Posted by: CS
Health Tips for Your China Vacation

Before you travel to China you might be a little nervous about the health risks of a vacation overseas. The good news is that most trips to China are completely uneventful on the health front. However, if you’d like to be sure that your China tour goes without a hitch we’ve got some tips for you before you travel to China.

What to Pack?

Wherever you travel in the world or China it’s a good idea to have some basic remedies etc. on hand before you go. That’s because it can be hard to track down a pharmacy when your China tour is on the Great Wall or you’re stood amongst the Terracotta Warriors. You don’t want to miss out on any of your China vacation so a little preparation can stand you in good stead.

Sun-Tan Lotion

Obviously this depends on the time of year that your China trip takes place at but it’s a good idea to bring some sun-tan lotion as it can get quite warm in Summer and Hong Kong and Macau are hot for most of the year. High protection factors can stop you getting sun-burned.

A Hat and Sunglasses

A hat can come in handy both in Winter and Summer to keep you warm or keep the sun off your head. Sunglasses can also be useful in Winter if you find somewhere particularly dusty then you can protect your eyes easily from the dust.

Disposable Face Masks

If you’re at all concerned about pollution in China then disposable face masks will cut down the amount of pollution that you can breathe in dramatically. In truth if you’re only going to travel for a few days the exposure to pollution is negligible any way.

Acetaminophen and Immodium

You can buy both of these over-the-counter medicines in China but it’s probably best to pack them instead. Acetaminophen is for headaches or minor colds or flu bouts. The Immodium is there to help with any episodes of traveler’s diarrhea. You are very unlikely to get any form of food poisoning in China particularly if you take advice on where to eat from your tour guide or hotel. However, an upset stomach can be a common symptom of travel and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

On the Plane

It’s a long way to China from the United States. It’s a good idea to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol on the plane. That way you stay hydrated and fresh. It’s recommended that you get up and walk around a little every few hours to protect yourself from DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) which is a rare condition that might be caused by sitting still for too long.

You should try to sleep on the plane if possible. You should also remove your shoes to prevent your feet from swelling at the reduced pressures in the cabin.

In general, you can expect your China vacation to pass without any real health worries at all. You should make sure that you have appropriate travel insurance just in case as treatment in China can be a little expensive.

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Posted by: CS
Great Reasons to Include Shanghai on Your China Tour

If you’re wondering where to include in your China tour itinerary then you have plenty of options. Everywhere you can travel in China can make for a great China vacation. However if you’re uncertain sa to whether to include Shanghai in your China trip – we’ve got some great reasons for you to choose the city:

  • It’s the largest city in the world not just China. There are more than 20 million people based in Shanghai. That means if you take a trip to Shanghai – you’ll be stood in the equivalent of a double “mega city” (a mega city has 10 million or more inhabitants).

  • It’s the richest city in China and that means if you want to see how China is changing on your vacation – Shanghai’s the best place to do just that. It’s a vibrant, modern, cosmopolitan city and uniquely Chinese.

  • You won’t be alone. Some of the world’s most notable people travel to Shanghai to experience life in China. You’ll be walking in the shoes of George Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein among others. It’s one of the few places you can see on a China tour that brings together the best of the East and the best of the West.

  • You can shop until you drop and then shop some more. If you want to return from your China vacation weighed down with bargains then Shanghai’s the place to stock up in. Head down to the markets and malls and feast your eyes on the wealth of products made in China for a fraction of the cost of back home.

  • There’s no need to sleep! Shanghai is a truly 24-hour city and there are clubs, bars and nightlife galore – in fact Shanghai’s probably the best place in China to go out at night in and there’s far more choice of nightlife here than there is in Beijing.

  • It’s easy to get around. Actually this is true of most Chinese cities. If you want to take a trip on your own then you’ll find that the public transport system is excellent. The metro and bus network covers pretty much everywhere in the city and it’s extremely cheap and efficient.

  • There are plenty of things to see and do. Everyone wants to visit The Bund which may be the most picturesque piece of waterfront anywhere in Asia with the heady mix of modern China and classic Western architecture. However, once you get off the beaten path you’ll find that it’s impossible to get bored in Shanghai – there are museums, parks, and galleries everywhere.

  • English is spoken in most major tourist destinations. Shanghai’s cosmopolitan heritage and major finance district tends to attract rather more English speaking graduates than the rest of China. That can make finding your way round a little easier than in some of the other major Chinese cities.

Shanghai is a truly unique experience. If you’d like you visit to China to include the world’s largest city – we thoroughly recommend it. It’s an unforgettable place.

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Posted by: CS
Yamdrock Lake, Tibet – A Shining Spectacle

Much of a vacation in Tibet will be spent taking in the man-made wonders of this beautiful Buddhist nation. However a tour of Tibet’s countryside can reveal incredible natural wonders too. If you travel just a little way out of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, you will find Yamdrok Lake an incredible melt water lake formed from the glaciers of the Himalayas. It’s very much worth the trip if you want to see one of the last unspoiled wilderness’s on earth in Tibet.

About Yamdrock Lake

Yamdrock Lake is on the highway to Gyantse from Lhasa. You’ll need to hire a 4x4 vehicle for the trip as travel on Tibet’s roads is somewhat challenging. It’s surrounded on all sides by the grey and snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas. It’s not a small lake either; it covers over 640 square kilometers of Tibet’s countryside and at its deepest point it’s nearly 60 meters deep. You won’t want to discover that, it’s far too cold to swim safely in Yamdrock Lake.

The lake is said to resemble a dragon if you view it from above as there is a central body of water with several small limbs stretching out below and then a long “tail” trailing out behind the main body to the North. It’s at a very high elevation (over 4,000 meters above sea level) so you won’t want to make a trip out to the lake in the early part of your Tibet vacation as it can be hard to catch your breath until you’re used to the altitude. It’s much easier to wander the shores once you’ve spent a little time in Tibet and adjusted.

