Suzhou is one of those incredible China vacation destinations that you will never forget. This charming garden city near Shanghai is a China tour favourite. China travel is never complete without investigating the local food and when your China trip reaches Suzhou – you’ll want to check out some of these local restaurants:
Du Yue Lou Restaurant (Taijian Lane)
The Du Yue Lou restaurant has been favourite in China for over 400 years! It was built during the reign of the Emperor Jiajiang (back in the Ming Dynasty). It’s worth a trip because of the attention paid to local cuisine here. The menu, in rather typical style as you’ll discover on your China vacation, has over 300 dishes and the vast majority originate locally. The “squirrel shaped fish” is a must mainly so you can see what all the fuss is about and we very much like the Du Yue Spring Chicken too.
Xiche Restaurant (Phoenix Street)
Xiche’s also been around for a long time though not quite as long as the Du Yue Lou. It’s very authentically China in terms of the décor and that might make a tour of the menu worthwhile in its own right. The emphasis is once again on local cuisine and the house special fried shrimp are exquisite. We also found that the wait staff here are among the more switched on members of the profession in China and they won’t make you wait for an hour to be served after you travel to the restaurant.
Songhelu Restaurant (Taijian Lane)
The Songhelu claims to have been in situ for approximately 2,000 years. We think this is a show of face to outdo its neighbour the Du Yue Lou and not to be taken factually. If it is true – it will be the oldest restaurant you eat in during your entire China vacation. Whether the age claims are true the food here is excellent. This is something that the Qing Emperor Qianlong thought too whenever he popped in to the Songhelu when he was passing through Suzhou. Go for the sweet and sour fish or perhaps the braised eel.
Beimen Restaurant (Suhui Road)
The Beimen is rather good but it’s for the more adventurous eater; if you go pale at the thought of consuming offal – it’s best you leave this out of your China tour itinerary. The lung and intestine soup is very, very good but it is lung and intestines. They do offer a range of less disturbing dishes but the house special does set the tone for the best food in Beimen.
Guanyu Chi (Shizi Street)
Guanyu Chi is all about home cooking and there’s a certain “living room” feel to the place. It’s incredibly good value too and you’ll eat the cheapest meal in Suzhou if you go. The braised pork belly in soy sauce is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. There’s also a strange special in the form of tofu which has been boiled in a paper bag suspended over an open flame. It tastes good but watching it cook makes you want to hose it down with a fire extinguisher just in case.
If you're not including a Yangtze River Cruise on your China tour itinerary; don't despair when your China trip reaches Shanghai you could always travel a short distance from the city and grab a taste of Yangtze life on your China vacation anyway. Zhenjiang is about a 90 minute trip on the train from Shanghai and it's right next to the Yangtze.
Zhenjiang is a mid-tier Chinese city and would probably never attract any foreign visitors if it wasn't for the fact that Pearl Buck (the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize Winner) was born here. The other main attraction is the Jiaoshan Park a scenic spot which also offers a cute island in the center of the Yangtze River. It's not quite on a par with the majestic scenery offered on a Yangtze River Cruise but it's good enough if you're not seeing that part of China by boat.
Jiaoshan Park's the main reason people come to Zhenjiang; so it will be easy to grab a taxi from the railway station. Entry to the park is reasonably priced at 50 RMB (that's about $10) though it's quite expensive for China as a whole and that does keep visitor volumes down to reasonable numbers except at peak vacation times.
You can have a mini-Yangtze River Cruise by renting a boat from the park offices and then taking a trip round the canal system that surrounds the central island. Once you've spent half an hour enjoying the water – it's time to visit the Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda.
This is part of China's recent history. The hill it resides on was used to defend Shanghai during the Opium Wars. It didn't stop the British from conquering that part of China but fortunately the pagoda is still in working order. It's a nice if not spectacular example of a Chinese pagoda but the real reason for your visit is to drink in the breathtaking views from the hillside. One way offers a superlative river life scene and the other gives a fantastic view over the city of Zhenjiang itself.
If Pearl Buck's your kind of writer then their childhood home is open to visitors. You can find it on Runzhoushan Lu (you might want to ask someone to write that down in Chinese characters before you visit Zhenjiang) and for a mere 5 RMB (around $1) you can take a wander through the home. It's not the most informative of sites but it's always nice to see how someone's environment might turn them into a literary great later on down the line.
Then finish up your visit to Zhenjiang with a wander round the Xijin Ancient Street there's a lot of “walled city” appeal to this city block and the architecture is said to have begun in the Tang Dynasty period. It's way off the beaten path and you are likely to be the only foreigners exploring there. There's also the remnants of the British consulate her which now houses the city's museum.
Shanghai's a must see city on a China tour. It's the world's biggest city (in terms of population) and as you might expect that gives you plenty of variety to experience on your China vacation. Travel in China often focuses on the ancient but we'd encourage you go give the China Art Palace space on your trip itinerary. It's the latest reinvention of the China Pavilion and we think it's worth a go.
