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14/06/2013

Relief from the madding crowds

Three destinations that are off the beaten track but still worth a visit. Xu Junqianshows the way.

Holidays in China are synonymous with crowds and traffic jams, even the Tomb Sweeping Day, which is when Chinese people traditionally visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. So to help you enjoy a crowd-free vacation, China Daily has selected three destinations around Shanghai that are off the beaten track but still well worth a visit for your popular China tour package.

Changzhou - 179 km from Shanghai

One of the earliest cities in China to be opened-up, Changzhou in Jiangsu province is considered by most Chinese people to be an industrial town rather than a tourist destination. But with beautiful natural scenery nearby, historical relics and huge modern theme parks, the city offers many delights for those willing to look beyond the industrial skyline.


Just 40 minutes by car from the city center lies the Nanshan Bamboo Forest, a huge, pristine, natural museum housing a variety of bamboos. You can either take the cable car to the peak of the mountain, which commands an overall view of the sea of bamboo, or take a relaxed stroll through this natural generator of oxygen.

If you are interested in history, Yancheng is worth a visit. The small town might be one of the few places in China that has escaped war, and more importantly, the wrecker's ball, and it is still one of the oldest and most well-preserved ancient towns in China. A boat trip along river can't fail to please, while the marshes and wetlands are home to some unique and endangered species. Just a few steps away from the old town is the vast expanse of the newly built amusement park dedicated to what life would have been like back in Confucius' day. With an investment of about one billion yuan ($159 million), the park is a rather surreal combination of a Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) theme with state-of-art amusement facilities.

If you like the local delicacies, such as fresh spring bamboo or hand pressed tofu, the chef at the Shang Palace restaurant in the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel in Changzhou is not only adept at cooking all kinds of authentic local dishes, as he is a master of some of the traditional kitchen skills that are fast disappearing, he is also very bold when it comes to creating new dishes with bizarre ingredients like insects.

The hotel is also introducing a special spring package to celebrate the local cherry blossom which ends on April 6. The less-than-1,000-yuan package includes a night in the hotel's standard room, breakfast buffet for two and two free tickets to the theme park.

Qiandeng Town, Kunshan - 63 km from Shanghai

The historical Yangtze River (Yangtze River cruises) Delta is known for its ancient towns, mostly water towns, where busy urbanites go to experience a slower pace of life. The small, 2,500-year-old Qiandeng Town in Jiangsu province really does offer some relaxing time out from the city, as unlike some of others it is not yet commercialized and it has managed to escape the hordes of tourists that disturb the peace in the other ancient towns.


Qiandeng offers an authentic water-town atmosphere, with its chessboard layout of paved roads and canals. The Qinfeng Pagoda, which is also called the "beauty pagoda" because of its graceful, slender figure, has stood at the center of town for 1,500 years, withstanding storms and war as well as the passing of time.

After years of restoration, the pagoda is now open to the public and as well as offering some lovely panoramic views of the town it is also home to one of the world's largest jade reclining Buddhas. Newly produced and shipped from Myanmar, the statue is 8.9 meters in length and 32 tons in weight.


The petite town is also home one of the oldest and longest and best preserved slab stone streets in East China. Consisting of 2,072 stone slabs, the 800-meter street boasts such a surprisingly effective drainage system that even after a heavy downpour, there are few pools of water on the street.

The town's most famous son is Gu Yanwu, a renowned thinker and scholar of the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) who famously said "everyone should be responsible for the rise and fall of his country". Today his former residence is one of the town's main attractions.

It takes about an hour to get to Qiandeng by car from Shanghai which is always contained in packages of China tour deals. While there are few restaurants and cafes, the ones there are offer rustic east China cuisine at a reasonable price. After lunch you can spend the afternoon taking a relaxing boat trip or enjoy a Kunqu Opera performance in one of the teahouses.

Accommodation is limited and mostly low budget.

Qinhu Lake, Taizhou - 480 km from Shanghai

The Qingming Festival traditionally involves people paying their respects to their ancestors by visiting their graves. However, at Qinhu Lake in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, people celebrate a tradition that dates back to at least the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).


Every year the Qintong Boat Festival is staged on the lake. Beginning on the second day of the Qingming Festival, it is a weeklong carnival in which hundreds of skillful boatmen converge on the lake to compete in dragon boat races, there are also a variety of theatrical performances and folk dances.

The festival is becoming the biggest temple fair on water with the support of the local government, so you can expect to bump into other people.

If you really don't want to see anyone, the lake is part of the country's second-largest wetland park, which is home to more than 113 species of plants and 73 species of animals, including some rare species such as red-crowned cranes and rein deer.


attraction

Tourists can alternate between a boat cruise and walk to explore the huge park, although it is more usually suggested to explore the park in a vehicle. However, it is more intimate to see the flora and fauna by boat and on foot.

The reeds have just turned from winter yellow to tender green, signaling spring is in the air, which means this is a good time to visit the park as many of the animals are putting on their courtship displays. You can consider the above-mentioned destinations included in yor China vacation packages.

09:16 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

13/06/2013

Top five destinations

A challenge for expats visiting China is often too many places to see and too little time. Here are the top five sure-fire destinations for your China vacation deals:

Beijing

The majestic Forbidden City unfolds in front of you once you cross the grand Tiananmen Square at the city center. The vast ancient palace is now a museum with more than 1 million relics.

Taking a rickshaw to traverse the narrow old hutong in the sunset is also a must. You may want to end a whole day's sightseeing with a hearty drink at bars in Houhai.

The Great Wall, the unique man-made world wonder, is a good choice the next morning.

Giant statues at the Lama Temple, exquisite constructions at the Summer Palace, magnificent views at the Temple of Heaven, the capital city will definitely give a taste of the essence of Chinese culture.

