Where to go in China
China is a vast country, with long travel time throughout many various cultural, historical and natural wonders of the land, among which 23 have already been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Altogether there are 26 provinces, each with their own dialect and regional characteristics. The western provinces of Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan occupy an enormous area of land, and Sichuan alone is about the size of France.
- Beijing - The entire area of Beijing within the city limits is- in many ways - one great historic museum. The original city plan was divided in four. The innermost rectangle is the Forbidden City, now a museum and public park, but formerly the residence of the Ming and Qing emperors. The second rectangle forms the boundaries of the Imperial City, enclosing residences and parks for the former senior government officials. The outer rectangle forms the outer city with its markets and old residential districts. The Imperial Palace, lying inside the Forbidden City and surrounded by a high wall and broad moat, is probably China's greatest surviving historical site. Dating from the 15th century, the Palace was home to a total of 24 emperors and, today, its fabulous halls, palaces and gardens house a huge collection of priceless relics from various dynasties. The surviving city walls are impressive monuments, as are the traditional hutongs, enclosed neighborhoods of alleys and courtyards. Other points of interest are the Coal Hill (Mei Shan), a beautiful elevated park with breathtaking views; Beihai Park, the loveliest in Beijing; Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, surrounded by museums, parks, the zoo and Beijing University; the Temple of Heaven, an excellent example of 15th-century Chinese architecture; the Summer Palace, the former court resort for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty reconstructed in traditional style in the early 1900s after Western attacks, looking out over the Kunming Lake; the Great Wall (see below), the section at Badaling being some 72km (45 miles) from Beijing; and the Ming Tombs, where 13 out of the 16 Ming emperors chose to be buried. Two magnificent tombs here have been excavated, one of which is open to the public. Beijing is facing great investment in both tourism infrastructure and historical renovation due to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The World Heritage sites, the Peking Man ruins at Zhoukoudian, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs have been selected for restoration in the coming years.
- Beyond Beijing - The Great Wall, built up in stages over 2000 years and said to be the only manmade structure visible from the moon, is a spectacular sight which should not be missed. Stretching for a distance of 5400km (3375 miles), it starts at the Shanhaiguan Pass in the east and ends at the Jiayuguan Pass in the west. The section at Badaling, built in stone and brick and dating back to the Ming Dynasty, is roughly 8m (26ft) high and 6m (20ft) wide.
The Yungang Caves near Datong, west of Beijing, have awe-inspiring monumental Buddhist effigies carved into them. Equally impressive is the nearby Hanging Temple, clinging to a cliff, and the Yingxian Pagoda, China's oldest surviving wooden pagoda.
Beidaihe, a small seacoast resort with beaches, temples and parks, is a popular vacation area 277km (172 miles) from Beijing, favored by the ruling elite. Attractions include the Yansai Lake and Shan Hai Guan, a massive gateway at the very start of the Great Wall, as well as elegant colonial-era villas.
Chengde is the former summer retreat of the Qing emperors and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many temples and parks, including the remains of the Qing Summer Palace with its impressive Imperial Garden. The Eight Outer Temples, lying at the foot of the hills to the northeast of the Palace, include the architectural styles of the Mongolians, Tibetans and other subject peoples.
- The Northern Provinces
Xi'an - The capital of Shaanxi Province and often regarded as the true historic capital of China, Xi'an was once amongst the most magnificent cities in the world. For 13 dynasties, from the 11th century BC, the city was also the capital of China. It was the starting point of the ancient trade route with the West known as the Silk Road (see Silk Road section) and is now, after Beijing, the most popular tourist attraction in China. The city is most famous for the Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, who first united China under the Qin Dynasty in 200 BC, and its terracotta figures - over 6000 life-sized Terracotta Warriors and horses buried along with the emperor. Many other tombs from the Han and Tang Dynasties are still unexcavated. Despite damage inflicted during the Cultural Revolution, there are still numerous tombs, pavilions, museums and pagodas to be seen, such as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda with its spiral staircase, and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.
Beyond Xi'an - Luoyang, lying east of Xi'an and its historical twin capital, has a fine museum of treasures. The fifth-century Longmen Buddhist Caves are among some of China's finest, lined with carved effigies and monuments. Kaifeng, east of Luoyang and a Northern Song Dynasty capital, has a Jewish quarter formerly home to indigenous Chinese Jews, the Xiangguo Monastery, the Iron Pagoda from AD 1049, Fan Bo Pagoda (c. AD 977), and other relics of ancient courts and poets.
