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Posted by: CS
Superb Reasons to Include Macau on Your China Trip

Macau is famous for its gambling and that's the number one reason for tour parties from Mainland China to make the trip to the special administrative region. However, if you're wondering why you should include Macau in your China vacation plans; then you'll need more of a reason to travel from China than casinos. We think you should add a Macau to your China visit because:

The Water and Dance Show

The House of Dancing Water may be the most amazing water show ever developed in the world. It's an incredible blend of China's mythology and modernity. You could justify the whole trip to Macau from China just based on this incredible vacation experience alone.

Macanese Food

One of the best reasons to travel in China at all is the food and Macau offers a truly unique culinary experience. Food from all over China is carefully blended with the Portuguese cookery of the former colony. Watch out for the custard tarts, pulled pork sandwiches and the African chicken that's so beloved of the people here.

Crumbling Ruins

The crumbling ruins of Macau are not just any old set of ruins; they're UNESCO world heritage site ruins. The old town of Macau may be one of the most incredible vacation destinations in the world. Take a tour of China's and Portugal's mutual history and enjoy the always clement and pleasant weather of the special administrative region at the same time.

Cliff Top Temples

Head to the South-West and climb the cliffs to find the A-Ma temple. This is your chance to learn something about all of China's spiritual heritage on your trip. Your travels here will bring you into contact with Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. This is in stark contrast to the city below where you can see much of the Christian heritage of Portugal enshrined in the city.

Grand Prix

You may have to time your visit to Macau carefully if you want to see the grand prix but it's a wonderful event with a rich history. There's also a museum if you arrive when the racing's not on so you can catch some of the wonders of the event.

Macau Museum

This is a wonderful museum which has had a huge amount of investment lavished on it. It's set in an old fortress from the 17th century and offers a wide range of multimedia exhibits about the old colony. History, art, culture and more are explored within its' walls.

Spend, Spend, Spend

While Hong Kong and even Mainland China are not as cheap as they used to be Macau is always a bargain. There's so much Duty Free shopping available to visitors that you should be able to stock up on all the latest treats for the folks back home without breaking the bank. Try the designer ware in the Four Seasons Hotel for the height of fashion statements or just hit the shopping malls and enjoy the overall experience.

 
Posted by: CS
5 Great Museums in Beijing

If you’re thinking of including Beijing in your China tour then you’ll want to know how to get the most from the city during your China trip. China travel requires a certain amount of commitment and there are so many museums to choose from; how can anyone know which ones to include on their China vacation? We think our quick guide to these 5 great museums may be able to help you make up your mind:

The Beijing Bee Museum

Honey bees are in trouble all around the world. Without them we’d all be much worse off as there’d be nothing to eat. More than 80% of the world’s crops rely on bees to fertilize them. You can find out how in the Beijing Bee Museum. In fact, we think you can probably find out more about bees on a trip to this museum in China than you might ever need to know in your whole life. Combine a visit with a tour of the Botanical Gardens outside though and this is one of the nicest places to relax in China.

The Beijing Police Museum

There’s something about the boys in blue that makes them fascinating to the civilian eye. This is doubly true on your China vacation where there’s a certain “otherness” to Police Officers. So why not make China’s finest a little less intimidating and travel to Dongcheng District and see the Beijing Police Museum? It’s a funny place with a bit of an abrupt halt in the 1980s (so the modern police officer seems to defy explanation) but a wonderful morning’s entertainment nonetheless.

The China National Film Museum

We don’t know if it’s true but this place claims it is the largest film museum on earth. That’s a pretty impressive claim and while we can’t vouch for it – we can say that there’s plenty to be found here. There are 20+ permanent exhibitions and plenty of temporary exhibitions too. Sadly, a lot of this is rendered inaccessible to non-Chinese speakers as the English translations are only provided to introduce collections and not at each exhibit. Go anyway and enjoy a 3-D film show on the IMAX screen.

The China Railway Museum

This may be the finest railway museum anywhere except perhaps York in England. It’s a huge spacious cavern of a place and easy to get to – it sits on the corner of one of China’s most popular tour destinations Tiananmen Square. It takes visitors on a trip through time on China’s railways from the late 19th century onwards. It’s a great place for a family day out.

