China, means Central Kingdom in Mandarin, was firstly applied to the area around present-day Luoyang area in Henan Province in the central China around 4000 years ago. China emerged as one of the world's earliest civilizations in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. Beginning with Xia Dynasty (from 2070 BC), the first unified Chinese empire, China has then expanded, fractured and re-unified numerous times in the following millennia.
China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts in the arid northwest to subtropical forests in the wetter south. China's landscapes vary significantly across its vast width. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains, while on the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, broad grasslands predominate. Southern China is dominated by hills and low mountain ranges, while the central-east hosts the delta of the Yangtze River - the 3rd longest river in the world. To the west sit major mountain ranges, most notably the Himalayas. The world's highest point, Mount Everest (8,848m), lies on the Sino-Nepalese border. The country's lowest point, and the world's third-lowest, is the dried lake bed of Ayding Lake (?154m) in the Turpan Depression in the northwest Xinjiang Province.
Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism (include conservative philosophies) and Taoism.
Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history and geographical variety, in which the most influential are known as the "Eight Major Cuisines", including Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui, and Zhejiang cuisines, while the first 4 cuisines are the most famous gentres. All of them are featured by the precise skills of shaping, heating, colorway and flavoring.
How to plan your tour in China
China is a very big country with highly diverse landscapes and climate as I wrote above. There are many factors you would need to consider when planning a trip to China. Ask yourself some key questions for your China Tour plan would be better,
1. What Cities Are of Interest?
When you sit down to plan your trip, you will realize just how vast China really is; therefore attempting to cover the entire country is impossible, unless you plan to spend many months or even years travelling. If it is your first visit, there is also the practical concern of language as English is not spoken widely in China. You may want to stick to the touristy cities: Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai.
The three cities offer a nice rounded view of China; a generous mix of the historic and cultural as well as progress and development. Beijing, the capital city, belongs at the top of your 'cannot miss' list. The top attractions in Beijing are, first and foremost, the Great Wall of China and thereafter the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square. The Temple of Heaven and the surrounding park that make up a medieval complex of religious buildings are located in central Beijing. The temple offers a deep insight into the culture of China. The Summer Palace, situated northwest of Beijing, is thought to be the best preserved imperial garden in the world. Located on the northwest suburbs and with the Sacred Road, Underground Palace and Worship Halls, Ming Tomb (the Mausoleum of the Emperors in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the largest and emperor mausoleum complexs in China, is also a deserving place for every foreign tourist in Beijing. Foodies would definitely want to stop by Quanjude Roast Duck, it is one of the famous restaurants in the city. The beginnings of this great country lie in Xi'an. The very first emperor of united China, was Emperor Qin, which is pronounced 'chin'. Xi'an is home to temples and pagodas that are over one thousand years old and, last but not least, Emperor Qin's famous Terracotta Army and Copper Carriages which was built for 247 - 208 BC. Shanghai, boasting an impressive skyline, is China's most cosmopolitan city. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is the most iconic feature in Shanghai. Appreciating the panoramic view of the city at the sightseeing platform and enjoying your meal in revolving restaurant in the Middle Sphere (around 270m high) of the Tower would be an unparalleled experience. The Bund by the side of Huangpu River, is the most famous venue in the city. The buildings boast an array of architectural styles, like Greek, Renaissance, Baroque and eclecticism. Take a leisurely stroll along the 1.5 km walkway by the side of the River that is adorned with colorful tiles, lights and flowering plants would be a very enjoyable experience. The view at night is quite spectacular. The classical architectures on the Bund outlined in artistic lights are like the crystal palaces. Only stone's throw away from the Bund is the Old Shanghai Town. The 500 years old Yuyuan Garden, Yuyuan Bazaar and Old City God Temple are waiting for your exploration. If you like to enjoy the charming colonial atmosphere in the city, several hours strolling in the French Town (old French Concession in Shanghai) is a good idea. Sitting outside a trendy cafe or bar to enjoy the leisure time would be an unforgettable experience for every tourist. If you have baby with you, a visit to Disney Land would be a nice choice for your holiday in Shanghai.
If it is your 2nd time visit or you have some more days, and you plan to enjoy more typical Chinese sceneries, to know more Chinese culture, the following picturesque cities and places are highly recommended to you: Guilin city (include Yangshuo town), some picturesque ancient cities and water town in the Yangtze River Delta Area, such as Hangzhou city and Suzhou city, Wuzhen Town, Zhouzhuang Town, Tongli Town... (They are within the one day tour distance from Shanghai), and Yellow Mountain (Mt. Huangshan) in Anhui Province, Jiuzhai Valley in Sichuan Province.