Shanghai

The busy metropolis is the best example of the combination of modernity and ancient civilization.

Shopping aficionados should not miss the city's Nanjing Road and Xintiandi.

Xi'an

The capital of Shaanxi province is home to the world's eighth wonder - the terracotta warriors and also the starting point for Silk Road tour . The underground palace will definitely leave lasting memories. The musical fountain at the Dayan Pagoda Square in the city still holds several world records.

Guilin

You have to see with your own eyes before you believe the Chinese idiom - Guilin's scenery is the best in the world. Floating on the Lijiang River on a small bamboo raft, you will be fascinated with the splendid view on both sides.

Cruise on the Yangtze River

The 6,300-km Yangtze River (Yangtze River cruises ) is the longest in China. The world-famous stretch of the Three Gorges is 193 km long, with its namesake three gorges - Qutang, Wuxia and Xiling - each offering unique characteristics and experiences. The precipitous cliffs and beautiful scenery along the river will be unforgettable.

09:38 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

09/06/2013

Stepping back in time in Nanjing

China's former capital has a rich history. Hari Raj explores the city's abundance of museums, scenic beauty spots and local food.

The past and the present coexist amicably in Nanjing, China's former capital and the current seat of Jiangsu province capital which is must-see for China vacation deals. The city sits at the intersection of the Yangtze River and the rail route from Beijing, a position that helped it become a commercial and political hub - one that is well aware of its history. We arrive on late Friday, pop out of our hostel to admire the surroundings, and immediately get swept up in a horde of people. Surely this human deluge is either fleeing a fire or mobbing a celebrity? The answer is soon apparent. We are staying quite literally around the corner from Nanjing's famous Fuzimiao area.

Here, you will find the Song Dynasty (960-1279) Confucius temple that gives the area its name, playing stately host to the crowds. And then there is the Qinhuai River - pretty by day but gorgeous at night when the water comes alive with reflected neon.

There are glitzy shops andrestaurants that cater to tourists and alleys containing numerous stalls where you can buy everything from snacks to pets - preferably not at the same place.

I am delighted to discover that stinky tofu is a local specialty, my China travelcompanion considerably less so.

The next morning, we rise early and head to the city walls, which are more than 600 years old. Nanjing's south gate is known as the "Gate of China", and the gate complex contains a small archery range where we establish the generation and gender gaps between English legend Robin Hood and The Hunger Game's Katniss Everdeen.

The walls rise to form an elevated plaza, a favorite meeting place for families with young children. Various games are played with various degrees of passion, and panoramic views of the city are garnished by brilliant blue skies and more than a few kites.

From here we trek north, detouring for a quick walk around the rather pretty Mochou Lake before heading west to the Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre.

In 1937, the Japanese army occupied Nanjing and began six weeks of destruction, pillage, rape and slaughter. At that time, more than 300,000 people were killed, and the memorial is a stark reminder of that loss.

The pyramidal structure looms over the surrounding buildings, as does the grief-contorted statue outside it. The exterior is minimalist. Small statues, commemorating the fallen and those who fled, keep watch beside a long, quiet pool.

Inside, the aesthetic is similar. There is a giant cross standing over paths that cut through gravel, leading to walls bearing the names of those who fell to Japanese cruelty. There are historical documents and films, but the simple, powerful emptiness stands as a silent tribute to the trauma the city endured.

The sun comes out the next day, timing its appearance to perfection as we head for Purple Mountain. Known in Mandarin as Zijinshan, the site is a glorious hodgepodge of parks, paths and ancient tombs that would take days to fully explore.

We initially have our hearts set on a cable-car ride to the peak, but we soon get distracted by the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen where you can learn more about history of China for popular China tour package, the Zhongshanling. Sun, a revered revolutionary leader who played a pivotal role in overthrowing imperial rule of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, wished to be buried in Nanjing. Today, thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to his tomb each day.

The mausoleum sparkles in the sunlight. Climbing up the 392 stone steps involves dodging plenty of people looking through the viewfinder of a camera. But it's worth it once you soak in the view, as serene as the statue of Sun that greets you at the top.

For lunch, my companion has heart set on one thing and one thing only: duck-blood noodles. These are made, congealed and then boiled and are vacuumed up by millions of Nanjingers every morning. The broth is tasty, the texture of the duck blood is somewhat unique, and after a brief quest I happen upon more stinky tofu.

Sated, we next head to the Linggu Temple and its trademark Beamless Hall - as the name suggests, no trees were harmed in the construction of this brick-and-stone edifice. Wandering around the paths takes us to the Linggu Pagoda, which peeks through the trees as you walk toward it.

Upon entering, we spot insects flitting around - closer inspection reveals an abundance of ladybugs. They perch on the banister of the spiral staircase that leads to the top, and a woman climbing up ahead of us confides that they are reincarnated souls that have come back to the pagoda. We nod, and watch where we put our feet.

Next, we check out the Zhongshanling Bandstand, an amphitheater with an impressive stone stage that is hosting the even more impressive warbling of any Nanjinger who deigns to pick up the microphone. Then, as dusk gathers, we head to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Xiaoling Tomb.

The tomb itself, about 800 years old, has not been explored. But the same cannot be said of the lovely network of paths and scenic spots that surround the structure.

On our way out, we are very excited by the "spirit path", along which various animals line up on either side. We interrupt hordes of amateur photographers trying to take pictures of stone camels, elephants and lions in the gathering dusk.

Tired, we head to the city's 1912 bar district for sustenance and spirits. The hours before our flight back to Beijing are spent playing cards. To top things off, there is a vendor at the district's entrance doing a roaring trade in stinky tofu. We partake, and for once we are in agreement - it is the best we have sampled on the trip included in China best tours.

10:42 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)