Beijing Planetarium

There’s too much pollution for real star gazing in Beijing but this pleasant planetarium is a good way to see the stars in the city. There are interactive exhibits around the building for the kids and the 3-D movie presentations are among the best we’ve ever seen. There’s even a peculiar version of Space Invaders to play if you’re feeling the need to waste an hour or two in a haze of 70s nostalgia.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts about Tongli, China

If you're going to travel to China and you're including Suzhou on your China tour then you will almost certainly be including Tongli in your China vacation too. Tongli's a major highlight of most people's trips to China and that's because it's an incredibly beautiful place. Here's what you might want to know about Tongli before you leave home:

  • Suzhou is famous for being the UNESCO world heritage site for gardens but one of the 9 gardens that make up that UNESCO world heritage site is in Tongli. There are also 37 other amazing gardens in Tongli. It's one of China's loveliest cities for this reason. These gardens are often much less crowded than the ones in the more popular vacation destination of Suzhou too.

  • A quick tour of the streets will reveal that Tongli's a canal town divided by 3 bridges. It's a very important set of bridges in China. That's because it's believed that if you travel across all three bridges any devils (or evil spirits) that have followed you must leave your side and leave China. These bridges have also inspired a local drumming ceremony that is used at weddings – if you see one of these ceremonies it's OK to take pictures but try to keep out of the official photographer's way.

  • There are nearly 50 temples and pagodas in Tongli. That makes it one of the most religious places in China. Take a trip to any or all of them and you'll be welcomed inside. Please be aware that most religious places in China will expect you to dress appropriately (though this may not be strictly enforced at some sites) and that means wearing clothes that cover the arms and at least to the knees of your legs.

  • Tongli is one of the best places to visit a traditional teahouse in China. The biggest tea markets may be in Beijing and Shanghai but it's in more rural China that the best tea is drunk. Many of the teahouses are also twinned with the local operatic traditions and if you're lucky then you can see and hear wonderful displays of opera on your trip to a Tongli teahouse too. There's very little (if any) price gouging going on here either unlike in the bigger cities.

  • Tongli is famous for its masonry and stone carving. The craft dates back hundreds of years in the city and you can watch craftspeople at work in some of the smaller family run businesses in the city. You can also pick up very cheap workmanship as presents for folks back home or as a souvenir of your vacation in China.

  • Tongli is one of the few places where the ancient town shows a true representation of both Ming and Qing dynasty architecture. It is considered to be one of China's most prestigious heritage sites.

  • The city is also home to the funny art of painting the insides of crystal snuff bottles; it's a very delicate process and very nice to watch.

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Posted by: CS
Join in a Yoga Class in Shanghai

Travel in China can also help you get in touch with your inner self. It might be more traditional to tour India than to take a China vacation to try out some yoga but you'd be surprised at what you can find on a China trip. As with all things in China there's a uniquely local slant on things:

Family Yoga (Fuxing Xi Lu)

If the whole family are on vacation in China with you; then why not try out Family Yoga (even babies are welcomed and given something to do)? It's a lot of fun and smiles and if your kids are tired from the exertions of the China tour – it may help revitalize them too. No prior experience of yoga is necessary and this is a very safe form of yoga for newbies to the sport to try out. It's also pretty reasonably priced at $30 (200 RMB) for the whole family for an hour.

Laughing Yoga (Shentai Lu)

This is exactly as it sounds; yoga plus belly laughs. You don't need to make a trip to China for this kind of yoga (there are thousands of branches globally) but there's something tremendously uplifting about being trapped in a room with giggling Chinese people. It's one of the least arduous forms of yoga as the whole principle is to laugh your socks off rather than travel to another spiritual plane. It's $5 (30 RMB) to get into the complex but the classes are free once you're inside.

Free Spirit Dancing Yoga (Gaoan Lu)

This is perhaps the most “China” yoga class you can find on your vacation. It's a combination of dancing and yoga that “everyone can do” (as long as they have some level of individual fitness). The music's some of the best we've heard anywhere in China and that makes it worth a trip in its own right. We like the way that they've worked hard to include the “fan dance” which is China's most famous native dance and actually adds a genuinely Chinese edge to the yoga here. The best news is that the first class is free and you don't have to mention you're on vacation and not coming back...

Intestinal Cleansing Yoga (Shaanxi Bei Lu)

If this sounds decidedly dodgy; we can't blame you for thinking that way. We won't tell you from where-to-where this form of yoga is supposed to stimulate but we're pretty certain that you can use your imagination to come to the same conclusion. You have to be firmly committed to the principles of natural-health to visit this place.

You'll be asked to drink saltwater, push your body through some incredibly uncomfortable positions in order to un-align your intestines. Then you're going to shove a candle up your nose (still not joking – sorry) to purify your eyes and nose. This is supposed to lead to weight loss and possibly nicer skin; we'll be honest after finding out what it involved – we went looking for something a little nicer...