One nice thing about the lake is that it hasn’t yet become part of the established tours of Tibet and you should be able to find plenty of quiet places to just enjoy some silence and appreciate the native Tibetan way of life. The waters are so clear and clean because there’s no source of pollution within hundreds of miles. It’s a good place to grab some lunch too as the local fisherman bring their catch in throughout the day and you can enjoy some of the freshest fish at any of the nearby restaurants.

You should take your camera as the contrast between clear water, the mountainside and the wealth of flora and fauna on the shores offers some of the best photo opportunities you’ll find during your Tibet vacation.

Between April and October you’ll also find the most splendid collection of bird life in Asia. All the migrating birds that move between India, China and Central Asia stop by the shores of the lake during their migration. It’s an absolutely astonishing sight and you’ll find that bringing a pair of binoculars at this time can greatly enhance your visit to the lake.

Once you’ve had your fill of nature; you can repair for some food and drink at the nearby village of Nangartse. You’re sure of a friendly Tibetan welcome there and you’ll be amazed at how much cheaper it is than Lhasa.

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Posted by: CS
Tashilunpo Monastery, Tibet – A Spiritual Highlight

A trip to Tibet is an unmissable chance to connect with the spiritual heritage of the Far East. A vacation in Tibet brings you into contact with the ultimate evolution of Buddhism in China and you’ll be able to take a tour of all of the most important religious places in Tibet as you travel round the country. One of the most important monasteries in Tibet is Tashilunpo; here’s some background which could make your visit even more memorable.

About Tashilunpo Monastery

You may not have time to squeeze Tashilunpo into your Tibet tour itinerary as it’s quite a way out of Lhasa. However, if you do find that you can free up a day or two it’s very much worth visiting as it’s the largest monastery of its kind in Tibet. It is a Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monastery and it’s one of the 6 most sacred monasteries of that type in all of China. The faith made the trip from Mongolia to Tibet and China in the late 15th century and as such it’s the newest branch of Buddhism in Tibet.

As your tour approaches Tashilunpo from the road the first thing you’ll see is the golden roof dominating the frozen landscape below. You might want to ask your driver to stop so you can take a vacation photograph as it’s a truly stunning sight to behold.

The name Tashilunpo means “the heap of glory” and the monastery is held in high regard throughout Tibet. It was the source of several Pashen Lamas and is considered to be the 2nd highest of all the Gelugpa monasteries in the world.

There’s certainly plenty of wonderful things to be found in the monastery’s grounds including:

The Maitreya Temple

This houses the largest statue of Buddha in Tibet and in China. It was built by the 9th Pachem Lama and it contains nearly 300 kilos of Gold and more than 150,000 kilos of Brass! It’s an incredible sight and worth making the trip to Tashilunpo for alone.

The Buddha Festival

If you’re lucky enough to time your vacation for the 5th month of the Buddhist year (July or August depending on the exact lunar date of the month) then there’s a huge Buddhist festival held in the Tashilunpo monastery’s grounds.

Three different Buddhas are displayed on each day of the festival. One to represent the past, one the present and one the future. Tens of thousands of people turn up to celebrate life around the Buddhas and they all congregate eventually in front of the giant Buddha in the Maitreya Temple. There’s a giant platform constructed from local rock which the festival is held on and where monks offer blessings and prayers for those gathered there.

It’s one of the largest festivals in Tibet and outsiders are quite welcome to gather with the faithful and join in the celebrations. Please remember to be respectful of people’s beliefs throughout the festival as it’s a very important part of local culture.

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Posted by: CS
Guangdong Cuisine in Beijing

If you’re on a vacation in China but you don’t have time for a tour of the whole country – you can still try every type of cookery in China’s capital city; Beijing. China’s food is one of the main reasons that the locals take trips to other provinces and we think it’s one of the best reasons to travel to China too. Today we’ll look at Guangdong Cuisine in Beijing.

About Guangdong Cuisine

Guangdong Cuisine is better known in the West as Cantonese Cuisine; though the dishes we’re familiar with tend to have been developed by emigrants from Hong Kong rather than from the mainland. Cantonese is perhaps the most popular food in China and you won’t have to travel too far to find a Cantonese restaurant to your liking.

A trip to a Cantonese restaurant reveals that the school of cookery specializes in tender meats, ever so slight sweet sauces which are very light on the tongue. The ingredients used are those people most associate with China, oyster sauce, soy sauce, plum sauce and sweet and sour sauce.

If you’d like to try something less familiar during your China vacation look out for the five-spice powder and star anise dishes which are mouthwateringly pleasant. You should be aware that Guangdong Cuisine is the reason it is often said (in China as well as elsewhere) that “The Chinese eat anything with legs except for a table and anything that flies except for a plane.” So you can be really adventurous when your tour stops at a Cantonese restaurant or you can play it safe. It is an incredibly varied school of cookery.

There’s less frying involved in Cantonese food and much more braising which leaves the flavors of the ingredients to suffuse with each other and deliver a very satisfactory result on the taste buds.

Where Do I Find Guangdong Cuisine in Beijing?

There are plenty of options for your China tour group when it hits Beijing but we think you might want to check out the Lichang Seafood Restaurant (the one in Hugosi rather than the others in the chain) as it’s the longest established Cantonese restaurant in the city and it’s still packed out every day at main meal times. You might as well get a little history as part of your China vacation dining experience right?

There’s plenty to choose from on the menu and if you’d like to be as authentic as possible then it’s a good idea to try some of the dim sum. These are brought to the table at regular intervals on little carts and you just point at a tray to try it.