Except the above areas, there are still many other superb places in China deserving for tourists to visit. All of them with the unique enchanting scenery, fascinating local customs and profound culture: Dali - Lijiang -Shangri-la in Yunnan Province in southwest China, Qufu city in Shandong Province - the hometown of Confucius and one of most important origin of the oriental civilization, Pingyao ancient city and Mt. Wutai in Shanxi Province, grasslands and Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Inner Mongolia, Silk Road in Gansu and Xinjiang Province, Tibet, Three Gorges along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.
Guilin (include ancient Yangshuo town) by the side of Lijiang River is widely known as "the best landscape under heaven" in China. Dotted with eye-feasting scenery and Endowed with amazing karstic hills, mountains, caves and little streams, Lijiang River is always surprising with its surrounding lush landscape, fauna and peaks reflecting on the clear green and mirror-like water under the blue sky. As a real fairyland on earth, the Lijiang River is a jewel of the area, where generations of local Chinese people live by, out of the turmoil of big Chinese metropolis.
There many beautiful ancient cities and water towns in the Yangtze River Delta such as Hangzhou city, Suzhou city, Wuzhen Town, Zhouzhuang Town, Tongli Town.... With the 2nd largest fresh water lake, Taihu Lake, in this area, dense network of rivers and canals as well as a fertile land, mild temperature, this area is the most prosperous area in China for hundreds of years, even called ""the Land of Fish and Rice". It has been a cradle of talented people and gave birth to many remarkable politicians, philosophers, strategists, scientists and artists. Painting, calligraphy, seal cutting, opera, medicine and architecture all have different schools and achievements.
Hangzhou, a "heavenly" beautiful city and the capital of Zhejiang Province in East China, is about 200 km southwest of Shanghai. It sits at the southern end of the Grand Canal (the longest and oldest canal in the world) and is one of China's seven ancient national capitals. In China, there is a popular saying: "Above there is heaven, below there are Hangzhou and Suzhou." Hangzhou West Lake Cultural Landscape was listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site on June 24, 2011 during the 35th World Heritage Conference held in Paris. The placid lake as well as causeways and artificial islands, beautiful gardens, lavish temples, lakeside teahouses and tea plantation in the hills near the West Lake make this city one of the hottest holiday destinations in China.
Only around 100km to the west of Shanghai, and as a well-known "Land of Fish and Rice" as well as a "Silk Capital", Suzhou enjoys a fame of "Paradise on Earth". The ancient city of Suzhou is famed for its classic gardens, water town scenery and local "Wu" culture. Occupying an area of 14.2 s.k. the ancient city was built in 514 BC as the capital of the Wu Kingdom then. Now this city still stands at its original site when it was established around 2500 years ago and never moved. It is the only ancient city in the world which never changed its site for such a long history. According to the inscribed stone "Pingjiang Map" in 1229, there were seven north-south rivers and 14 east-west rivers inside the city of Suzhou, totaling 82 kilometers, and 314 bridges. Now there are still 35 kilometers of rivers and more than 160 bridges. Rivers and streets run parallel to each other. With black tiles and , whitewashed walls, the waterfront houses represent a rich flavor of water town. There are numerous cultural heritages such as ancient pagodas and temples, government offices, former residences of celebrities, gardens and mansions, ancestral temples, halls and public places, archways and ancient wells in the city. Of these cultural heritages, 8 classical gardens inside ancient Suzhou city (along with another garden in Tongli Town around 20 km to the southeast of Suzhou city) have been inscribed in the World Heritage List. The historical and cultural street blocks of Pingjiang, the Humble Administrator's Garden and Shantang, as typical areas of the ancient city of Suzhou, will apply for being inscribed in the World Heritage List.
There are many water towns and villages scattered in this area, the most famous are Wenzhen, Zhouzhuang, Tongli, Nanxun, Xitang and Luzhi. And by the side the Dianshan Lake, near the border of Jiangsu Province, on the outskirts of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao water town is also among the famous ones. All of these water towns feature the crystal brooks, flagstone alleyways, old residence buildings with whitewashed walls and black-tiled roofs, arched bridges and some ancient luxury courtyard mansions. They will offer tourists a chance to taste the romance of soft water village rhythm, feel the magic power of water, experience true slow pace village life, free from metropolitan stresses and troubles. This sightseeing choice should definitely be incorporated into your travel plan in China if you have time.
Yellow Mountain (Mt. Huangshan) is said the most beautiful mountain in China. There is a popular saying in China: "Trips to China's five great scared mountains render trips to other mountains unnecessary, and a trip to Mt. Huangshan renders trips to the five great scared mountains unnecessary." The magnificent scenery is fascinating whatever the season: granite peaks piercing the clouds, strangely shaped rocks and gnarled trees, hot springs, waterfalls, wonderful outlooks and over 1500 plant species. It is also the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990.