Jinan - The capital of Shandong Province, Jinan is known as the 'City of Springs'; these provide the main tourist attraction. The city also has Buddhist relics, parks and lakes. Of particular interest is the Square Four Gate Pagoda, the oldest stone pagoda in China. Outside the city, Mount Taishan's 72 peaks make up a mountain park with ancient pine and cypress trees, spectacular waterfalls, 1800 stone sculptures and a kilometer-long mountain stairway known as the 'Ladder to Heaven'.
Beyond Jinan - Qingdao is admired for its blue seas and abundance of trees and flowers and is a former Treaty Port annexed by Germany. Like elsewhere in Asia, the Germans brought breweries, creating China's ubiquitous Tsingtao Lager in 1902, but also built the fine German Concession buildings; there are also attractive traditional areas. Laoshan, east of Qingdao, is a fine mountain region with a famous monastery, the Taiqing Palace. In Qufu, close to Qingdao, the Mansion of Confucius was home to the sage's descendants, and the enormous Temple of Confucius, with its many pavilions, was a center for his worshippers. Today, the buildings store and display important historical records, art and cultural artifacts. Confucius's tomb is in a cemetery just north of Qufu.
- Far Northeastern Regions
Shenyang was once an imperial capital. Remains from this period include the Imperial Palace and two interesting tombs. The North Imperial Tomb, about 20km (13 miles) from the city, is the burial place of the founding father of the Qing Dynasty. Dalian is China's third port. Formerly occupied by the Soviets, it is an airy and interesting bi-cultural city with some Russian architecture.
Hohhot (meaning 'green city' in Mongolian) is the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and one of the most colorful cities in China, with unique local architecture including the Five-Pagoda Temple. Tours of the grasslands can also be arranged. Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, is a Russian-style industrial city. Harbin is host to the annual Harbin Summer Music Festival and a winter Ice Festival of ice sculptures.
- Far Northwestern Regions
Lanzhou is an oasis on the Silk Road, and capital of Gansu Province, but the ugly city is chiefly noteworthy as a center to visit the 34 early Buddhist caves at Bingling Lamasery. The White Pagoda Mountain Park is also an attractive retreat.
Dunhuang, a 2000-year-old town on the edge of the desert, once an important Silk Road caravan stop, is famous for the Mogao Caves, some of the oldest Buddhist shrines in China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These ancient murals and hand-carved shrines are a national treasure and represent a thousand years of devotion to Buddha between the 4th and 14th centuries. Some 500 exist today, and large areas of frescoes can still be seen. Also worth a visit when in Dunhuang are the Yueya (Crescent Moon) Spring, the Yang Guan Pass and the Mingsha Hill.
Turpan and Urumqi are situated in the far northwest on the edge of the vast deserts of Xinjiang Province. These Muslim cities, lying on the Silk Road, are well known for the distinctive Islamic culture of the inhabitants. Turpan has a distinct and well-preserved architectural character, and is surrounded by spectacular scenery and interesting sites, including two ruined cities. Turpan is also the hottest place in China, lying in the Turpan Depression, the second-lowest point on earth next only to the Dead Sea. Nearby are the Flaming Mountains, which glow brightly at sunset. Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The city is inhabited by people of 13 different nationalities, including Mongolian, Kazakh, Russian, Tartar and Uzbek. The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim Uygurs who speak a Turkish language completely unrelated to Chinese. Northwest of Urumqi, a few hours' bus ride away, is the beautiful Tianchi (Heavenly) Lake, a clear turquoise-colored lake set in the midst of the Tian Shan range of mountains. Museums in both cities trace their fascinating histories.
