• We returned from our holiday last Wednesday and I just wanted to say a big thank you for organising our tours in Beijing last week.
  • Thank you for making possible an enjoyable trip for us. We learnt about Shanghai’s people, history and culture.
  • I am writing to you to thank you very much for our wonderful trip to Xian. The tour that you organised was fantastic.
Beijing    

Beijing Zoo Panda Hall

Watch giant pandas roam around a leafy indoor habitat at Beijing Zoo.

Without a doubt, the giant panda is one of China’s most beloved national treasures. Endangered in the wild, very few pandas remain in their natural habitat. The research and protection center in Sichuan has made great steps towards preserving the species, and is the most famous place to see the pandas. However, the Panda Hall at Beijing Zoo provides an equally good opportunity to get up close to China’s national animal.

Beijing Zoo was the first in China, and now houses 5,000 animals across 450 species. Among the 16 areas, the Panda Hall is the most popular. It was built in 1989 and covers 10,000 square meters. Filled with trees and bushes, it replicates the panda’s natural habitat.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/china-giant-panda.jpg

Forbidden City

Walk in the footsteps of the emperors at this incredible palace complex in the heart of Beijing.

The Forbidden City lies at the heart of China’s capital, and is a symbol of the many emperors who ruled the country in dynastic times. The palace complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its cultural importance, and it forms the largest collection of ancient wooden structures anywhere in the world. Covering 720,000 square meters and consisting of 980 buildings, the Forbidden City is the biggest palace complex in the world, and is surrounded by a moat six feet deep. Throughout history, the emperor was considered to be a direct descendent of the gods so his residence was out of bounds for common people, hence “Forbidden”.

As many as a million laborers are thought to have worked on the complex. Construction took nearly 15 years, starting in 1406 during the Ming Dynasty, and finishing in 1420. The buildings are crafted in traditional architectural style, including upturned eaves to discourage evil spirits from settling. The dominant color in the Forbidden City is yellow - a symbol of the royal family. The roofs were built with yellow glazed tiles, and many decorations and ornaments around the palace are painted yellow. Even the bricks on the ground are yellow. However, the royal library (Wenyuange) has a black roof, as that color was thought to embody the fire extinguishing properties of water.

The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts. The southern section (Outer Court) was where the emperor ruled over his household and the nation outside it. The Outer Court is made up of three main ceremonial and state halls: The throne room, or Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) which is the most important structure in the complex, the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian).

The northern section of the complex (Inner Court) was the residence of the royal family. The Inner Court also contains three main buildings: the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong). There are six palaces to the east and six to the west of the main three, which are where the emperor kept his wives and concubines, and conducted daily business. Six eastern palaces and six western palaces surround these main buildings, and are probably where the emperor handled his daily affairs and lived along with his wives and concubines. These twelve palaces are now used as exhibition halls to display imperial treasures. The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden.

The Forbidden City is one of the most recognizable symbols of China. Throughout its long history it has housed emperors, featured in films (‘The Last Emperor’) and music videos (‘From Yesterday’) and been a museum of imperial history as well as a cradle of Chinese culture.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/beijing-forbidden-city.jpg

Great Wall of China - Badaling Section

Walk along this legendary wall – a feat of human engineering and a new wonder of the world.

China’s Great Wall is one of the most famous structures on the planet, and a symbol and icon of the nation. Starting at Hebei Province in the east, it stretches for a total of 6,259 kilometers to Lake Lop near the Taklamakan Desert in the Muslim region of Xinjiang – China’s most westerly province. The wall was begun in the Qin Dynasty (220-206 BC) during the reign of the first emperor and completed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) making it the longest building project in history. The Great Wall’s purpose was to stop invasions by northern nomads – particularly from Mongolia – and consisted of high fortifications dotted with watch-towers. If the guards in a certain tower spotted invaders, they would fire gunshots to warn others along the wall. One shot means 100 invaders, two shots meant more than 500, and three signified more than 1,000.

It is possible to visit the Great Wall at several points along its course, many around Beijing. The most popular are Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling. Of these, Badaling is the best preserved and the most frequently visited. It is famous as the place where President Richard Nixon viewed the wall on his history-making visit to China in 1972, and was climbed by Mao Zedong and 370 dignitaries and celebrities from around the world. Badaling and its nearby expressway were used as the finishing circuit of the Urban Road Cycling Course in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The Badaling section of the Great Wall was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1988, and became one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Badaling means “reach eight directions”, because of the area’s many natural ridges that. The site is located in Yanqing County, about 70 kilometers north of Beijing, and runs for 7,600 meters with an average altitude of over 1,000 meters. This part of the wall was built in 1505 during the reign of Ming Dynasty emperor Hong Zhi. It has been open to the public since 1957 – the longest of any section.

The outside casing of the wall is made of 1000-kilogram granite slabs; the interior was formed by packing earth and small rocks tightly together. The wall averages 7.8 meters in height and 5.7 meters in width, and features crenellations for archers, a barrel-drain and a moat both inside and outside, along with the watch-towers that were used as firing posts.

A true wonder of the world, the Great Wall of China is one of the earth’s most important cultural relics. Spend some time walking along its ancient fortifications to experience living history.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/the-great-wall-of-china .jpg

Hutong

Get a rare glimpse of how Beijing looked in ancient times with a trip to the alleys and courtyard homes of the hutong.

Before Beijing became the modern metropolis it is today, most of its residential districts were made up of networks of alleys and courtyards known as hutong that fanned out from the Forbidden City. These neighborhoods are so integral to the fabric of the city that they are thought to embody Beijing’s culture.

The word “hutong” is thought to come from Mongolian, and means “water well”. The hutong itself is the lane that connects the courtyard residences. These are known as “siheyuan”, and are open spaces surrounded by four buildings. In imperial times, a single siheyuan would house one extended family. Hutong lanes were built to connect the courtyard homes, and narrower alleys connected the lanes. The lanes ran east to west, and the courtyards usually faced south to catch the sun.

Hutong neighborhoods developed in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 256 BC) and housed much of Beijing’s population until the development boom of the late 20th century. As the need for space grew, most of the hutong were destroyed. Throughout the Republic of China era (1911 – 1948), many traditional neighborhoods had fallen into poverty, and were razed to make room for new residential and commercial buildings.

Nowadays, the best-preserved hutong neighborhoods are located around the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. They are open to visitors, and popular for pedicab tours.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/beijing-hutong-old-town-atmosphere.jpg

Kung Fu Show

Watch a breathtaking display of Shaolin-style martial arts performed by a group of talented fighters.

Martial arts, or “wu shu”, developed over many centuries in ancient China, and were designed as a form of self defense in dangerous times. Through kicking, chopping, tumbling and leaping, kung fu fighters could overmaster their enemies in a few deft moves. Kung fu became famous across the world thanks to the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and the recent fame of the Shaolin monks of the Songshan Monastery has spread its popularity even wider.

Shaolin is the type of kung fu practiced in the north of China, as opposed to Wudang in the south. Shaolin is considered to be the most pure and original, since the monks integrated the movements of birds and animals into their actions. Sticks and spears are also used.

Watching a kung fu show is a great way to get to know this ancient martial art, and enjoy a spectacular stage performance at the same time.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/perform-wushu-kung-fu-routines.jpg

Lama Temple

Admire intricate carvings and beautiful statues at one of China’s most important Buddhist temple.

In Beijing’s Dongcheng District sits a gorgeous temple that started life as a home for imperial eunuchs, before becoming the center of Geluk Buddhism. Containing five lavishly decorated halls filled with statues and engravings in Tibetan and Han styles, it is among China’s largest and oldest Buddhist temples.

The Yonghe Temple (also known as the Palace of Peace and Harmony, or simply Lama Temple) was built in 1694 as a residence for the court eunuchs. It then became the court of the Kangxi Emperor’s son, who later became Yongzheng Emperor and turned half of the complex into a lamasery (Buddhist monastery). When his successor Qianlong ascended to the throne, he granted the temple imperial status, changing the turquoise tiles for yellow ones to signify royalty. The Lama Temple escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution thanks to an appeal by former prime minister Zhou Enlai.

The temple is laid out along a central axis that runs north to south for 480 meters. At the southern end is the main gate, and there are five main halls along its length, separated by courtyards. There are the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Everlasting Protection, the Hall of the Wheel of the Law, and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. The Hall of the Heavenly Kings used to be the main entrance to the monastery, and contains a statue of the Maitreya Buddha along with icons of the four Heavenly Kings.

The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the temple’s main building, housing three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages. The Buddha of the Present (Gautama) is in the middle, between the Buddha of the Past (Kasyapa Matanga) and the Buddha of the Future (Maitreya). The Hall of Everlasting Protection served as Emperor Yongzheng's living quarters when he was a prince. It is now home to a statue of the Healing Buddha (Bhaisajya-guru).

The Hall of the Wheel of the Law is used for reading scriptures and holding religious ceremonies, and has a statue of Je Tsongkhapa who founded the Geluk School. The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses houses a 26-meter-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/view-of-lama-temple.jpg

Ming Tombs & Sacred Road

See the tombs of thirteen great Ming Emperors set in rugged terrain outside of Beijing.

Fifty kilometers north of Beijing lies a necropolis dedicated to thirteen emperors of the great Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), rivaling Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in scope and historic importance. The mausoleums and tombs of the emperors are spread over an area of 40 square kilometers in an arc shape that conforms to ancient “feng shui” principles of geomancy. It was believed that the evil winds coming down from the Jundu Mountains would be stopped by the arc, unable to reach the emperors’ remains. The tombs in the necropolis are incredibly well preserved, offering an important insight into the pomp and riches of Imperial China.

The site on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain was chosen by the Emperor Zhu Di in 1402. The last emperor to be buried there was Si Ling in 1644. Only two of the tombs are open to the public – the grand Changling Mausoleum of Zhu Di, and Dingling, the underground burial place of Emperor Zhu Yijun, who was the longest serving Ming ruler. The Changling tomb covers 1956 square meters and includes a gorgeous palace made entirely of fragrant camphor wood. The Dingling mausoleum lies 27 meters below the ground.

The necropolis is accessed by the seven-kilometer Sacred Way, flanked along its length by 24 statues of guardian animals and 12 human figures. In imperial times, the emperor was known as the Son of the Heaven, and this divine boulevard was designed as the road down which he would return to his heavenly home after death. The Sacred Way begins with an enormous stone memorial archway dating back to 1540, It is the oldest and largest surviving stone archway in China.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/thirteen-ming-tombs-road .jpg

Night Market on Wangfujing Street

Taste some of Beijing’s more exotic culinary offerings at this atmospheric night market.

Beijing might be best known for roast duck, but head down to the night market on Wangfujing Street for a taste of the more adventurous side of the capital’s cuisine. Located where Wangfujing Street meets Jinyu hutong (alley), the market sells everything from candied fruit to exotic sea creatures on sticks.

During the day, Wangfujing Street is a bustling commercial boulevard lined with shops and department stores. When night falls, the stall-holders come out and the aroma of barbecues starts to waft in the air. Most of the “xiao chi” (small food) is served on kebab skewers, from regular lamb and beef to scorpion, starfish, and even insects. Try it if you dare!

tl_files/attractions/beijing/wangfujing-street.jpg

Peking Duck

Experience the flavor of Beijing with the legendary dish that symbolizes the capital’s cuisine.

Think of Beijing’s food and your mind will most probably turn to Peking Duck. A delicacy that has spread across the world, this dish is at its most authentic in the city of its birth. Such is its importance that many people say “you haven’t truly visited Beijing unless you’ve eaten Peking Duck”.

The origins of the dish are shrouded in mystery. One story goes that Marco Polo introduced the tradition of roasting poultry to the Chinese, while other sources claim that Nanjing was the first city to prepare ducks in this way during the Northern and Southern Dynasty (430-589). When the capital was moved to Beijing, the tradition followed. It was during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that Peking Duck rocketed in popularity, thanks to its inclusion on imperial menus.

The modern cooking process has changed little since the early days. Ducks from the Peking White breed are killed and plucked. Their entrails are removed and air is blown between the skin and the body. This is later filled with water, and the duck is suspended on a hook. The skin is allowed to dry, and is brushed with sugar. After 30 to 40 minutes in a smokeless oven heated to 270 celcius, the duck turns deep red and is ready to be eaten. The chef will bring your duck to the table and slice it while you watch, making sure to leave the skin on while shredding the flesh.

The traditional way of eating Peking Duck is to place the sliced meat on a thin pancake with plum sauce, shredded cucumber and spring onion, then roll it up and pinch it between chopsticks. If you haven’t tried it before, you’re sure to be impressed by the rich flavors and tender texture of the meat.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/peking-roasted-duck-on-plate.jpg

Silk Market

Haggle for silk souvenirs and learn about the art of silk-making at one of Beijing’s most colorful markets.

If you want to buy some silk to take home as a keepsake, the 500-meter-long stretch of Xiushui Road near the American Embassy in Beijing is the place to go. With 300 shops and stalls crowded along its length, the street sells everything from bolts of cloth to bags, scarves, and hats. Shopkeepers speak basic English, but conduct most of their business by brandishing calculators displaying their best price. Don’t forget to bargain; the first price quoted is often as much as ten times more than the item’s value.

A 100-meter stretch of Xiushui Road is officially known as Silk Street, and is home to reputable and well-established silk shops like Neiliansheng, Shengxifu and Ruifuxiang. A museum on the third floor of the Xiushui market tells the story of silk-making through the ages.

Summer Palace

Visit the beautiful gardens where the emperor cooled off during the summer months.

The Summer Palace is a gorgeous lakeside landscape 15 kilometers outside of Beijing, where the emperor and his family escape the heat of summer in the capital. The main site includes the 2.9 square kilometer Kunming Lake, which was artificially extended to resemble Hangzhou’s famous West Lake. The excavated soil from the project was used to make Longevity Hill, which is home to pavilions, gardens, ponds and cloisters.

The Summer Palace was begun in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), but reached its current size and scope in 1705 during the reign of the Qing Emperor Qianlong. Many of the buildings were damaged during the Anglo-French attacks of the Boxer Rebellion in 1860 and the Eight Allies invasion of 1900, but the gardens survived and were revamped in 1902.

Three quarters of the Summer Palace’s 294 hectares are covered in water. The central attraction is the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge) at the top of the hill, but the surrounding area is home to over 3,000 pavilions, towers, bridges, and corridors.

