The 1974 discovery of thousands of life-sized Terracotta Warriors near Xian was one of the archaeological sensations of the 20th century. The figures date from 210 BC and were meant to guard the first emperor of China in the afterlife.
A huge statue of the emperor now guards the entrance to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, undeniable high point of any trip to Xian. To avoid disturbing these priceless treasures, they were left in situ with enormous structures now shielding them from the elements.
Three enormous pits are filled with row upon row of these remarkable effigies, with the first pit alone holding some 6,000 examples in excellent condition. There is a fourth exhibition space which holds other pieces found here, including bronze horses and chariots.
For a genuine experience that not only show you the history of China, but also showcase its beauty, try a visit to China’s great ancient water town known as Zhujiajiao. Formed over 1,700 years ago, this wonderful canal laden town that was once an important trading hub, has seen the days of both the Yuan, Qing and Ming dynasties, and has flourished today as a an up-and-coming bohemia of Asia.
In order to truly have an understanding of this beautiful place, one must visit the towns many bridges and canals. The Fangsheng Bridge is the biggest around, wonderfully engraved with eight dragons coiling around a shining pearl. Once you’ve done that, take a boat ride on the canal gondola, where you will experience wonderful views of this historic and well-preserved town. You can also take longer boat rides lakeside, experiencing the town from a different angle and perspective.
Anyone who’s experienced either of the Disney Magic Kingdom resorts in the United States will feel a sense of déjà vu when walking in to Hong Kong Disneyland. The Disney franchise has stayed true to form with a topnotch amusement park experience combining a few classic attractions, like Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise with some new offerings, like the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop in the newly opened Toy Story Land. The park is split into six themed areas: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Adventureland.
Weekdays have the lightest crowds, but no matter when you visit, remember to pick up a Fast Pass for the big attractions.
The Little Li River (Yulong River) is the largest tributary of the Li River and the most popular for travelers in Yangshuo County, China. The Little Li River starts in northern Yangshuo County near the town of Litang and meanders 22 miles (35.4 kilometers) to where it empties into the Li River near Ping Le. While the Li River is a major thoroughfare with motorboats shuttling passengers between Guilin and Yangshou, the Little Li is serene and slow-moving, just like the agrarian lifestyle of the denizens along the banks.
An excursion down the river starts a few miles south of Yangshuo’s town center. The two to three hour trip takes visitors through the towering limestone karst formations that make the area famous along shallow, crystal-clear water. During the hotter summer months, boatmen will stop at a few popular swimming holes to get a break from the heat. While a rafting trip down the Little Li is generally peaceful and relaxing, it can be quite exhilarating as well.
There are few images more iconic to southwestern China than that of the giant panda. Unfortunately, despite its status as a Chinese national treasure, the giant panda population has been whittled down to just 1,000 pandas due to mass human development over the last century.
As a response to this ecological crisis the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was opened in 1987 and began caring for six pandas rescued from the wild. During the 25 years since its founding the Chengdu Panda Base has employed some of the world’s leading giant panda researchers to manage an open air sanctuary where giant pandas can be bred and raised in an effort to eventually be reintroduced into wild populations.
Located only seven miles from downtown Chengdu, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is inarguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of southern China.
Have you ever wondered what's so forbidden about the Forbidden City? It's called that because it was closed to the outside world for 500 years. This was the seat of the Ming and the Qing emperors, and no one could enter - or leave - the imperial domain without their permission. These days, the Chinese mainly call it Gu Gong, or Former Palace.
The Forbidden City, or Beijing Imperial Palace, is BIG - you'll need to allow at least one day for your visit. UNESCO have listed it as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world. There are nearly 1,000 rooms in over 800 buildings. However, because it's been ransacked by invaders and gutted by fire several times (wooden buildings, lanterns, you do the math) most of the structures date from the 18th century on.
If the Li and Little Li Rivers are the lifeblood of Yangshuo, West Street (Xi Jie) is the heart. This marble-paved street, the oldest street in Yangshuo County, is lined with boutique shops, Western cafes, Chinese restaurants and youth hostels. The traditional architecture and close quarters lend a sense of antiquity to the area in spite of the neon lights that illuminate the street at night.
By day, West Street has a sleepy vibe as travelers lounge outside cafes and hostels sipping on tea and munching on banana crepes, a local breakfast specialty. By night, the area transforms into a vivacious hot spot replete with busy night clubs, relaxed beer gardens and a seemingly endless array of restaurants serving the local favorite: beer fish, and shops touting all sorts of tourist souvenirs.
Visitors planning to do some shopping along West Street should plan to visit in the evenings when most of the smaller vendors have their stalls set up.
The Bund (or Waitan) is the grand center of Colonial architecture in Shanghai. The former International Settlement runs along the waterfront of the Huangpu River, facing the Pudong district ('Bund' is a word of Indian derivation meaning 'embankment'). Loosely known as the "museum of international architecture," the Bund attracts visitors who are interested in the artsy side of Shanghai.