Book in Advance
You may want to ask your China tour guide for help with this – the China Art Palace is absolutely free to enjoy but you must have a ticket reserved. The website is not very friendly to non-Chinese speakers so if you are going to make the trip; it's best to get some assistance getting the tickets.
The good news is that travel to the exhibition is very easy indeed; just go to the China Art Palace stop on Line 8 of the Shanghai Metro.
Make it Easy on Yourself
There's a lot of walking to be done in the China Art Palace. The exhibition fills over 150,000 square meters of space. It's mainly modern art with the occasional nod to Chinese classics. You don't want to expend more energy than necessary on your vacation so before you start your tour of the building; take an elevator to the top floor and walk downhill to each of the floors below (rather than walking up from the bottom).
The top floor is dedicated to modern art in Shanghai and you can see the effect that French influences had on China's art scene clearly in the exhibits. There's also an animated scroll painting that was once the top exhibit at the Shanghai World Expo.
Check Out The Best Exhibits
Our favorites include the Shanghai Film Animation Studio which focuses on the animation arts of China from the 1950s up to the 1990s. You may find some of this material a little confusing as the cultural references aren't always obvious but we think that's part of the joy of a vacation; the alien-nature of some ideas makes it that more interesting. There are also some rather odd propaganda posters and drawings on the same floor.
There's also a bunch of touring exhibitions held within the museum and these are drawn from top collections from around the world. If you've ever wanted to visit the London Museum or the Rijksmuseum and have never had the chance; you can enjoy a little slice of their collections in China instead.
Once you go below these exhibits the collection at the China Art Palace is much more hit and miss. The neo-socialist works commemorating the propaganda and hurts of times gone by are interesting but not unmissable. They have the kind of bleak “go China!' style that probably only really works for the locals.
The Chinese Ethnic Art section appears to be somewhat misleading. The majority of works are depictions of ethnic minorities by Han Chinese artists. They're not bad just not what you might be expecting either.
If your China tour is visiting the garden city of Suzhou you may be able to squeeze in a short side trip to Taihu. Taihu's a lovely place and one of the quieter tourist spots in China; that means you don't need to spend your whole China vacation sharing the beauty of China with a million locals (which is nice most of the time but getting a little space can be nice too). You only have to travel a short distance from Suzhou to reach Taihu and it's very much worth it. Here's what you can find in Taihu:
The Guangfu Temple
The Guangfu Temple is as old as the Hanshan Temple in Suzhou and though it's not built on such a grand scale it's very much worth taking a tour of the grounds. It's one of China's working temples and as such you can meet monks who live and work there (unlike at Hanshan Temple). Make sure you visit the Buddha of Mercy; it's a 1,000 year old copper cast of the Buddha. It was brought to the temple during the Song Dynasty. It's not the biggest statue you'll see on your China trip but it's pretty impressive all the same.
Make sure you take the time to travel up the hill behind the temple too. You'll get on the best views in China here – there's an islet on the river that's absolutely lovely and in the opposite direction you can see the whole of Taihu.
Taihu Boat Street
It's said that Taihu has the best seafood in China. It's certainly one of the best places to eat seafood in China during your vacation. Take a trip to Taihu Boat Street and there are 10 floating restaurants to choose from. All the food here is reasonably priced and it's one of the most authentic ways to dine in China. Big tables, lots of dishes, and a generally agreeable hubbub of locals having fun.
Yungfeng Buddhist Temple
This is another working temple and great way to see how religious life in China really works. It's very much off the beaten path and you're likely to be the only tourists visiting it. The monks are very friendly and open with visitors (and if you're lucky they may invite you to play pool with them on the temple's pool table!). It's also a very spiritual place and you'll find it a tranquil and moving experience.
Technically, Chongshan's another town in its own right but it's a short trip from Taihu on foot to get to Chongshan. They specialize in making Buddhas in Chongshan. Each and every factory makes nothing but wooden Buddhas. You'll see more Buddha figures in Chongshan that you can see anywhere else in the world in one place. You can wander round and watch the craftsmen at work; or even rent (you don't buy a Buddha, you “rent” one because it would be disrespectful to sell a Buddha but don't worry you don't have to pay any more rent or return the Buddha that you choose) a Buddha to take home with you.
Your China vacation will provide you with plenty of perfect memories of travel in China. One of the most beautiful places you can include on your China tour is Suzhou a city of immaculate gardens, temples and ancient sites. If you want to get a little more out of your China trip we've put together a list of interesting things to in Suzhou that not every tourist gets to do.
Picnic at Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill is the “number 1” scenic area in Suzhou. A trip to Tiger Hill is near mandatory but if you reach the “leaning tower of Suzhou” (that's China's answer to the leaning tower of Pisa) which is a pagoda that's over a millennium old and tilts at a somewhat drastic angle compared to vertical – you can head to the left and follow the canal the surrounds the park. Keep walking until your reach the waterfall and you'll find yourself in a magical bamboo forest (with almost no crowds) where you can have a lovely picnic (you'll need to take your own food and drink for this). It's the sort of place that everyone wants to see on a tour of China but very few actually do.
