We chose to go to China just before the Olympics, when we thought prices would be still very good and it would not be so crowded yet every place would be clean and ready. We were very happy with our decision as our trip far exceeded anything we had imagined. On the Internet we found http://www.TravelChinaGuide.com who planned our entire private tour of ten best cities, with inter-China flights, trains, private drivers, English speaking guides, five star hotels and all meals at excellent restaurants. Our friends told us we had trustingly sent our money ahead of time and no one would be there and we would have lost our money. However, we arrived without any vouchers or tickets except our emails from the company, but as promised, an agent from Travel China Guide met us at our first flight and their very capable and knowledgeable guides never left our side until we were in our hotel each night and then at the end of our trip, safely on our way back home. At a fraction of the cost of going through any other tourism agencies, Travel China Guide gave us one of the most perfect trips we have ever had. We highly recommend their services. They certainly know their country and selected the best for us to experience. When the Olympics were televised and the announcers gave accounts of unique places and experiences within China, we found we had experienced nearly everything they told about, except eating bugs! We found the food wholesome, fresh, and delicious! Almost everywhere we went was exceptionally clean and all the people were most helpful and friendly and proud of their country.
Hong Kong is a large port city of about 7 million people that became a part of mainland China in 1997. The main central part of the city lies at the base and up the sides of a series of small mountains, the main one being named Victoria Peak. Across the harbor from Hong Kong City is Kawloon where a number of the key hotels are located. The airport for Hong Kong is on Lanau Island, and a good way to get from the airport to Kawloon and central Hong Kong is on the Express Train which runs about every 10 to 15 minutes and costs around 10 dollars U.S. per person. In Kawloon the visitor will find a wonderful harbor walk with a great view of downtown Hong Kong. Along the harbor walk the visitor will also find the Star Ferry Market and Harbor Market, which are malls that equal any mall one would find anywhere. Star Ferry line runs across the bay to downtown Hong Kong and takes about 7 minutes, making Kawloon a convenient place to stay. In downtown Hong Kong the visitor will find all kinds of shopping and markets like the Stanley Market. Many come to shop for tailored clothing and fine jewelry, especially pearls found at the pearl markets. A main tourist attraction is the tram ride to the top of Victoria Peak and a view of the city and harbor. High rise buildings dominate the city with the price of upscale apartments ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 per square foot. One can take a ride around the harbor on a sand pan, a small boat that fishermen live on and fish from. The harbor has the biggest floating restaurant and near the Hong Kong airport is a Disney amusement park.
Guilin is a city of around 650,000 population located in Southern China. It lies along the Lijiang River in the midst of the beautiful area known for its unique limestone monolithic mountains. In the center of the city is a marble paved large square that is surrounded by hotels and office buildings and small shops. The main building is the Waterfall Hotel with its nightly event of a waterfall flowing down from its roof.
One of the key attractions for tourists is the trip on the Li River through the limestone monoliths. The trip takes the visitor four hours down the river to the town of Hangshu which is a picturesque small rural town with lots of shops and a place to rent a bike and bike through the countryside.
Other key attractions are: Elephant Park, the Bonsai Garden, the zoo, and the Mineral and Rock museum. One can visit an amazing limestone cave that is illuminated with colored lighting and is spectacular. There is also the Tiger and Bear park with nearly 1300 tigers and 400 bears.
Kunming for us was all about the Stone Forest, the beautiful people from village ethnic heritage, and Temples. Points of interest in and around Kunming include:
400-year-old Taoist Golden Temple and Forbidden City and Stone Forest World Heritage. This is Yunnan Province. Yunnan Province means “crowd in southwest of China.” Kunming Province was started in about 200 AD during the Shu dynasty, where primitive Din tribes were living. This area is in a mountain plateau about 6,000 feet high, with intense sun. The year 1382 was the beginning of Kunming as a city. Three million people live in the city, which is prefecture for a five-city area of 6 million people. Kunming seems much more progressive and does not have much air pollution that we can see.
