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05/11/2013

The general guide of the must-see China's Cities II

Nanjing: A Pressure Cooker

In the nineteenth century, the Taiping Rebellion took control over southern China and established their capital in Nanjing. And China and Japan still spar over acknowledgement of Japan’s massacre of over 300,000 residents of the city during World War II. The wounds still feel fresh at the city’s Memorial of the Nanjing Massacre.

Despite its tragic past, Nanjing today is a beautiful and welcoming city. One of the many pleasures it offers is a chance to see its city walls. While modernization and development have demolished the defensive walls of other cities across China, Nanjing’s tall, thick stone walls and gates are still a living part of the city’s history.

Shanghai Superstar

Shanghai is located on China’s eastern seaboard, where the Yangzi River (on which you can have Yangtze River tour) meets the Pacific. This important juncture has made Shanghai the busiest port on the planet. With the completion of the Three Gorges Dam opening the Yangzi’s 3,700 miles to heavy barges, Shanghai will become the true gateway between central China and the rest of the world. As the city continues to grow, officials aim to make it China’s “green capital” with parks and other quality of life projects.

Shanghai is called the “Head of the Dragon” for good reason. At the forefront of China’s commerce, finance, art, and fashion, it is also home to 10 million people, making it China’s second most populous city.

Fuzhou: City of the Future

Fuzhou was the launching point for the seven voyages of the navy of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE). These were led by one of China’s most famous adventurers, Zheng He. Between the years of 1405 and 1433 CE, Zheng He led several hundred ships to India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Arabia.

Fuzhou has also long been called Rong Cheng, “the city of Banyan,” for the many large trees with an exposed lattice of roots. Just outside of the city is the famous Gu Shan, “Drum Hill.” Rising above the Min River, Gu Shan is topped with a rock that is said to throb like a drum during storms. With hot springs and thousand year old Yongguan Si Buddhist monastery, Fuzhou boasts riches from nature as well as from history.

Hong Kong: Rising from the Water

Only two hundred years ago, no one would have bet that a few steep mountains jutting out of the South China Sea would become a powerhouse economic force. China ceded Hong Kong (learn more via guide of travel to Hong Kong) to Britain in 1843 after the Opium Wars and the British established a port for trade there. With the closure of China during the decades after the establishment of Communist Rule in China in 1949, Hong Kong’s population and business community swelled with people and corporations fleeing China. Over the next decades, Hong Kong grew like gangbusters and was even referred to (along with Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea) as one of the Four Asian Tigers.

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, but still has a certain degree of autonomy in local affairs. Today, its graceful green peaks are still frequently cloaked in fog, but the lowlands are often marred by smog wafting over from the industrial mainland. Hong Kong harbor is constantly morphing as land is filled into the harbor so skyscrapers can rise. The shiny new Hong Kong International Airport has been built on landfill on Lantau Island. Connected to the city by a high-speed train, it has wide runways that can handle sixty airplanes an hour. This smooth efficiency replaces the nerve-wracking landing between peaks on the old Kai Tak Airport’s lone runway. As the city grows into its new role as an extension of south China, Hong Kong will continue to enjoy a smooth ascent as an international center, proving that geography is not always destiny. So don't miss Hong Kong tours.

Hainan: Flight to Paradise

Imagine being punished by paradise. Throughout Chinese history, outspoken politicians and thinkers were exiled to the island of Hainan just off the southern coast of mainland China. The most famous exile was Su Dongpo, the eleventh century poet, painter, and statesman. Of course, despite the natural beauty of the island, exiles had to endure the monsoon season and the lack of creature comforts such as fruit buffets and golf courses.

Today, Hainan has flourished into a destination for tourists, who flock to enjoy the sweet fruits, warm weather, lush forests, clear air, and pristine beaches. A new rail and ferry link to Guangzhou will make it convenient for even more tourists impose upon themselves a voluntary exile, now known as a vacation, in Hainan.

Yumen: On the Frontier

Yumen Guan (or “Jade Gate”) is a narrow, rocky pass that marks the traditional frontier of China. Located in northwest Gansu province (main destination for Silk Road tours), the Hexi Corridor would funnel travelers up 600 miles to pass, which marked the last outpost before leaving traditional China and entering the desert. One such traveler was the Tang dynasty century monk and scholar, Xuanzang, who walked from China’s capital Xi’an, to India. On the return trip he brought many Buddhist scrolls and texts that vitalized Buddhism in China.