The Summer Palace is split into four parts: the court area, front hill area, front lake area, and rear hill and back lake area. The front hill area has the most attractions including the lakefront and Longevity Hill. There is also the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Tower of Buddhist Incense, and Hall of the Sea of Wisdom.

The rear hill and back lake areas are mainly landscaped gardens criscrossed with winding lanes and paths, adjoining Kunming Lake and Back Lake. The Garden of Harmonious Interest was modeled on the classical gardens of Suzhou.

The court area is where the emperor conducted state business and rested. The main palace buildings include the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (which was the emperor’s office), the Hall of Jade Ripples, the Hall of Joyful Longevity (once home to China’s last empress, Cixi) and the impressive Long Gallery.

The front lake area makes up the largest part of the Summer Palace, and includes Kunming Lake. Here you’ll find the Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Jade-Belt Bridge, Nanhu Island, a bronze ox statue, and the Marble Boat.

UNESCO made the Summer Palace a World Heritage Site in 1998, declaring it "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design." It is an unforgettable site and an essential part of your Beijing itinerary.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/the-summer-palace-at-night-in-beijing.jpg

Temple of Heaven

See where emperors prayed for a good harvest and walk around beautiful parkland.

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of buildings in the south-east of Beijing’s downtown area. Built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the Ming Dynasty, it was used by emperors to pray for a good harvest.

The temple’s design reflects ancient Taoist beliefs about the earth and the cosmos. The complex covers over 2,700,000 square meters of parkland and paved land, and is enclosed by a wall. Inside the wall, the northern part is semicircular which symbolizes the heavens, while the southern part is square, representing the earth. This follows the old Chinese principle that “the heaven is round and the earth is square”.

The Temple of Heaven’s most striking building is the triple-gabled Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan) with its blue tiled roof and patterned walls. This 38-meter-high structure is where the emperors used to offer their prayers to the harvest gods. The Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) is a miniature version of the Circular Mound Altar, while the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) runs from south to north. The main buildings of the are connected by the Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao), also known as the Sacred Way.

Aside from the buildings, the Temple of Heaven’s park is also worth a look. It is popular among local tai-chi performers, and families out for a stroll.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/temple-of-heaven.jpg

The Bird’s Nest

See the centerpiece of the 2008 Olympics – a uniquely designed stadium that is symbolic of Beijing’s future.

When the Olympic Games came to China in summer 2008, the eyes of the world turned to the nation’s capital. Beijing was in the spotlight, and it didn’t disappoint. The centerpiece of the games was the National Stadium, nicknamed the “Bird’s Nest” thanks to its distinctive shape.

The Bird’s Nest was the sight of the impressive opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, as well as the track and field events. It was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron with help from Chinese designer Li Xinggang, and features exposed steel “ribbons” enclosing an inner shell. Construction began in December 2003 and was finally completed in March 2008 after a brief halt while the design was amended.

The stadium has 91,000 seats - 80,000 permanent and 11,000 temporary. It covers 258 square meters and cost 226 million yuan (33 million US dollars) to construct. Since the Olympics finished, it has been used as a ski center, an exhibition hall, and a tourist attraction. It is located in the Olympic Green Village in Chaoyang District, near to the “Water Cube” aquarium.

tl_files/attractions/beijing/the-bird-nest-olympic-beijing.jpg

Tiananmen Square

Walk across the world’s largest public square, the site of turbulent times in recent Chinese history.

Situated in the heart Beijing, Tian’anmen Square is the largest public plaza in the world. It  covers an area of 440,000 square meters and measures 880 meters by 500 meters. The square is located between two ancient gates, the Tian'anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) to the north, and the Qianmen (Front Gate) to the south, and backs onto the Forbidden City. The vast square has been used throughout its history for gatherings, parades and protests, and has hosted some now-infamous political incidents. One notable event was Chairman Mao’s announcement of the birth of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st 1949. This was followed by annual military parades on the anniversary every year until 1959.

Tian’anmen square saw celebrations for the 35th and the 50th anniversaries of the People's Republic of China in 1984 and 1999 respectively. In 1976, a million people gathered there to pay their last respects to Chairman Mao, and in 1989 army tanks and soldiers forced pro-democracy demonstrators out of the square with tragic consequences.

The plaza is surrounded by a selection of monuments and museums including the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, and the Monument to the People's Heroes.

Thanks to its size, its historical and political importance, and the breathtaking views on a clear day, Tian’anmen Square is one of the most popular attractions in Beijing, and a must-see on any itinerary.

tl_files/city-tours/beijing/tiananmen-square-statue.jpg

Guilin    

Elephant Trunk Hill

See an amazing natural rock formation that resembles an elephant drinking from the Li River.

Sailing down the tranquil Li River, the last thing you’d expect to see is an elephant bowing its head to drink. Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan) may not be a real pachyderm, but it looks convincing enough. A promontory of rock on the western bank of the Li looks just like an elephant lowering his trunk into the water. A cave on the hillside nearby looks like the creature’s eye. The space formed by the arch of the elephant’s trunk away from his body is known as Water Moon Cave, and makes up an image of the full moon with its reflection in the river.

On top of the promontory is a two-story pagoda from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that resembles a ceremonial vase on the elephant’s back when viewed from a distance. The pagoda contains an image of the Bodhisattva Puxian, who traditionally rides a white elephant. The hill is part of Elephant Trunk Park, which is also home to Yunfeng Monastery and Aiqing (Love) Island.

 

tl_files/attractions/guilin/elephant-trunk-hill.jpg

Fubo Hill

See where a Tang Dynasty general tested his sword, and witness natural pavilions and cloisters made from rock formations.

Fubo Hill overlooks the Li River from the western bank around two kilometers from Elephant Trunk Hill. The 213-meter peak stands alone, and is decorated with a series of cloisters, gardens and pavilions. At water level, it hides caves and statue-filled grottoes, making it one of the most interesting and mysterious attractions on the Li riverbank. The hill is named for its apparent ability to calm the waves.

On the peak itself is a cloister that combines the natural rock formation with artificially built levels and pillars. The cloister encloses a garden and pavilion, in which is stored a huge 300-year-old iron pot that can boil enough water for a thousand people.

It is the caves that are the most impressive aspects of Fubo Hill. Pearl Returning Cave contains stalactites and stalagmites that have been engraved with Buddhist art and inscriptions. The legend goes that a peasant kicked a pearl out of the cave, angering a dragon that lived there. The only way to appease the dragon was to return the pearl, which the peasant dutifully did. The nearby Sword Testing Cave has a huge hanging pillar where a general is said to have checked his weapons. Connecting to this chamber is the Thousand Buddha Hall. Visitors climb a winding staircase to see all 239 of the Buddha statues, as well as paintings from the late Tang era (618-907).

tl_files/city-tours/guilin/fubo-hill.jpg

Impression Sanjie Liu

Watch the Li River come alive with a visually stunning and musically diverse performance involving 600 actors.

The 1961 movie “Sanjie Liu” made Yangshuo’s Li River famous around the world, and brought the story of the eponymous fairy princess to a wider audience. According to the myths of the Zhuang ethnic minority, Sanjie Liu was a maiden of incredible beauty who lived on the river and possessed a great talent for singing. In 2004, the stage extravaganza “Impression of Sanjie Liu” was premiered in Yangshuo, based on the legends surrounding her.

The show mixes dancing, singing, music, and lighting effects to create a stunning tableau of Li River life. As well as celebrating the life of Sanjie Liu, it showcases the traditions of the people who live and work on the river. The theater where the performance takes place is the largest outdoor performance space in the world. The audience sits on a series of terraces to watch the action unfold on islands spread across the river. Twelve peaks form a natural backdrop.

The performance is split into seven parts: a prologue and epilogue, and five “color” impressions – red (folk songs), green (gardens), gold (fishermen), blue (love songs), silver (a grand ceremony). Performers row rafts between the islands while modern and traditional music plays.

Both an impressive stage show and an insight into Li River life, “Impression Sanjie Liu” is an unmissable spectacle and a hugely enjoyable highlight of any trip to Yangshuo.

Li River

Cruise past haunting pillar-shaped mountains and soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful waterway.

The lovely Li River contains scenery so iconic that it features on the 20 yuan banknote. Starting its course in the Mao’er Mountains of Xing’an County, the Li winds southwards through Guilin and Yangshuo before merging with the Gui River at Pingle. The two rivers have a combined length of 437 kilometers. The striking karst peaks have appeared in countless scroll paintings through the dynasties, and make up a landscape that means “China” around the world.

The 100-kilometer stretch of river that flows through Guilin and its surrounding countryside is dotted with historic attractions and areas of particular scenic beauty. These include the Elephant Trunk Hill, Seven-Star Park, Mountain of the Splendid Hues, and the Lingqu Canal, which is the oldest in the world.

A cruis down the Li River offers an overview of Guilin’s treasures, and is an unforgettable part of your Guangxi adventure.

tl_files/attractions/guilin/li-river-view.jpg

Longsheng Rice Terraces

Admire the colorful curves of the Lonji rice terraces as they spiral up and down the mountains.

Longsheng County lies in the north-east of Guangxi Province around 100 kilometers north of Guilin. The area’s main industry is rice growing, and the region surrounding Longsheng Town is given over to paddyfields and terraces. Longsheng was the first county to be established in south China, and rice growing dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). The Longji terraces were built and maintained from the 13th century through to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by the people of the Zhuang ethnic minority. Longji means ‘dragon’s backbone’, and refers to the spine-like layout of the paddyfields.

The Longji terraces cover 60 square kilometers, and range in altitude from 380 to 885 meters above sea level. The long water-logged fields run up and down the hillsides like curling ribbons, and are farmed using traditional ox-pulled ploughs. The pools reflect the sun, sky, and surrounding greenery, making for some truly impressive multi-colored patterns. No trip to Guilin is complete without seeing them.

tl_files/attractions/guilin/long-ji-rice-terraces.jpg

Reed Flute Cave

Walk through a surreal underground landscape of eroded karst, past stalactites, rock formations and rainbow illuminations.

Many attractions stake claim to being China’s oldest, but with 180 million years of history, the Reed Flute Cave (Lu Di Yan) surely trumps them all. The cave’s fairyland of weird and wonderful rock formations was created when the karst rock eroded over many millennia, leaving columns, pillars, and strange shapes. The cave was discovered by refugees in the 1940s, and has since become one of China’s most beloved cave systems. Illuminations in many colors bring the stones to life.

Visitors tour the cave in a U-shape, using zigzag bridges and walkways to get up close to the rock features. The locals have bestowed names on many of the formations, such as Dragon Pagoda, Virgin Forest, and Fruit Mountain.

The cave is named after the reeds that grow outside, which people use to make musical instruments. These days, vendors peddle the flutes at the entrance and exit.

tl_files/attractions/guilin/reed-flute-cave.jpg

Seven-Star Park

Explore some of Guilin’s most interesting peaks, including a mountain shaped like a camel.

This beautiful area of parkland on the east bank of the Li River is home to mountains, caves, temples and pavilions. A popular destination since the Sui Dynasty (581-618), Seven-Star Park takes its name from the four peaks of Putuo Mountain and three of Crescent Mountain, which look like the formation of the Big Dipper constellation.

Putuo Mountain makes up the main area of the park. Spread over four peaks, it is sacred to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. With caves and pavilions like Putuo Jingshe, and the Seven-Stars Cave with its stalactites and stalagmites, there is no shortage of attractions in this part of the park. Other notable sites are the Tomb of the Three Generals and the Tombs of the 800 Heroes, and the Xuanwu and Zhaixing Pavilions. Between Putuo Mountain and Crescent Mountain you’ll find the Light of China Square, which commemorates 5,000 years of Chinese civilization. Highlights of Crescent Mountain include the Guihai Stele Forest with its 221 stone tablets.

One of the park’s most striking sites is Camel Hill, which resembles the humps and dips of a dromedary’s back.

tl_files/attractions/guilin/seven-stars-cave-guilin.jpg

Yangshuo

Explore the Western-style cafés and bars of this backpackers’ haven, while soaking up local culture on the banks of the Li River.

The small town of Yangshuo lies nestled between karst peaks on the banks of the Li River. Its permanent population of 300,000 is swelled by tourists who come all year round to enjoy the picture-perfect scenery and climb the surrounding mountains. As well as being a tourist Mecca thanks to a recommendation in the Lonely Planet guide, Yangshuo is China’s main rock-climbing center and attracts climbers from around the world.

Located to the south-east of Guilin in the northern part of Guangxi Province, Yangshuo has a unique mix of east and west. While visitors can pay to watch fisherman ply their trade using cormorants and see traditional dances performed by local women, they can also have a beer at a Western bar, or sip latte in a European-style café. Yangshuo’s main avenues are West Street and Chinese Street, and most of the backpacking venues are located there, as well as on pedestrianized Xian Qian Street.

Swimming and rafting on the Yulong and Li Rivers are popular Yangshou pastimes, along with biking or hiking in the hills. Zhang Yimou’s folk opera “Impression Liu Sanjie” is performed on Schoolboy Hill close to the town.

Local delicacies include rice noodles, beer fish, and glutinous rice cakes. Locally grown fruits like kumquats and shaddocks are worth a try. If you want to pick up some souvenirs in Yangshuo, the town is particularly famous for painted fans, shirts, and laquered balls.

tl_files/attractions/guilin/yang-shuo-guilin.jpg

Yaoshan

Visit the mausoleums of great emperors, and admire scenery that is unique in all four seasons.

Yaoshan (Yao Mountain) is the tallest peak in the Guilin area, rising 909 meters above sea level. Located eight kilometers east of downtown Guilin, it sits in some of the most attractive, mysterious scenery in the country. It is no wonder that so many emperors chose it as their final resting place.

A cable car system was built in 1996 to transport visitors to the top of the mountain, where they can enjoy historic attractions like the temple of the Yao Emperor, the White Deer Temple, the Tianci Field, and the tomb of the Jingjiang king. Listen out for distinctive call of the Yaoshan swallow, and enjoy unique vistas depending on the season. In springtime, the mountain is awash with azaleas; in winter the surrounding peaks are capped with snow; autumn brings the red maple leaves out, and summer is the time for bamboo and new greenery. From the top of Yaoshan, the mountains in the distance look like a huge reclining Buddha.