The lobster sashimi is incredible (if a little pricey) and we’ve found that the durian cakes here are one of the best ways to experience the flavor of this famously stinky fruit without being overwhelmed by the odor.

A trip to the Lichang Seafood Restaurant will normally set you back around $40-$50 a head and it’s worth every penny.

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Posted by: CS
Fujian Cuisine in Beijing

This is the second of an eight part series on how to take a tour of all China’s schools of cookery in Beijing. It’s designed to help you fit as much of the incredible cuisine in the country as you can during your China tour. A vacation in China can be greatly enhanced by great food and this guide aims to help you do just that as you travel around China’s capital city.

About Fujian Cuisine

Fujian (or sometime Min) cuisine is from Southern China and the Fujian province. It has one of the longest established histories of any of China’s schools of cookery. There are recipes which date back over 5,000 years. That makes it perhaps the most authentic Chinese food you can eat on your vacation.

Getting Fujian food outside of China is difficult and that gives you a great reason to try it on your tour. You’ll find that there are 3 blends of Fujian cookery too; Fuzhou, Western and Southern. The Fuzhou style focuses on contrasting sweet and sour, Western is based on mustard with a strong hint of peppers throughout the dishes and Southern is sweet with a delicate hint of spice.

In Fujian every meal begins with a soup course and it would be unthinkable for a meal not to have soup. Soups are extremely complex creations with dozens of herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, soy sauces, etc. employed in their cooking. If you do travel to a Fujian restaurant make sure you spend some time choosing the perfect soup for the occasion; it’s likely to be the best soup you have in China.

Cooking techniques in Fujian cuisine are incredibly varied; much more so than in other schools of cuisine in China. You’ll find pan-fried, deep-fried, boiled, baked, stewed, casseroled, simmered, smoked, braised and sautéed foods galore. Teetotalers should be aware that red rice wine is a prominent ingredient in many dishes so if you’d prefer to remain abstemious on your trip you may need to pick through the menu carefully. Where to Get Fujian Cuisine in Beijing?

There are many good Fujian restaurants in Beijing and it shouldn’t be hard to squeeze one into your China tour. Our favorite is a place called Wuyishan Nongjiacai. It’s best visited in conjunction with a trip to Beijing’s tea markets which are very nearby. Once you’ve spent a pleasant hour or two wandering the markets you should have worked up an appetite for some great food.

It's a very reasonably priced place and you should not spend much more than 100 RMB for a range of courses per person. (That’s around $15). Fujian food is very much about fish and the majority of fish dishes on the menu are absolutely superb but we’d encourage you to go for the beef and taro. It looks pretty ugly on the plate but it tastes incredible. If you want something a bit more adventurous the cauliflower with squid is rather good too.

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Posted by: CS
The National Stadium of China (The Bird's Nest)

If you'd have taken a tour of China back in 2008; you'd have witnessed perhaps the greatest Olympic games of all time. China's entrance to the world stage was no small beans. The country spent a fortune on an Olympic extravaganza and there are some lasting monuments to the event that you can see on your China trip. One of the big highlights of a China vacation is The Bird's Nest Stadium perhaps the best known of all China's modern buildings. Here's what you need to know before you travel:

About The Bird's Nest

The stadium cost over $400 million to build. It was designed by a Swiss firm of architects which won the right to build the stadium in a competitive tender with 12 other world-renowned architects. As you'll find out during your China tour the bird's nest is considered to be an incredible delicacy in Chinese cookery. That means it's an expensive delicacy and, as you'll also see as you travel round China, that means it's considered something of a national symbol.

Interestingly the world famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was employed as a consultant on the project. It's thus the largest piece of art he's been involved with.

There was another reason for the bird's nest design; the idea was to use the ceramic beams that form the nest to mask the infrastructure necessary for a retractable roof on the stadium. In the end the roof was abandoned as impractical during the construction phase but by then the design was set in stone.

One interesting thing about the design of the stadium is that the majority of water, used to heat the playing surfaces or to cool the stadium in the hot, sticky Beijing summer, is recycled rain water. It's a very green solution and is a testament to the efforts that China is putting into environmentally friendly research. It's easy to see the effects of industrialization in Beijing but much harder to spot behind the scenes efforts to clean up the problems that industrialization has caused.

What Goes on at the Bird's Nest?

At the moment the Bird's Nest is somewhat under-utilized. If you're lucky your China vacation may coincide with one of the concerts or events run at the stadium but it's unlikely there is perhaps only one brief event held there each month.

However, if your China tour is in winter you may be able to skate inside the Bird's Nest when the entire stadium is filled with water and left to freeze in Beijing's harsh winter conditions. It's a lot of fun but watch out for errant skaters – health and safety are not a number one priority anywhere in China and you don't want to have to end the day taking a trip round a Chinese hospital.

There are plans for a shopping mall at the site but developers have been somewhat reluctant to commit to the project and you shouldn't delay your China vacation in the hopes that you might be able to shop until you drop next door. It seems unlikely that the mall will be ready anytime soon.

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What Are the Most Child-Friendly Places in Xi'an

We find that many people want to know what there is for children to do before they book their China tours. A China vacation is always child-friendly, children will always get a warm welcome from the locals no matter where you travel in China. If your trip is going to take in Xi'an a few miles to the North of China's capital city – here are the most child friendly destinations in the city:

The City Walls

OK, the city walls are probably not suitable for the youngest of children but if they're old enough to jump on a bicycle this is one of China's best day trips. You can travel the entire length of the 14 kilometer city wall and you'll be able to take in views of the entire city. If that's not quite exciting enough – you can hire a tandem bike and share the experience. If you're not up to cycling you can always hire an electric cart instead...