Become a Campanologist at Hanshan Temple
A campanologist, in case you didn't know, is someone who rings bells. Hanshan Temple is Suzhou is home to a lot of bells and they were cast at various periods throughout China's history. If you do decide to make Hanshan Temple part of your vacation; please ask before you ring the bells – it's not always appropriate to do so. The sounds a quite lovely and they symbolize communication between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Once, you've done in the temple travel across the park outside and grab a cup of tea in the Hanshan Teahouse and if you're lucky you can also appreciate some of China's famous opera at the same time. There are regular performances here.
Go Green in Panmen
Panmen was originally a Buddhist temple but its popularity meant that the area around it was tended carefully and it's now very close to a park. It's home to several historical sights but the best part of a trip to Panmen is the grounds themselves; they're rich, lush and quite lovely. Look for the exit at the rear of the park through the wall and you can discover an old moat and an arch bridge – this is the China of your dreams.
See Surging Waves Garden
The whole point of visiting Suzhou on your China tour is to see the gardens and given that there are a lot to choose from – it can be hard working out which ones to visit. We like Surging Waves which is one of the biggest gardens in Suzhou and the fish pond there is the nicest of them all. It's not a focal piece for the garden and that means it's much easier to enjoy for the aquatic life.
A China vacation is full of pleasant surprises but there are very few places on a China tour itinerary as pleasant as Tongli. People travel to China from all over the world to enjoy this ancient canal city and it's always worth the trip. This is the China of yesteryear, fast disappearing as the nation rushes to modernize. If you have a vision of how you'd like China's towns to be; Tongli is probably that vision. Once you've spent a day wandering the streets and canals; you'll probably want to grab a bite to eat; here's our guide to the best places to eat in Tongli.
Wadisu Street Snacks
While you're taking a tour of Tongli there will be plenty of restaurants and cafes vying for your attention. However, if you want a snack rather than a sit down meal these little pancakes are perfect. They're also incredibly cheap (a stack will set you back 50 cents or so). You can find vendors nearly everywhere you travel in the city.
There are other options from street vendors if you want something a little more substantial; check out the jiaoze (steamed dumplings – filled with pork and various vegetables) or the xialong bao (steamed soup dumplings – be warned the contents are liquid fire to begin with for these dumplings it's best to let them cool a little before digging in, you don't want to visit one of China's hospitals for third degree burns to the mouth on your trip do you?).
Hengu Futang Genhe Lodge (Shiquan Lu)
If you'd like something more substantial then you might want to try one of China's other delicacies at the Hengu Futang Genhe Lodge. The pork knuckle here is about the best in China. It's served on a bed of greens that makes it a healthier option than it might first appear too. The place itself is part hotel, part restaurant and is pleasantly decorated to add a “China” vibe to the proceedings (rather than the ubiquitous plastic chairs elsewhere in town). This is a great port of call if your vacation takes you to Tongli.
Fuxing Guqin Huigan Teahouse (Pingjiang Lu)
You can't take a tour of China and not spend some time in a teahouse. Given that Tongli is such a wonderful setting, you might want to make your trip to a teahouse here. Better still if you visit the Fuxing Guqin Huigan teahouse you can also take in China's operatic arts as part of the experience. There are performances twice a day in the late afternoon and late evening. It's very much worth paying the $15 minimum cover charge for.
Jenny's (Bar District A-7)
Why not finish up a day in Tongli relaxing over a Chinese beer? Jenny's is a great place to do this and if you're in town on a Saturday night you can catch the fireworks display on the waterfront from Jenny's without having to move or pay an entry fee. Don't forget to take stroll along the water to end the evening.
You may not have heard of Chongqing before your China vacation but you'll never forget this fantastic city that forms one of the destinations on a Yangtze River Cruise. Travel in China offers a wealth of opportunities and you shouldn't pass up the interesting nightlife opportunities on a trip to one of China's biggest cities.
Grab a Chongqing Hot Pot
If you talk to locals on your trip to Chongqing there's one thing they'll all recommend that you do; try the hot pot. Hot pot is a Sichuan special dish and it's famous throughout China. You need to be a little careful as the broth can be incredibly spicy (ask a vendor for some less spicy broth – they'll be happy to oblige) but the experience of sitting out under a brightly lit umbrella dunking meat, vegetables, etc. into a boiling broth and cooking it to your tastes can't be beaten. It's also great value for money with the typical hot pot costing around $4 (20 RMB). Great food is an essential part of the China travel experience.
Take a Walk up South Mountain
China's cities are immeasurably more attractive at night when they're lit up and radiant like a girl preparing for prom. It costs 10 RMB ($2) to take an evening tour of the mountain but it's worth it; you'll come to the Yi Ke Shu sightseeing spot which gives an incredible view over the meeting point of two great rivers and the city of Chongqing itself. You'll get some incredible China vacation photographs here if you remember to take your camera with you. Take a Night Time Cruise
You'll already have been on a Yangtze River Cruise but if you miss the sights from the water; you can arrange a short tour of the local rivers for around $6 (30 RMB) and gaze up at night-time Chongqing from the decks.