Hangzhou    

Lingyin Temple

Nestled in a valley between two wooded hills to the west of the lake lies Lingyin Temple, one of China’s most famous ancient Buddhist temples. Dating from the 4th century AD, the temple contains nearly 500 statues. As you approach the main Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the smell of incense will waft towards you, and a feeling of peace will settle in the air. Lingyin is still an active place of worship and Buddhist research, and is operated by the Chan sect of the religion.

Inside the double-eaved Hall of the Heavenly Kings you’ll see a beautifully carved statue of Maitreya in his manifestation as the Laughing Buddha. Look out for the carved dragons and phoenixes that curve across the ceiling. There is also a Skanda Buddha, as well as the four guardian gods after whom the hall is named. Moving on through the open courtyard you’ll come to the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, which contains a statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha covered in lavish gold leaf. Other highlights of the temple include the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, the Sutra Library, and the nearby Feilai Feng Grottoes.

An interesting legend lies behind the establishment of the Lingyin Temple. The story goes that a monk named Huili came to Hangzhou from India during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420). He was so inspired by the tranquillity of the lakeside that he believed it to be the home of the Immortals. The temple he built was known as the Soul’s Retreat. The site benefit from Buddhism’s surge in popularity during the 10th century, and contained over 1,300 rooms in its heyday and was home to 3,000 monks. The complex suffered badly during the Cultural Revolution, but was restored to the temple we see today in the 1970s.

tl_files/attractions/hangzhou/hall-with-statues-at-lingyin-temple.jpg

Meijiawu Tea Plantation

Hangzhou and its surroundings are famous for a variety of green tea known as longjing. The tea plants flourish in the rich soil on the hillsides around the city, and Meijiawu village is the best place to try the local brew and admire the tea growing plantations. Set in acres of beautiful rolling green mountains, Meijiawu looks picture perfect under soft morning mist or at sunset. China’s first prime minister Zhou Enlai was such a fan of longjing tea and the village itself that he visited five times. The road to Meijiawu was actually paved in his honor. President Richard Nixon also stopped by during his trip to China and was impressed. When you see the idyllic scenery and taste the mellow brew, you’re sure to agree.

tl_files/city-tours/hangzhou/tea-plantation.jpg

Romance of the Song Dynasty Performance

After a day of sightseeing in Hangzhou, relax and soak up some of the city’s culture and history with the Romance of the Song Dynasty. The show is a large-scale extravaganza of song, dance and acrobatics tracing Hangzhou’s past all the way back to the Song Dynasty (420 – 479). The performance takes place in the Song Dynasty Town, which is a recreation of how the city looked during the fifth century. Lavish costumes and impressive sets make for a colourful show. Widely celebrated as being one of the best stage performances in China, and one of the finest in the world, Romance of the Song Dynasty is a thoroughly enjoyable journey through Hangzhou’s past, and a great reflection of it’s present.

Six Harmonies Pagoda

Rising up from the lush forest like a pine-cone, the beautiful Six Harmonies Pagoda is one of Hangzhou’s many treasures, and a great example of ancient pagoda architecture. Located on Yuelun Hill in the south of the city, Liuhe Ta (as it is known in Chinese) overlooks the Qiangtang River and the rest of Hangzhou, offering panoramic views from each of its seven stories.

Six Harmonies is one of the most famous ancient pagodas in China, and was originally built in 970 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty. A battle in 1121 left the landmark in ruins, but renovations in mediaeval times restored it to its former glory, adding extra eaves and decorations. The six harmonies of the pagoda’s name refer to the Buddhist codes of earth, heaven, north, east, south and west.

From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the pagoda had thirteen stories, but in fact there are seven. They are connected by a spiral staircase, and each of the seven ceilings is decorated with gorgeous carvings and paintings of birds and flowers. Enjoy the fantastic view from the top before exploring the nearby exhibition hall to learn more about pagoda architecture.

tl_files/city-tours/hangzhou/six-harmonies-pagoda.jpg

West Lake

The symbol of Hangzhou and one of the most scenic attractions in the whole region, West Lake is the centrepiece of the city. Surrounded on three sides by low, forest-covered mountains dotted with ancient temples and pagodas, it is a tranquil oasis at the heart of the modern town. The Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (960 – 1127) wrote of the lake’s “rippling water shimmering on sunny days, misty mountains shrouded in rain”, and artists and writers throughout history have been charmed by its natural beauty. It is so important to Chinese culture that it even appears on the one yuan note.

West Lake (or Xi Hu) covers 5.6 square kilometers to the west of central Hangzhou. It is intersected by three causeways lined with willow trees, and measures 15 kilometers around its edge. It is split into five sections, the largest of which is Outer West Lake. As well as its calm waters, the lake is ringed with quaint stone bridges and inlets full of waterlilies, and is overlooked by beautiful historic buildings like the Six Harmonies Pagoda and the Lingyin Temple. Cruising on West Lake is guaranteed to be one of the most treasured memories of your trip to China.

tl_files/attractions/hangzhou/west-lake.jpg
Hongkong    

Aberdeen Sampan Ride

Take a ride on a traditional Hong Kong sampan to see Aberdeen at its best.

Once frequented by pirates and other scourges of the sea, Aberdeen is the city’s largest satellite town with a population of 60,000. The former fishing village is located on the southern shores of Hong Kong Island, and has become a popular retreat for city dwellers looking for a change of pace and scenery. However, the traditional fishing way of life still prevails, especially at the Bei Fung Tong Typhoon Shelter, where thousands of people make their homes on junks and sampans (traditional boats). These boats number into the hundreds, and are arranged around the narrow harbor in contrast to the modern high-rises on the hillside nearby.  

Aberdeen is home to the 423 hectare Country Park, and an 800-meter promenade offering sports facilities and children’s entertainment. A great way to get a feel for Aberdeen is to take a ride on a sampan – a traditional flat-bottomed Chinese boat. Sailing offers a taste of the traditional lifestyle of the area, and offers lovely views.

tl_files/city-tours/hong-kong/aberdeen.jpg

Avenue of the Stars

Pay homage to the leading lights of Hong Kong cinema on this glitzy boulevard.

All the great names of Hong Kong’s movie industry are celebrated on this walk of fame. Located in East Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon peninsula, across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island, the Avenue of the Stars was built in 2004 and cost 40 million Hong Kong dollars. It stretches for 440 meters between the Hong Kong Museum of Art to the New World Centre, and commemorates the careers of 73 celebrities on a series of engraved road tiles. Thirty of them include the stars’ handprints. You’ll see icons like Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Andy Lau, as well as a three-meter-tall bronze statue of Bruce Lee. At the entrance to the avenue is a giant Oscar statue and a small stage for performances. Along the boulevard are snack booths and benches for resting. If you need assistance, flag down one of the roller-skating Star Ambassadors. If you can tear your eyes away from the famous names, check out the view of Victoria Harbor and the skyscrapers beyond.

Golden Bauhinia Square

See the giant gilded orchid that commemorates Hong Kong returning to China.

The bauhinia orchid is Hong Kong’s national flower, and appears on the city’s official flag. So it was fitting that the Chinese central government chose it as the theme for their welcome gift when Britain handed Hong Kong back to them on July 1st 1997. The golden statue they offered now stands in the square beside the Convention and Exhibition Centre facing the Wan Chai waterfront. Every morning at 8am, a flag is hoisted in the square and the police band plays the Chinese national anthem. The six-meter-tall gilded bauhinia stands on a red granite base, and is an important symbol of reunification.

Golden Bauhinia Square offers a wonderful view of Victoria Bay and Kowloon, and is a popular place to watch the Symphony of Lights laser show.

Hong Kong Science Museum

Pilot a plane around a simulation of Hong Kong, and see an ingenious 22-meter energy machine.

The Hong Kong Science Museum in Kowloon’s East Tsim Sha Tsui houses 500 exhibits across 18 galleries, 70% of which are fully interactive. The attraction was opened in 1991 and covers 12,000 square meters over four floors.

The museum’s exhibits cover a huge range of scientific themes from light, electricity and motion to computers, magnetism and transportation. Highlights include a DC3 airline suspended from the ceiling, an energy efficient model car, and a flight simulator that lets you pilot an aircraft around Hong Kong. The 22-meter-tall twin towers of the Energy Machine teach visitors about kinetic power.

See science brought to life at this excellent museum.

Repulse Bay

Relax at this luxurious beach resort that used to be a pirates’ den.

Located in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island, Repulse Bay was a hub for pirates in 1841, which caused problems for business between foreign merchants and Chinese traders. Eventually, the problem was solved when the British fleet “repulsed” the pirates and took control of the inlet, giving the area the name it has today.

During the 1910s, Repulse Bay was developed into a beach resort, and the Repulse Bay Hotel was built in 1920. These days, the beach is a long stretch of sand facing clear blue water, providing a much-needed escape from the heat for locals and visitors alike. As well as offering a variety of aquatic activities, the bay features hotels, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. More restaurants and shops can be found at the Repulse Bay Shopping Plaza and Zhenhai Tower Park nearby.

tl_files/city-tours/hong-kong/repulse-bay.jpg

Stanley

Visit a bustling market and enjoy the view from the waterfront at the “Pearl of the Orient”.

The peninsula known as Stanley is located to the east of Repulse Bay at the southernmost tip of Hong Kong Island. It is popular among tourists and shoppers thanks to its market, scenery, and beautiful waterfront dotted with restaurants and bars.

The area’s Cantonese name is Chek Chue, which either refers to the pirates and bandits who used to frequent the nearby coves, or the red bombax tree that grew in the center of the district. It was given its current name by British settlers in honor of Lord Stanley.

Sites of interest in Stanley include Murray House, which was originally built in 1844, demolished, and rebuilt in 1998. The three-story building houses several restaurants and a small museum. Another popular attraction is Stanley market, where vendors sell everything from antiques to silk clothing. Also worth a look are Tin Hau Temple, Stanley Main Beach, St. Stephen's Beach, the Military Cemetery, and Stanley Main Street.

Symphony of Lights

Marvel at Hong Kong’s iconic skyline illuminated by lasers and fireworks.

The skyscrapers that fringe Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are impressive enough as it is, but the Symphony of Lights elevates them to something even more special. Each night (weather permitting) at 8pm, 44 of the tallest buildings come alive with lasers, LEDs, fireworks and spotlights. Sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the spectacle began in 2004, and is the world’s largest permanent light and sound show. The illuminations are the work of Australian firm Laservision, and cost 44 million Hong Kong dollars to create.

The show lasts 14 minutes from start to finish, and progresses through five themes: Awakening, Energy, Heritage, Partnership and Celebration. On special festivals like Chinese New Year, the Symphony is extended. The Symphony of Lights has to be seen to be believed, and is best viewed from Victoria Peak, Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, and Avenue of the Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Victoria Bay

Experience the sights and sounds of China’s largest bay, and one of the most iconic views on earth.

Hong Kong’s Victoria Bay is the third largest harbor in the world after San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro. Separating Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, it is criss-crossed constantly by a steady stream of cargo liners, cruise ships, fishing junks, and the legendary Star Ferries. Hong Kong is a busy, active port, and Victoria Bay is at the center of the action.

The British took control of Hong Kong after the Treaty of Nanjing ended the First Opium War in 1842. However, Kowloon did not become part of the British colony until after the Second Opium War. The Treaty of Peking ceded the area to Queen Victoria, and the harbor was named in her honor in 1861.

The harbor is best viewed from the 554-meter Victoria Peak, but Tsim Sha Tsui’s Avenue of Stars and the Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai also offer stunning photo opportunities.

tl_files/attractions/hong-kong/hong-kong-island-victoria-harbor.jpg

Victoria Peak

Ascend Hong Kong Island’s highest point on the Peak Tram for a stunning panoramic view of the city.

The sight of Hong Kong’s bristling skyscrapers and wide bays is one of the most impressive you’ll ever see. At a height of 554 meters above sea level, Victoria Peak (also known as Mount Austin and Taipingshan) is home to a viewing platform and two entertainment venues filled with museums, shops, and restaurants.

When Hong Kong belonged to Britain, the Peak was a popular residential area for the colonial community, since the climate is several degrees cooler than the rest of the city. Before the construction of the Peak Tram funicular in 1888, coolies would carry residents up and down in sedan chairs.

The magnificent view is the main attraction, but the Peak also offers an array of museums (including Madame Tussauds) and restaurants at the Peak Tower and Galleria. Although the city vista is the most popular, the view of the Pok Fu Lam seashore from the other side of the Peak is also worth seeing.

tl_files/attractions/hong-kong/vicroria-peak-tram.jpg

Macau    

A-Ma Temple

Find out how Macau got its name, and see the goddess who guards the oceans at this Ming Dynasty temple.

When the first Portuguese traders landed on Macau in the 15th century, they disembarked from their boats close to the A-Ma temple – a gathering place for worshipers of the sea goddess Mazu. The traders asked the locals the name of the place, meaning the whole island, but the worshipers misunderstood and said “Ma Ge” – temple of Mazu. From then on, the Portuguese referred to the whole area as Macau.

The temple is located at the south-east of the Macau peninsula, halfway up Barra Hill. It dates back to 1488 in the Ming Dynasty, and is the oldest temple in the region. It was established in honor of the goddess Mazu who started life as a girl named Lin Mo from Fujian Province who used to bless sailors before they set out on their voyages. The temple is guarded by stone lions, and features a statue of Mazu and a brightly colored model ship as well as a Buddhist hall called Zhengjiao Chanlin, a Memorial Arch, and the simple brick and stone Hall of Avalokitesvara.

A visit to the A-Ma Temple gives you a glimpse of what Macau was like before the Portuguese took over.

tl_files/attractions/macau/a-ma-temple.jpg

Golden Lotus Square

Find out what China gave to Macau as a “welcome home” gift in 1999.

Like the gilded orchid in Hong Kong’s Golden Bauhinia Square, Macau’s Golden Lotus was a gift from the Chinese State Council to commemorate it becoming a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in 1999. Macau will retain autonomy until 2049 under the “One System, Two Countries” policy.

The “Lotus Flower in Full Bloom”, as the statue is known, is made from gilded bronze and weighs 6.5 tons. It is six meters tall and 3.6 meters across at its widest point. The giant flower rests on a pedestal made of 23 pieces of polished red granite, whose three layers represent Macau Peninsula, Taipa Island and Coloane Island. The flower itself has 16 components making up the stem, petals, and pistils.

The square is known as Praça de Lodão in Portuguese, and is popular among local skateboarders thanks to its open space, ledges and curves.

tl_files/attractions/macau/full-bloom-lotus-flower-statue-entertainment-center.jpg

Macau Fisherman’s Wharf

Watch a “volcano” erupt, place a bet, and wander streets styled after the world’s great ports at Macau’s first ever theme park.