The Terracotta Warriors

There's no denying that kids get as much of a buzz out of Xian's most famous tourist attraction as adults do. There's something enthralling about this enormous pottery army and the horses, chariots, etc. that supported them. Many people book a China tour just to see this place and we can't argue with that – it's one of our favorite places in China too.

Xian's Muslim Quarter

Xian's main mosque is an incredible sight and very much worth including in your China vacation itinerary. Once you've taken a tour of the mosque and grabbed as many photos as you can then it's very much worth taking a walk through the old Muslim quarter of the city.

China's Muslims are a friendly bunch and there's a huge number of street stalls at which you can pick up a bite to eat (Xinjiang Food is delicious and very well represented here) or a bargain for a souvenir.

You should encourage your children to get involved in haggling for goods here – it will be particularly well received by vendors and possibly result in your getting a better bargain than if you'd haggled alone.

The Tang Dynasty Paradise

This is billed as a “cultural theme park” but in reality it's a pleasant garden where you can see plenty of performances of local arts. There's often a team from the Shaolin Temple to be found demonstrating their martial arts' prowess which should please many children; for those who prefer the gentler side of the performing arts we recommend checking out the stilt walkers. Stop in the middle of the park and watch the interesting “performing fountain” too.

Ocean World

This a pleasant aquarium/science park and you should only visit if you have time after all the other items we've mentioned above. You may find it difficult to fit into your China tour and as there are probably better aquariums and science museums in the United States it shouldn't be a priority. However, it is very child friendly and there are activity packs especially for children to make their visit a pleasant one.

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Posted by: CS
Anhui Food in Beijing

One of the great shames of a China vacation is that it can never last long enough. It's impossible for any China tour to take in the entire width and breadth of the nation; it would take a lifetime of dedicated travel in China to do that. That means it's all too common for people to have to miss something out on their China trip. However; when it comes to the food you don't have to miss out – it's possible to try every form of Chinese cookery in Beijing if you know where to look.

About Anhui Food

Anhui food originates in Anhui province and if you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise it's the most popular food on the Yangtze River itself. The official birthplace of Anhui cookery is Mount Huangshan which is perhaps the most famous tourist destination within the province.

There's an awful lot of territorial differences within Anhui as it's one of the most varied terrains in China. That means product comes from the fields, the mountains, the forests and of course the rivers. Anhui cuisine is emphatic about the need for fresh, local ingredients and it's often considered by the Chinese as the freshest of all of China's 8 main schools of cookery. Anhui's chefs travel a long way to get the perfect blend of ingredients.

Herbs play an important role in the flavor and complexity of Anhui dishes. It's perhaps unsurprising with such a range of herbal ingredients to choose from that many of the herbs used in the food are also used for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

For the Western palate it's worth noting that the use of the local brown sauce in many dishes can make them appear rather oilier than they actually are. You'll find that ham is a very popular ingredient too and if you're not supposed to eat pork; you may want to tread carefully around the choices on the menu in an Anhui restaurant – we don't want anything to spoil your China vacation, so if you're in doubt please ask for clarification on ingredients.

Where to Try Anhui Food in Beijing

Anhui cuisine is a little thin on the ground in Beijing and unlike other forms of food you can try on your China tour; there aren't that many options for Anhui cuisine.

We think the best restaurant for Anhui food in town is provided by the Anhui Provincial Government restaurant. It's a bit of a trip out of town to find it – it's on ring road number 4 (so please make sure you call beforehand to book and to get taxi instructions). But it's a unique China experience that's worth the travel.

You may not appreciate the Huangshan Fragrant Fish which is somewhat overpowering on the nostrils but we do recommend the stir-fried frog with log flowers and the Bagong mountain bean curd. They're both very delicate dishes with very subtle flavors. If you'd like to ensure that you get a taste of all the foods available to you in China; you really must try some Anhui cuisine in Beijing.

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Posted by: CS
Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai

If your China tour is passing through Shanghai and you want a bit of a break from the thriving urban center you could do worse than take a trip to Yuyuan Garden in the old city. China has an exquisite horticultural heritage and some of its gardens are truly splendid to behold. It’s nice to get in touch with nature on a China vacation and in this case you won’t have to travel too far to do so.

About Yuyuan Garden

Yuyuan Garden was originally built during China’s Ming Dynasty period. It was constructed for the Pan Family back in 1559. At the time it would have been the largest and most prestigious garden in Shanghai and possible the whole of China. Even today it is easily comparable to the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou (another great destination for a China tour).

Pan Yunduan, was an officer in the Ming Army and he conceived the garden so that his elderly parents could live out their old age in peace. It’s said that the idea came to him during a period of quiet reflection after failing an examination for promotion. Though construction began in 1559 there was a bit of a hiatus when he was posted to Sichuan for 20 years for another military tour. So it wasn’t completed until he could travel home in 1577. Sadly; the delay proved a bit much for his parents who died soon after the garden was completed.

When China’s Qing Dynasty; came to power the garden was left neglected and forgotten for many years. However, when Kangxi came to power he revived the garden and expanded it to offer more public space. It was one of 18th century China’s most popular attractions.

The garden was given a severe thrashing from the British guns during the Opium Wars and it took decades to recover its former glory. Following China’s cultural revolution the garden was fully restored to its current glory. A trip round the garden today is as glorious as it would have been in 1577. As you travel round the garden you’ll find a lot of halls and small buildings to explore. Inside you’ll find some ancient furniture from China’s past as well as some incredible paintings. One of the halls is dedicated to the art of calligraphy and there may be no better place to witness the incredible beauty of Chinese writing anywhere on your China vacation.

Keep an eye out for the “Exquisite Jade Rock” which would be hard to miss as it weighs in at a fraction under 5 tons. It is said to have been found more than a 1,000 years ago and once resided in a Song Dynasty emperor’s private collection before passing through numerous hands and ending up in the garden.