When foreign powers entered Shanghai after the Opium Wars of the 19th century, the Bund existed as a towpath. It quickly became the center of Shanghai as Western traders built banks, trading houses and consulates along its length, and has been synonymous with Shanghai's east-meets-west glamor ever since. Today the Bund faces the new wave of trading development - the vast towers of Jin Mao, the World Finance Center and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the financial district of Pudong.
The 233-foot (71-meter) tall Grand Buddha in Leshan (also called the Leshan Giant Buddha) holds the record as both the tallest stone Buddha sculpture and one of the tallest sculptures anywhere in the world. Construction of the Buddha, carved out of the mountain, began in 713 when a Buddhist monk by the name of Hai Tong decided to carve the statue as a way to gain divine protection for local fisherman who were getting killed each year by violent river currents.
Ninety years of work went into the carving of the Grand Buddha, but the river rages on. After earning a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the statue has undergone extensive repairs, and today you can see it in much of its original glory with a day trip from Chengdu.
To see the statue from all angles, take the stone staircase down the statue's right side from the gift shop just behind his head. Once you've zigzagged your way down, you'll find a viewing platform at the statue's toe level.
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While the Big Wild Goose Pagoda - or Dayanta - follows the familiar pagoda format of successive levels diminishing in size the higher they get, this solid stone tower is largely free of the frills associated with such buildings. One of Xian’s oldest structures, it was built in 652 and originally had 10 levels, though the top 3 were later lost in an earthquake.
The pagoda played an important role in the spread of Buddhism in China. Relics, figurines and writings associated with the Buddha were brought here from India along the Silk Road which ends in Xian. You can still see statues of the Buddha and other religious figures inside.
The Summer Palace - also known as Yiheyuan - was built in 1750. In those days, it was called the Garden of Clear Ripples, and was a lakeside oasis where the royal court could escape the dust and heat of the Forbidden City in summer.
It was razed twice by foreign armies and completely rebuilt, most extensively by Empress Dowager Cixi in the 19th century. To fund her projects, she's said to have diverted a bunch of money destined for the Chinese navy. Ironically, one of her grand schemes was a marble boat that sits at the edge of the lake.
The grounds were declared a public park in 1924. These days, the 290 hectares (716 acres) of the 'Gardens of Nurtured Harmony' are madly popular with both tourists and locals.
The gardens are liberally scattered with temples, covered walkways, pavilions and bridges. Longevity Hill, one of the garden's main features, was constructed from the earth excavated when the lake was extended.
Just up the Li River from Yangshuo sits the tiny ancient fishing village of Xingping. While Yangshuo has a lively international community of Chinese, expatriates and travelers passing through, Xingping offers a quieter, more authentic and rural Chinese experience. Nestled amidst the towering limestone karsts, the village has been inhabited since 265 AD and retains several well preserved Ming Dynasty buildings.
Apart from wandering the narrow alleys of the village, visitors can make the ten minute walk to 20 Yuan Point, a spot along the river with the view of the karsts that is depicted on the Chinese 20 yuan note; or make the challenging climb to the Bird’s View Pavilion atop a karst just outside the village.
Xingping Village is often a stopping point on boat excursions down the Li River from Yangshuo, but you can also get there by buses departing from Yangshuo throughout the day.
Riding a Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island is a signature Hong Kong experience.
The low-slung, double-decker, green and cream ferries are a Hong Kong emblem, dating back to 1888. Until the cross-harbor road tunnel and underground train link were built, the only way to cross between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island was by ferry.
Take a trip by day to experience the harbor and see the buildings on both sides, then take another trip at night to see the buildings light up and enjoy the nightly Symphony of Lights.
You can also cruise Victoria Harbour aboard a circular Star Ferry harbor tour, or book yourself onto an evening dinner cruise to sit back and drink in those twinkling views.
Overlooking the Central district on Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan) is one of the best vantage points for stupendous views of the harbor and high-rises. Rising 1,810 feet (552 meters), Victoria Peak is topped with the touristy Peak Tower complex of shops, restaurants and 360-degree Sky Terrace viewing platform.
Go for a stroll through the Victoria Peak Garden, follow one of the many nature walks on the mountain, and stay on for nightfall to see Hong Kong's spectacular nightly light show.
Shanghai’s Old French Concession, an area once leased to the French in the Luwan and Xuhui districts of the city, is a reminder of an older Shanghai. The visitor-friendly area is packed full of beautiful colonial mansions and hotels dating back to the first three decades of the twentieth century. The French took control of the area in 1849, but it wasn’t until the 1920s when the neighborhood reached its peak of popularity as one of Shanghai’s most elite neighborhoods.
When you walk through the heart of the area on the tree-lined streets between Julu Road and Huaihai Road, you’ll find a collection of nicer restaurants and boutique shops occupying the surviving historic structures alongside Shanghai locals going about their day to day life. The French Concession is a good place to grab some food as there are so many choices; you’ll find almost everything here from Indian to French, Spanish and Thai food.