Visit a Tea House
When in China, why not do as the Chinese do? China is famed throughout the world for the incredible variety of teas that it offers and what better way to enjoy the tea culture than a visit to a tea house? The tea is prepared very carefully in order to bring out the best in the flavors and you should allow your hostess to pour it when it's ready. It's common to use leaves twice to extract the maximum amount of taste too. Chongqing is host to many tea shops and unlike in Beijing there's very little in the way of “tourist pricing” so the bill will be reasonable and you can just sit back and enjoy the experience.
Visit a Bar
If tea's not really your idea of a good night out; there are plenty of bars in Chongqing. Beers and wines are always very reasonably priced. Watch out for the Chinese drinking game of “liar's dice”; it's very popular and you may end up drinking rather more than you planned to drink if you get drawn into a game.
Chongqing, is one of China’s largest cities and the largest city in Sichuan; it’s a popular vacation spot for those taking a Yangtze River Cruise. If your China tour will be stopping in Chongqing you might want to take a little time out of your trip to appreciate China's ancient Bayu culture which hails from the region.
The Kingdom of Ba
If you’d made your trip to China back in the 21st century BC you’d have been able to witness the founding of Ba Fang (Western Sichuan). For a thousand years the people of Ba Fang paid tribute to Imperial overlords from China and finally they had had enough. They joined with the Zhou people and joined an uprising against the Shang Dynasty which had been cruelly repressing them. This act of heroism was rewarded well by the Zhou who allowed the Ba to finally form their own Kingdom; the Ba Kingdom of Western Zhou. In the year 1100 BC (give or take a little) Chongqing became the capital of this kingdom.
If you had wanted to see the Ba Kingdom at the pinnacle of its glory; you would have had to time your vacation for the years 770 BC to 476 BC. You’d have been able to buy some fabulous bronze souvenirs if you had a time machine as the Ba were the best bronze workers in China. And you can find marvellous bronze sculptures from this period throughout your tour of Chongqing. The Ba’s continued existence was threatened by the period of the Warring States but they mad an accommodation with the Qin at the last minute and the Kingdom of Ba was allowed to remain.
The Cultural Heritage of the Ba
The Ba people are no longer distinct from the Han Chinese and you will not meet anyone who considers themselves to be “Ba” during your travels in China. However, there are distinct cultural elements that you can find in Chongqing during your Yangtze River Cruise if you look hard enough.
There are regular displays of Bayu Dance; a specific martial dance said to signify the bravery of the Ba people and given in appreciation of peace with neighbouring envoys and visitors.
If you get the chance to witness the work songs of boatmen on your Yangtze River Cruise; those songs are directly descended from the Ba culture where the songs of rivers and mountains were the main cultural export. They are unique to the areas surrounding Chongqing and cannot be witnessed elsewhere on a China vacation.
You can also find some of the ancient Ba fortifications in and around Chongqing that were so important in defending the Ba Kingdom for more than a 1,000 years. You may need to hunt a little for these fortifications but you can always ask in your hotel where the nearest fortifications can be found. The Ba may be gone but their legacy lives on in Sichuan and they are fondly remembered for making Chongqing the capital of their kingdom. The city would go on to be capital twice again and is currently under consideration for a move for the current Chinese government from Beijing and may once again become the capital of China.
If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China vacation then your China tour will eventually arrive in Chongqing. Chongqing's one of the biggest cities that most Westerners have never heard of and it may one day be the capital of China (again). While you're in Chongqing you should have some time to travel round the city and there are several places worth visiting including:
The People's Liberation Monument
This 28 meter tall tribute to Dr. Sun Yatsen is a fascinating reminder of how little many of us know about Chinese culture. You can travel up to the top of the monument to see what one of China's biggest cites looks like from above ground here and it's completely free to access. If you're looking to do some shopping after your Yangtze River Cruise it's easy to fit the monument in with a trip the shopping district of Yuzhong.
Ciqikou Old Town
The old town is a look back into China's past and it was originally built back in 998; not that too much remains from that time but the look and feel of the area remains roughly unchanged as when buildings, etc. were replaced they were kept in the same style. It's a great place for souvenir shopping and to take some interesting photographs. There's no charge to enter the old town so it also represents excellent value for money.
The Stilwell Museum
Where else on your China tour will you find a museum dedicated to the contributions of an American general? Nowhere. It's only in Chongqing that the contribution of Joseph W Stillwell to China's development is recognized. You can explore his 5,000+ square meter home and residence and examine some of the manuscripts and documentation from his time in China.
There are over 200 species of Chinese animal to experience in Chongqing Zoo. That includes giant pandas though your Yangzte River Cruise will also take you to Chengdu where you can meet these magnificent animals in the wild. Chonqing Zoo is still probably the best zoo in China; it's not quite up to Western standards but it's not too far away either and the animals here are amongst the best treated in the nation. It's a big place and a tour of the grounds can take a while; it's spread out over 45 hectares or so.