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Posted by: CS
Hit Shanghai's Comedy Circuit in China

You may not be expecting comedy on your China tour; in fact most China vacations are very happy indeed but if you'd like some belly laughs during your China trip – it's easy to do. Just make sure you include Shanghai in your travel plans and then there are plenty of options for you to choose from. Not all of them are China authentic options but they are all very funny.

Masse and The People's Republic of Comedy

Take a trip to Masse (perhaps China's best comedy venue) on a Thursday and you can see the People's Republic of Comedy. Their act is very much one that relies on participation from the audience so don't go here if your idea of a vacation nightmare is being pulled up on a stage in China.

The first half of the set is very much improv based and requires the audience to shout out some ideas and then the group puts them into action. For those that do end up on the stage things are normally quite safe but the humour can be a touch risqué. The second half is more a tour of ideas that have been generated in China in long form sketches and it can feel a little tired after the quick fire bursts of the first half.

Zmack! (DIY Comedy)

Maybe you'd prefer to learn while you travel China? In that case Zmack! is an improv group that meets monthly at various locations (it's best to give them a call before you book your China vacation in order to ensure that they can accommodate you).

There's a theme for each event that they hold and everyone is welcome to participate. It's worth noting that one of the delightful parts of this improv event is that the group has agreed to reveal personal secrets if the audience picks a certain key word during the performance. It's a very young and fresh vibe and they hold these events in English, French and Chinese so it can be interesting to see how different languages play comedy differently too.

Masse and Kung Fu Komedy

Kung Fu Komedy have been in town for a while and if you're on a China tour there's probably no better comedy act in the country (at least for foreign English-speaking audiences that is). The event takes place every Saturday and tickets are a bargain basement 50 RMB so a night out won't break the bank.

It's a very varied night with a lot of comedians on the roster; so each performance is never the same as a previous one. We've found that most of them are very good (though we won't deny that there's been the occasional act that makes us wince when they do their bit too). The audience has often been several times before and there's a certain warm rapport between the comedians and those in the crowd that you don't often find at this sort of night out. Very much recommended.

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Posted by: CS
Do We Go to Beijing, or to Shanghai or Both?

It's often hard to choose between Beijing and Shanghai when you're making your China travel plans. You might want to include the capital on your China trip but also be tempted by the thought of seeing the world's largest city as part of your China vacation. Of course you don't have to include only one of the city's on your China tour... but just in case you do; here's the highlights of each of them for you as a refresher.

The Best of Beijing

Many people wouldn't consider a China vacation without going to Beijing. The city is justly famous globally for many of the things that most remind us of China. If you want a trip to the Great Wall of China or a tour of the Forbidden City (the mysterious heritage of the Last Emperors of China) you have to choose Beijing as one of your destinations.

Of course there are many other great reasons to visit Beijing too; the city has some of the finest museums in the country and the greatest post-revolution architecture of any place in China. Then there are the ancient hutongs (the alley ways that give you the greatest insight into pre-industrial China) to wander through. Some of the best restaurants in the nation are in Beijing as is the best shopping too. Yes, there's a bit of pollution but it's not a serious concern if you're only passing through rather than moving to the city.

Beijing offers bright lights at night too with the best party and late night scene in the country as well.

The Best of Shanghai

Travel to China and witness Shanghai and you'll soon see why this destination appears on so many vacation itinerary listings. This is the most metropolitan city that you'll see on your tour of China with well over 20 million people it's the largest city on earth too.

The most spectacular part of Shanghai is the Bund. It's where 19th century Europe and old China come face to face with a bang. The concessions are also popular (they're called concessions as they were areas conceded by China to European powers after losing the opium wars) and offer a relaxed walking environment much in contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern working life in Shanghai.

There's plenty of culture to be found in Shanghai too; from the old expo buildings to the wondrous array of museums (there may not be as many as in Beijing but there are still a lot of interesting museums in Shanghai).

You can also find expatriate workers more easily in Shanghai and discover what it's like to live in China rather to visit briefly. We think what makes Shanghai particularly special is the rooftop bar scene at nights which offer an elegant setting in which to appreciate the busiest place on the globe. Grab a glass of wine and relax and take in the world beneath you.

So how do you choose between the two? We don't know; we've never been able to. Beijing and Shanghai are both worth a visit.