- The Eastern Provinces
Shanghai - This is one of the world's largest cities and one of China's most famous - more like New York or Paris than Beijing. Lying on the estuary of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River, it is the center of China's trade and industry. European-style architecture, traditional Chinese buildings and sleek modern developments all co-exist in this cosmopolitan metropolis. The Yuyuan Gardens date back over 400 years: although relatively small, they are impressive thanks to their intricate design, with pavilions, rockeries, ponds and a complete traditional theater woven together in an ornate maze. The gardens are reached via the Town God Temple Bazaar, a touristy but impressive warren of lanes and stalls. The French Concession area has quiet, characterful colonial parks and neighborhoods, while the Bund (a waterfront promenade) along the Huangpu River has the celebrated strip of Art Deco towers. From here, the dynamic new Pudong Development Area and the Oriental Pearl Tower can be viewed across the water. The city is paradise for gourmets with over 1000 restaurants serving over 16 styles of Chinese food.
Hangzhou - Situated about 190km (120 miles) south of Shanghai, Hangzhou is one of China's seven ancient capital cities. Known as 'Paradise on Earth', Hangzhou was also described by Marco Polo as 'the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world'. The city is also famous for its excellent silk and tea products. Today's city is a beauty spot still visited by Chinese and foreign tourists in great numbers. By far the most attractive excursion, however, is to the West Lake area, dotted with weeping willows and peach trees, stone bridges, rockeries and painted pavilions. Here can be found the Pagoda of Six Harmonies, various tombs and sacred hills, monasteries and temples, not least the Linyin Temple.
Nanjing - Another former capital of China, Nanjing (meaning 'southern capital') is now capital of Jiangsu Province. The city lies on the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River at the foot of Zijinshan (Purple Mountain). It abounds with temples, tombs, parks and lakes, museums, and monuments- foremost amongst them being the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, founding father of the Ming Dynasty and the only Ming emperor to be buried outside Beijing. The Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum of China's first president, Dr Sun Yat-sen, is also here. Other places of interest are the ruins of the Ming Palace, the Ming city wall, the Yangtze River Bridge with its observation deck, the Purple and Gold Mountains Observatory and the Tombs of the Southern Tang Dynasty, known as the 'Underground Palace'.
Suzhou - This is one of China's oldest cities, dating back some 2500 years. An old proverb says that 'in Heaven there is Paradise; on earth, Suzhou'. Its riverside streets are reminiscent of Venice and there are many famous water gardens. There are over 400 historical sites and relics under the protection of the Government, such as the Blue-Waves Pavilion Garden on the outskirts, the Lion-Grove Garden which has rockeries resembling lions, the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Garden of the Master of the Nets. The Grand Canal and Tiger Hill are also worth a visit. There are numerous silk mills producing exquisite fabrics, and the local embroidery is an unparalleled art form.
Wuxi - This industrial and resort city on the north bank of Lake Taihu, some 125km (75 miles) west of Shanghai, has some celebrated lakeside parks and gardens. Yangzhou to the west, supposedly once governed by Marco Polo, has a fine poetic tradition of gardens such as the Xu Garden and others along the Narrow West Lake, and old merchant houses. To the southwest, on Huangshan Mountain in the southern Anhui Province, trees cling to breathtaking rocky precipices amongst seas of cloud and clear natural springs and lakes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural beauty and wildlife, the mountain has a cablecar linking the summit and base.
Wuhan - Wuhan spans the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River. As the capital of Hubei Province, it is an industrial center. There are also Buddhist temples, lakes and parks, as well as the Yellow Crane Tower and the Hubei Provincial Museum, home to the famous Chime Bells, manufactured over 2400 years ago. Nearby in Danjiangou City, Wudang or Taihe Mountain houses an ancient building complex with temples, nunneries, palaces and pavilions. The Yangtze Three Gorges Dam project is the largest water conservation project in the world; it is located just outside Yichang City. Work has begun and it is due to be completed in 2009.
The Central Provinces -
Chengdu - This booming capital of mountainous, distinctive Sichuan Province lies at the foot of the Tibetan plateau. Attractions include Tang Dynasty shrines, the house of the celebrated poet Du Fu, ancient parks and bamboo forests (the last stronghold of the giant panda), Buddhist temples and an ancient Buddhist monastery. Chengdu is a base for visiting Emei Shan, a famous mountain to which Buddhist pilgrims flock every year, and the holy mountains of Gongga and Siguniang. There is also the spectacular Grand Buddha of Leshan, a 70.7m- (225ft-) high colored sculpture carved out of a cliff, so enormous that 100 people can fit on its instep, with the Grand Buddha Temple and Lingbao Pagoda beside it. In the Jiuzhaigou Ravine in northern Sichuan Province, there is a vast nature reserve where giant pandas can be seen in their natural habitat. The six official 'scenic spots' among the snowy peaks include Shuzheng, with waterfalls and 40 lakes of different colors where swimming and boating are allowed. Further north, the concentration of mineral salts in the water at Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) nature reserve has created beautifully colored natural talpatate ponds and rock formations.