The Great Hall of the People
This modern post-Cultural Revolution building is the icon of Chongqing. It covers more than 60,000 square meters and is home to a large auditorium for lectures and concerts. Its architecture was inspired by the Ming and Qing dynastic fashions of China and it's one of the most attractive pieces of communist architecture in the whole nation. The roof is covered in green glazed tiling which is designed to make the viewer think of the Temple of Heaven. The porch also bears a suspicious similarity to the gate at Tiananmen in Beijing. It's worth a trip for the photograph of the exterior alone.
If you’re taking a tour of Shanghai, China then you’re going to want to take some time to try some of the best food in China. If your China vacation brings you to the city on the weekend then you might want to take a trip to one of China’s better brunches. There’s something to suit every budget and you shouldn’t have to travel too far to take advantage of a great brunch.
If you like imported beers then you might fancy a trip to the Kaiba Taphouse. Sadly, there’s no beer from China on the menu but the Dutch, Belgian and German choices are first rate. For less than 170 RMB you can have unlimited beer, coffee and fruit juice and a choice of anything on the menu. It might be the best eggs benedict you ever have on a China vacation.
This is where Chinese and Western cookery fuses to deliver a great brunch experience. The brisket hash (local beef and duck fat fried potatoes with poached eggs) is worth the travel alone. You don’t get meals like this too often in China, so seize the opportunity if it comes your way. The prices are eminently reasonable and most meals cost no more than 50 RMB.
You may not have expected to find a great Mexican brunch on your China tour but that’s exactly what Maya offers. The breakfast burrito is a perennial favorite of ours but we’re also quite keen on the fresh churros. Prices are very sensible and again you are looking at no more than 50 RMB for most dishes. You can also wash it down with unlimited margaritas or sangria for a few more RMB.
Larder, Taikang Terrace
Unusual but Western themed brunches are the order of the day at Larder. We’ve found that in many respects their brunch menu knocks spots off the dinner menu too. Check out the salmon and cucumber bagel for a healthy eating option. Larder is a little bit pricier than most brunch options in Shanghai and portions can be a somewhat stingy given the price tags.
Yes, IKEA. The strange thing about an IKEA brunch is that this is where the locals travel for brunch. In China IKEA is very much an aspirational brand but an affordable one nonetheless. A salmon platter costs less than 20 RMB! The tables themselves are nothing special but the warm use of lighting makes this a much more pleasant spot for brunch than you might expect.
MEAT, Kerry Pudong Hotel
The MEAT brunch is expensive at 350 RMB an adult. However, it’s also one of the few brunches where you can eat your way around the world and drink as much Chinese craft beer as you can manage for a single price. A trip to MEAT means spending the rest of the day in China full to bursting. Given that you could eat an unlimited amount of wagyu beef for the price tag – it’s actually great value.
If you're finding the hustle and bustle of China's biggest city somewhat overwhelming during your China tour; why not take a trip to one of Shanghai's lesser known green spaces? You may be amazed to find that your vacation, even in the world's largest metropolis, doesn't have to be without China's natural beauty. Wherever you travel in China there's always beauty to be found, if you know where to look:
This is the kind of garden you dream of before your China vacation; ironically it used to be part of the home of a Chinese mobster back in the 1930s but was handed over to the public during the 1950's. You've got pagodas here, you've got rockeries, you've got beautiful antique stone bridges, it's nearly perfect in every respects.
Classic Ming Dynasty gardens are something of a rarity in Shanghai. This one's worth the trip because it's also very easy to travel to – just catch the Metro on Line 11 to Nanxiang. You'll quickly find yourself surrounded by bamboo groves (another class symbol of China) and pavilions and ornamental botany galore. China's elderly can be found practising Tai Chi among the miniature waterfalls too.
The French Concession is a very popular part of a tour of Shanghai and it can get really busy at times. If you need to escape for a few minutes, head to Huashan Hospital and find a classic China garden just behind it. It was built back in the 1930s and is a very typical garden from that period. In our experience you will have the place all to yourself if you go; there's rarely another soul to be seen.
Sometimes you have to travel upwards in China to find beauty. You need to find the Café Sambal to appreciate this garden and then take a trip onto the roof. It's a lovely vegetable and fruit garden and usually has a couple of animals running around too. The products of the garden are used in the Café food and it doesn't get fresher than that; so once you've had a look round – go back and grab some lunch and a cup of tea before you continue your China tour.
The Shanghai Postal Museum
This is also a rooftop garden and one of the loveliest places in the city. Best of all it offers a fantastic view of the Bund down below and the Pudong skyline. Amazingly, it's not in most of the guidebooks and that means it's a very quiet and tranquil place which is incredible given the location.
Soong Chingling's Mausoleum
Yes, it's a graveyard. No, it's not in the slightest bit creepy. The graves themselves are home to some of the most significant figures in China's recent history and are all marked by life-size statues of the occupants. It's also a very peaceful and well-laid out garden and once again, it's often the quietest place around. Walking on the grass is allowed and won't get you in trouble with security.