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Posted by: CS
The 5 Best Museums in Shanghai

There are lot of museums to choose from when your China tour hits Shanghai; nearly 80 of them. You won't be able to visit them all during your China trip but there are museums that are worth more of your travel time in China than others. We've picked 5 that you really should see during your China vacation:

1. The Shanghai Museum

It would be a shame to visit Shanghai and not learn about the city. Take a trip to Renmin Road and then take a tour of the Shanghai Museum. This place is dedicated to the largest city in China and walks you through the history of China and Shanghai using over 120,000 historical relics. You can find pretty much anything in the Shanghai Museum but we really like the ancient calligraphy and the jade statuary. The Shanghai Museum is free to all visitors all day long too.

2. Shanghai Art Palace

China's art scene is incredibly broad and varied. Travel to the Shanghai Art Palace on Shangnan Road in Pudong and you'll get a glimpse of just how creative the country is. It's worth reflecting on that the artwork here has to be “appropriate” and that many artists will never be allowed to show their work in state-sponsored exhibitions. Nonetheless there's a wealth of talent on display and we particularly like the focus on modern art.

3. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

Science museums are always kind of wonderful and this is doubly true if you have children with you on vacation. That's because their exhibits tend to be interactive rather than endless rows of static display cases. This great museum shows that China's no exception to this rule. There are a dozen exhibitions held over multiple floors (though we were too scared to go into the “World of Spiders” exhibition) and they're all a lot of fun.

4. Shanghai History Museum

This neat little museum's a lot of fun; unlike its bigger brother The Shanghai Museum this place is very much focused only on Shanghai's development. You can take a tour of over 20,000 objects that offer you insight into the development of Shanghai from fishing village to megacity and beyond. It's a little fussy but then many things in China are. This is still the best place to come in the city if you want some authentic vacation photos of you in Olde Worlde China.

5. Shanghai Natural History Museum

We like dinosaurs and we like mummies. Yes, China has a history of mummification just like the ancient Egyptians did and you can meet five 4,000 year old mummies in the Shanghai Natural History Museum. It's much less creepy than it sounds and there are always dinosaurs to be enjoyed when you've had your fill of the mummies. Then there's a wealth of information about wildlife and natural life in China across the ages too. We think it would be hard to find a more enjoyable museum anywhere in the world than this one.

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Posted by: CS
The AIA Great European Carnival in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of mainland China. However, as you'll see on your vacation there's a world of difference between the two. One thing Hong Kong definitely leads China in is the creation of world class events. If you'd like to fit something a little different into your China tour then you'll take a trip to Hong Kong. If you travel to China during December 2014 – February 2015 then you might want to check out the AIA Great European Carnival.

About the AIA Carnival

If you went on a China trip about a decade ago then you'd have found that the AIA Carnival was a one off event. All you had to do was travel to the Harbour Front in Central and all the magic of Europe would be unleashed in China. Then it all came to a grinding halt and the bright lights went home. But it had become such a firm vacation favourite in China that people clamoured for it to return and this year it will. It has already been engaged to appear for the next 2 years so if you can't take your China tour this year; it doesn't mean that you've missed out.

The Carnival itself is in fact an enormous fun fair type event. It's perhaps the only place in China where you can be 100% certain that if you take a trip on the spinning tea cups that you won't fall out of the ride. That's because Hong Kong is still managed to health and safety standards drawn up in the United Kingdom and they're much stricter than those found on the mainland. It's going to be an impressive event because the organizers have already spent over $130 million (USD) on preparing for it.

They say that they will use in excess of 1,000 tons of machinery to host the experience making it the largest temporary attraction you can see on a China vacation at the moment too. There will be 10 rollercoaster or “scary thrill” rides for the braver members of the family to enjoy. We don't think these are likely to be too scary in comparison to those found in the United States but they should be quite fun. There will also be another 10 “family rides” which may be better for those travelling with small children or for parents who don't want to strap into a rollercoaster and scream their way round Hong Kong. There are also another 50 attractions planned but the organizers haven't shared too much about what these will be. We'd expect competitions with prizes type events but we'd be prepared to be surprised too.

Finally, there's likely to be a mini-tour of Europe available with the ability to get your photo in front of most of Europe's most famous buildings and landmarks. Two vacations for the price of one can't be bad and that's a good a reason as any to visit the AIA Great European Carnival while you're in China.

