BEIJING (XINHUA) - Climbing, skydiving and paragliding are sources of wonder for 64-year-old Ding Zhendong, a retired editor from north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
"Real life begins after retirement," Mr Ding said. He first tasted adventure tourism in 2015 when he drove a minibus with his friend from Inner Mongolia to Tibet.
Despite difficulties during the trip, the adventure was worthwhile for Mr Ding, thanks to the stunning landscape and thrilling experience. Over the past years, he has driven to Tibet through four different routes and visited the South and North Poles.
"Adventure helps me learn the limits of my body and boosts my physical strength. Now more retirees are joining our expedition team," he said.
Mr Ding is among a growing number of Chinese who want more than relaxation from their travels.
China's per capita disposable income was 49.7 yuan in 1949 but reached 28,228 yuan (S$5,455) in 2018, an increase of nearly 60 times in real terms after deducting price factors.
As Chinese tourists become richer and more experienced, there is a growing desire to explore the world and try more adventurous activities, from African safaris to polar adventures.
Adventure travel is a kind of niche tourism, which includes numerous activities such as caving, climbing, cycling and hiking.
Market consulting firm Allied Market Research forecast that the global adventure tourism market was valued at US$586.3 billion (S$790 billion) in 2018, and is projected to reach around US$1.63 trillion in 2026.
"Chinese travellers are playing an increasingly important role in the global adventure tourism economy," said Mr Han Bo, chairman of the China Adventure Association.
According to a report released by the association, there were 130 million to 170 million people on the Chinese mainland involved in outdoor adventures, with an annual growth of around 15 per cent.
Among them, the number of professional adventurers reached up to 60 million. More than 100,000 enterprises are dedicated to providing services for adventure seekers, the report said.
"Only a few Chinese such as scientists and archaeologists were engaged in adventure travel in the past," Mr Han said, adding that more ordinary and uninhibited people aged between 15 and 60 have now joined them to explore the unknown.
Mr Luo Hong, 52, founder of China's leading bakery chain Holiland, has journeyed to Africa 53 times, to the North Pole four times and the South Pole twice, photographing wildlife and nature to raise public awareness of environmental protection.
When he first visited South Africa in 2001, the locals asked him: "Are you Japanese?" They were shocked when he answered he came from China, as few Chinese tourists would visit Africa at that time.
Things are different now.
"This year, when I had a meal in a barbecue restaurant in Kenya, the locals sang the popular Chinese folk song 'Jasmine Flower' in Chinese. I was very happy," he recalled.
Mr Luo opened a personal photography museum in Beijing in 2016, which has so far received around 15 million visitors. His adventurous journeys have taken him through many dangerous places and extreme climates, but he never stopped.
"Seeking adventure is one of the best ways to satisfy people's spiritual needs. The popularisation of adventure travel reflects China's improved national strength and people's better life," Mr Han said.
"With a more affluent life, a growing number of Chinese will be keen to chase thrills the world over," he added.