Shanghai's the largest city in China and the world. It's a popular tour destination and often the highlight of a China vacation. There's so much to see and do in Shanghai that you'll need to make a few trips to China before you've seen it all. We've put together a collection of the quirkier side of Shanghai life that you might enjoy on your China travels:
The China Tobacco Museum (Changyang Lu, Hongkou)
China leads the world in a lot of things and as you'll notice during your vacation – smoking is one of those things. In fact, smoking is such a part of Chinese life that only recently a local government department tried to make it mandatory for government employees to smoke 2 packs a day! The international outcry may have put paid to that but it's impossible to travel anywhere in China without finding smokers. The China Tobacco museum is, as you might expect, a homage to the Chinese tobacco industry and the largest museum of its kind in the world. There are no critical pieces here but it's quite fascinating to see how China approaches tobacco farming and also the incredible amount of smoking paraphernalia that has been developed over time.
The Shanghai Sports Museum (Nangjing Xi Lu, Jingan)
This may be the most inaccurately named museum that you'll find anywhere during your China tour. Why? It's only really about a single sport. Table Tennis. There's a nod to wrestling in one slightly peculiar exhibit but other than that Ping-Pong is the only sport mentioned. However, given that the Chinese are obsessed with the sport, the museum is actually quite a lot of fun. It's not worth making a trip across Shanghai for, but if you're in the area you could do worse than investigate.
The Shanghai Glasses Museum (Bachang Lu, Zhabei)
This place is dedicated to eyeglasses. It's the only museum in China of its kind and it takes an interesting walk through the history of spectacles in the country. The exhibits are somewhat flawed from a Western perspective in that they're all in Chinese but there's a lovely lady who works there who will accompany you on your trip round and give you a guided English commentary. You can also find out all there is to know about how animals perceive the world through their eyes. That's the best part of a visit to the Shanghai Glasses Museum.
National Anthem Gallery (Jingzhong Lu, Hong Kong)
If you'd like to catch a little glimpse of China's patriotic fervour during your tour then there's perhaps no finer place to do so than at the National Anthem Gallery. It's all about the “March of the Volunteers” during the Cultural Revolution. It's actually quite a delightful place if you take the time to examine some of the less central exhibits and Paul Robeson (an American and alleged Communist sympathiser) gets his own section. A visit to the gallery is best combined with a visit to the Jewish Refugee Museum nearby.
China may be an officially non-religious nation but you'll soon see during a China vacation that there's a deeply spiritual heart to the nation. One of the major religions in China is Buddhism and if you get a chance during your tour, you might want to take a trip to the Temple of the Recumbent Buddha in Beijing. It's one of the most important temples you can see during China travels and it's also fairly easy to get to from the capital.
Where is the Temple?
The Wofo Temple (as it is called in China) is about a 12 mile trip outside of Beijing. You need to travel to the Xishan Mountain (it's more like a hill) to find it. That means taking a taxi as there's no easy public transport route to the temple.
What's at the Temple?
The temple was built back in the days of the Tang Dynasty which gives it an estimated age of around 1,300 years (that's pretty old for a Buddhist temple in China). It features the largest bronze statue of the Buddha in China and that statue is recumbent (that's how the temple got its name). The statue makes for a very impressive vacation photograph.
The recumbent Buddha's found in the main hall and this was actually built during China's Jin Dynasty (about 900 years ago) and improved during the time of the Yuan Dynasty (about 700 years ago). The Buddha is over 6 yards long and weighs in excess of 50 tons. The statue itself was case back in the 14th century. Look out for the left hand touching the leg and the right hand that touches his brow; this is the position that the Buddha was reported to assume when he reached Nirvana.
There is also a collection of a dozen more Buddha statues neatly arrayed round the recumbent centerpiece. As you travel round the statues you will see that each of them appears to be in a state of grief.
You should also visit the Three Buddhas Hall; this is used to make offerings today and as with all places of a spiritual nature on your China tour – you should maintain a respectful demeanor and cover your arms and legs before entering. Look out for the 18 Arhats that surround the 3 central Buddha figures; can you guess which one is an impostor? (Caution spoiler: It's the Arhat dressed like a regular Chinese; you're not a proper Arhat without the costume).
The last part of your trip to the temple should be a quick visit to the Four Heavenly Kings Hall which is dedicated to the prosperity of the local folk. Then head out to the peony and bamboo gardens and commune with China in a lovely natural surrounding. As you leave the temple grounds you should keep an eye out for the ancient tree which is said to have been brought from India to consecrate the grounds when the temple first opened.
Venture forth into the streets of Beijing, China during your China vacation and you'll find a near endless supply of historical buildings to investigate. Travel to Ox Street and you can take a tour of one of China's oldest and most venerate mosques. You might not have thought to include Chinese Islam on a spiritual trip through China but you really should; this mosque combines traditional Arabic and Chinese architecture to create a genuinely unique building.
How to Find the Ox Street Mosque in Beijing
The easiest way to find anywhere in China is to take a trip in a taxi but you can also travel to the mosque using the public transport system (it's best to ask advice from your China tour guide or your hotel to plan your route). It sits in the heart of the Xuanwu district of Beijing and is easily accessible.
About the Ox Street Mosque, Beijing
The Ox Street Mosque is one of the largest in China and it covers over 7,000 square yards of floorspace. It was originally built in 996 though little remains of the original as with many buildings you'll see on your China vacation; the mosque has been continuously renovated over the years.