Covering 11,500 square meters close to the Hong Kong-Macao ferry terminal on the Macau Peninsula, Fisherman’s Wharf cost 1.9 billion Macanese petacas (13 million US$) and five years to build. Financed by billionaire Ho Hung San and entrepreneur Chow Kam Fai, the project was completed in 2005 and opened to the public a year later. Among its many highlights are a replica volcano which erupts every evening, 150 shops and restaurants centered around models of famous international ports, and Sands – the first and largest US-owned casino to open in Macau.

Fisherman’s Wharf is divided into three main sections. Dynasty Wharf is home to Tang Dynasty features like towers and fortresses; East Meets West is home to the replica volcano along with an ancient battleship, waterfalls, and a Roman amphitheater. Legend Wharf will appeal to tech fans thanks to its video game center.

tl_files/city-tours/macau/fisherman-wharf.jpg

Macau Tower

Get a bird’s eye view of Macau from the tower that broke a bungee world record.

If the Macau Tower reminds you of Auckland’s Sky Tower, it’s no coincidence. When casino billionaire Stanley Ho Hung-sun visited New Zealand, he was so impressed with the country’s tallest building that he commissioned one almost identical for Macau. The building was designed by New Zealand engineering firm Beca Group and Gordon Moller from Craig Craig Moller architects. It was begun in 1998 and completed in 2001, and rises 338 meters into the air. At the time of completion it was the eighth tallest building in Asia and tenth tallest in the world.

As well as acting as a communications tower for the surrounding area, the structure is home to various entertainment and leisure facilities. Fans of white-knuckle exploits can jump the same bungee course as A. J Hackett, who broke the Guinness World Record for highest bungee jump in 2006. If you prefer your entertainment a little tamer, there is a selection of restaurants and cafes, as well as a children’s store and cosmetics emporium.

You can enjoy the view from either the Level 61 viewing deck, or the observation lounge on Level 58. Look out for the Pearl River Delta, Mangyang Hill, and Casino Lisboa. On clear days you can see all the way to Hong Kong.

tl_files/attractions/macau/the-oldest-lighthouse-macau-peninsula.jpg

Ruin of St. Paul’s

Stand in the shadow of Macau’s most recognizable historic building.

When many people think of Macau, the first image that springs to mind is the façade of the ruined St. Paul’s Cathedral. Also known as the Church of the Mother of God, and Sam Ba Sing Tzik, the ruins stand beside Mount Fortress and the Macau Museum and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The original cathedral was built in 1580 by the Jesuits, and was the largest Catholic church in Asia at the time.  Several fires damaged the building over the years, but it was the devastating typhoon of 1835 that left the cathedral in ruins apart from its impressive Baroque façade. The magnificent vaulted ceiling, white granite halls and elaborate decorations were entirely destroyed, and never rebuilt.

The façade was carved between 1620 and 1627 by exiled Japanese Christians, and is made up of five tiers. The bottom consists of three rectangular doorways and ten Ionic columns. Above are three arched windows, ten Corinthian columns and four saints. The top three tiers are decorated lavishly with Portuguese ships, crucifixes, and other religious iconography. The third level is dedicated to Madonna and the fourth to Jesus. The presence of Chinese dragons and bas-reliefs of cherry blossom and chrysanthemum adds a touch of eastern charm to the western-style architecture. The triangle at the top of the façade symbolizes the Holy Trinity, and the whole frontage is topped off with a crucifix.

The façade was restored between 1990 and 1995, during which the structure was reinforced. Evidence of a crypt was discovered along with countless relics that are now housed in the adjoining museum.

tl_files/attractions/macau/famous-landmark-in-macau-in-night.jpg

Senado Square

Take a stroll through one of the focal point of Macau’s Portuguese history.

Located in the center of Macau Peninsula, Senado Square (also known as Senate Square and Largo do Senado) covers 3,700 square meters and is paved with tiles in an eye-catching wave pattern that dates from renovation in the early 1990s. The plaza is surrounded by the General Post Office, St. Domingo’s Church, and the Leal Senado, where the Portuguese authorities used to inspect their troops. Avenida Ribeiro – the main boulevard of historic Macau – runs across it.

The square has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. It is one of Macau’s four historic squares along with Praça do Centro Cultural Praça do Lago Sai Van, and Praça do Tap Seac. Thanks to its many shops and restaurants, and proximity to other historic sites like the Ruins of St. Paul’s, it is a must for any visitor to Macau.

tl_files/attractions/macau/senado-square-macau.jpg

Shanghai    

Chenghuang Miao Bazaar

Traditionally, every Chinese city that had a fortifying wall also had a City God Temple. This was where the townsfolk gathered to pray for peace and good fortune, and the gods in question were often high-ranking officials of ancient times. Shanghai’s City God Temple was originally dedicated to Huo Guang, Qin Yubo and Chen Huacheng who were chancellors and administrators of the old imperial court.

Located close to the Yu Garden in Shanghai’s old walled city, Chenghuang Miao was originally named Jinshan Temple, and was used for the worship of a local god. It was converted to City God status in 1403 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the Ming Dynasty. It grew in popularity during the Qing Dynasty, especially when Emperor Daoguang was in power between 1782 and 1850. To profit from the temple’s many visitors, shops and stalls sprung up around it. This is the Chenghuang Miao that is still operating today.

Connected to the Yu Garden, the Chenghuang Miao Bazaar covers 5.3 hectares and is a haven for tourists looking for the perfect souvenir. The main bazaar is enclosed in a grand traditional wood and timber building with a tiled roof and upturned eaves, but stalls spill out down the surrounding streets. Vendors sell everything from tea, jewelry, and fans to ceremonial weapons, masks, and knock-off bags. The bazaar is famous for its excellent dumpling and bun shops, but there are also branches of Starbucks, KFC and Haagen-Dazs for the less adventurous.

Huangpu River

Get acquainted with Shanghai’s main artery, and the gateway to the Yangtze.

The Huangpu River runs for 97 kilometers between the South China Sea and the Yangtze River, passing through Shanghai on its way. The river splits the city into two areas – Pudong (east of the Huangpu) and Puxi (west of the Huangpu) – and is flanked by the famous Bund waterfront and Lujiazui Financial District. On average it is 400 meters wide and nine meters deep.

Huangpu means “yellow bank” in Mandarin, probably due to the swamps that used to exist along its length. It is spanned by five bridges in Shanghai: the Lupu, Yangpu, Nanpu, Xupu and Songpu.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/huangpu-river.jpg

Jade Buddha Temple

Observe monks at prayer and see a Buddha statue made entirely of jade.

Hidden away in the residential sprawl of north Jing’an District, the Jade Buddha Temple is a working monastery as well as a place of worship. Located close to Shanghai’s main railway station, it was built in 1884 to store two jade Buddhas presented to the Qing Dynasty government by an abbot from a neighboring province.

The temple is divided into three main halls. The Chamber of Heavenly kings close to the front entrance commemorates the four great figures of Buddhism, and the Great Hall contains 18 golden statues of famous Buddhist practitioners as well as three golden Buddhas. The eponymous jade Buddha is in a hall on the second floor.

As well as a temple and monastery, the building also houses a library from which research texts are published and lectures held. It has been the site of the Shanghai Institute of Buddhism since 1983.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/jade-buddha-temple.jpg

Jewish Ghetto

See where Shanghai’s early Jewish communities sought refuge from the Nazis during decades of war and turmoil.

Shanghai’s Jewish ghetto was an area of one square mile in the northerly Hongkou district that was established during the Japanese occupation of the city. It was there that 20,000 Jews escaped from the insidious spread of Nazi anti-Semitism that was rife in Europe during the 1930s and ’40s.

The first Jews to arrive in Shanghai were 26 German Jewish families, including five famous doctors. Next came Jews from Austria, Poland and the former Czechoslovakia, arriving by both land and sea. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 saw 18,000 Ashkenazi Jews arrive in Shanghai, a number that was unsustainable. The new arrivals lived ten to a room in cramped, unsanitary conditions, and struggled to find work. Luckily, rich Sephardim and Mizrahim came to their aid, including the wealthy businessmen who had arrived in the 1840s and the Russian Jews who had fled the Bolsheviks. Despite Nazi demands for the Jews to return to Europe, they remained in Shanghai and escaped certain death in the concentration camps.

In 1943, the Japanese occupiers set up the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, and allowed all post-1937 arrivals to move their homes and businesses to this new ghetto. Shanghai was liberated in September 1945, and most of the Jewish people left the city when the State of Israel was formed in 1948.

The site of Shanghai’s Jewish ghetto offers an insight into the refugee community that thrived there for so many decades.

Lujiazui

See Shanghai’s iconic skyline up close.

Before the economic boom of the 1980s, the area known as Lujiazui (Lu’s Mouth) on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River was dedicated to low-rise housing, warehouses and factories. Thirty years later it is an ultra-modern financial district, with some of the world’s tallest and most striking buildings.

Lujiazui is the only officially designated finance and trade area out of China’s 185 state-level development zones. It is home to over 500 international and domestic companies across more than 30 skyscrapers, and has given Shanghai its legendary skyline. Luxury five star hotels have moved in to the area, offering a boost to the city’s tourism industry. Many of the skyscrapers have bars and restaurants on their upper floors.

Lujiazui’s “big three” are the Oriental Pearl TV Tower with its pink spheres, the Jin Mao (shaped like a pagoda), and the Shanghai World Financial Center, which many people nickname “The Bottle Opener” due to its distinctive cut-out square. Currently the world’s third tallest building, the SWFC will soon be overtaken by the Shanghai Tower that is being built beside it.

As well as the business area, Lujiazui also has several excellent shopping malls, a riverside promenade lined with restaurants and bars, and an aquarium.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/pudong-lujiazui.jpg

Maglev

Zip to Pudong Airport in record time on the world’s fastest train.

The quickest way of getting between downtown Shanghai and Pudong International Airport is to take the Maglev. Also known as the Transrapid, this “train of magnetic levitation” gets you from Longyang Road metro station on Line 2 (seven stops east of People’s Square) in just seven minutes and 20 seconds if traveling at its optimum speed of 431 kilometers per hour.

Construction of the Maglev took two and a half years. The route opened in 2002 at a cost of 1.3 billion yuan. Magnetic levitation technology originates in Germany, and has revolutionized high-speed travel.

The Maglev runs from 6:45am until 21:32, and trains depart every 15, 20, or 30 minutes depending on the time of day. There are plans to link the Maglev with People’s Square and eventually Shanghai Hongqiao Airport in the west of the city, which would be a further boost to the city’s already advanced transport infrastructure.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/maglev.jpg

Nanjing Road

Wander the length of Shanghai’s busiest shopping street, stretching from the Bund to Jing’an Temple.

Known as Park Lane in colonial times, Nanjing Road is the world's longest shopping street. Its six kilometers of shops, boutiques, malls and department stores attract over one million people every day, symbolic of Shanghai’s rapid ascent as a capitalist enclave in a communist land.

Nanjing Road began to develop as a shoppers’ paradise in the early 1900s with the opening of eight department stores. This was followed by a series of franchise stores, and the rest is history. Nowadays, you can get everything from cheap souvenirs to Louis Vuitton handbags, and break for coffee or drinks at one of the many cafés and bars that are intermingled with the shops.

Nanjing Road is divided into two parts. East Nanjing Road runs from the Bund to People’s Square, and has mainly Chinese brand shops. West Nanjing Road (called Bubbling Well Road in the colonial era) starts at People’s Square and stretches to the western suburbs past Jing’an Temple. It is this part of the road that houses most of the international shopping malls and boutiques.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/nanjing-road-shanghai.jpg

Ohel Moishe Synagogue

Visit the former place of worship used by Jews throughout the first half of the 20th century, which provided them with refuge from persecution.

The Ohel Moishe synagogue on the site of the Shanghai Jewish Ghetto is found on Changyang Road in the Hongkou District north of the Bund. It was founded in 1907 for the Russian Jews who had escaped the Bolsheviks and settled in Shanghai, and was used by subsequent generations of Jewish people who fled the Nazis in Europe. Alongside the Ohel Rachel synagogue on Shaanxi Road built by Jacob Sassoon, it was a hub of the city’s Jewish community.

The synagogue fell into disuse after most of Shanghai’s Jewish population left after the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. It wasn’t until 1986 that a group of Shanghai Jews revisited the Hongkou District on a visit to China that the idea of renovation was born. The returning Jews presented a plaque to the Hongkou government to thank them for their help, and decided to transform the derelict synagogue into a museum charting the history of the Shanghai Jews.

The building you see today is the original three-story structure, but most of the artifacts have been lost over the years, but the main hall has been laid out roughly as it would have been during its time as an active place of worship. Displays and photographs on the third floor tell the stories and list the names of the Shanghai Jews, and there is a small bookshop.

tl_files/city-tours/shanghai/ohel-moishe-synagogue.jpg

Shanghai Museum

Learn about the history of the metropolis at this uniquely designed museum.

For an overview of Chinese history, the Shanghai Museum is the place to go. Located in People’s Park in the center of the downtown area, the museum holds 120,000 artifacts, as well as the biggest and most varied collection of Chinese art anywhere in the country. The building has eleven galleries spread over five floors, covering every period of Chinese history from prehistory to modern times. Noteworthy collections include jade, calligraphy, seals, furniture, bronze, and sculpture.

The building itself is a relic in itself. It was designed in 1993 by a local architect who fashioned it in the form of an ancient bronze cooking pot called a “ding”. The museum has a domed roof and a square base, reflecting the ancient principle of “round sky, square earth”. The building was completed in 1999, and the museum’s collections were moved from their former home on nearby West Nanjing Road, in what used to be the clubhouse of the Shanghai Racecourse.

With so much to see, a trip to the Shanghai Museum can seem daunting, but even if you see only a small part of its displays, you will have learned plenty about the history of this incredible city.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/ancient-chinese-sculpture.jpg

Shanghai TV Tower

Ascend Shanghai’s most futuristic building for a bird’s eye view of the entire city.

Sitting on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River like an alien spaceship, the striking Oriental Pearl TV Tower was Shanghai’s first skyscraper, and remains one of the city’s tallest buildings. Its unique design is a highlight of the Shanghai skyline, with 11 pink tiled spheres arranged around concrete pillars.