Terracing up the mountain for farming is beautiful. Over 10 million people of minority classes are among Yunnan’s 45 million people. Many are leaving the province to move to cities, causing overcrowding. 84 percent of Yunnan is mountainous; the other is plateau with beautiful, immaculate farms in flat areas. Yi ethnic group of 4 million people have history and writing system the same but clothes are different. Black clothes of Yi are native. White clothes signify immigrants from North China in former tribal wars, but keep native language. Minorities have special rights of larger housing to take care of more parents.
Xian is the present capital of Shanxi Province and was the home of the ruling houses of Qin, Han, Sui and Tang dynasties. Xian means Western Peace. The peak period of Xian was during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). It was from this place that the Silk Routes were controlled. City walls were rebuilt during Ming dynasty (1644-1911). The main tourist draw of Xian is the terra-cotta armies of the Qin Bingmayong Bowuguan not far from the city, found by farmers digging a well. Also in Xian is the Great Goose Pagoda constructed in the mid 600 AD. The Shanxi History museum has a wonderful collection of treasures dating back to 17th c. B.C. and displayed in a chronological order that gives the visitor a wonderful orientation to the history of China. The Ba Xian An (Temple of the Eight Immortals) is also within the city and worth visiting. The Da Qingzhensi or Great Mosque was founded during the Tang dynasty in 742 and is a beautiful and tranquil place to visit. The City Wall surrounds the inner City and is an 8 ¼ mile loop that can be traveled by foot or bicycle. The Tang Dynasty Dinner Theater provides visitors with entertainment featuring dances and performances with costumes and instruments of past eras.
CHONGQING, YANGTZE RIVER CRUISE, YICHANG
The Yangtze is the world’s third longest river. It winds through China’s heartland, reaching the sea near the City of Shanghai. There are seven World Heritage Sites along the Yangtze. The Three Gorges Dam project has become a major attraction to tourist over the last 10 years. Along the river the traveler will see the numerous huge cities that have been relocated to higher ground at various points because of the rising of the waters from the dam. Along the River one stop is FengDhou, a former town flooded by the Dam Project.
The government has relocated 1.4 million people who lived along the banks. This city was 80,000 people who moved to higher ground in other towns. They were compensated but not too well for losing what they spent generations building and their way of life. Many farmers had to start working in factories. Across the River from FengDhou is the temple known as The Ghost Temple. It was built in different stages, the top was 1600 years ago. The first temple was a combination of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianism, and Feng Shui. There were three temples at three different heights up the mountain with various gods and superstitions to go with each. Another stopping place of interest is the place where the Shenlong River enters the Yangtze.
Here one can take a ferry up the river and then transfer to peapod canoe-type boats, very primitive and leaky, to go through a deep, narrow waterway. Villagers used to carry coffins up the high cliffs to caves at over 3,000 feet because they believed the ghosts couldn’t get the dead people if they were close to heaven. Most of the caves have been flooded by the waters, which rose over 150 meters with the dam and will rise about 40 more this year, but one coffin was clearly visible high up at the entrance to a cave. One major city along the river is Yichang, which is located near Three Gorges Dam. At the Three Gorges Dam site the top tower on Tanzling Ridge is a panoramic view of the Three Gorges Dam. The tower has relief sculptures of Ba and Chu cultures of this area and how they harnessed water historically. The water fountain geometric sculpture symbolizes the difficulties and dangers of the construction of the dam. The huge rock displayed was found at the river bottom in 1997, a witness to the changes here throughout history. Yichang City has an airport and is a place that one can disembark the cruise and fly to other points in China if not continuing on To Wuhan.