It is constructed in a similar fashion to a Chinese wooden-palace. Yet, the decoration of the building is purely Islamic. This includes a prohibition of animal/human statues, carvings, etc.
As with mosques across the world; the building faces Mecca in Saudi Arabia the most holy city in Islam. This is unusual in China because most temples face the South which is traditional in both Daoism and Buddhism. The building is surrounded by a large white wall which travels for about 50 yards on each side round the complex.
You being your tour of the complex at the entrance gate which leads out to the “Watching Moon Tower”. It gets its name because of the importance of the position of the moon in Islam for calling major festivals such as Eid and Ramadan. It's a two-storey tall structure with a dazzling golden roof.
While you may enter the tower; you should not enter the prayer hall behind it unless you are practicing Muslim. However, it's very easy to see inside the prayer hall through the giant arched gate in front of it. Many thousands of people worship here and it would be disrespectful to them to go inside. It's also worth noting that you should not enter the mosque grounds inappropriately attired (long sleeves and trousers – even for the ladies).
Look out for the calligraphy which is in an ancient Arabic script and is not found elsewhere in China. Take a trip round the outside of the prayer hall and you should find two steles which house ancient stone tablets carrying the history of the mosque. There is also a fascinating graveyard which offers clues to the earliest adoption of Islam in China. The mosque is a wonderful place and very much worth a visit if you can squeeze it in to a day in Beijing.
If you're planning a China vacation there's a good chance you'll be visiting China's capital city, Beijing, during your trip. Beijing's a great China tour destination because there's a lot of history and culture to be explored. However, one thing you may not associate Beijing with is beautiful natural spaces but if you travel a few miles outside of the capital you can find Western Hills National Forest Park and combine some of China's history with some genuinely beautiful scenery.
Where is Western Hills National Forest Park?
To see the Western Hills National Forest Park you'll need to take a trip in a taxi to the Small Western Hills. You'll travel for about 12 miles outside of the center and it is the closest major park to Beijing. It covers nearly 15,000 acres and includes 5 special sites of interest (though at the time of writing – there are only two open to the public). It's a very green part of China with nearly 87% tree coverage over the space. China's pollution also doesn't seem to have had a great impact on the local wildlife (as yet).
What's at the Western Hills National Forest Park?
Well, firstly there's a lot of good historical reasons to take some time out of your China tour at the park. There are the Tombs of the Emperor Jing Tai and the Emperor Wan Li from the Ming Dynasty. These are likely to be significantly less visitor-packed than some of the other tombs you may see on your China vacation as the park is not yet on most foreign visitors' radar. There are also tombs of many of the emperors' concubines to be found here too.
There are also several ancient temples in the area. The most famous of which are the Fuhui and Jingfu temples. Modern China, as you'll see on your vacation, can sometimes feel a little spiritually devoid with the race to modernize and capitalize high on the agenda; it's nice to take some time and get in touch with the “real China” beneath on your trip and temple visits are a great way to do this.
Autumn is a great time to visit the park as the landscape is covered in red and brown leaves as far as the eye can see (rather like New Hampshire). In the Spring you'll find trees bedecked with peach and apricot flowers and that presents a very different but equally striking vista. The winter brings the snows and the forest feels like a Christmas carol. Of course the forest is most alive during the summer but it can be a little hot too.
There are also more than 250 plant species that inhabit the forest and an estimated 50+ bird species too. So bring your binoculars if you'd like to do a little “twitching” (bird watching). If you're very lucky you may come across some of the amphibian, reptilians and mammalian life that makes its home in the park as well.
America may have the most famous canyon in the world but China's no slouch in the canyon department. Wherever you go on your China vacation you’ll find that you can make a trip to one of China’s more dramatic natural wonders. This is particularly true on a Yangtze River Cruise but it’s not the only option during your travels either. Here are some of the more memorable canyons in China:
The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon
OK, this isn’t technically on most China tour itineraries but you can visit it if your trip to China includes Tibet and you arrange the visit in advance. It’s bigger than the Grand Canyon and it’s surrounded by the Himalayas which makes it probably the most dramatic canyon in the world. It runs from Mount Kailash for nearly 250 kilometers into India. The river it contains will become the Brahmaputra further downstream. The canyon’s walls are covered in lush green vegetation and it’s almost like looking down on tropical rain forest.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, The Yangtze River
This isn’t on the Yangtze River Cruise itinerary as it’s at the wrong end of the Yangtze. This is found in Yunnan province and is a world heritage site. It’s an incredibly place and may be the deepest river canyon in the world (though that title is disputed between several canyons). Should you decide to make a trip to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, keep an eye out for the Naxi people who live there. It’s the only place in China that you can find them.
The Three Gorges, The Yangtze River
This most assuredly is on a Yangtze River Cruise and it’s three canyons for the price of one. It is also the most varied and interesting canyon group in the whole of China. You can also fit the Three Gorges Dam into your vacation itinerary here and that’s the biggest hydro-electric facility in the world. The Three Gorges run for nearly 200 kilometers and they are incredibly scenic and each gorge has its own personality.