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Posted by: CS
Bargain Brunches in Beijing

Beijing's an awesome place to take a vacation in China. It's the number one spot on so many people's China tours because of the chance to see the Great Wall of China and The Forbidden City on their trip. Yet there's another good reason to travel to China's capital – the food. However, sometimes when you've had a few drinks in the evening you need a good breakfast/bunch and here are the best venues in Beijing for just that:

Vineyard on the River (Chaoyang District)

This pleasant waterfront café's the perfect place to make a trip for brunch after a hard night out in China. You can get an awesome full breakfast for less than 100 RMB and there's even a vegetarian option (something you won't find in many places on a China tour). We like the fact that this place is always chilled out and there's never any incentive to leave. If you want to try some craft beer on your China vacation – you can do that here too, there are half-a-dozen on draught.

Mosto (Chaoyang District)

This is a little more upmarket but for 160 RMB for a brunch with as much Bucks-Fizz as you can drink; there are very few better bargains to be had in China either. Travel through the menu and you'll also find the best Eggs Benedict in Beijing too. If you miss IHOP then the blueberry pancakes are a big win and come smeared in maple syrup. The Bloody Marys here are excellent too and the perfect antidote to a little too much Tsing Tao the night before.

Mercante (Dongcheng District)

This wonderful place in one of Beijing's best loved hutongs looks like it should break the vacation budget but in fact it's one of the cheapest Western meals you can get in China. Expect to pay no more than 60 RMB for your brunch and the Italian tradition here is completely authentic. We like to open a bottle of white and graze a little on the choicest dishes. Then a glass of red to go with the magnificent cheese plate at the end of the meal.

Great Leap Brewery Taproom (Chaoyang District)

This is very much a no frills place and if you just want a brunch on your China tour without any fuss; this is the place to go. We like the Great Leap Brewing Taproom because they completely understand what an American (rather than the more internationally popular British) breakfast should be like. You can even get biscuits in gravy here. The coffee is excellent and it shouldn't come as a surprise that there's plenty of beer to wash things down with. It's the cheapest brunch venue in town too at less than 50 RMB for everything on the menu.

Back Alley Bistro (Chaoyang District)

You want to book ahead for this place because there's a very severe limit on the number of places they can seat but it may be the best breakfast in China. Have a Bloody Mary and enjoy the flavours as you take a break from the trip round the sights.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts about Suzhou in China

If you want your China vacation to take you on a tour of the best of China's gardens then you have to include Suzhou on your China trip. Here's what you need to know about Suzhou before you travel to China:

  • These aren't any old gardens; Suzhou has had China's finest gardens for nearly 2 millennia. There's nowhere else on your China vacation that offers such an incredible range of gardens. They've been developed for several of China's ruling dynasties and they are supposed to bring peace and a sense of leisure to people as they travel through them.

  • The precise creator of the first garden is unknown. It is believed that it might have been the King of Wu; following a glorious military tour in which he won his kingdom. If that's the case it was constructed in around 700-500 B.C!

  • There are 69 gardens to be found in Suzhou and they are all considered to be superlative examples of their kind. They are all protected as vital to the national heritage of China.

  • A trip round each garden in Suzhou is supposed to show you a balance of each of the elements that bring us harmony. In essence Suzhou's gardens are a reflection of a peaceful nature despite most of the garden's founders having conducted a war (or more) somewhere in China during their lives. Perhaps the gardens made them feel more balanced too?

  • The oldest surviving garden is the Canglang Pavilion Garden (960 A.D.). It often goes by another name, the Surging Waves Pavillion. It forms part of the UNESCO world heritage site of China's gardens in Suzhou. There are 108 windows on the site and each of them is completely different from the other with only one exception – they all leak.

  • Suzhou is considered to be a relatively small city by China's standards. Yet, there are more than 5 million people that call it home! If you were to take a vacation in an American city of the same size – you could only visit New York! All other American cities have populations of less than 4 million!

  • The Grand Canal travels through Suzhou for a stretch of 50 kilometres. It's part of the longest canal system in the world and it's one of the oldest working canal systems in Asia too.

  • The most popular garden in Suzhou is the Humble Administrator's Garden which is widely considered to be the most beautiful setting in China. As with all things popular in China it's probably best to get there early in the day to avoid the crush of people later on.

  • Suzhou is also considered to be the “silk capital of China” given its natural silk industry. To this day you can buy the best quality silks for a fraction of what they would cost anywhere else in the world in Suzhou. You can always find a reasonably priced tailor wherever you are in China and have something you want to wear made from the silk too.