Xin Tian Di (Xintiandi) is a sleekly restored area of Shanghai, where the more successful of the city's young come to play. It's also a popular strolling area for tourists, who like to check out the 19th century architecture.
The district abounds in shikumen, stone houses that were a popular residential form in the late 19th century and early 20th century city. When the districts that contained these houses were being razed, developers stepped in to save and restore this area. Today the shikumen house galleries, bookshops, antique stores, upmarket boutiques, bars and restaurants. It's particularly ironic that this Westernized playground should be cheek-by-jowl with the Site of the First Conference of the Communist Party of China.
A Ming temple, Temple of Heaven or Tian tan was built by the Yongle Emperor, who also built the Forbidden City, as a stage for the important rituals performed by the emperor, or Son of Heaven. Chief among these were the supplication to the heavens for a good harvest and the Winter Solstice ceremony, which was supposed to ensure a favorable year for the entire kingdom.
In those days it was believed that heaven was round and earth was square, so the architecture of the buildings (round, set on square bases) and the layout of the park (squared off at the Temple of the Earth end, rounded at the Temple of Heaven end) reflect this belief. The buildings are rich in symbolic detail - variations on the number nine, which represented the emperor; coloured glazes which represent heaven and earth; and pillars which represent the months of the year, the seasons and time. There are also echo stones where you can stand to hear your voice reverberate.
The Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha), located on Lantau Island, has the very specific distinction of being the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha on earth. Including its podium and lotus flower, the entire statue stands 112 feet (34 meters) tall. The stature was erected in 1993 and faces north toward Mainland China.
When you make the climb the 268 steps to the Big Buddha’s base, you’ll have panoramic views over the surrounding mountains and South China Sea. Just opposite the statue sits the Po Lin Monastery, one of the most important in Hong Kong. Come hungry and eat at the highly rated vegetarian restaurant run by the monastery.
Saturdays and Sundays are always busy at the Big Buddha, as this is when locals and many mainland tourists come. While you can ride a bus to the top of the mountain, the best and most scenic way to go is on the Ngong Ping Cable Car from the Tung Chung MTR station.
The Huangpu River, extending over 71 miles (113 kilometers), flows through the middle of Shanghai’s, dividing the city into two parts – Pudong to the east and Puxi to the west. The port where the river empties into the East China Sea has now become the largest port in China and in 2012 became the world’s busiest container port.
Walking along the Huangpu River juxtaposes the colonial buildings of Old Shanghai with the towering, ultramodern skyscrapers that now dominate the skyline. While it’s possible to experience the Huangpu River from the banks with a walk along the Bund, the best way to see both sides is on a river cruise.
Most cruises start from the Bund and go upstream before turning south towards the Yangpu bridge. Boats depart throughout the day, but after the sun sets and the buildings to either side of the river light up, the Shanghai skyline becomes even more impressive than usual.
Yufo Si is a working Buddhist community - one of the few in China - but the star attractions of the Jade Buddha Temple are two figures brought to Shanghai by a Burmese monk in the 19th century.
The most impressive is the sitting Buddha, a 1.9 m (6.5 ft) giant encrusted with semi-precious stones. This Buddha is sitting in the pose which captures the moment of his enlightenment by meditation. The other Buddha is smaller and in the attitude of 'happy repose', as he goes peacefully to death. Both Buddhas are carved from white jade. Facing the reclining Buddha is a large copy in stone, brought to the monastery from Singapore. These are the main points of a visit to the temple, but take a look at the halls while you're there, particularly the Grand Hall with its golden 'Gods of the Twenty Heavens'. There's also a restaurant that serves the public, with a simple downstairs and a swankier upstairs.
Few bucket lists are complete without a walk along the Great Wall of China, famously one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, and undoubtedly the most visited section is the Great Wall at Badaling. Often visited on a day trip from Beijing, Badaling was the first part of the wall to open to tourists back in 1958 and now draws up to 10 million annual visitors. Built in 1502 during the Ming Dynasty, the wall at Badaling runs for 2.3 miles around the Jundu mountain, reaching an altitude of over 1,000 meters and spanning almost 6 meters at its widest point – wide enough for 5 horses to gallop abreast. The popularity of Badaling means that it is often overrun with tour groups, but there are still many good reasons to visit - not only is Badaling the most thoroughly restored section of the wall and offers magnificent views, but it’s the most accessible, with a cable car and pulley train available for those who don’t want to walk to the top.
Lantau Island is twice the size of Hong Kong Island, but only a fraction of the population live here, leaving its beaches, hills and national parks to visitors to enjoy.
The highlight is the Po Lin monastery and temple, reached by the Ngong Ping 360 cable car on the western side of the island. The temple’s amazing seated bronze Giant Buddha is the world’s largest.
Hong Kong Disneyland offers more familiar entertainment, and the island’s fishing villages, walking trails, beaches and seafood restaurants are also popular.
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