At 468 meters tall, the Pearl was the tallest building in Shanghai when it was opened in 1995, and remained so until the Shanghai World Financial Center went up 2007. Rumors abound that the designer, Jiang Huancheng, was inspired by a classical Chinese poem about pearls falling onto a jade dish, but he has denied the story.

The Pearl has a total of 15 observatories, the most popular of which are the 350-meter-high Space Module, the Sightseeing Floor at 263 meters and Space City at 90 meters. The Space Module offers the best views of the surrounding skyscrapers and beyond. On clear days you can see all the way to Chongming Island, the alluvial sand bar that is China’s largest island. The module’s glass floor panels offer vertiginous views of the ground hundreds of meters below.

The Oriental Pearl attracts over 30 million visitors per year, making it one of Shanghai’s most popular tourist destinations. There is a revolving restaurant at 267 meters, a 20-room hotel between the lowest two spheres, and a museum of Shanghai history on site.

tl_files/city-tours/shanghai/tv-tower-shanghai.jpg

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

Walk around a scale model of Shanghai, and learn about how the city has developed into the megalopolis it is today.

One of People’s Square’s most striking buildings is the white structure that houses the Urban Planning Museum. Designed by an architect from the East China Architecture Design & Research Institute, it contains some of the most dynamic and interesting exhibits of any museum in Shanghai. Particularly popular is the scale model of the city that includes every building in the main urban area. Either walk around the edge of the model, or climb up to the gallery for a bird’s eye view.

Also worth a look are the archive photographs of Shanghai through the ages, from its days as a small port city through the turbulent 20th Century and beyond. You can also sail a ship into the harbor on a simulator, and see a district-by-district guide to the city. After a trip to the Urban Plannign Museum, you’ll have a wider knowledge and understanding of Shanghai, and the developments that created the modern city.

tl_files/city-tours/shanghai/urban-planning-museum.jpg

The Bund

Visit Shanghai’s iconic waterfront with its austere colonial buildings, and enjoy the view of the modern skyline across the river.

Shanghai’s historic waterfront stretches for a mile between the Waibaidu Bridge and Yan’an Road, and is home to 52 beautiful colonial-era buildings in Neo-Classical, Gothic, Baroque and Art Deco styles. A stark contrast to the futuristic skyline across the river and the local Chinese neighborhoods behind it, the Bund is a symbol of Shanghai’s boom years as an international sea port.

The Bund as we know it today started life in 1846 when a British trading company opened an office there. Before long, the whole stretch of the Huangpu’s western bank (Puxi) was lined with beautiful grey-stone buildings housing banking headquarters, customs houses and trading offices. The word “bund” comes from Anglo-Indian and means “embankment”.

During the early years of the People’s Republic (post-1949), the Bund’s buildings were taken over by the People’s Liberation Army and used for state business. Starting from the 1980s, they returned to commercial use, and now house some of Shanghai’s best bars, clubs, restaurants and boutiques.

Recent developments have extended the Bund to the south, and erected a 771-meter-long retaining wall and promenade that is busy from dusk until dawn. To visit the Bund is to witness all facets of Shanghai’s past, present, and future, and a must-stop on any itinerary.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/the-bund-shanghai.jpg

Xintiandi

Enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere of this contemporary lifestyle hub built in a series of old lanes.

Xintiandi means “new heaven and earth” in Chinese, and it definitely lives up to its name. Offering an array of high-class eating options, designer boutiques, and plenty of terraces and patios for people-watching, it is one of Shanghai’s most popular areas for affluent locals and curious visitors.

The Xintiandi development was begun in the early 2000s when two blocks of traditional shikumen (stone gate) houses were saved from demolition and turned into shops and restaurants. The project has won awards for preserving the traditional architecture and atmosphere of the longtang (alleys) while giving the area a modern facelift.

Xintiandi’s North Block is home to Western and Chinese restaurants, cafés and bars, while the South Block ends with a huge glass-fronted shopping mall. Both blocks have shops and boutiques, as well as stallholders peddling luxury handicrafts.

Watch Old Shanghai meet new Shanghai with impressive results at this popular attraction.

Yu Garden

Experience a traditional Ming Dynasty garden built by a governor for his parents.

Although Shanghai has fewer historic sites than Beijing, there are several that are worth a look. The most popular is the Yu Garden – a lovely Ming Dynasty garden dotted with bridges, pavilions, pools, and rock formations.

Yu Yuan, as it is called in Mandarin, means garden of happiness, and was constructed in 1577 by a Ming Dynasty governor as a gift to his parents. It fell into disrepair after their deaths, and lay in ruins until two wealthy merchants bought it in 1760 and restored it. It suffered damage during the Opium Wars of the 19th century, but was renovated and opened to the public in 1961. Thanks to its popularity and cultural importance, it was granted National Monument status in 1982.

Yu Garden lies at the center of a massive bazaar selling traditional Chinese handicrafts such as silk, seals, fans, chopsticks, and jade. The bazaar is home to dumpling shops as well as the obligatory branches of Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs.

The five-acre garden follows Ming Dynasty (131368-1644) design traditions from the Suzhou school, and includes stone walkways, lakes and pools full of carp and goldfish, rock formations, halls, and tea houses. Look out for the beautiful zig-zag bridge over the lotus pool, which was specially designed to stop evil spirits entering the garden.

Yu Garden is split into several distinctive parts: Ten Thousand-Flower Tower, the Lotus Pool, the Jade Magnificence Hall, the Inner Garden, the Heralding Spring Hall, and the Grand Rockery containing the Three Corn Ears Hall and a giant slab of rock.

From the highest point of the garden, you’ll catch a glimpse of Pudong’s modern skyscrapers across the river, which forms a contrast that perfectly sums up Shanghai.

tl_files/attractions/shanghai/yu-garden.jpg

Sichuan    

Chengdu

Wander down an ancient street, see impressive modern skyscrapers, and witness the mix of old and modern in one of China’s most laid-back cities.

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, has a reputation for being a city that likes to have fun. It has twice as many bars and teahouses as Shanghai despite being half the size, and the locals have a relaxed attitude that is very different from those in the east coast cities. Located in the middle of Sichuan, Chengdu has a population of over 11 million, and covers 12 square kilometers. A recent poll in a Chinese magazine named it as the fourth most liveable city in the country. The fertile plain on which it sits has been known as “Country of Heaven” since ancient times. The city itself bears the nicknames Hibiscus City after its official flower, and Brocade City because it has been a center of fabric making since the third century BC.

There has been human settlement on the Chengdu plain for over 4,000 years. The Jinsha tribe lived there during the Bronze Age, and China’s first emperor built his palace there 2,400 years ago. He called the city Chengdu, meaning “become a capital” – a name it has held ever since.

The modern city is an intriguing meld of ancient and modern. Slick skyscrapers sit side by side with quaint old bridges, and modern boulevards contrast with traditional early Qing Dynasty alleys. Jinli Old Street with its craft bazaar, opera performances and food stalls is a great place to get a feel for what Chengdu was like in the past.

Spicy local dishes like ma po tofu, Chengdu hot pot and dan dan noodles are sure to set your palate on fire. Make sure you have a cool drink at hand!

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/an-old-street-in-chengdu.jpg

Chongqing

Visit the “Chicago on the Yangtze” – one of China’s four self-governing super-cities.

Along with Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, Chongqing is a unique ‘city state’ that governs itself on a municipal level. Thanks to its position in the west of China, it is an important hub for transport and trade, and a bustling modern metropolis. Its ever-growing skyline of glittering skyscrapers has earned it the nickname “Chicago on the Yangtze”.

Chongqing is the start of most Yangtze River cruises and is thus popular among tourists, but the city as more to offer than just a ferry terminal. Ciqikou ancient village and the elaborate 9th century rock carvings at Dazu are other major draws.

Modern Chongqing has a population of over thirty million, and an area of 382 square kilometers – both staggering figures. It is thought to be the location of the semi-mythical State of Ba from the 11th century BC, and has been known as Jiangzhou, Yuzhou and Gongzhou through the ages. It was named Chongqing meaning ‘double celebration’ 800 years ago. During the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 to 1945 it acted as China’s capital.

More than just a ferry stop, Chongqing impresses thanks to its size and scope, and represents the recent development of China’s western provinces.

Ciqikou Old Town

Stroll through the lanes of an ancient town and admire local art and handicrafts.

Wandering through the quaint alleys of Ciqikou, it’s hard to believe that the metropolis of Chongqing is only 14 kilometers to the west. Indeed, Ciqikou resembles what Chongqing may have looked like if it weren’t for the rapid development that has turned it into the giant it is today. Nestled on the banks of the Jialing River close to where it meets the Yangtze, Ciqikou’s modern name means ‘Porcelain Village’. Over 20 old kilns have been unearthed in the town, and it was a center of fired pottery during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911). It is Ming and Qing architecture that characterizes most of the buildings in Ciqikou, with their distinctive bamboo and timber frames, lattice windows, and red doors. The town’s former name was Long Yin, meaning ‘hiding place of the dragon’.

The town is laid out along 12 main intersecting lanes, and the variety of shops reflects its history as a supply post for ships sailing up the river.  Ciqikou is popular among artists, many of whom have studios along its streets where they make and sell their works. It is also a good place to pick up Shu embroidery, and try local snacks like salted peanuts. If you need refreshment, there are plenty of traditional teahouses where you can participate in a tea ceremony or stock up on tea leaves. 

Dazu

Visit the county that’s famous for incredible ninth century rock carvings.

Dazu County has a population of several thousand, and is best known for the elaborate rock carvings at Baodingshan, Nanshan, Shimenshan and Shizhuanshan. Its name means ‘big foot’, and steep, curving roads lead up into the mountains from the tiled roofs and narrow streets of Dazu Town.

Known as “the county of rock carving”, Dazu is situated in the south-east of Sichuan Province, 271 kilometers from Chengdu to the west and 167 kilometers from Chongqing to the east. The county has an area of 1,400 square kilometers, and has been inhabited since 758 during the Tang Dynasty.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/ancient-confucian-buddhist-sculptures.jpg

Dazu Stone Carvings

Admire thousands of beautifully carved statues and inscriptions from the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucianist belief systems.

Begun in 650 during the Tang Dynasty, Dazu’s rock carvings are some of the most impressive in the world, and are rivalled in China only by the ones at Mogao cave in Gansu Province. Dazu was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 and continues to attract visitors from around the world to marvel at the skill and scope of the carvings.

There are five main areas at the site. Beishan lies in the north-west of Dazu County and is home to well preserved Buddhist statues including the noble Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, also known as the Oriental Venus. In the north-east is Baodingshan which has nearly 10,000 Buddhist figures carved into the cliffs. Nanshan in the south-east of the County is a Taoist site, and Sanqing Cave has a hierarchy of the gods crafted from clay in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The Shizhuanshan site in the south-west of Dazu County combines Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist statuary and inscriptions, which is rare in Chinese cave art. Finally, Shimenshan in the east is mainly Taoist, and includes a statue of the Great Jade Emperor.

A visit to Dazu offers a unique view of China’s three main religious standing side by side.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/ancient-confucian-buddhist-sculptures-dazu-temples.jpg

Emeishan

Climb one of Chinese Buddhism’s four most important mountains, and watch the famous Cloud Sea from the Golden Summit.

Mount Emei stands 3,009 meters tall, towering over the southwestern part of the Chengdu plain close to the city of Leshan. It is one of the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism (the others being Putuoshan in Zhejiang Province, Jiuhua in Anhui, and Wutai in Shanxi).

The mountain has four main scenic regions: Baoguo Temple, Wannian Temple, the Qingyin Pavilion and the Golden Summit. The latter is 3079 meters above sea level, and is topped with stunning gilded halls. From this spot you can admire the rolling mists known as the Cloud Sea. The mountain is dotted with grottoes, waterfalls, brooks and gates, as well as 76 Buddhist monasteries from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. Most notable is the Leiyinsi complex, which was built on stilts up the side of the mountain. The first monastery was established on Emeishan 1,900 years ago, making it the birthplace of Buddhism in the Yangtze valley.

Tribes of macaque monkeys live on the mountain, and most are tame enough to take food from visitors. If you would like to feed then, buy packets of food from the vendors instead of feeding them human food, as it is better for their health.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/mountian-emei-china .jpg

Giant Buddha

Sail past the world’s tallest Buddha statue, and learn how it literally stilled the tides.

The 70-meter-high Buddha carved out of the rocks facing Mount Emei is possibly the most stunning historical site in the whole of Sichuan Province. The serene figure is Maitreya, a bodhisattva represented as a smiling monk naked from the waist up. His shoulders measure 28 meters, and each of his fingers is three meters long. Exquisitely hewn with impressive attention to detail, the Buddha has 1,021 individual buns carved in his hair. His toenails are big enough for an adult to sit on.

The statue was commissioned by a monk named Haitong in 713 during the Tang Dynasty. Such was his dedication to the project that he gouged out his own eyes when funding was withdrawn. It wasn’t until 70 years after his death that the work began in earnest on the statue. The work was finally completed by Haitong’s disciples in 803. The monk’s purpose for setting a Buddha at this spot was to calm the rough waters where the Min, Dadu and Qingyi rivers met. Incredibly, his wish came true, as the amount of stone deposited in the river during the carving actually changed the currents and slowed the rivers’ flow.

Today the Buddha suffers from pollution and poor air quality, but despite his blackened nose and evidence of erosion, he is a true feat of human devotion. Rounding the bend in the river and catching sight of him for the first time will take your breath away.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/leshan-grand-buddha.jpg

Huanglong National Park

Explore a magical land of turquoise pools, golden rocks, and gushing waterfalls.

Get your camera ready! Huanglong National Park is a landscape so surprising and surreal that it takes a while to realize that you’re still on earth. The natural calcium carbonate in the water has crafted white and golden rock formations that surround pools in all shades of blue, from deepest turquoise to bright aquamarine. These stepped ponds are flanked with rich green forests, and snow-capped peaks jut into the sky.

Located in Songpan County in north-west Sichuan Province, Huanglong Valley takes its name from the yellow dragon that the rock formations resemble, winding through the mountains. The area also includes Muni Valley with its vast lake and network of limestone caves. The site was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1992.

The main scenic area runs for 3.6 kilometers through Huanglong Valley, and includes the Yingbin Colored Ponds, Glowing Waterfall (Feipuliuhui) and Xishen Cave as well as the Huanglong Temple and Cave with three calcium-encrusted Buddhas. The most arresting rock formations and color varieties are found at Shitazhenhai. Rare creatures roam free in the forest ecosystem, including giant pandas and snub-nosed monkeys.