In addition there are flower exhibitions, exhibitions of stone masonry, tea ceremonies and exhibitions of brightly colored Chinese lanterns in the garden on a regular basis.

It is also one of the national cultural market places and you’ll find plenty of vendors lining the exterior of the garden.

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Posted by: CS
Shangri-La, Guilin

If you’re on a China vacation and you’d like to travel to Shangri-La (the mythical city created by the British author James Hilton based on his experiences in China). Then you may have the chance to do so if your China tour passes through Guilin. Now, to be fair there are several places in China that stake a claim to being Shangri-La so we can’t guarantee that your trip will take you to the real Shangri-La. What we can guarantee is the peace and tranquility that the promise of Shangri-La offers.

Guilin’s Shangri-La

If you travel just outside of Guilin you will find the Peach Pavillion; it’s a beautiful and ornate building with 5 stories and a viewing platform on the roof. From there you can take the track that leads past it to the Swallow Lake a place of outstanding natural beauty. It’s one of the joys of exploring off the beaten path in China – there always new sights to see.

Swallow Lake is actually 3 lakes in one; there’s an outer, inner and back lake and the water is perhaps the cleanest you’ll see anywhere in China. You can rent a boat and take a tour of the lake or just take a trip along the banks.

Over one part of the lake is a steep roofed bridge; “The Wind and Rain Bridge” and it’s one of the best examples of Dong minority architecture that you can see during your China vacation. There wasn’t a single nail used in building the bridge. Make sure that you keep an eye out for the Dong totems that are scattered at discrete intervals around the bridge; there’s nothing like them anywhere else in China.

There’s also a chance to grab a bit of a break nearby and enjoy a trip through the history of the Dong culture in China through tribal art and performances. You should particularly keep an eye out for the traditional dating game played by people here.

An ornate and beautifully embroidered ball is made by young women of marriageable age and when they feel ready to get married they toss it from a building in the hopes that the one they love will catch it. What adds to the mystique of this is that the girls dress up in brightly colored ethnic costumes and there’s a certain amount of ceremony to be performed prior to the ball being thrown.

There are many good reasons to visit Guilin on your China vacation; the Karst landscape and the dragon bone terraces are without a doubt the biggest attractions and shouldn’t be missed. However, if you do get a little spare time it’s nice to be able to explore some of the places nearby that many Westerners will never see. Whether Guilin’s Shangri-La is the authentic Shangri-La is not a debate that’s going to come to a close any time soon; but you will have the opportunity to decide whether it’s your Shangri-La and we think that’s more than good enough.

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Posted by: CS
Modern and Contemporary Art in Beijing – At the Ullens Center

If you'd like to see what's happening today in China's newly revived art scene on your vacation there's no better venue to do so than the Ullens Center. If your China tour is going to pass through Beijing you should be able to make a little side trip to the center and catch up on China's contemporary scene. You don't need to travel far (it's near the airport expressway) which is a blessing in China's most crowded city for traffic.

About the Ullens Center

The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) is a charitable concern which promotes exhibitions and other art programs to allow people to better relate to art culture in China. UCCA was begun by the de Schooten family who took a tour of Beijing in 2000 and decided to set up operations there. They are considered to be among the elite of art collectors globally so their patronage is very valuable.

As you'll see on a trip to UCCA it's housed in a Bauhaus-style series of factory chambers. It's one of the best presented exhibitions you'll find anywhere in China and it's definitely worth a visit on your China vacation.

What Exhibitions Can I See?

As a center dedicated to contemporary art there's no way for us to tell you what will exhibitions will be on at the same time as your China tour. That's because they are regularly refreshed and you're probably best off keeping an eye of their website to find out what's available when you travel to China.

In the recent past they've featured work from Taryn Simon, Xu Zhen, Wang-Xingwei and many more of China's young and up and coming artists. In the next few months Lee Mingwei and Pawel Althamer will both be contributing their works to the space.

What else is at UCCA?

There are regular education and public programs held at UCCA and you'll need to call beforehand to find out what's going on during the day. You may be lucky enough to catch an English language talk from one of China's leading art authorities or a workshop on making your own art (which might make for an incredible China vacation souvenir). Most of these events are fully open to the pubic but popular events do pack out fast and you may want to secure a ticket in advance if there's anything you really must see.

There is also, like many modern museums, a store on the premises. It's not a “gift shop” and more of a gallery. It's here that you can access limited edition works from China's top contemporary artists. It's not unknown for them to have 50 or more collections in the store at any time. In addition to that many of China's best known designers have also created works for sale in the UCCA store; it's very much a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. You can also pick up art supplies, materials, instruction books (including some in English), etc.

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Understanding the Yangtze

A Yangtze River Cruise can be a spectacular addition to a China vacation. A trip down China’s longest river is always memorable. While you travel through the beautiful countryside and pass the Three Gorges (China’s and the world’s biggest hydroelectric power generation facility) your China tour guide can regale you with stories of the region itself. To help you understand the part that the Yangtze plays in China we’ve put together some background for you.

The Scale of the Yangtze

The Yangtze is the world’s third largest river. On a Yangtze River Cruise you’ll have the opportunity to take in a tiny stretch of the river. It would take a long time to cover the whole of the river during a China tour. The Yangtze River and its drainage areas cover nearly 20% of the land mass of China! It’s worth noting that there are also 700+ tributaries of the main river that add even more volume to this impressive body of water. 49 of the biggest tributaries cover an area in excess of 3,800 square miles in their own right!

It is the busiest waterway in the world and there are always cruise ships, barges laden with goods from all over China and ferries moving around in the water. Travel at night on the river is particularly pleasing because all these vessels are lit up like Christmas trees.