Jiuzhai Valley is locally known as Jiuzhaigou (Chinese for “Nine Village Valley”). It is China’s premier national park and is located at elevations ranging between 1,990m (6,529 feet) to 4,764m (15,630 feet) above sea level. Located on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau in Northern Sichuan Province, it is easily accessible by direct flights from many main cities in China. It is best known for its fabled blue and green lakes, spectacular waterfalls, narrow conic karst land forms and its unique wildlife. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992; the park joined the Man and Biosphere Conservation Network in 1997. More than just spectacular scenery, Jiuzhai Valley National Park is home to nine Tibetan villages, over 220 bird species as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda, Sichuan golden monkey, the Sichuan takin and numerous orchids and rhododendrons. Jiuzhai Valley provides spectacular scenery throughout the year making it one of China’s most treasured scenic sites.
Shangri-la, synonymous with the earthly paradise and mythical Himalayan utopia, always evokes the imagery of blue moon, pyramid like white snow mountains and almost immortal people. It is in the west of Yunnan Province, near Tibet. Kunming city, the capital of Yunnan Province and a famous spring city with many enchanting attractions such as Stone Forest, Dali - the ancient capital of the Bai ethnic minority kingdom by the side of charming E'hai Lake, Lijiang - a UNESCO World Heritage city, Tiger Leaping Gorge - one of the most magnificent canyons in the world. In these places, Tourists can enjoy spectacular scenery, folk arts of the ethnic minority people and cultural relics, explore and indulge yourselves in Shangri-la, a mystical paradise lost in the deep mountains. You might view how people there live leisurely and in moderation. And You might find a peace of mind in the harmonious wonderland of Shangri-La with snow-capped mountains, lakes, trees and water. It is the trip of life, where the souls would be purified.
Qufu - the birthplace of Confucius and the very important center of Confucianism. The oldest and biggest Confucius Temple, Confucius' later Generation's Residence, Confucius and His Family's Cemetery are in the city and all of them are well preserved and have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994. Tourists could enjoy the splendid ancient Chinese building arts and know more about the oriental culture - the Confucianism.
Ping Yao, in Shanxi Province in northern China, is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Ping Yao was the major centre for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries. - from UNESCO website.
Pingyao Ancient City is an unbelievable melting pot. Buildings inside the Ancient City Wall, though taking on the same traditional looks, stand for sharply different contents. Exchange shops at Mingqing Street（Built in Ming & Qing Dynasty, 1368-1911 AD）are to give you an active and ambitious Shanxi Commercial Group, which once dominated economy before modern China (before 1850).
With its five flat peaks and as a sacred Buddhist mountain, Mount Wutai was the first of the four mountains to be identified as the scared mountains of Buddhism in China. It is seen as the global centre for the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjusri worship. Mount Wutai, literally, 'the five terrace mountain', is the highest in Northern China and is remarkable for its morphology of precipitous slopes with five open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on this site from the 1st century AD to the early 20th century. Now tourists mainly visit Taihuai Town which is in the middle of the 5 peaks and there are many well protected ancient temples.
If you are tired of mountains, hot springs and ancient towns, spending your holiday in the grassland in Inner Mongolia, watching the sunrise of grassland, enjoying windy night under a tapestry of shining stars, riding horse and tasting the local dishes such as roast sheep would be a good choice. Mausoleum of Genghis Kha who once controlled the biggest country in the world in history is also in this region and would be a pity if missed it when you tour in Inner Mongolia.
The Silk Road passes through Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai provinces, Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions and then stretches over the Pamirs, further extends to Central and West Asia and finally gets to the east bank of the Mediterranean Sea and Eastern Europe. The total length of the Silk Road is over 7000 km, over half of which is within China. There are numerous scenic spots and historical sites along the silk road: Jiayuguan Pass, the Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang, Yangguan Pass, the Turpan Depression, Bazaar in Urumqi, Abakh Khoja Tomb, Idgar Mosque, Kashgar Old Town of Kashgar (Kashi) and many more. In this remote area, tourists can find many interesting and unique issues – includes Mogao Grottoes – the world-famous art treasury, with invaluable murals and sculptures made between the 4th and the 14th centuries.