The Yangtze River Cruise is one of the best experiences in China and a chance to appreciate minority heritages, the growth of modern China, natural China and a number of Chinese provinces too. It’s also incredibly relaxing sitting with a drink and wending your way through this marvelous country.
Tianshan Kuche Grand Canyon, Tianshan Mountain
Tianhsan’s nearly a dead ringer for the Grand Canyon in the United States; it’s not built on the same scale as the Grand Canyon but it is a formed nearly entirely of red and brown rock. It makes for a spectacular sight at sunset when it appears to be almost aflame in the red rays of the setting sun. It requires a lot of climbing to get up to the Tianshan Kuche as there are no roads up the mountain at this time. It also means a visit to the Uiyghur areas of China and at the moment this can be a touch tricky because of political issues in the region.
The days of your China vacation are likely to be incredibly busy. You'll want to see and do everything possible on your China tour and that means lots of travel to get in the best of China before your trip ends. That means you'll be looking for something a little less hectic at night in China and one of the best ways to relax is to find a restaurant with a view of something spectacular. So with that in mind we've put together a list of the best night time city vistas in China:
The Bund, Shanghai
The Bund is spectacular during the day it's one of the best reasons to travel to China's second biggest city but it's also with taking some time out of your tour to see it at night. The slightly smoggy haze of the day is gone and you can see this wonderfully eclectic river side view at its best.
The Yangtze, Chongqing
If you're including a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China vacation package then you want to spend a little time relaxing at night with a view over the river when you reach Chongqing in Sichuan. Chongqing may be relatively unknown in the West but it's the largest and most-modern city in Sichuan and as the river bends through the city in a tight-hair pin bend you get a wonderfully dramatic scene.
The Central Business District, Beijing
There are no rivers in sight here but this may be the most mind-blowing view of them all; it's worth getting up high for this in one of the many hotels in the area. It may not be possible to see this much electric light anywhere else on your China trip as the ultra-modern heart of Beijing slows down a little and brightens up at night.
Tang Paradise, Xi'an
From the modern to the ancient; China always delivers something new. Travel to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors but don't forget to take in Tang Paradise when you're done. This is a striking collection of brightly lit traditional temples alongside modern tower blocks. It's quite lovely and one of the more traditional views for a late night stop on your China vacation.
The Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet
The majesty of the Potala Palace looking down over Lhasa is only magnified at night. The whole complex is brightly lit from every angle and it positively glows over the city below. You might want to allocate an hour or two for this view – it's simply jaw-dropping. There is nothing to compare to it, anywhere else on earth.
Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Victoria Harbour is one of the busiest places in the world; it has one of the highest population densities on the planet and it never sleeps. It's lovely during the day but it's better at night when the Festival of Lights is on and there are lasers and fireworks accompanying the mountains and skyscraper backdrop. It's what makes Hong Kong so wonderful.
You may not have thought that there would be an opportunity to connect with Christianity on your China tour but you may be surprised. Your China vacation is bound to take a trip to one of China's major cities and while Christianity is not the national religion; it is abundant enough that it won't be hard to find a church during your China travel. We've picked some of the best churches in the nation for you to keep an eye out for:
Wangfujing Church (Beijing)
A trip to China is hardly complete without a tour of Beijing; once you've seen the Great Wall and the Forbidden City you might want to travel a little further out into the city and see China's most lovely church. It's on Wangfujing Road in central Beijing so you won't have to go too far out of your way.
While there's been a church on the site since the 17th century the current building is relatively modern as several earthquakes destroyed the original. This building was opened at the turn of the 20th century and then lovingly restored in the 1980s. It's a beautiful example of a classic-style Roman Catholic church. You'll be more than welcome to attend a service if you want to as well. It may be the loveliest building of its type anywhere in China.
Xikai Church (Tianjin)
Tianjin's a little way north of Beijing and you may not be able to get there without a little planning during your China vacation. It's a grand Catholic Cathedral and is of a distinctly European design. It opened in 1914 and is a huge building covering over 1,500 square meters and rising nearly 50 meters into the air at the steeple.
The yellow and red brick front is particularly striking and the church wouldn't look out of place in the UK or France.
St. Ignatius Cathedral (Shanghai)
If your China tour is passing through Shanghai then you may want to go and look at this lovely French-medieval style cathedral. The congregation here is over 10,000 strong making it one of the most used churches in all of China. As there's only capacity for about 3,000 people at any service; many services are repeated over and over again throughout the day to make room for all the faithful. Look out for the statue of the Lady Madonna which was a gift from Paris in the 1920s.
CIzhong Church (Tibet)
You may have thought that if you were taking a China vacation in Tibet that Buddhist architecture was all you could see. But this striking church which was constructed in the early 20th century is tucked away in the corner of the city and is an absolute must. It's a great blend of Tibetan, Western and Chinese architecture rolled into one and following its (inevitable) restoration in the late 1980s – it's looking fantastic today. The front of the church appears at first glance to have been constructed in the shape of the cross.