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Posted by: CS
Five Awesome Natural Attractions in Sichuan, China

If you're thinking about a trip to Sichuan, China either as part of a Yangtze River Cruise or as part of a larger China tour then you'll want to know a bit more about the natural wonders you can encounter in the province. China travel is always marvellous but Sichuan offers some of the best and most beautiful scenery you can encounter on any China vacation.

Jiuzhaigou Valley

There may be no more beautiful place in China. A tour of Jiuzhaigou Valley is perhaps as close to heaven as one can get in this life. It is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and sits on the edge of China and Tibet in the Minshan Range of mountains. There are 108 crystal clear lakes interlocked with clean rivers and wondrous waterfalls. You can find many endangered species of wildlife living unmolested in this incredible place. It's a difficult place to access but if you have the time to include this on your China vacation – you really should it's the trip of a lifetime.

Mount Emei

If you like mountains then the Himalayan range that travels across the part of China offers a number of incredible places to see. Mount Emei's one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism and in addition to the awesome array of natural beauty (including some strikingly human looking monkeys) there are nearly 30 temples to explore on its grounds. Wrap up warm as it gets very cold on Mount Emei but you won't be disappointed that you made the trip to this part of China. It's also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Leshan

This is, perhaps, not really a natural wonder though it is definitely in a wholesome and natural setting. People don't come to Leshan for the cliffs; they come for the incredible carving of the Buddha into the cliffs here. Leshan's a world heritage site and it's fair to say that with the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan gone – this may be the world's most impressive carving of the Buddha. It's definitely in the same league as the Sphinx in Egypt.

Hailuo

We're pretty certain that most people won't include Hailuo on their China vacation. It's nestled in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and takes an incredible effort to get to it. However, those who make the trip aren't going to be disappointed. It's the home of a waterfall that's nearly a kilometre tall and more than a kilometre wide and that waterfall is made of ice! It's ten times the size of its nearest flowing rival in China. Southern Sichuan Bamboo Forest

58 types of bamboo may not sound that exciting but this is one of the most lushly green places in China and it's incredibly satisfying to take a picnic and appreciate the quiet beauty around you. Given that it covers more than 500 mountains (or hills to be more precise) you can always find a spot for some mediation or contemplation of the universe without being disturbed. That's a real luxury in the world's most populous country.

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Posted by: CS
The Three Main Religions of China

You may have heard that China has no religion. This is not entirely true. There is, as you will learn during your China vacation, no official religion but there are several religions that are respected and adhered to in China. The ones you are most likely to encounter when you travel on a China tour are Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. Here's what you should know about them before your China trip:

Confucianism

China's main religion is the one that travels least far from China. Only Vietnam of China's neighbours can really be said to be influenced by Confucianism. You could take a tour of the Himalayas, the Indian-Sub Continent and much of the rest of Indochina and never be confronted with the beliefs created by this extraordinary individual.

Confucius was an educator, thinker, politician and leader. He developed a school of thought which structured the hierarchy of Chinese society and dictated the interactions between people in that society. Confucius is responsible for the modern concept of “face”. Strangely this faith is the least like other religions; there is no life after death in Confucianism – adherents believe we have one life which we must make the best of.

Buddhism

You may be taking a vacation in China but Buddhism is here to stay. It made the trip from India to China in the 1st Millennium A.D. The first period of Buddhism in China was one of understanding in the first 100 or so years most of Buddhism's efforts were devoted to translating sacred texts into Chinese so that they could be understood and appreciated by Chinese adherents.

The Buddha teaches a middle path where we strive to reach enlightenment (or Nirvana). The idea is that we will be reincarnated endlessly (and move up or down the ladder of evolution depending on our performances in previous lives) until we do reach Nirvana. At that point we will leave this universe to eternal bliss. Buddhism is the most popular active religion in China today.

Daoism

Daoism or Taoism is China's own religion. There have been numerous conflicts in China regarding the (minor) differences between Buddhism and Daoism in practice. If you could travel back in time you would find the roots of Daoism begin in the 6th century with a wise called Lao Xi. He began the religion and during a tour of the country on his ox; he wrote down his collected wisdom.

If you want to read a religious text but don't have too much time; you might want to try Lao Xi's work it is an incredibly economic 5,000 words long! That's about 10 pages in Microsoft Word (give or take)!

The aim of Daoism is to become an immortal being by preparing your moral character and integrity to resist any challenge. In practical terms it is incredibly similar to Buddhism except for the fact that its adherents are constantly challenged to do good deeds in secret. Daoists are also expected to act in concert with nature rather than against it.