Before arriving at the Yumen Guan, travelers would stop at the Mogao Buddhist cave temples near the town of Dunhuang. The first cave temple was carved in 366 CE and over the next four centuries it grew to a complex of hundreds of temples, many with flowing, colorful murals depicting scenes of the life of the Buddha or of paradises. Travelers would make offerings before setting out on the dangerous Silk Roads, and would give thanks at the caves upon their safe return.

09:01 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

The general guide of the must-see China's Cities I

China is a country of immense variety in its terrain and geography, but the story of modern China is often told through its cities. According to Public Radio International, for the past two decades China has built twenty new cities each year. These urban centers draw people from China’s countryside and from around the world to take advantage of new economic opportunities. Start your China trip around fifteen of China's most important cities.

Harbin: Next Stop, Ice City!

The northern city of Harbin grew as a railway town when the Russians linked their western outpost, Vladivostok, to the city of Dalian in China. More than 100 years later, this industrial city in northeast China is known for its beauty. Visitors can walk the cobblestone streets and enjoy the elegant spires and cupolas of Orthodox churches and other buildings constructed by the many Russians who settled in Harbin after fleeing the civil war of 1918. Just outside the city, magnificent Manchurian tigers are on view at the nearby Siberian Tiger Park conservation and breeding center.

Visitors and locals alike cheerfully brave Harbin’s long and cold winters to see the world-famous Ice Lantern Festival. Teams from all over the globe come to recreate architectural wonders or themes from history and fairy tales—all in ice and many several stories tall. At night, the sculptures are illuminated with (some say beautiful, others say gaudy) colored lights.

Beijing: On Top of the World

Beijing was born to be a world capital. After being burned to the ground by Chingghis Khan in 1215 CE, Beijing was built anew as the capital of the vast Mongol Empire under Chingghis’ grandson, Kubilai.

Today, Beijing (best destination for last minute China travel deals)is the capital of China. It is home to top universities, numerous museums, and national treasures such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace. Many fear, however, that Beijing’s most distinctive treasures, like the winding hutong alleyways, are being lost to progress. Lined with noodle stands, markets, and doorways to private courtyards, hutong ring with the sound of the distinctive Beijing accent known for ending words with an "r”-sound. It used to be said that in Beijing, the hutong were more numerous than the hairs on an ox. Today, though, most have been razed.

In their place, world-class architecture such as Herzon and de Meuron’s Beijing National Stadium, the seat of the 2008 Olympic Games, has arisen. Beijing worked hard to win the Olympics and Beijingers look forward to 2010 as the year when their city will be on top of the world.

Xi'an: Buried in the Heart of China

One could easily say the heart of China is buried in Xi’an. The countryside around the city holds treasures from China’s Neolithic beginnings and from some of its greatest empires. For over 2,200 years almost nine thousand terracotta troops have stood guard over the elaborate tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The army was first discovered by farmers in 1974, opening a great treasure to the world. Excavation of the elaborate tomb, said to have been built by the labors of 700,000 people, is still continuing. The great Chinese historian, Sima Qian, writing 100 years after the tomb’s construction, told of rivers of mercury and ceilings dotted with constellations of gems.

During the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), the network of trade routes now called the Silk Roads linked Xi’an to South and Central Asia as well as Europe. With over a million inhabitants, Xi’an was the world’s most populous city. It boasted goods, fashions, and music from the world over and was home to diverse religions such as Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Visitors today can see numerous Buddhist temples, such as the Big Goose Pagoda, built in 652 CE. Islam arrived via the Silk Roads and today Xi’an (where you can start your Silk Road tour ) is home to one of China’s largest mosques.

Wuhan: Three Bridges and a City

Straddling the juncture of the Yangzi (where you can have Yangtze River tour) and Han rivers, Wuhan is actually a marriage of three towns—Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang. Three bridges cross the rivers and unify the towns into the largest city in central China. River traffic and tourism are staples of Wuhan’s economy and will only grow with the completion of the Three Gorges Dam.

