Top 10 Destinations in China
Our pick #1
Some say it can be seen from space, but unless you’re a top gun at NASA, perhaps you’ll never know. Instead, experience the real deal. One of the Seven Wonders of the World and an enduring symbol of Chinese civilisation and genius, the UNESCO protected Great Wall of China was built as a defensive structure to protect China against marauding invaders from the north. Although the present wall dates mainly from the Ming dynasty, some 20 states and dynasties were involved in its immense construction over a period of 2,000 years and followed different routes and building extensions as required. Snaking some 6700 kms across barren hills, deserts, mountains and plateaus, the now partially ruinous Great Wall stretches east to west in northern China and is believed to be the longest man made structure in the world.
Our pick #2
In 1976 three farmers near the city of Xi'an were digging a well and in doing so discovered one of China's greatest treasures - Emperor Qin's 7000-strong terracotta army. Believed to have been made 2200 years ago these life-size warriors stand in military formation in excavated pits under the cover of a modern protective hanger. Made of local clay, no two faces are alike – each is said to be an individual portrait. Delicate excavation continues on site, where hundreds of warriors remain smashed to pieces, not due to the passage of time but rather a peasant revolt after the emperor’s death. The emperor’s tumulus (ancient grave mound) is located about a mile away and is said to contain untold treasures.
Our pick #3
Renowned for it’s striking, if bizarre scenery - vast areas of karst limestone outcrops that rise up from flat rice paddy fields, and beautiful pagodas, Guilin is often the subject of Chinese painting. On our tours that travel to Guilin, we will visit the enormous and dazzlingly beautiful Reed Flute Caves. The city is filled with a delicious fragrance of Sweet Osmanthus trees and indeed this is the meaning of the name Guilin - "forest of Sweet Osmanthus". As it is located in the subtropical zone in the southern part of the country, Guilin boasts a pleasant climate throughout the year. When there, take in the views from the intriguingly named Elephant trunk hill, and visit the beautiful Banyan Lake, so smooth it looks like a mirror.
Our pick #4
Capital of the People’s Republic, Beijing is China’s political, economic and cultural centre. With a chequered history, Beijing was established in 1045 BC and for 800 years served as the capital of several dynasties. At first glance Beijing can appear as nothing more than a modern cosmopolitan city with soaring skyscrapers, sprawls of apartment blocks and a crisscross of freeways. But hidden amid the concrete and glass one can still find remnants of the city’s past and evidence of traditional Chinese culture still practised today. Vast squares, magnificent palaces and beautiful gardens are just some of the treasures still visible from the city’s imperial past, while down narrow alleyways one can find charming teahouses, traditional workshops, and quiet courtyards.
Our pick #5
Although the river itself and life along the banks are fascinating in themselves, centre stage on a Yangtze cruise is the awesome journey through the Three Gorges on a cruise from Chongqing to Wuhan. The Three Gorges (Qutangxia, Wuxia and Xiling) were formed around 70 million years ago during movements in the earth’s crust. Towering perpendicular cliffs and sharp gorges give way to the Yangtze below. Despite China’s controversial Yangtze dam project, where the waters are set to gradually rise until 2009, creating the world’s largest dam, it is thought the Gorges will still be as breathtaking, although some villages and landmarks will ultimately disappear.
Our pick #6
Located in the Jiangsu Province, Suzhou is one of China’s most charming cities, its fame rests on its waterways and canals that are dotted with traditional bridges, houses and gardens. A cruise on the Grand Canal is the perfect way to discover Suzhou’s beauty and allows you to see the local people going about their day to day business. The city is renowned for its silk as it was the original source of the 'sea' silk road. You can also see bamboo and pine forests, winding streams, sheer hills without even leaving the city in the UNESCO heritage Humble Administor's Garden. There are elegant pavillions and courtyards interwoven with nature, and fragrant lotus filled pools and floral exhibitions - heaven in a garden.
Our pick #7
Buzzing with energy and activity from its gleaming sky scrapers all the way to its charming Old Town, the mega city of Shanghai epitomises China’s meteoric rise to global power status. Everywhere you look, there is something to do, see or buy, and you're unlikely to ever find yourself having a dull moment during your stay. Even the train that gets you from the airport to the city, the Shanghai Maglev train, is a symbol of Shanghai’s fast-paced progress as it reaches a speed of 450km/h, making it the fastest train in the world. Aside from its transport, one of the most exciting things about Shanghai is its culinary scene, which unpretentiously embraces cuisine from all over the world whilst still providing top quality regional fare for those looking for a taste of China.
Our pick #8
The panda capital of China, Chengdu is an unassuming city with a peaceful way of life that draws people in and tends to keep them there. Naturally, the number one draw of Chengdu is its giant pandas that are believed to have inhabited the region for around 2 million years, making the human history of the city pale in comparison. The best place to observe these beautiful animals is the Chengdu Panda Research Base, a facility dedicated to their breeding and conservation. Other than marvel at the wildlife, travellers to Chengdu should take the time to visit one of the city’s tea houses for an authentic Chinese experience. A trip to a local restaurant for a traditional Sichuan meal is also a great (and delicious) way to make the most of your stay. For those seeking a bit of culture, head to Luodai, an ancient town full of glorious old architecture.
Our pick #9
Blessed with clean air, sparkling streams and snowy mountains, Lijiang is one of China’s most popular destinations and it isn’t hard to see why. With its year-round good weather, there is never a bad time to plan a trip to this city where beauty, both natural and man-made, oozes from every street corner. The Old Town, which is the gem in Lijiang’s crown, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its authentic architecture and rich cultural identity. Hire a bike and cycle through the narrow, cobbled streets while you soak up the striking buildings and shops of this historical part of the city, which sits against the staggering backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayas. Once you’ve finished exploring, head over to Bar Street and indulge in a few beverages as you hop from bar to bar, catching a glimpse of live musicians and DJs as you go.
Our pick #10
Home to a number of historical relics, Datong is a curious city that blends genuine history with recreated sites of cultural significance – a result of a former mayor’s plan to increase tourism to the area. Regardless of when it was built, there is no denying that the sight of the magnificent walls, lit up by traditional lanterns, is certainly one to behold. While there is plenty to see and do within the city itself, some of its best sites are located just a little outside. One of the main reasons so many people flock to Datong is to see the Yungang Grottoes, a collection of caves filled with over 51,000 statues of Buddha, dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. A little further out, but well worth the journey, is the Hanging Temple, a place of worship that was built into the side of a sheer cliff over 1,500 years ago.
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