Chongqing - Located east of Dazu, Chongqing is perched magnificently above the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River. A prosperous rather than beautiful city, it is a natural starting point for excursions to the Yangtze Gorges, whose most popular stretches are further east with poetic names like Witches Gorge and Shadowplay Gorge. These natural wonders are due to be completely submerged by 2009 after the completion of the Three Gorges Dam.
In Dazu County, the Dazu Rock Carvings represent the pinnacle of Chinese rock art.
- The Southern Provinces
Fuzhou - Situated in Fujian Province on the southeast coast opposite Taiwan, this beautiful city lies on the banks of the Min River. Dating back some 1400 years (to the Tang Dynasty), the city has numerous parks and temples, including the White Pagoda and Black Pagoda, and maritime reminders of its past as a colonial Treaty Port. Fuzhou also has hot springs dotted throughout the city. Further south, Mount Wuyi is an outstanding area of natural beauty and the cradle of neo-Confucianism.
Guangzhou (Canton) - Sometimes known as the 'City of Flowers', Guangzhou is a subtropical metropolis on the south coast. As a Special Economic Zone only 182km (113 miles) from Hong Kong, Guangzhou is developing at breakneck speed, but it has more established attractions, since it dates back to 221 BC and first welcomed European traders in 1516. Parks, museums, temples, hot springs and colonial architecture - especially on Shamian Island- are the main attractions. The Chenhai Tower, a 15th-century observation tower overlooking the Pearl River, the Huaisheng Mosque built by Arab merchants in AD 650, and the Tomb of the King of Southern Yue, a 2000-year-old relic of one of the region's short-lived splinter kingdoms, are also worth visiting. Other attractions for those drawn by the gold rush mentality of Shenzhen include theme parks such as the World of Splendid China (with miniatures of Chinese heritage sites), and the China Folk Culture Villages.
Changsha - The capital of Hunan Province is close to the birthplace of Mao Zedong at Shaoshan. Most attractions revolve around Mao's early life and there are museums and schools dedicated to him. One notable exception is the Han Tomb whose contents- including the 2000-year-old remains of a woman-are now in the Hunan Provincial Museum.
Lushan Mountain - Lying approximately 150km southeast of Wuhan, this is a well-known scenic area and summer resort with tranquil scenery and a comfortable climate. The mountain has been a haven for poets and hermits for centuries, and more recently for Chiang Kaishek, Mao Zedong, Harry Truman and other dignitaries. At its center is Guling Town, at an altitude of 1167m.
Guilin - Located to the northwest of Guangzhou (Canton), Guilin is famous for its spectacular landscape of bizarre limestone formations, echoed so evocatively in the paintings and wall-hangings well known in the area. Steep monolithic mountains rise dramatically from a flat landscape of meandering rivers and paddy fields. Visitors can climb the hills, take river trips and visit the parks, lakes and caves. Further north is the Wulingyuan basin, centered on the town of Zhangjiajie. The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park contains dense primeval forest and several thousand steep mountain peaks, as well as Yellow Dragon Cave, Asia's largest, with gnarled stalactites.
Kunming - The capital of Yunnan Province, which borders Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, has its own distinctive identity as a newer, showcase city with some temples and very pretty lakeside parks. It is known as the 'City of Eternal Spring' or the 'Geneva of the Orient' because of the pleasant alpine climate. Outside of Kunming are the major attractions of Xi Shan, the holy mountain, and the petrified limestone forest called Shilin, 120km (75 miles) southeast of Kunming. The ancient city of Lijiang, further west in Yunnan Province, is dominated by the Naxi ethnic people, and was the subject of the celebrated documentary Beyond The Clouds.
Hainan Island - This tropical island off the south coast of Guangdong Province has some fine beaches, palm groves, fresh seafood and coconuts. In 1989, Hainan Island became a separate province in its own right, and is now one of several Special Economic Zones, although it is not yet the 'Hawaii of China' it aspires to be, it is China's newest holiday area.