This unique landscape is one of the most beautiful in China, and an essential part of a visit to Sichuan Province.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/huanglong-national-park.jpg

Jinli Old Street

Browse local handicraft stalls, taste Chengdu’s favorite snack, and watch puppet shows on a historic street.

Sichuan Province’s capital city deftly mixes old and new, and the best way to enjoy its ancient elements is on Jinli Old Street. The pedestrian avenue runs for 350 meters and is flanked with stalls, shops, bazaars, and snack vendors. The street is paved in green flagstones, and the buildings have been designed in the style of western Sichuanese towns from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Dark wood, red lanterns, and engraved stones add to the atmosphere.

Back in the Qin Dynasty (220-280), Jinli Street was famous for the thick, ornate brocade that was woven there. During the Shu kingdom of 221 to 263, it was Chengdu’s busiest commercial street. Thanks to funds raised at the Wuhou Memorial Temple nearby, the street was renovated and opened to the public in 2004.

Start at the huge archway carved with the street’s name in Chinese characters, and wander past shops and stalls selling fabric, local crafts, art, and papercuttings. Watch shadow puppet shows and Sichuan operas on the raised stage in the middle of the street, and try the local specialty San Da Pao – a mix of sticky rice, brown sugar, sesame and beans. If you need a jolt back to reality, there a branch of Starbucks, but there are plenty of authentic Sichuanese snacks and drinks to try instead.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/old-street-chengdu.jpg

Jiuzhaigou National Park

See some of the planet’s most breathtaking natural scenery in this UNESCO protected parkland.

Meaning Valley of the Nine Towns, Jiuzhaigou gives its name to the area of designated parkland that inhabits the highest tableland in the world, between the Sichuan Basin and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Full of multi-level waterfalls, lush forest and peaceful lakes, Jiuzhaigou is located in the north of Sichuan Province, 330 kilometers north of Chengdu. Only discovered by the government in 1972, it was used for logging until its scenic value was recognized. It became a national park in 1982 and was opened to the public in 1984, gaining UNESCO World Heritage status in 1992.

The park is inside the Aba Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, and many of its sites are sacred to the ethnic minority groups who still live in seven of the nine eponymous towns. Its highest point is Mount Ganzigonggai at 4,764 meters, and its lowest point is 1,998 meters above sea level. It is home to countless species of endangered plants and animals, and some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/Jiuzhaigou-waterfall.jpg

Leshan

A small city that is the gateway to some of Sichuan’s most impressive scenic spots.

Leshan means Happy Mountain in Chinese, and there is definitely something cheerful about the city. Located at the meeting of the Min and Dadu rivers, Leshan is 120 kilometers from Chengdu in the south of Sichuan Province. It was formerly known as Jiaozhou, and is known for having the most beautiful scenery in the whole region including the winding river that flows past the huge stone Buddha carved into the mountainside. Leshan is also known as Fragrant Crab-apple City thanks to the many crab-apple trees that grow in the vicinity. The family home of Chinese writer, academic and politician Guo Moruo can be seen in the Shawan District.

The city is home to two autonomous counties, Mabian and Ebian, which are strongholds of the Yi ethnic minority, as well as a smaller city called Emeishan. Leshan stands in the shadow of the Wuyou and Lingyun peaks.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/leshan-giant-buddha-Emei-mountain.jpg

Monkey Area

Watch troupes of monkeys caper among the ancient pavilions.

One of Emeishan’s attractions that is guaranteed to raise a smile is the ecological monkey area above Qingyin Pavilion and below the Hongchun Terrace. Covering 100,000 square meters, it is the largest of its kind in China, and features rope bridges, plank walks, and pathways. The monkeys are a Tibetan breed, and number around 400 across eight colonies. The females weigh up to 15 kilograms while the males can grow as large as twenty.

There have been monkeys on Emeishan since the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) as a warrior developed a style of boxing based on their movements. No-one knows for sure how the monkeys arrived at the mountain, but legends abound. Some say that a Tang Dynasty pharmacist discovered them playing chess, while another myth suggests that they originally acted as guides for lost travellers ascending the peak.

Whatever the reason for their settling on Emeishan, it’s hard to imagine the mountain without them. Some are shy, while others are more boisterous and aggressive. The calmest, friendliest monkeys tend to congregate around Elephant Pond. Visitors are warned not to touch the monkeys, and feed them only with special food sold by vendors. If a monkey approaches you when you don’t have food, show it your empty palms so it knows not to pester you. Never go alone into a group of apes, and hold onto your belongings because they have been known to steal. Most importantly, don’t panic, run or scream.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/monkey-in-emei-mountain .jpg

Panda Reservation

See pandas in their natural environment and learn about how this rare species is being preserved.

The Giant Panda is China’s national treasure, and one of the symbols of the nation. Sadly, there are just 1000 pandas remaining in China, found only in Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces. Eighty percent are in Sichuan, and the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center is working hard to increase the population and protect the animals they already have.

Located 10 kilometers from downtown Chengdu, the center covers 92 acres. Most of this space is dedicated to recreating the pandas’ natural habitat, with over ten thousand bamboo plants and other greenery. As well as giant pandas and lesser pandas, the habitat is home to black storks and various other rare species. The research center itself includes a feeding room, sleeping area, and medical zone, as well as a museum and research lab.

A visit to Sichuan would not be complete without a trip to see these adorable animals.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/happy-panda-china.jpg

Qingyin Pavilion

Watch a black and white river mix below this exquisite Tang Dynasty pavilion.

The Qingyin Pavilion sits on a ridge above the Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River) and Bailongjiang (White Dragon River). The rivers are named for the contrasting colors of their waters: Heilongjiang flows a deep green, while Bailongjiang is creamy white. The noise of the two rivers crashing down the steep rocks between dense fir forests sounds like two fighting dragons, and the fords that cross them are charmingly named Double Flying Bridges. Between the two rivers is the main pavilion, and two follies stand at the high points of the site.

The structure was built in the reign of Emperor Xi Zong in 877 during the Tang Dynasty, and is well loved for its fine architecture as well as the natural beauty that surrounds it.

Wannian Temple

Touch a lucky bronze elephant and see your reflection in a tranquil pool.

One of the highlights of Mount Emei is Wannian Temple, located two kilometers from Qingyin Pavilion. Before the Ming Dynasty, the temple was known as Samantabhadra, in honour of the incarnation of Buddha who is said to protect the mountain. The modern name Wannian means long life.

The complex was built during the reign of Emperor Long’an during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (397 – 401) and houses a 62,000 kilogram bronze and copper statue of the Buddha riding a white elephant. If you rub the elephant, it is said that good fortune will follow. The statue dates back to 980.

All of the buildings in the temple complex face east, and include the Mile Hall, Hill Gate, Zhuang Hall, and Daxiong Hall. The Brick Hall that houses the statue has a domed roof and is dotted with stupas. It is the only structure that remains from ancient times, after a fire raged through the complex in 1945. Don’t miss the White Water Pond, and the view of the trees reflected in its surface.

tl_files/attractions/sichuan/temple-under-the-blue-sky.jpg

Yangtze River Cruise

Sail through the stunning Three Gorges, admire the world’s most ambitious dam project, and visit a ghost town.

The mighty Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest in the world after the Amazon and the Nile. An integral part of China’s history and culture, it splits the country along its middle, and houses a third of the country’s population in its basin. Running 6,300 kilometers from the glacial highlands of Qinghai in western China through 11 provinces, the Yangtze ends its course at the East China Sea in Shanghai. Along its route, many other rivers feed into it, including the Gan, Min, and Huangpu.

The classic Yangtze River tour starts at the city of Chongqing and follows the course of the river to Yichang. Along the way, there are stops at Fengdu (where there is a 1,800-year-old city of the dead modelled on the Chinese Hell in Taoist mythology), Ming Mountain, and the Shuangguishan National Forest Park.

The Qutang, Wu and Xiling gorges make up the world famous Three Gorges, which provide some of the most incredible landscapes in China. Sheer rock faces rise up on either side of the river as your boat passes through. Qutang Gorge is the shortest of the three – eight kilometers in length. Mountains loom 1000 to 1500 meters along its course, and the river narrows to just 100 meters wide in some places. Wu Gorge measures more than 40 kilometers from the Daning River estuary in Wushan County to Guandukou in Badong County, and is the most visually attractive section. Xiling Gorge is the longest and most dangerous thanks to its strong currents, but recent projects have stilled much of its turbulence. The ambitious Three Gorges Dam project has calmed much of the river’s strength, and the hydro-electric power station is the largest in the world

A cruise down the Yangtze River allows for a unique view of China’s heartlands, and an opportunity to see some breathtaking landscapes.

tl_files/attractions/yangtze-river/scenic-view-of-yangtze-river-china.jpg

Suzhou    

Grand Canal

A cruise on the Grand Canal is one of the best ways to explore Suzhou. Take in the beautiful single span bridges that cross the water, and admire the traditional houses that lean towards each other over your head.

Suzhou’s main waterway is part of the longest canal in the world. Stretching from Beijing in the north all the way to Hangzhou in the south, the Grand Canal passes through Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces on its 1,776 kilometer path. The canal’s route through Suzhou was responsible for the city’s economic success, making it the economic center it is today.

The canal was begun way back in the 5th century BC, and finally completed some time in the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 AD). It has been admired by visitors through the ages, including Italian missionary Matteo Ricci. The section of the canal that flows through Suzhou is known as the Jiangnan Canal.

tl_files/attractions/suzhou/grand-canal-in-wuxi.jpg

Humble Administrator’s Garden

Suzhou is famous for its beautiful traditional gardens, and the Humble Administrator’s is the largest and best loved. Built in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty, the garden gets its name from the retired government official who decided to spend the last years of his life there tending the plants instead of living the high life. The garden covers a massive 52 thousand square meters and is classified as a World Heritage Site. Its design is typically Ming, with winding walkways, eye-catching rock formations, pavilions, and pools.

The garden is split into three sections. The largest is the central area, which is two-thirds water. It holds quiet courtyards, pavilions, and the Hall of the Distant Fragrance surrounded by lotus ponds. The hall’s long windows offer a beautiful view of the flowers. The Small Flying Rainbow Bridge is the only one in the garden that you can walk across. The eastern section of the garden is made up of steep hills, streams and bamboo groves, and is home to Lanxiang Hall and the Celestial Spring Pavilion. A map on the south wall shows the layout of the whole garden. In the western part of the Humble Administrator’s Garden is a stately hall that is split into two sections – the Hall of 18 Camellias and the charmingly named Hall of the 36 Pairs of Mandarin Ducks. Look out for the pagoda that appears to be floating on the water. It’s an optical illusion, but impressive nonetheless.

The garden hosts regular flower festivals. The bonsai garden in the western section holds regular displays, and the central area’s Elegant Stone House shows precious gems.

tl_files/attractions/suzhou/garden-of-the-humble-administrator-suzhou.jpg

Night Show at the Master of the Nets Garden

The Master of the Nets garden may be the smallest residential garden in Suzhou, but it is well worth a look, especially for the evening performances that are hosted there. The gardens date back to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). It got its name when the government official who lived there remarked that he would rather be a fisherman than a bureaucrat. The night show happens in one of the pavilions attached to the garden, and on the adjoining terrace. Split into eight parts each lasting 10 minutes, the performance is a treat for the senses. It includes traditional Chinese opera, instrumental music, dance, and singing from a troupe of incredibly talented performers. Set against the backdrop of the old pavilion with its twinkling lights, intricate wall-hangings and carved wooden window frames, it is a great introduction to traditional Chinese music and dance.

tl_files/city-tours/suzhou/master-of-the-nets-garden.jpg

Silk Museum

Walk down an ancient street, watch silk being spun, and find out why Suzhou is so famous for silk at this diverse and interesting museum.

Suzhou is the silk capital of China. During the Tang and Song Dynasties it grew in importance as a center for making and weaving the fabric. By the Ming Dynasty, the city was supplying the emperor and his household with most of his silk. The Silk Museum traces the history of silk from Neolithic times through to the modern day by way of displays and demonstrations. According to legend, it was Lei Zu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, who first started to raise silk worms. The practise has changed very little since then, with worms being fed on mulberry leaves. The museum has silk worms of its own (unfortunately the real ones were replaced by models in 2009), as well as looms where silk is woven while you watch. Girls in costume from various periods demonstrate different styles of loom, while replica Ming and Qing Dynasty streets help to set the atmosphere of Suzhou’s buzzing silk trade.

Tiger Hill

See a mysterious tomb once guarded by a white tiger, check out China’s very own Tower of Pisa, and see where the world’s first book about tea was written – all on Tiger Hill.

The ancient poet Su Shi said that if you go to Suzhou without visiting Tiger Hill, it will be a “lifelong pity”. Bearing in mind how many fantastic sites, mysterious legends, and historic relics are to be found on the peak, he’s most definitely right.

Legend has it that the hill got its name from a white tiger who sat on the grave of King He Lu, who died in battle in 496 BC. The tiger appeared three days after the king’s funeral, and seemed to be guarding the burial site. He Lu’s tomb can still be seen on the hill today.

The Tiger Hill pagoda can be seen for miles around. It belongs to the Yunyan Temple, and is the oldest pagoda in Suzhou. Another thing that makes it unique is the fact that it leans slightly to the north west, making it China’s very own Tower of Pisa. It was built between 959 and 961 around an octagonal design, based on earlier Tang Dynasty pagoda style.

Other highlights of Tiger Hill include the Wanjing Villa, which acts as a giant bonsai nursery, and the Verdant Mountain Villa. The Sword Testing Stone and Sword Pool are also worth a look. King He Lu was said to have tested his collection of swords there. The stone bears a worn crevice, and the nearby pool is rumoured to hold the corpses of the 1,000 workers who built the king’s tomb.

The Tang Dynasty tea expert Lu Yu lived and worked on Tiger Hill. He completed his “Classic of Tea” treatise there – the first book about tea ever published. On sinking a well on the hill, he declared its water to be the third best in China, and the site has been popular with tea lovers ever since.

Tongli Water Town

Walk across three lucky bridges and visit two historic halls in the “Venice of the East”.

