The entrancing vermillion shades of maple leaves and cooler weather make autumn a popular time for travel, especially for those of us living in perennial summer at the equator. Trade in the heat for the cool winds of the season and wind through landscapes that will envelop you in their beauty.
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Mongolia, the Asian Africa
Kyoto in Japan, Seoraksan in South Korea and Jiuzhaigou in China are some of the usual suspects when it comes to the best places in Asia to view autumn colours. But you’d be surprised by just how many other places are being overlooked by the masses every autumn. Quotient presents a list of five alternative places in Asia that you should visit this fall. And no, it doesn’t have to revolve around maple leaves all the time.
Run amongst buckwheat fields in Ha Giang, Vietnam
In Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province straddling the Chinese border, entire hills and meadows are awash in pink every October and November. Buckwheat, known as Tam Giac Mach in the local language, is used in wine and consumed as a vegetable by the local Hmong who inhabit the highlands. Such is the plant’s significance that an annual festival is held at Ha Giang annually with folk dances, singing and games during this season. The Tam Giac Mach Festival will be held from 4 October to 31 December this year.
Besides admiring the buckwheat flower fields, visitors who venture far enough to this remote province will be rewarded with unspoilt landscapes in the form of rice terraces and spectacular karst formations at the Dong Van Karst Plateau UNESCO Global Geopark. You can also meet the ethnic minorities at the numerous hamlets and ethnic markets across Ha Giang.
Admire the best of Taiwan‘s fall colours at Aowanda
Taiwan’s autumn foliage may not be as spectacular as Japan’s or South Korea’s, but that doesn’t mean that the beautiful crimson colours of fall are completely absent in this island country. Just an hour’s drive away from Cingjing is the Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area, touted by locals as the best place to view autumn foliage in Taiwan. Situated along the Wanda River, the valley is coloured red and orange when the fall colours are at their peak in November and December.
Bask in the serenity and fall colours as you follow forest trails that wind through the maple and pine forest. Keep an eye out for the Formosan blue magpie, Taiwan’s national bird and just one of over 120 bird species that reside in the woods. Stop by waterfalls and — if you dare — cross the 50-meter long steel suspension bridge for panoramic views of the valley. This is forest bathing at its best, minus the crowds.
Gallop on the steppes of Gorkhi Terelj National Park in Mongolia
Every September, yellow pine trees add a dash of colour to the brown mountainous landscape of the Gorkhi Terelj National Park, a 2,932-hectare park littered with queer rock formations including one shaped like a giant turtle. Saddle up and explore the rolling hills and grasslands on horseback and see if you can spot the many birds, elks and bears that roam the wilderness. Try your hand at fishing or rafting in the Tuul River that meanders through the park, or seek some peace and quiet by hiking up to the Meditation Temple for a panoramic view of the steppes.
The fun continues to the next day if you check yourself into one of the tourist ger camps where you can experience living like a nomad and master the art of archery, a national sport of Mongolia. If you time your visit well, you can even attend the famous Golden Eagle Festival held in the Altai Mountains on the first weekend of October every year.
Lose yourself in a sea of maple trees in Japan’s Korankei Valley
Korankei Valley is an explosion of colours every autumn as approximately 4,000 maple trees at the foot of Mt. Iimori change into differing shades of green, red and orange. It’s no wonder that Korankei Valley is considered one of the top autumn foliage spots in Japan’s Chubu Region. This autumn spectacle is the handiwork of a monk and pilgrims of the Kojakuji Temple who have been planting the maple trees since the 17th century. It is possible to make a hike up to the temple that still stands atop Mt. Iimori today. A good spot to take in the view is from the bright vermillion Taigetsukyo Bridge, a famous landmark in the valley.
Performances and food stalls during the Momiji Matsuri (Autumn Leaves Festival), held here annually from October to November, add some festive buzz to the otherwise tranquil valley. Stay on after sunset for the night-time illumination to see the valley in a different light.
Walk the “dragon’s backbone” at Longji Rice Terraces in China
Early to mid-October is harvest season for rice farmers at Longsheng County in Guilin, where the rice plants at the famous Longji Rice Terraces transform the mountain into a brilliant golden-yellow. First constructed in the Yuan Dynasty, the Longji (“dragon’s backbone” in Mandarin) Rice Terraces have been likened to dragon scales while the mountain summit resembles a dragon’s backbone. A cable car and hiking trails lead to various viewpoints with equally mystical-sounding names such as “Seven Stars Around the Moon” and “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers”, so you can expect views of the terraced paddy fields to be nothing short of ethereal.
Besides viewing the rice terraces, you can visit small villages in the area inhabited by ethnic minorities such as the Yao and the Zhuang who still live in rustic stilt houses made of wood. Spot them up and about in their colourful traditional costumes; the Yao women, who never cut their hair, are especially famous for having the longest hair in the world!