Tibet (Xizang) - Known as 'the Roof of the World', Tibet has only been open to tourists since 1980. Although it is possible to go to Tibet as an independent traveller (provided a permit is obtained), it is much more straightforward to go as part of a tour group on an organized itinerary. The scenery is spectacular and Tibetan culture is uniquely fascinating: its tradition of esoteric Buddhism is followed across Asia and is of great historical importance. The Cultural Revolution, driven by Han Chinese, inflicted serious damage on Tibet's cultural identity, but despite this, it has preserved its own way of life and religious traditions, helped in some cases by apologetic Chinese attempts at restoration. Visitors should note, though, that the Chinese government has been actively settling Tibet with Han Chinese for some time, and many people they see or meet will not be Tibetans. Some travelers may experience health problems as a result of the altitude, so it is wise to consult a doctor prior to departure.
Lhasa - Known as Holy city, Lhasa stands at an altitude of 3700m (12,000ft). Its wonderful light and clear skies are peculiar to its high mountainous terrain, but for six months of the year it is bitterly cold. The main highlights for tourists lie in the Potala or Red Palace, home to successive Dalai Lamas, which dominates Lhasa and the valley. This 7th-century edifice, built on a far more ancient site, is now a unique museum whose exhibits include labyrinths of dungeons beneath the Palace, gigantic bejewelled Buddhas and vast treasure hoards, 10,000 chapels with human skull and thigh-bone wall decorations and wonderful Buddhist frescoes, with influences from India and Nepal. The Potala Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other buildings of interest include the Drepung Monastery, the Norbulingka (Summer Palace) and the Jokhang Temple, with its golden Buddhas. Ask permission before taking photographs in Buddhist temples. There is also the Tibet Museum located in Norbulingka, Lhasa, which houses a rich collection of cultural relics.
Note: It is not allowed to travel in Tibet as an independant traveler since 2008 March riots in Tibet , all foreign tourists visit Tibet have to be in one group organized by travel agency, apply for necessary Tibet Permits, such as TTB permit, PSB permit, military permit..ect. , with guide and necessary transportation. Windhorse Tour specializes in operating various tours in Tibet, and assist tourists to arrange the permits to Tibet. To ensure enough time to apply for the Tibet permit and tour agreement, normally we suggest our clients to confirm the Tibet tour at least 15 days in advance.
The Silk Road - This ancient trading route was opened up by Han Dynasty power from 138 BC when Emperor Han Wudi sent a mission into Central Asia and launched westwards extensions of the Great Wall into the Gobi Desert. Used by silk merchants from the second century AD until its decline in the 16th century, the Silk Road is open in parts to tourists eager to explore its heritage. This long string of caravan trails, oases, roads and mountain passes, stretched from northern China, through bleak and foreboding desert and mountainous terrain to the ports on either the Caspian Sea or Mediterranean Sea, and was the conduit for goods and ideas passing between ancient China and the West. The Mongols later used the Silk Road to bind their vast empire, as Marco Polo found when he traveled it in the 13th century.
The two main routes are split into the north route and the south route: the north starting in China at Xi'an, running through the Gansu Corridor, Dunhuang, Jade Gate Pass to the neck of the Gobi desert, following the Tianshan mountains round the fringes of the Taklimakan desert to Kashgar (Xinjiang province), across the Pamirs to Samarkand or Tashkent (Uzbekistan) onto the Caspian Sea. The south route runs with the north until the Jade Gate Pass and then stretches round the southern edges of the Taklimakan desert to Kashgar and then over the Karakorum mountain range (see Karakorum Highway in the Pakistan section) into India.
The Silk Road was a major highway for the spread of Buddhism into East Asia, and later for the growth of Islam, and consequently a number of monasteries, grottos, stupas, minarets and other ruins dating back to the early centuries can still be seen along the way. Other attractions of the route are the diverse scenery, various minority peoples and romantic cities.
Within China, the main sights are found in Xinjiang Province, including the Buddhist grottos at Dunhuang and ancient relics at Turpan, such as the ruins of the city of Jiaohe and the lively Sunday market at Kashgar. Travel along the Silk Road can be quite difficult due to the terrain, harsh climate and lack of developed infrastructure. Visitors to the region are advised to travel with an organized tour company or travel agent.