The History of the Yangtze

People have been using the Yangtze for more than 27,000 years as a mode of shipping transport and for fishing. It might surprise you to know that if you’d have taken a Yangzte River Cruise before 1955 you would not have seen a single bridge over the water anywhere on the entire river! All the 50 or so bridges over the water were built after 1955. That meant for the majority of the river’s history the only way to cross was by boat.

The Dujiangyan Irrigation Project in Sichuan (near Chengdu) is the oldest irrigation system remaining in the world. What makes it particularly interesting is that it doesn’t rely on dams to achieve the water displacement. The first dam on the river was Gezhouba Dam which helps increase the flow of the river to drive the Three Gorges Dam at a faster rate of electrical production.

The Yangtze and the Chinese People

There are more cities along the banks of the Yangtze than there are on any other river on earth. It is the most populous riverbank in the world too. That’s not always good news for residents as floods along the Yangtze can be deadly and in the 20th century alone more than 420,000 people died in just 4 flood events (1911, 1931, 1935 and 1954).

The Yangtze is still an important source of food in China. Though as you’ll see during your trip the water is not always particularly clean (pollution is a serious worry for the whole of the Yangtze). The Yangtze River Dolphin is almost certainly extinct now.

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Posted by: CS
One of Beijing's Best Kept Secrets – The Underground City

A trip to China is never dull. There's always somewhere new to travel to and always another unforgettable China vacation experience just around the corner. There are places that don't feature on any China tour itinerary which can grab the imagination and one such place is one of China's best kept secret – the Underground City beneath Beijing.

An Underground City?

It sounds incredible when you think about it. There are miles and miles of tunnels beneath Beijing. There are plenty of crazy rumors as to how they came into being and some commentators allege that they are a “pure mystery”. Of course they aren't a mystery there's no government in the world that will invest millions of dollars in building mysterious tunnel networks. The truth is a touch more prosaic.

The tunnels were built back in the 1970s when Cold War tensions were at their worst. They were designed to ensure the safety of a large percentage of the population of Beijing in case the Russians invaded China. It may seem unlikely that Russian soldiers would be on tour and tasked with capturing China today but back then the two “allies” weren't really all that close. The idea was that the civilian population could quickly travel below the city and perhaps even survive in the event of a nuclear event between China and Russia.

As China's economy opened up (which is the main reason you can take your vacation in China today) it became clear that the tunnels no longer really served a purpose and they were closed off to the world until the early 2000's. Today it's possible to take a trip around China's biggest secret tunnel network but you do need to phone ahead and it's better to go as part of a local tour group (who can get you in free) rather than to travel solo.

What's Down There?

Firstly, you'll want to take a little time to appreciate the effort that went into making the tunnels. These weren't built by giant tunneling machines; they were built through the manual labor of nearly 300,000 local people. They were all dug by hand and even children and the elderly were expected to pitch in to dig them out.

Once you're in the tunnels proper you'll want to keep an eye out for sign posts to some of Beijing's biggest attractions like Tiananmen Square or the Forbidden City (both of which should be on your China tour itinerary in their own right). You aren't allowed very far into the tunnel network (in case you get lost) but they give you an idea of the scale of the tunnels (over 85 kilometers all told).

You can also find rooms full of materials that were being hoarded in case war broke out and they haven't been touched since. There's a treasure trove of Mao-era posters, which are extremely rare in China, on the walls. There's also a working silk factory run by Qianmen Arts and Crafts. If you're interested in Cold War history the secret tunnel network of Beijing is a great place to spend an hour or two seeing a uniquely Chinese perspective on that time in history.

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Posted by: CS
Zigong Dinosaur Museum, Chengdu

A Yangtze River Cruise wends its way slowly through China's rural heartlands and eventually your trip brings you to Chengdu. Chengdu is on many China tour itineraries because it's the only place in China where you can see the Giant Panda in the wild. The pandas make Chengdu a vacation favorite but there's more to the city than just pandas and if you'd like to travel a little further out into China's countryside you can find dinosaurs too!

Da Shanpu – The Zigong Dinosaur Museum

If you make the trip to Zigong don't expect it to be a short walk when you get there. This is South East China's biggest museum and it covers over 25,000 square meters of ground. It is considered by many paleontologists around the world to be equal to the American National Dinosaur Park. It is the 3rd largest dinosaur fossil site currently being excavated anywhere on earth. If you like dinosaurs you really won't find more of them anywhere else on a China vacation.

Take your time to explore and you'll find a fossil burial hall which provides the grisly details of how fossils are made. A central hall with a small number of mighty dinosaur remains in it; this is probably the best place to get the most striking photographs at. There's a dinosaur ecology hall with exhibits relating to the flora and fauna of the day. There's also a cave like museum offering under the main building which is worth the walk down to as it has the best displays of the rarest dinosaurs.

The museum has a strong education program and unlike some other places on your China tour this should be a great opportunity for children and little ones to get “hands on” and English is spoken at most events.

The idea is to show firstly how dinosaurs evolved and how the species around them contributed to their existence. After all a herbivore without the right plants around them won't be around long enough to leave any trace in the fossil record.

Then they are encouraged to visit the incredible array of dinosaur fossils. You might want to see the Tianfuensis yourselves too; it stood a massive 20 meters high back when it roamed the earth and it made us (and the other dinosaurs) appear tiny in comparison. It's an incredible China vacation memory once you've seen it.

Then you finish up at the dinosaur burial site itself. You can see paleontologists at work continuing to extract fossils with the most incredible care and attention to detail. You can also see many fossils and remains still exactly as they were discovered. It is one of the largest such dinosaur graveyards anywhere in the world and perhaps the most accessible of them all.

So once your Yangtze River Cruise reaches Chengdu and you've been out to see the incredibly Giant Pandas in their natural habitat it might be a great end to the day to jump in a taxi and see the dinosaurs of China too!

