When Yunnan native Mei Zhang founded WildChina in 2000, the idea of sustainable tourism and ecologically sensitive travel had yet to take flight on a broad scale and even less so in China. But a solo trek to Tibet and a sunrise over Mount Kailash was all it took to convince Zhang, a Harvard Business School graduate, that someone needed to fill the gap no one yet knew existed. And so WildChina was born.
Currently operating offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Washington DC, WildChina quickly emerged as the premiere luxury adventure travel company in China as well as an industry trailblazer. After a stint at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Zhang found a passion for travel that has made her an authority on off-the-beaten-path experiences that transcend anything found in guidebooks and which appeal to seasoned travelers. The result is WildChina’s rating as Best Adventure Travel Company on Earth by National Geographic and Zhang’s selection as Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialist for China in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
An active participant in conferences and forums on the future of the sustainable tourism industry in China and how it’s getting there, Zhang lives in Beijing with her husband and their three children.
Mei Zhang likes to walk on the wild side. As the founder of WildChina Travel, the Yunnan-born adventurer has parlayed her lifelong passion for China’s natural wonders into a successful travel company. Taking the road less travelled, the Harvard Business School graduate favors the exotic over the expected, traipsing China’s offbeat trails, exploring rural communities and discovering little-known cultural marvels.
“Once you get off the beaten track there is a whole other world out there that few outsiders get to see,” she explains. “China is a vast and complex country and my advice is to spend a good week in one of the many inland provinces.”
Guangxi province in Southern China, for example, is nature’s nirvana. “Guangxi borders Vietnam and includes the spectacular Nonggang National Nature Reserve,” notes Mei. “The reserve features the most diverse and dramatic karst formations in the world. These are natural limestone structures that are also found in Guangxi province’s Guilin and Yangshuo districts.”
Mei suggests history buffs and admirers of China’s traditional art forms add the northern province of Gansu to their China itinerary. “For many visitors, Gansu province is a dry, arid desert, but the Dunhuang Mogao caves contain the most impressive cultural artefacts in all of China.” Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, the Mogao Caves are home to the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art. Comprising over 2,000 painted sculptures and murals, the art chronicles over 1,000 years of cultural exchanges between China and other nations.
In the eastern province of Anhui, tourists trek the Yellow Mountains, the mountain range featured in the Oscar-winning epic Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. For Mei, however, Anhui’s real treasures are found in the hillside hamlets of Yixian County. “I love the ancient Huizhou Villages at the foot of the Yellow Mountains,” says Mei. “For anyone interested in traditional architecture, the villages offer precious insights into China’s history and way of life.”
Despite her extensive travels in China, Mei still has items on her to-do list. “I want to visit Jingdezhen [in northeastern Jiangxi province], known as the capital of China's porcelain industry. Artists from Beijing and Shanghai operate studios there, and they produce the most beautiful, intricate and functional vases, bowls and porcelain art. I’m very encouraged by China's burgeoning art scene and I want to invest time to find out more.