Yichang City is a city of four million. There is an old part, built after the Japanese bombed this area in 1938, and a new suburb where young people can live more cheaply in beautiful new government-built apartments with nice parks. Short tunnels take people by bus to work in the older part of the city. We went to their one museum, which is being renovated to exhibit the over 3,000 artifacts excavated from 200,000 years of history on the Zhongbaodao Island, formerly in the middle of the river but now deep underwater. 800 archeologists spent two years excavating to save the historical artifacts just prior to starting the dam. We saw pieces from Xi, Chang, Qin, and Han Dynasties. In all settlements throughout China a drum meant go to battle and a bell meant return from battle. All forts have drum and bell towers. Dragon and Phoenix pictures could only be used by royalty. If peasants used them they would be beheaded. Five claws on a dragon meant the Emperor. Contact here for 3 gorges cruises.
This is one of China’s largest cities with 22 million population and is a major commercial center. It lies on the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze River. The new face of the city is found across the Huangpu River in what is called Pudong the new Shanghai. Here is what is said to be the world’s tallest hotel, Asia’s largest shopping mall, China’s largest stock exchange, and one of the highest observation decks in Asia, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The Shanghai Railway Station is very modern and huge in size. The Bund, the symbolic center of the city, is on the western shore of the Huangpu River. The famous Nanjing Lu shopping street is the number-one shopping street and is wonderful both day and night. Southwest of the Bund is the historic Nanshi District, which is Shanghai’s Old Chinese city.
The waterfront is lovely with strange and enormous buildings, When finished soon Shanghai World Financial Center will be the tallest in the world at 102 stories, 502 meters; Qin Nao Tower is fourth tallest in the world at an auspicious 88 stories. The city is the commercial and financial center of China and is home to about 100,000 westerners. Shanghai’s eighteen districts cover 6,341 square kilometers.
This is the city that Marco Polo pronounced as “the finest, most splendid city in the world…where so many pleasures may be found that one fancies oneself to be in Paradise.” This city of 1.8 million people is truly a beautiful city with its large West Lake and rolling tea growing hills and winding Qian Tang river. It lies at the end of the Grand Canal system built during The Tang dynasty in 609. The West Lake area is the Central attraction of the city with the modern Hangzhou spreading to the north and east of the lake. In the West Lake is located the Solitary Island which is accessible by the Xiling Bridge. One can cruise to the Island of Small Seas which was formed in 1607 from dredging the lake. Near the lake is the Lingyin Temple which has as a main attraction near its entrance the limestone cliff, called Feilai Feng because it resembles a holy mountain in India and contains about 380 Buddhist rock carvings. The present temple buildings contain a gigantic statue of Buddha, and even though it was carved in 1956, the gold gilded statue is not a bad modern re-creation.
The Red Carp Pond near by the Temple is a beautiful setting and wonderful meditation area. Another place of interest is the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum, located in an old section of the city. The 13 story Six Harmonies Pagoda built in 970 AD is found near the river and at the base of a mountain with the replicas of all the major pagodas on a walking path that winds up the mountain behind the towering pagoda. One should not miss one of the Tea Factories that are found in the lush tea growing area near West Lake.
THREE GORGES DAM LOCKS
Our trip through the locks was exciting, requiring over three hours. We had a party on deck to watch the water level lower, so we could pass through each lock. The dam project will be completed early next year. The dam has paid for itself already with the electrical energy produced here.
At the Visitor Center we saw the miniature explanatory model. Next we climbed up the top tower on Tanzling Ridge for a panoramic view of the Three Gorges Dam. The tower has relief sculptures of Ba and Chu cultures of this area and how they harnessed water historically. The water fountain geometric sculpture symbolizes the difficulties and dangers of the construction of the dam. The huge rock displayed was found at the river bottom in 1997, a witness to the changes here throughout history.
Beijing is the capital of China and the government’s center, the city of 18 million is a blending of the old towered over by the new highrise construction of the last 10 years. The new Beijing airport just opened in time for the Olympic Games is the largest airport terminal in the world. The central part of the city contains the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven Park, and Tiananmen Square, where is found the Great Hall of the People and Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum. Outside the city, about an hours journey, is the historic Great Wall of China.