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Exploring Yulin, Shaanxi’s hidden gem

Chatting after devouring a substantial hotpot, I agreed with the driver whose eyes wrinkled around the corners when he smiled, and recounted an endless stream of short but sweet encounters with friendly, passionate locals during our stay.

Shaanxi province’s Yulin City — not to be confused with the southern Chinese city of the same name notorious for its dog meat festival — is one of China’s largest coal boomtowns, with coal reserves of over a hundred million tons.

International tourists may be more familiar with nearby city Xian, the ancient imperial capital famed for its life-sized terracotta warriors guarding the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Yulin is a gem of a town that sits only an hour’s flight away from Xian, yet remains virtually unknown outside of China.

Much of its allure comes from the impression that its natural scenery and remnants of lost civilizations seem untouched and exclusive, partly because traveling to this remote, out-of-the-way Shaanxi heartland is no easy feat.

Only a thousand foreign visitors ventured to the town last year, said Cui Yuan, head of overseas affairs of the city’s tourism bureau.

Cui said plans are underway to speed up the development of its infrastructure to boost local tourism, for example upgrading its local airport to an international gateway.

Before the city hits its ambitious goals of becoming a major tourist destination, however, the trip may be daunting for the faint-hearted. But those who do take the leap can be sure of an authentic and truly singular experience of a lifetime.