Tibet, the Roof of the World and the Third Pole, is the biggest, highest and the youngest plateau in the world. Although for most people, the impression of the alpine terrain conditions in Tibet is severe, dry, low humidity with strong winds, the mild and pleasant climate in central Tibet, include Lhasa and Shigatse (the biggest and 2nd biggest city in Tibet), makes this area available for tourists all the year around. And the altitude in the east Tibet, Lingzhi (nyingchi) area, is even lower than 2900 which makes this area humid and warm. Tourist can meet snow-capped mountains and holy lakes, splendid monasteries and palaces, original villages and unsophisticated people. In Tibet, tourists also have the opportunity to visit the 5200m high Base Camp of Mt. Everest to enjoy the highest mountain in the world closely.
The Three Gorges, including Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge, and Xiling Gorge, along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River have long been renowned for their spectacular scenery of the surrounding steep cliffs, flexuous and weird towering peaks, many dangerous rapids and currents, and the Three Gorges Dam which was completed in the summer of 2006 and is the largest electricity generating facility in the world.
Stretch from Baidicheng in Fengjie County, Chongqing Municipality eastward for 192 km to Nanjinguan in Yichang City, Hubei Province, Three Gorges is not a single entity and most sections are separated by broad valleys. The aggregate length of the gorge section: Qutang, Wuxia and Xiling Gorges, is 90 km.
Qutang Gorge, the shortest and most majestic of the Three Gorges, winds 8km (5 miles) from Daxi Town (a famous attraction) in Fengjie County to Daxi Town in Wushan County. It is considered as the most dramatic and gorgeous one by many tourists, with the width of the river here reduced to 100-200 m and the narrowest places no more than a few dozen meters.
A continuous line of peaks along the deep Qutang Gorges reaches as high as 1,000-1,500 meters, which makes a most magnificent picture. Much more picturesque, the turbulent waters of the rolling and roaring river flow through the rock gate that towers over the water. The most famous view is the Kui Gate, also called the Qutang Pass, at the west starting point of this gorge. Two peaks, Mt. Baiyan (White Salt Mountain) in the north and Mt. Chijia soar above the horizon resemble a gate that might have been created by Heaven and placed here on earth. This scene is so famous that it is printed on the banknote of RMB.
The Wu Gorge is the middle gorge of the Three Gorges and is famous for its elegance. Winding over 44 km (25 miles), it starts from the estuary of Daning River (east of Wushan) in the west and ends at Guandukou in Badong, Hubei Province.
Wu Gorge is filled with flexuous and weird peaks, rising mists and spectacular sightseeing, known for its deep valleys and forest covered mountains. The famous natural sceneries and attractions include: Twelve Peaks, Goddess Peak, Wushan Hill, Dadong, Zigui, Fragrant Sream, The Little Three Gorges along Daning River, etc.
Comprising many dangerous rapids and currents, Xiling Gorge starts at Badong County and zigzags for 76 kilometers (47 miles) down to the Nanjin Pass in Yichang. It is the longest part of the Three Gorges system with dangerous rapids like Xietan, Qintan and Kongling, collectively known as the Three Rapids of Xiling.
Scenery along the Xiling Gorge is spectacular. Some renowned streams, springs, stones and karst caves can be found along this section. As many historic celebrities such as Qu Yuan and Bai Juyi have been here and left numerous poems praising the natural scene of Xiling Gorge, it is bestowed with a great sense of history.
2. When Is the Best Time Travel to China?
China has several major nationwide holidays when the crowds are at their biggest and the hotels are at their most expensive. If you dislike crowds be sure to avoid Labor Day week (1-7 May), National Day week (1-7 Oct) and Spring Day Holiday (the traditional Chinese New Year Holiday according to the lunar calendar). But if you want to experience Chinese New Year in all its glory, book well ahead because it is the most important holiday and all the locals are out in full force! There is plenty to see and do year round but winter is the low season and all but Hainan Island (include Sanya) and Hongkong experiences very low temperatures. On the bright side, you can expect cheaper rates and pretty snow covered landscapes. Normally tour price during the summer holiday (1 July - 31 Aug) would also be higher than normal period because it is the holiday for all students. Parents would take their babies to take family tour during this period.
In China, Summer can be hot, but winter can be cold. So Spring (April-June) and Autumn(2nd half of September - 1st half of November) would be good tour season for most of China.
3. Who Should You Travel With?
Travelling alone in China can be challenging given the language barriers, expenses and various shortfalls of a developing country but you will have flexibility and your own space. Group package tours are comparatively cheaper and convenient for a foreign tourist who can not speak English. You will be shown all the major tourist attractions but may not have time to soak up the atmosphere and culture. There is also the option of a private tour, several companies offer tailor made itineraries or provide only English speaking guide service that can avoid the language barriers. Tourists can also use traffic+hotel service which allow you flexibility as well as peace of mind.
Plan ahead to make the most of your visit.
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