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Posted by: CS
Mt. Qingcheng – Daoism and Chengdu

A Yangtze River Cruise can put people, on a China tour, in a spiritual state of mind. As your trip through the beauty of China reaches Chengdu you may want to travel out of the city and get more in touch with the spiritual nature of China. Daoism is one of the traditional religions of China and there's nowhere better on a China vacation to find out more about it than at Mt. Qingcheng just outside of Chengdu.

About Mt. Qingcheng

Mt. Chingcheng is one of the holiest mountains in Daoism. It's a splendid area of natural beauty with a wonderful forest canopy covering the slopes. There are many surrounding peaks which form an eye catching backdrop to a trip up the mountain. It is often said that it is the most peaceful and secluded mountain in all of China and under the heavens themselves.

The best part of the mountain to see is “the anterior” which covers an incredible wealth of flora and fauna as well as the Jianfu Palace, the Shangqing Palace and the Tianshi Cave. When your tour reaches the base of the mountain, look up and you'll see the Laojun Pavillion at the summit looming over you – it's more than a kilometer above sea level.

Begin your climb and you'll see find the Jianfu Palace which was built during the period of China's Tan Dynasty (618 A.D. – 907 A.D.) though it has been the subject of extended restoration activities through the centuries; so not everything you will see there is original. Stand in front of the palace by the river and look for the wooden pavilion which sits on the steep rocks above. It's a vacation photograph that shouldn't be missed. People travel from all over China to take that shot.

A little further up the mountain and you'll come across the Tianshi Cave. It's also the most famous temple on the mountain. The statue which greets visitors is of the Celestial Master Zhang and it's been carved in the same style as the Sui Dynasty-era sculptures. He is the founder of Daoism in this part of China. Make sure you check out the main hall of the cave where you'll come face-to-face with the 3 main deities of Daosim; Fuxi, Huangdi and Shennong.

Once you've had a good look round the temple; you'll want to leave the cave and cross the Fanging Bridge (stop for a photo down the mountain). Then you'll come to the Zushi Palace the most modern construction on the mountain from the Qing Dynasty. The finally you can come across the remains of the Shangqing Palace which was constructed in the Jin Dynasty. The remains are only from the Qing Dynasty though and nothing of the original palace remains. It's still an extremely pleasant place and worth seeing as you don't see many ruins in China; they're normally cleared away for other buildings to take their place.

So if your Yangtze River Cruise has lit a spiritual fire in your bosom; you can do much worse than visit Mt. Qingcheng for some quiet contemplation.

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Posted by: CS
Jinsha Archaeological Site Museum, Chengdu – Discover the Ancient Shu Dynasty

If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China tour then sooner or later your travel will take you to Chengdu. Chengdu is in the heart of China's Sichuan region and is in fact, the 6th biggest city in China, though it's hard to get a feel for the scale of the city as it always feels like a small town. If you'd like to discover something fairly unique when your China vacation reaches Chengdu; then why not check out the Jinsha Archaeological Site Museum?

The Ancient Shu People

Sichuan was once known as the Shu State. It was home to the Shu people. Today the Shu culture is long lost and has probably been absorbed into the main Han culture and ethnic grouping. Most people travel to Sichuan without ever knowing anything about its' ancient founders. Yet, just a short trip outside of Chengdu and you can find out more about their culture than you would have believed possible.

Jinsha is a treasure-trove of China's history. It's also a record breaking site for China in 3 respects.

More ivory has been unearthed at Jinsha than anywhere else on earth. This includes carvings, beads, lumps of ivory and even the full skeletal remains of ancient elephants. Given that the site is nearly 3,000 years old this is quite an incredible find.

Yet, there's more – it's also the source of the most gold artefacts from this period in history and if you do make the trip you'll see that China was no stranger to making beautiful and ornate gold objects way before anywhere in the West was.

Finally; there's more ancient Jade on the site than anywhere else on earth too. You'll find on your China vacation that jade is highly prized in the East and it's extremely expensive. There's nowhere else on your China tour that you'll see as much genuine jade work in one place.

Jinsha is a huge place. It covers nearly 5 square kilometers and you'll be able to see 63 sacrificial spots, over 7,000 ancient relics and the remains of dozens of buildings and even those of 3 cemetaries.

The stone carvings that have been unearthed at Jinsha are nearly worth booking a Yangtze River Cruise for alone. They are the most incredibly life-like images and snakes and tigers abound. The techniques used to craft them all that time ago must have required weeks of work to produce a single carving.

There are four separate museums on the site each of which is included in the admission fee. The relic hall and exhibition hall show findings from the excavation. The cultural heritage protection center is concerned with the history of the Shu state and you'll need a knowledgeable guide to make sense of it all. Once you're done admiring the history of the place take a trip over to the Ecological Garden and enjoy some of China's finest plants and animal life. It's an unforgettable day out.

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Posted by: CS
Five Ways to Better Interact with Chinese People

Some people are a bit nervous before they take a vacation in China, they want to see the incredible beauty of the country on a China tour but they don't know how to interact with Chinese people. There's no need to worry as you'll discover on a trip to China; the Chinese are incredibly friendly and while English isn't always the language of communication - travel in China is usually very easy. We've put together a quick tip sheet to help you stay in the local good books too:

1.Be Humble

China has a face culture; that means it's not really done to give excessive compliments and if they are given it's normal for a Chinese person to reply in the opposite. So if you go for a meal with some at a Chinese friend's house during your vacation and say; "Wow! That meal was incredible thank you!" don't be surprised if they say; "Oh no! It was horrible the food was really bad!" And don't be offended if they do, modesty is incredibly important in Chinese society.