Just 18 kilometers away from central Suzhou in Wujiang County, Tongli water town near Tai Lake is nicknamed “Venice of the East” thanks to its network of canals, waterways, and bridges. Of the many water towns in the region, Tongli is one of the prettiest, and is full of historic highlights to explore. The town can trace its roots back 1,000 years, and is based around a system of seven islands, five lakes, and 15 rivers. Much of Tongli’s transport happens on the water, and a gondola ride is a great way to get to know the town.

Don’t miss the lucky trio of bridges. Tongli has 49 bridges in total but there are three that are extra special. They are called Taiping (Peace and Tranquility), Jili (Luck), and Changqing (Lasting Celebration), and are believed to bring health, wealth and longevity to whoever crosses all three, one after the other.

Other Tongli highlights include the Ming Dynasty Gengle Hall with its picturesque ponds and garden, the intricate wood carvings in Chongben Hall, and the tranquil Tuisi Garden. For visitors who want something a little different to your regular tourist attractions, check out the China Sex Museum, which relocated to Tongli from Shanghai in 2004.

The town of Tongli dates back over a thousand years, and was originally called Fushi. The modern town has a population of 33,000 people (which is small by Chinese standards) and covers 63 square kilometers.

tl_files/attractions/water-towns/tongli-shanghai-water-village.jpg

Xian    

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

See ancient Buddhist relics brought from India, and enjoy a panoramic view of Xian from this attractive Tang Dynasty pagoda.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda, known as Dayan Ta in Chinese, is located in Xian’s south suburbs and is part of the Da Ci’en (Maternal Grace) Temple complex. The pagoda we see today is not the original. The first version was built in 652 AD during the rule of Tang Dynasty emperor Gaozong. It fell down in 704 and was rebuilt by Empress Wu Zetian. A huge earthquake in 1556 caused several stories to collapse, leaving it with the seven floors it currently has. The pagoda leans visibly to the west, and measure 64.5 meters. It is made of sand-colored brick, and its interior walls are engraved with images of the Buddha by Tang Dynasty artist Yan Liben.

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built by Emperor Gaozong to house a massive collection of sutras and Buddhist relics brought from India by Xuanzang, who later became the first abbot of the Da Ci’en Temple. Xuanzang and his team of monks translated the sutras from Sanskrit into Chinese – a huge undertaking, which is commemorated by a statue of Xuanzang in front of the temple.

Climb the staircases inside the temple to admire the carvings, and savor the view of Xian and its surroundings from the upper stories.

tl_files/attractions/xian/giant-wild-goose-pagoda.jpg

Hot Springs Palace

Bask in the tranquil atmosphere of an imperial bathing complex, and admire a statue of the most beautiful woman in ancient China at the Huaqing Hot Springs and Palace.

The scenic Huaqing Hot Springs and Palace lie at the northern foot of Lishan (Mount Li), about 30 kilometers outside of Xian. The site was first used as an imperial bathing site in the reign of Emperor You of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 – 771 BC), and a palace was built around it. A succession of emperors added to it, but it was Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty who made it great. He spent huge amounts of money on a series of pavilions, pools and halls, and used it to honor his concubine Yang Guifei, one of the four great beauties of ancient China. The site is now a national cultural relic, and one of the country’s 100 famous gardens.

As you enter the palace grounds between two majestic cedar trees, you are greeted by two symmetrical plunge pools and the Nine Dragon Lake. This 5,300 square meter artificial lake is filled with fragrant lotus flowers. Reflected in its water is a white marble statue of Yang Guifei in all her glory. Also flanking the lake is the Hall of the Flying Frost, which was the bedroom of Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine, along with Yinchun and Chengxiang Halls. 

In the Huan Garden you’ll see the Lotus Pavilion, the Viewing Lake Tower, the Flying Rainbow Bridge, Flying Glow Hall, and the Hall of the Five Rooms. According to legend, Flying Glow Hall was Yang Guifei’s favorite spot to cool down and admire the scenery. The Five-Room Hall dates from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and was used by the Dowager Empress Cixi to shelter from enemies in 1900. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, also sought refuge here during times of political turmoil.  

A trip to the stunning Hot Springs Palace will give you an insight into the luxuries of Imperial China, and provide a break from the buzz of the city.

Muslim Quarter

Immerse yourself in Xian’s Islamic quarter, and try a “Muslim hamburger”.

Xian’s Muslim population is descended directly from Middle Eastern merchants who arrived on the Silk Road. Members of the modern-day Hui ethnic minority live in a thriving, close-knit community centered around the Drum Tower. The main street running through the Muslim quarter is lined with shops and stalls where you can pick up souvenirs and sample the local food.

Some of China’s tastiest morsels are to be found in Xian. The aroma of barbecuing meat wafts through the streets of the Muslim district, tempting the tastebuds to try lamb kebabs smothered in herbs and spices. Another favourite is rou jia mo, also known as the Muslim hamburger. Ground lamb is fried with coriander and spices, then stuffed inside a flat bread bun. Look out for street-side eateries selling yang rou pao mo – hard, unleavened bread soaked in a flavorsome mutton soup.

Wander past old bearded men wearing white caps sitting in doorways, see women in traditional headscarves on their way to the mosque, and enjoy the unique atmosphere of Xian’s Muslim quarter.

Terracotta Warriors Museum

Although they are some of the most photographed statues in the world, nothing prepares you for seeing the Terracotta Warriors in real life. Stretching as far as the eye can see in their regimented rows, the stone soldiers are an arresting sight, and an impressive example of the scope of human capabilities. Ever since the warriors were unearthed by peasant farmers in 1974, they have captured the world’s imagination, and attracted countless visitors to admire them.

This huge model army was constructed as part of the burial site of Emperor Qin Shihuang. During his reign, Shihuang became the first emperor of a unified China, and was renowned for his cruel, tyrannous ways. On taking the throne in 246 BC at the tender age of 13, he immediately commissioned his mausoleum, which took 11 years to complete. On his death, he was interred with nearly 8,000 stone warriors, plus model horses, chariots, and weapons of war.

After the site was discovered in 1974, a museum was built to display and study the warriors. The artefacts are spread over 16,300 square meters, separated into three sections. The largest, Pit One, was opened to the public in 1971 and contains most of the warriors. Pit Two holds over 1,000 cavalry and infantry warriors and was unveiled in 1994. The third pit is thought to be the army’s command post, and contains high ranking officials and their chariot. The museum was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, and is one of the most visited attractions in China.

The memory of these noble warriors and their trusty horses will stay in your mind long after you’ve left Xian.

tl_files/attractions/xian/terracotta-warrior.jpg

The Great Mosque

Visit a mosque with distinctively Chinese characteristics.

Dating back to 742 AD, Xian’s Gran Mosque the oldest and one of the most famous in China. Unlike other mosques, it has neither domes nor minarets, and the only indication that it is a place of Muslim worship is the Arabic engraving and decoration on the walls. In place of a minaret there is a pavilion, and the architecture is typical of the Tang Dynasty. The mosque is still used by members of the Hui ethnic minority, who can trace their ancestors back to the Persians and Afghans who arrived on the Silk Road in ancient times.

This huge mosque covers 12,000 square meters, and is made up of four courtyards and beautiful landscaped gardens. You enter the first courtyard through an elaborate nine-meter-tall wooden archway decorated with glazed tiles from the 17th century. The second courtyard has an arch made of stone, flanked with two smaller stones on which is engraved calligraphy by Song and Ming Dynasty artists. Inside the third courtyard is the Xingyin tower and more engraved stones, while the final courtyard leads to the prayer hall. Up to 1,000 Muslim worshippers can pray at the same time, and there are services five times a day.

A visit to Xian’s Great Mosque is a great way to soak up the city’s Islamic heritage and observe the culture of the Hui people.

tl_files/attractions/xian/scaled-replicas-of-great-mosque-of-xian.jpg

The Old City Wall

Look out over the old city from Xian’s ancient walls.

Xian has one of the best preserved fortifies city walls in the whole of China. The modern wall dates from the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in 1386, but there has been a fortification around the city since 194 BC when Xian was known as Chang’an. The first wall took four years to build and measured 25.7 kilometers all the way around. The current fortification was completed at the start of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang’s reign at the dawn of the Ming Dynasty. According to historic sources, a hermit spoke to the new emperor and advised him to build strong walls around his city. Zhu Yuanzhang took the hermit’s words to heart, and began to rebuild the defense system that remained from the Tang Dynasty.

The wall we see today encases an area of 14 square kilometers. It is between 15 and 18 meters wide at its base, and is ringed by a deep moat. There are 98 ramparts spread around the wall at intervals of 120 meters, each containing a sentry post where guards stood watch in ancient times. Since the gates were the weakest points, all four of the main entrances are heavyily fortifies. The gates have names reflecting the emperor’s desire for peace and happiness: the east-facing gate is called Changle (meaning eternal joy), to the west is Anding (harmony and peace), to the north is Anyuan (eternal harmony), and the grandest, Yongning, faces the south. Its name means eternal peace. Yongning gate faces the Bell Tower in the center of the old city.

Climb onto the wall at one of 18 points along its length for a view across ancient and modern Xian.

tl_files/attractions/xian/ancient-city-wall-and-gate.jpg

Yunnan    

Across the Bridge Noodles

The tale of a studious scholar and his devoted wife.

One of Yunnan’s specialty dishes is “guo-qiao mi-xian”, or “Across the Bridge Noodles”. This simple meal of rice noodles, meat and vegetables in a hot chicken broth has its origins in Mengzi County during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A local official was preparing to sit the exams that would elevate him to the level of the imperial court if he passed them. Determined to achieve his goal, the young man holed himself up in a pavilion on a lake and studied all day and all night. Every day, his wife crossed the bridge to bring him a bowl of noodles, but he was always too engrossed in is work to eat them until they had gone cold. One day, by chance, his wife discovered that leaving a layer of chicken fat on top of the broth kept it warm in the earthenware pot, so she took all the ingredients to her husband for him to assemble when he was ready to eat. When he passed his exam and joined the imperial court, he credited his wife’s cooking with helping him succeed. The dish became well known across the province, and is still enjoyed today.

Most Yunnanese restaurants serve Across the Bridge Noodles, and it’s fun to assemble the dish yourself, just like the Ming Dynasty scholar.

Baisha Frescos

See Lijiang’s famous frescos at this ancient village.

Located eight kilometers outside of Lijiang Old Town, the village of Baisha is home to Yunnan’s most celebrated murals, depicting daily life, deities, and demons in one fell swoop. The great Lijiang Mural was begun in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and took 300 years to complete. At the same time, a series of temples was being built in the towns surrounding Lijiang, like Baisha, Shuhe, Xuesong and Dayan. The fresco originally had over 200 pieces, but only 55 of them survive. They are divided among the temples, and the best are in Baisha.

The Lijiang Mural was painted to commemorate daily life in the area, and to celebrate rapid economic development. Subject matter ranges from Buddhist, Taoist and Lamaist imagery to Naxi Dongba traditional folk beliefs and local townspeople. The artists behind the frescos include anonymous local muralists, the Taoist painter Zhang from the Central Plain, Lama artist Guchang from Tibet, and Han painters Li Zeng and Ma Xiaoxian.

The skill and vibrancy of these gorgeous frescos provides a glimpse of local Naxi talent, as well as presenting a historic record of the Lijiang region.

Bird and Flower Market

See Kunming’s official flower in bloom and listen to the chirp of birds as you stroll through this bustling market.

Since 1983, the Jingxing Bird and Flower Market in Kunming’s old town has attracted millions of shoppers – both local and from abroad – to browse the blooms, admire the singing birds, and pore over antiques and curios.

The camellia was designated as Kunming’s official flower in 1983 so it’s no surprise that there are plenty for sale in the market. They jostle for space with orchids, lilies, tulips and roses, creating a wonderful aroma that fills the market. In counterpoint to this smell is the chirping of birds – mynahs, thrushes, cuckoos – which are all for sale. Keeping birds in cages on verandahs is a common practice in China, and one that adds an atmosphere to Kunming’s streets.

Also for sale at the market are antiques and curios like jade, porcelain, ink stones, and jewelry, as well as handicrafts made by the stallholders. Look out for brightly colored ethnic headdresses and costumes, and don’t be afraid to haggle if you see something you want to buy. The area directly surrounding the flower market is home to some old buildings containing Western restaurants.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/fresh-flower-market.jpg

Dali Ancient City

See the traditional homes of the Bai minority, and admire the old gates of the city that was a military base in ancient times.

The city of Dali 300 kilometers north-west of Kunming is unique for the fact that its old and new quarters are separated. The new part, Xiaguan, is divided from the ancient part by 13 kilometers. Xiaguan is a glittering new metropolis filled with administrative buildings and commercial streets, but the old town provides a portrait of how Yunnan used to be. The Bai people settled in this area 4,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) that it became part of the Chinese empire. The Ming emperor Hongwu (1368-98) established the city we see today, including a vast city wall. The North and South City Wall Towers were restored in 1982 and are among Dali’s most beautiful historic buildings, along with the Wuhua Tower.

Other highlights of the town are the traditional Bai minority homes with their courtyards and sun-filled rooms. The houses are highly decorative, with pointed eaves and engraved wood. The people of the Bai ethnicity make up 67% of Dali’s population. Their annual folk ceremonies add color to the town, such as the March Street Festival and Butterfly Festival.

Particularly popular with visitors is the aptly named Foreigner Street, where stallholders sell local handicrafts and snacks.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/ancient-city-of-dali.jpg

Erhai

Cruise on this beautiful ear-shaped lake stunned with islands, where cormorants help locals catch fish.

Erhai earned its name (which means Ear Sea) thanks to its distinctive shape. Just eight kilometers wide and 40 kilometers long, it is the second largest alpine lake in China after Dianchi, and one of the nation’s seven biggest freshwater lakes with an area of 250 square kilometers.

The banks of Erhai were used as a deer ranch during the Nanzhao Kingdom of the 8th and 9th centuries. The lake is located two kilometers east of Dali city at the foot of Cangshan, and its green waters contrast with the snow-capped peaks. The view of both is known as “Silver Cangshan, Jade Erhai”. The Miji and Mici rivers feed into the lake from the north, and the lake drains into the Mekong River.

One of the most arresting sights on Erhai is local fisherman catching fish with the help of cormorants. Each fisherman has several birds, and he ties a ring around their necks before sending them underwater to catch fish. Unable to swallow their quarry, the cormorants bring it back to their masters and are rewarded at the end of their shift with a hearty meal.

