tiny islands, white sand beaches, and the occasional catastrophic typhoon. It also has some of the best snorkeling and diving in Asia, which are best explored by boat on a tour such as one offered by?Filipino tour agency?. Tao specializes in?low impact experiential trips, and their tours also support many island communities, who had suffered under the decline of the traditional fisheries.?Most of Tao’s boats are modified fishing vessels with double outriggers, and this is camping, not five-star resort-style travel but the sunsets and aforementioned white sandy beaches more than make up for it.?

Kyiv, Ukraine
The thousands of?golden domes dotting?the hilly landscape, soaring towers, street frescos, and?beautiful art-deco buildings are proof that more is always more, as the bold, brave, extravagant, and all-round bright capital of Ukraine proves. With its stunning architecture, more museums than you can shake a stick at (and long, complicated history to fill them up with), Soviet-era monuments, surprise beach, and proximity to the?Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Kyiv is a seriously enticing destination for a vacation. And that's without even mentioning the food. Oh, the food...

Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort, Hebei Province, China
Not to be confused with the southern Sichuan capital of Chengdu, Chengde in Hebei province is perhaps best known for?being the preferred?summer retreat for?China's Qing dynasty emperors.?The city's biggest draw is the impressive Imperial Mountain Resort, which was founded by Emperor Kang Xi (1662-1723) during one of his annual hunting trips, but the?Putuo Zhongcheng Temple, one of the Eight Outer Temples, and which bears a striking resemblance to the Potala Palace, and?Sledgehammer Pea rock formation are also not to be missed. Best of all,?Chengde is just a little more than 200km?from Beijing and can be reached in a few hours by bus or train.

Huangshan, Anhui Province, China
Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), known locally as “the birthplace of Chinese tourism,” was formed over 100 million years ago, and is the backdrop for many ancient Chinese paintings. At just two hours flight from Beijing, it makes for the perfect weekend trip, or even longer if you want to take your time traversing its many peaks, some of which are?over 1,000 meters tall,?or want to venture into the picturesque villages lying around it. Take our advice, and avoid the crowds at UNESCO World Heritage Site villages of Hongcun and Xidi, and instead potter around in the quiet villages of Bishan, and Pingshan.?

Tongzhou Grand Canal, Tongzhou, China
Together with the Great Wall and the Karez Well, the 1,700km-long Beijing-Hangzhou (Jinghang) Grand Canal has been described as one of the three greatest building projects in China. As if that wasn't enough, it's also often?lauded as the largest and longest conservation projects in the world, starting at Beijing before passing through Tianjin and ending at the capital of?Hangzhou, Zhejiang province?The multifunctional park is both an ecological hub, and a?pleasant spot for a day trip,?built around the northernmost tip of the canal. The main attraction of the Tongzhou Grand Canal Forest Park is, well, the park itself!?Altogether, it is home to?the river and its?pathways, as well as gardens?and numerous scenic spots, making it the perfect Beijing escape for a lazy day of cycling.

READ:?The Top 10 Blockbusters in Chinese Cinema in 2019

Images: Jeremiah Jenne,?, Wendy Xu,?Margaux Schreurs