In Wuhan, people admire the tall and graceful form of the Yellow Crane Tower, originally constructed around 220 CE, and rebuilt in 1981. In summer, they strive to beat the heat, perhaps diving into the small street restaurants to enjoy the local specialty regan mian, “hot and dry noodles.” Wuhan is considered the hottest of the sanlu or “three furnaces” of China, the other two being Chongqing and Nanjing. The humidity pushes down while the temperature soars to 104°F in summer.

While Wuhan further up the Yangzi River is considered the hottest of the sanlu or “three furnaces” of China, it is Nanjing that has the reputation for boiling over. In the fourteenth century, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang led a rebellion that toppled the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). He established Nanjing (literally “Southern Capital”) as the seat of the Ming dynasty.

09:00 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

04/11/2013

14 Things To Do In Hong Kong With Kids II

8. Endangered Pink Dolphins

Sadly, due to pollution, ferries and harbour reclamation, the endangered pink dolphins are becoming even more rare. They are gorgeous and if you can swing 3 hours on a boat, try to see them before they are gone. Hong Kong Dolphinwatch offers luxury boat cruises.

9. Explore The Geoparks

There are actually eight Geoparks in Hong Kong (learn more via guide of guide of travel to Hong Kong) that highlight interesting rock formations created by the Earth’s movement. Contrary to the way the above Geopark looks, there are plenty that are flat and easy for young kids to navigate. There are hexagonal volcanic columns, sea arches and other interesting rock formations. Some of them are remote so your best bet is to do some research in order to decide which to see.

10. Watch The Nightly Symphony Of Lights

There is something about this show that I loved throughout the years of living in Hong Kong. I recommend a harbour view hotel room to anyone that might have a chance of seeing the nightly Symphony of Lights (don't miss it for your Hong Kong tour) over Victoria Harbour. The ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ as named by Guinness World Records starts every night at 8:00pm. Colored lasers and lights shoot from the top of buildings lining the Hong Kong skyline. My daughter is 6-years-old and still loves it. There’s music and narration available on the radio though it’s live near Avenue of the Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Make sure to see the laser show at least once.

11. Ride The Mid-Levels Escalator

This activity depends on the level of patience your kids have, but the Mid-Levels Escalator is the largest in the world. Make it a challenge and see if you can ride it all the way to the top–though it doesn’t reach The Peak. If I were you, I’d draw them to the escalator by talking it up. If they start to get bored, use the opportunity to exit the escalator in the Mid-Levels for lunch. There are tons of great restaurants here. Just know that you’ll either need to taxi back down the hill (very easy to do) or walk down numerous levels of steps. From the Mid-Levels, it’s doable, but any higher than Mosque Street is a major trek for small legs.

12. Walk Avenue Of The Stars

Walk Avenue Of The Stars (one of main Hong Kong scenic spots) is neat to see, but it will resonate to fans of Chinese film more than the rest of us. Located on the Tsum Sha Tsui promenade in Kowloon, this is also a great place to view the impressive island skyline and Symphony of Lights. It’s modeled a little bit after the Hollywood walk of fame and tells the story of 100 years of Hong Kong film making. The big bronze statue of Bruce Lee here makes for another great photo opp.

13. Ride Or Watch For Duk Ling

It’s a Hong Kong icon often seen in travel ads and a sight that lends immediate recognition to Victoria Harbour. Duk Ling is the last authentic Chinese sailing junk in Victoria Harbour. The junk has been painstakingly restored and is available for short cruises during the week or private hire. If you’re not going to ride it, keep an eye out for this famous junk in the harbour. I see it often from Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong.

14. Ferry To Another Island

Kids who love boat rides can get their fill in Hong Kong between the Star Ferry, Duk Ling, dolphin watching and ferries to outlying islands where the buzz of a big city is less noticeable. The two most popular islands are Cheung Chau (pictured above), which is famous for the annual bun festival in May (if you are in Hong Kong in May, this festival is a must), and Lamma Island, a fishing village. Cheung Chau is home to a pretty beach near the ferry terminal and water-based outdoor activities like kayaking and swimming, while Lamma Island is home to fresh seafood and a quiet beach. We used to take the 20-minute ferry ride over to Lamma from Central, walk around the island and then eat at one of the small seaside restaurants. The islands, especially Lamma, are relatively quiet and provide a nice break from city life.


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08:27 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)