Also notable are the many islands that dot the late, such a Xiao Putuo with its Buddhist temple, Nanzhao Fengqing, and Jinsuo or “Golden Shuttle”.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/erhai-lake-yunnan.jpg

Foreigners’ Street

Taste local delicacies like snow pear and engraved plums, and stock up on souvenirs like Bai-style tie-dye and carved marble on this market street.

Dali Ancient Town is well loved for its old-style charm, which is particularly tangible on Foreigners’ Street. Despite its name, this stretch of road encapsulates traditional Chinese style; it is the handicrafts and foodstuffs on offer that appeal to foreigners.

As you traverse the one-kilometer stretch of pedestrianized street (formerly known as Huguo Street), you’ll see stalls selling plump Dali snow pears. This variety is sweeter than an ordinary pear, with thinner skin and tender flesh. Harvest happens in August and September, so if you’re visiting around that time, snow pears will be plentiful. Another fruit that is worth trying is the Bai-style engraved pickled plum which looks as good as it tastes.

If it’s tea you’re looking for as a souvenir, try the “tuo cha” compressed tea of the Xiaguan area, which is well known for its cleansing properties. For a more permanent reminder of your trip to Yunnan, pick up some tie-dyed fabric. By a process of stitching cotton and submerging it in plant dye, the Bai people create gorgeous indigo and white cloth that is used to make everything from bags, tablecloths and shirts to scarves and curtains. Also on sale is marble from Cang Mountain, wood-carvings from Jianchuan and preserved fruit from Yunxing County.

The traditional wood and timber buildings strung with red lanterns and the view of the mountains at the end of the street are just as memorable as the curios you will pick up.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Admire thirteen snow-capped peaks and explore a vast meadow at the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain stands 5,600 meters tall at its highest point, and consists of thirteen peaks, the tallest of which is Shanzidou. The peaks stretch for 35 kilometers, and look like a dragon reclining in the clouds.

The Naxi people were the first to notice this likeness to a slumbering dragon, and told stories and legends about how it came to be there. The most vibrant is the tale of two brothers named Jade and Haba who made their living panning for gold in the Golden Sand River. One day a demon took control of the river and the brothers tried to fight it off. Haba was killed in the battle and became a mountain, but Jade Dragon overwhelmed the demon, using thirteen swords to see it off. Forevermore he stood, brandishing his weapons, which became the thirteen peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

As well as the peaks, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is home to many plateaux and meadows, such as Spruce Field which is dotted with trees, and Dry Sea Meadow which is flat terrain. The area is popular for hiking, mountaineering and skiing, and a cable car takes visitors up into the clouds to enjoy the snowy view. One quarter of all plant species in China are found here, making it a rich natural landscape as well as an area of scenic beauty.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/jade-dragon-snowy-mountain-lijiang.jpg

Lijiang

Witness ancient culture in action, walk through China’s best-preserved old town, and see a breathtaking natural gorge.

Located close to where Yunnan Province borders Sichuan and Tibet, Lijiang is perfectly positioned to soak up the culture of each place. This remote city of just over a million people is home to the best-preserved ancient town in the whole of China, and is the gateway for the stunning Tiger Leaping Gorge – one of the biggest draws to Yunnan.

Historically speaking, Lijiang dates back to the Warring States Period (476 – 221 BC), and flourished under the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) after the Ancient Tea-Horse Road was built to ease trade between Yunnan and the rest of China. The old trade route linked Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan both commercially and culturally, and Lijiang thrived.

The Lijiang Autonomous County of the Naxi Ethnic Minority (to give it its proper name) is home to the Naxi ethnic group – one of China’s 55 minorities. Their Dongba culture originated in Tibet, and is still practiced today. Many of the most popular souvenirs in Lijiang are engraved with Dongba heiroglyphs.

Lijiang town covers 21,219 square kilometers and is split into four counties and an old town paved with local bluestone. It is this old town that is the main attraction, as well as the many beauty spots in the surrounding countryside such as Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Ming Dynasty frescoes at Baisha, and Tiger Leaping Gorge.

With its ancient streets, stunning scenery and wide skies, Lijiang sums up the essence of Yunnan.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/beautiful-palace-roofs-in-lijiang.jpg

Lijiang Old Town

Find out why this old town has no city walls, learn about Lijiang’s ancient water system, and buy colorful souvenirs from the Naxi people.

The best-preserved ancient town in all of China, Lijiang Old Town was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. The 3.8 square kilometer area is flanked by the Lion Mountain to the west and Elephant and Golden Row Mountains to the north, and lies on a plateau 2,400 meters above sea level. When it rains, Lijiang’s blue-stone streets look like a wet ink block, giving it the nickname “Town of the Big Ink Slab”.

Lijiang Old Town can trace its history back 800 years to the late Song and early Yuan Dynasties. The first Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan set up his court there, making it a center for culture and trade. The colorful mix of minorities – Naxi, Bai, Tibetan, Han – makes for a unique culture, while the stunning geography of the surrounding region only adds to Lijiang’s appeal.

Curiously, Lijiang Old Town has no city wall, which is incredibly rare for a settlement of its era. The story goes that the ruling family, Mu, thought it would bring bad luck if they erected a barricade around the city. This is because the Chinese character for Mu becomes “kun” meaning “predicament” when drawn inside a wall. Another unique feature of the town is the ancient water system that drained down from the Black Dragon Pool via a series of aqueducts and bridges. Lijiang Old Town’s main square is Sifang Jie, from which four streets fan out. Every night, a sluice is opened in the square from which water pours to wash the street surface.

Many of the buildings in Lijiang Old Town are built of decorated timber, and have a garden inside the complex. The streets are narrow and winding, and the architectural style is free and diverse.

Lijiang is the ideal place to see some of China’s most vibrant minority culture, and view the human face of Yunnan between admiring its scenic beauty.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/chinese-ancient-town-lijiang.jpg

Naxi Ancient Music Show

Hear the music of the Naxi people, and experience how Chinese music sounded in ancient times.

Maybe it has something to do with the inspiring scenery of their land, but the Naxi people has always been known for its artistic talent. Whether painting, singing, dancing, or making calligraphy, the members of the Yunnanese ethnic minority have exceptional talent. Luckily, they are more than willing to perform for visitors, and some of their music groups have toured as far afield as the USA, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, and Norway.

Traditional Naxi music is split into three groups. Baisha consists of ancient orchestral scores from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) consisting of 24 melodies, choral segments, and dance. The Dongjing style came from Central China in medieval times and mixed with Naxi traditional tunes to create a meld of Taoist rites and Confucian ceremonial songs. The third style, Huangjing, has been lost. Lijiang’s position on the Silk Route and Ancient Tea-Horse Road mean that it has always been open to the influence of passing traders. This can definitely be seen in the music that has evolved among the Naxi people. Thanks to the area’s remoteness, the music has stayed in tact for many centuries, making what is known as a “living fossil of music”.

Naxi musical performance follows the three “old” rules. The musicians, instruments, and songs must all be old. Thus, most performers of Naxi music are elderly, and the instruments date back over a century. Orchestras are made up of traditional lutes, zithers, drums and flutes, which are played either sitting down or walking.

Listening to a concert of Naxi music helps you gain an understanding of this artistic people, and gives a taste of what music was like in China many hundreds of years ago.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/chinese-girl-of-the-naxi-minority-culture .jpg

Stone Forest

Walk around a mystical forest made of stone, and explore underground caves bristling with stalactites.

The saying goes that if you visit Yunnan without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted you time. The incredible karst formations jutting up from the earth make up one of the most unusual and eerie landscapes on earth. Situated 85 kilometers from Kunming in the Lunan Yi Autonomous Region, the forest (known as Shilin in Chinese) was formed 270 million years ago during the carboniferous period of the Paleozoic era. Back then, the area was covered by a huge sea that, when it retreated, left behind limestone that eventually eroded into the shapes we see today.

The Shilin National Park covers 350 square kilometers and is split into several parts. These include the Greater and Lesser Stone Forests, Long Lake, Moon Lake, and Zhiyun Cave. The Strange Wind Cave is one of the most striking of the forest’s underground sites; a subterranean river winds through Penfeng Cave, fed by Hongxi Spring. Between August and November, a huge gust of wind rushes through the cave every half hour for two to three minutes at a time. Another highlight is Long Lake, which is three kilometers long but only 300 meters wide.

With its vista of craggy pillars and network of grottoes, this eerie landscape is one of the most unusual on earth.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/panorama-view-shilin-stone-forest-park.jpg

The Three Pagodas

Visit the iconic white pagodas that were built to drive away a colony of dragons.

One of Yunnan’s most photographed historic monuments is the trio of pagodas on the west shore of Erhai Lake in the shadow of Mount Cang. The pagodas date from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and are made of brick covered in white mud.

The pagoda in the middle is called Qianxun and is 69 meters tall. It was built between 824 and 840 (apparently to dispel a group of breeding dragons), and is made up of 16 square stories. On the façade of each floor is a white marble sitting Buddha. The interior of the pagoda is hollow, but unfortunately it is not possible to climb it. The two smaller pagodas to the right and left of Qianxun are solid octagons of eight stories, and were built a century after their larger cousin. Junying Pool behind the pagodas acts as a mirror, reflecting the three towers for one of China’s best photo opportunities.

Qianxun pagoda was built to store Buddhist statues, readings and medicinal herbs. Miraculously, it survived the 1925 earthquake in which one in 100 buildings in Dali were destroyed. An excavation in 1978 uncovered countless precious artifacts including copper discs and gold sculptures.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/dali-three-white-pagodas.jpg

Tie-Dying Technique

Witness a millennium-old tradition for creating beautifully decorated fabric.

The process of tie-dying fabric to create patterns originated on China’s central plains over a thousand years ago. It is still practiced by the Bai ethnic minority around Dali Ancient Town, and tie-dye production is centered in Zhoucheng Village – the hometown of Bai tie-dye. In Zhoucheng, it is possible to see the tie-dying process in action, from elderly women knotting and stitching the fabric to men stirring vats of dark blue dye.

Tie-dying is a three-part process. First, clean white cotton is knotted, creased and tied into flower patterns, and stitched up into a large parcel shape. This is dunked first in fresh water, and then in a dye made from the isatis root, which is also the origin of indigo. After several immersions in the dye, the fabric is dried and then unpicked from its stitches. The resulting pattern is a beautiful, intricate contrast of dark blue background and white flowers and borders.

The good news is that tie-dye fabric is readily available in Zhoucheng and other areas of Yunnan Province like Dali Ancient Town and Xizhou. For a reasonable price, you can buy scarves, hats, bags, and cloth decorated with traditional patterns.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Visit the deepest gorge in the world, and watch the churning Golden Sands River slice through the snow-capped mountains.

Legend has it that a tiger escaping from a hunter used a rock to help him leap across the gorge, lending the world’s deepest canyon its poetic name. Tiger Leaping Gorge, located 100 kilometers north-west of Lijinag Old Town, lies between Jade Dragon and Haba Snow Mountains. At its lowest point, the river crashes 200 meters below the cliffs, whirling through 18 rapids for 15 kilometers. As with much of Yunnan Province’s mind-boggling scenery, Tiger Leaping Gorge is breathtaking.

The narrowest section is at the start of the Golden Sands River, and has the rock that inspired the legend. The water is calm and quiet here, making it ideal for rafting. In the middle section, the river drops 100 meters and quickens, passing sharp rocks and huge boulders as it goes. The third and lowest section is flanked by steep, dangerous cliffs.

The gorge is part of Yunnan’s Protected Areas World Heritage Site, and was opened to foreign tourists in 1993. It is an unmissable feature of the provinces landscape, so make sure you have your camera with you.

tl_files/attractions/yunnan/tiger-leaping-gorge-yunnan.jpg

Western Hills

Explore the forests and temples of these rolling hills outside Kunming.

In the western suburbs of Kunming lies a range of hills known as Sleeping Buddha Hills thanks to their resemblance to a reclining Buddha. They are also called the Sleeping Beauty Hills, as some people think they look like a girl lying beside Dianchi Lake. However they are named, they provide visitors to Kunming with a great introduction to the beautiful scenery that awaits them in the rest of Yunnan Province.

The hills are covered in dense forest and replete with rare and beautiful plants. Tucked among the trees are ancient temples, grottoes and pavilions. The oldest of the temples is Taihua Temple, on the hill of the same name. It was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) and is surrounded by hundreds of wild flowers. The Huating Temple is one of the largest Buddhist places of worship in Yunnan, and includes a Hall of Guanyin, three golden Buddhas, and clay carvings of animals.

Another treasure of the Western Hills is Sanqing Pavilion, which is built on a cliff 300 meters above Dianchi Lake. According to Taoism, “sanqing” means the loftiest stature, so climbing up to the pavilion signifies reaching a high point. Seeming to float in the air above the lake, the pavilion is known as the “castle in the sky”. Dragon Gate is a carved stone structure also overlooking the lake. It includes grottoes, stone rooms and carvings.

Xizhou Village

Wander the streets of a traditional Bai village and admire local handicrafts at the markets.

Xizhou Village is located 18 kilometers north of Dali Ancient Town, with Erhai to the east and Cang Mountain to the west. A military stronghold during the Nanzhao Kingdom of the 8th and 9th centuries, Xizhou was an important stop on the trade routes that passed through Yunnan province on the way from eastern China to Asia Minor.

Thanks to the remoteness of its location, Xizhou Village has preserved its traditional ways of life, from the colorful street markets to the courtyard residences of the Bai ethnic minority who make up most of the town’s population. These unique houses are arranged around a courtyard with three rooms going off to each side, and a south-facing screen at the bottom. Both the interior and exterior are vibrantly decorated in gold, white, green and blue, and homes have the typical upturned eaves and carved beams of Chinese architecture.

The shops and market stalls around Xizhou are a good place to pick up some keepsakes. The local tie-dyed fabrics make great gifts.

Zhoucheng

See the traditional lifestyles of the Bai and Yi minorities and admire their tie-dyed cloth.

Zhoucheng is the largest of Dali city’s outlying villages. With a population of 7,571 people spread over 1,470 families, it is a close-knit community made up of members of the Bai and Yi ethnic minorities. The village lies on the Yunnan Tibetan Highway between the foot of Cang Mountain and Erhai.

Recently, a culture center was built to help preserve traditional minority lifestyles. It includes a library, cinema and kindergarten where Yi and Bai people can get together. Many Yi and Bai are in the business of tie-dying fabric, which is one of the main industries of the village. In fact, Zhoucheng is known as the hometown of Bai tie-dye art.