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Posted by: CS
Introducing China's Giant Panda

If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise or if you've opted to include Sichuan in your China tour itinerary then you will be visiting Chengdu. Chengdu's a beautiful China vacation destination and it's home to an animal that is responsible for many people making the trip to China in the first place – the Giant Panda! Here's what you need to know about the Giant Panda before you travel to China:

Not Many Left

There are very, very few Giant Pandas left in the wild. If you want a reason to plan your China trip today rather than leave your China vacation for a few more years – there are only 1,000 or so Giant Pandas left in the wild in China today. That's 600 fewer than at the turn of the Millennium, so if you don't travel to see them soon – there may not be any left.

Why, so Few?

One of the big issues facing the Giant Panda is that it's not very good at breeding. Pandas must tour the countryside for 2-4 days in the period between March and May and find a mate and successfully get pregnant if they want to breed. If they miss this ridiculously small window they have to wait another year before they can try again.

If that wasn't difficult enough, China's Giant Pandas almost only ever have a single baby if they do get pregnant – twins are incredibly rare. That's why they established the China Conservation and Research Centre in Chengdu in 1983 – to stop the panda from becoming extinct. Results are mixed at best from the program so far sadly.

Does That Mean There Are No Pandas Anywhere Else?

Actually one of the quite wonderful results of the research centre's programs is that while the wild panda's populations are shrinking each year; captive panda populations and breeding programs in zoos around the world are successful. There was a single panda in a zoo back in 1958 (Chi Chi – a gift from Beijing to the people of the United Kingdom) but today there are over 300 pandas in zoo breeding programs. The vast majority of these pandas have been bred in zoos and have not been taken from the wild.

Why is the Panda So Special?

The panda is loved world-wide. It's the symbol not just for China but also the World Wildlife Fund. It has a long history in China of being a very special animal. The first records of the creature in Chinese history were of two pandas being given to the Japanese court. It must have been a nerve wracking trip overseas for those pandas even if the Japanese language of the day would have been quite similar to Chinese!

However, you may not believe it but in the West we only found out about pandas in 1963! Armand David, who was a French missionary to China, told the world about it and took the first panda out to the West. He didn't call it a panda though – he called it a white-black bear. We think we can see why that name never really became popular...

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Posted by: CS
Great Reasons to Include Sichuan in Your China Plans

Sichuan is the busiest province in China. If your vacation passes through you can encounter two of China's megacities; Chongqing and Chengdu on your travels and take a Yangtze River Cruise too. If you haven't thought about including Sichuan on your China tour itinerary; here's why you should:

The Yangtze

A Yangtze River Cruise gives you the chance to travel through the heart of China. Your trip will include the largest dam in China and the world (the Three Gorges Dam) and some of the most picturesque places in the whole country. You can drink in the ancient rural life and the modern sprawling thriving industrial hum of modern China too. From peculiar funeral rites to rare dolphins; there's so much happening on the Yangtze that you could probably plan a whole vacation on the river.

Chongqing

Chongqing's probably the biggest city that most non-Chinese people have never heard of. It was once the capital of China and may become the capital of China again if the Gobi desert finally swallows Beijing and the leadership need to find somewhere a touch more hospitable to conduct business from. It's one of the most modern cities you will find on your trip as Sichuan is the industrial heartland of the nation.

Yet, it is also warm, welcoming and offers the chance to see the ancient and the modern side-by-side in many places. If you're yearning for some time in the countryside; it provides a great place to travel out into rural China and see the slow pace of life that the nation was once famous for.

Chengdu

Chengdu's another big city but it's a little less hectic than Chongqing. It's set in a mountainous valley with awe inspiring rock formations and temples clinging to those rocks like limpets surrounding the whole place. It's the one place on your China vacation that you can see a panda in the wild too. The Giant Panda is found in a breeding sanctuary here as is the Red Panda. Sadly, the species is still very much endangered (pandas simply aren't very good at breeding) and this represents possibly one of the last chances to get in touch with these beautiful animals before they are gone forever.

Chengdu is also home to “Little Lhasa” and that's an area populated solely with Tibetans making their way across the border into China to trade. If you can't fit Tibet into your travel plans; this is the next best thing.

The Food

Sichuan is perhaps the most famous of all the Chinese schools of cookery. The hot pot is a national favourite with a huge number of variations; you can't say you've tried a Chinese hotpot until you've eaten one in Sichuan. Watch out though; the cuisine here is famous for its fiery peppers and chillies so keep an eye on the servers and ask them to tone things down if they're get a little too spicy for your palate.