2.Use People's Surnames

It can come as a surprise to us informal Westerners to realize that Chinese people are very peculiar about their names. If you are introduced to someone on your China tour you should call them by the surname. To confuse matters someone's given name is always given last name first and first name last. So if you meet a Zhang Min, you should call her Ms. Zhang and not Ms. Min. It's only very, very close family and friends who use a Chinese person's first name.

3.Make a Toast before You Drink

Travel round China for long enough and sooner or later on your trip you will find yourself drinking with Chinese people. China's alcohol culture is also quite formal (though the pace of consumption can be incredible – so this tip is very useful for slowing things down); and you will be expected to make a toast to the host of the night before you take a sip. If people start shouting "ganbei" you're expected to finish the whole glass – if everyone starts doing this it might be best to slip away politely before you drink too much…

4.Always Fight over the Bill

In general the host pays and if that's not applicable the oldest person at the table pays for a meal in China. However, it's customary for everybody to fight over the bill before surrendering the check to the right party. Your vacation will go more smoothly if you appreciate the etiquette and play your part accordingly.

5.Don't Accept "No Thank You" Immediately

If you decide to offer someone something on your China tour; it's expected that they will say no thank you. You should then offer again. A good person should say no once and a good person should make an offer twice. It's important because otherwise your companion may go hungry or thirsty for the sake of manners.

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Posted by: CS
Five Crazy Souvenirs to Bring Home from China

It's a common dilemma during a China vacation; what do I take home for my loved ones that says “I've been on a great China tour!” As you travel round China you'll find plenty of great options such as the beautiful Chinese qi pao (the traditional dress) or perhaps some folk art. What you probably won't want to take back from your China trip is one of these 5 strange souvenirs. They're probably best left behind in China before you travel home.

1. Virgin Tea

If you were to travel to China's Henan province and were to explore a little you would eventually find the Jiuhua Tea plantation. What makes their tea different from any other tea you'll encounter on a China tour is that every leaf is plucked from the bush by the mouth of a Chinese virgin. Really, we're not making this up. In fact not only must the women be virgins but there are stringent set of physical criteria they must pass too. The reason for this strange habit? Locals swear that it gives the tea the same level of purity as the lady who picked it.

2. White People

Actually, you can't technically buy a white person during your China trip but it is perfectly possible to rent them. Chinese people have had very little exposure to the outside world in much of the country. Thus white people are interesting. They are also believed to be good business people and rich. So if a Chinese person wants to launch a business; he or she will often rent a white person for a few days to make their business look special. The lucky white person's work usually involves giving a small speech and handing out business cards. It's very lucrative work.

3. Obama Fried Chicken

Your China vacation will offer plenty of great places to eat but this bizarre copy of KFC has the American president's face on every bucket of chicken. It's meant to be a compliment – Chinese people love President Obama and his brother actually lives in Shenzhen, China – but we wouldn't travel out of our way to eat there.

4. Tinned Air

It's more of a gimmick than a reality but in parts of China where pollution is heavy; there are people who miss the smell of clean country air. Those people can now buy tinned air which is supposedly bottled in the countryside and imported into the city. We're not certain that it would survive the trip home even if you could find it on a shelf. Empty cans may not react well to the pressure changes on a flight.

5. Panda Tea

This isn't so much tea as boiled panda droppings. It's incredibly expensive too and a single kilo cost nearly $80,000. It's made in Sichuan where a local company buys all the panda poop it can get its hands on from the panda sanctuary in Chengdu. They say it's rich in antioxidants but we really don't want to find out if that's true.

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Posted by: CS
Eight strange things that (probably) only happen in China

China is a great vacation destination. One of the things that China tour groups always comment on is the difference between their culture and Chinese culture. If you travel for any length of time in China you’re bound to come across some weird and wonderful sights and experiences. You may not encounter any of the following during your China trip but that’s not to say you won’t find something equally as fascinating.

1. Walnut Investors and Nut Forgers

China is getting richer as you’ll see during your trip; unfortunately Chinese people don’t really trust their banks. So instead they invest in pretty much anything that can be stored. Walnuts have become a popular form of investment and that’s led to a rise in folks who specialize in counterfeiting walnuts to take advantage of this.

2. Prisoner Body Doubles

We hope that you have no cause to come into contact with China’s legal system during your tour. However, if you did you might come across the latest in prison trends. The wealthy are now believed to hire body doubles to stand trial on their behalf and to serve their time in jail.

3. Pork Banks

There's no shortage of pork on the table anywhere you travel to in China; what you might not know is that the government actually banks pork to protect the nation from inflationary price increases. When the pork supply gets low; the government lets some of its stock onto the market to keep prices low.

4. Divorces to Get More Houses

Everyone in China has the right to buy and sell a single house tax free. If on the other hand they also have a vacation property; they have to pay 20% tax on the sale of the second home. So to avoid tax several Chinese couples have got divorced (and remained together) giving them a house each and no tax to pay.

5. People Hire Assassins to Kill Imaginary Creations

This has to be unique to China. An angry father was so upset by the amount of time his son spent playing World of Warcraft and taking an extended vacation from the world of work; that he paid virtual assassins to kill his son’s in game character.

6. Roads to Nowhere

In Qingdao they built an 8-lane bridge that is the longest in the world. The only problem is that nobody in China wants to take a trip on it and it remains virtually unused despite having cost over $2 billion US dollars to build.

7. Exercise Lanes?

During the chaos on China’s roads during the Spring Festival it’s not uncommon to see people get out of their cars and then do push-ups or sit-ups in the road.

8. Eyes are Shaved

Really, not eyebrow hair but the eyeball itself – a razor is inserted under the lid and used to clean out the eye. It’s a very common practice but one that we don’t recommend. Some things are better left to the professionals.

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