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Posted by: CS
5 Cities You Shouldn't Miss in China

China vacations offer you the chance to explore an incredible country. A China trip, even one that lasted a lifetime, won't give you the ability to travel everywhere in the country but you can gain a huge insight into what China's like and perhaps plan your next China tour in more detail. We think that there are 5 cities in particular you might want to try on your first visit:

Chongqing, Sichuan

We think that Chongqing's going to be very high on people's China tour itineraries for years to come. It's the ultimate example of one of China's megacities in the Chinese heartland of Sichuan. Chongqing is one of the major destinations on a Yangtze River Cruise and it's a great introduction to the way that China is changing. This former capital (and possibly soon-to-be-capital too) offers some of the greatest contrasts and insights into the bold industrial nation China is becoming and the poorer rural nation that it once was.

Beijing

A trip to China is hardly complete without a visit to the nation's capital. You won't find as many bicycles as you once would but otherwise Beijing's a dream tour destination. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Hutongs, an incredible number of museums, etc. make Beijing every bit as good as you'd hoped it would be. It's also one of China's more cosmopolitan cities and it's easy to make friends and enjoy the company of locals here.

Chengdu, Sichuan

Sichuan's second city isn't as famous as Chongqing though they're both accessed via a Yangtze River Cruise. It is, however, the prettier of the two places. This ancient canal city makes the perfect staging point for exploring more of Sichuan. You can also come face-to-face with a Giant Panda in the wild; Chengdu is the only place in the world you can do this. There's a wealth of temples and a growing arts and craft scene that's unrivalled elsewhere in China too.

Shanghai

The world's largest city is a constant draw to visitors to China. That's because it offers an incredible pace of life as millions of China's most successful people work and live here. The majesty of The Bund is hard to do justice to in words. The old European quarters offer a charm and colonial influence unavailable elsewhere on the Mainland. There are also dozens of other interesting museums, shopping centers, etc. to explore. You can never be bored in Shanghai.

Xi'an

Xi'an is home to China's greatest treasures. The Terracotta Warriors are the most famous examples of Xi'an's rich heritage. The city itself is only a short distance from Beijing making it a very easy destination to accommodate with a visit to the capital. There are plenty of other interesting places to explore in Xi'an if you take your time to get to know the city. It's one of the friendliest cities in China too and it's a great place to go out and eat authentic local food too.

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Posted by: CS
Get Into Nature in Beijing, China

Your China vacation will take you on a tour of some of China's finest moments in history and some of its greatest modern achievements too. It's nice to take some time to travel out into natural China when you take a China trip and you can find some great parks in Beijing to commune with nature without having to go too far out of your way.

Beijing Botanical Gardens

A short trip from the city this is a wonderful park. This is a much more relaxed side of China and despite their popularity there's plenty of space to enjoy the gardens without feeling crowded which is rare in China's capital city. No one knows how many plant species exactly there are in the gardens but the best guess is that you can see over 6,000 on a tour of the grounds.

A particular vacation highlight is the peony garden. This contains more than 200 of the native species of China and the flower is said to be the unofficial flower of China. It is the Chinese equivalent of the rose garden and it's genuinely exquisite. There's also an actual rose garden if that's your preference.

If it's too cold to travel outdoors for any length of time; you can also head into the greenhouses and the conservatory. There are miles and miles of plants in these and while they may not all be as dramatic as each other; they are all part of a genuine effort to conserve China's natural heritage. All plants are labelled in Latin, Chinese and English if you want to make notes on anything particularly exciting. We've found most people just enjoy a gentle stroll amongst the plants.

Longqing Gorge, Beijing

If you're including a Yangtze River Cruise on your China tour you may be in two minds about a trip to the Longqing Gorge. It shouldn't put you off – this stretch of the Li River is an incredibly beautiful part of China.

If you visit the park at the gorge in winter time then you'll find a delightful ice and snow sculpture exhibit which is held each year. It's not quite as amazing as the world famous Harbin ice and snow show but it's still very good.

Take an escalator up the peak and admire the landscape as it unfolds in front of you. The water is incredibly clean looking but we wouldn't advise swimming in it. Then arrange a boat trip up the river. It's a very short trip (about 15-20 minutes) but it does give you a wonderful sense for the drama of the scenery.

If you're the adventurous sort you can also take a zipline or a bungee jump into the gorge. (Please make sure your travel insurance covers this kind of activity before taking part). It adds a certain additional excitement to the proceedings and older children often want to take part. Don't forget to have a look at the Dragon Temple before you leave the park.

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