Chengdu, in Sichuan, is one of China's most lovely cities. If your China vacation takes you there then you'll want to get out and explore the sights. One of the best ways to appreciate Chinese culture is to take a tour of the local temples. There are dozens of interesting religious sites dotted around the city and on the hills and mountains surrounding it. We've picked some of the best so you can make the most of your trip.
China's relationship with Buddhism is a long-standing one and it's still one of the major faiths practiced in the country. Wenshu, is the best preserved of all Chengdu's Buddhist temples and with a tiny admission fee of 5 RMB (that's less than a dollar) it's a very cost-effective place to see.
The architecture of the monastery is absolutely striking, it's a picture postcard moment. So get your camera ready and make the folks back home jealous of your China vacation time. Take time to stroll around the courtyard where incense is normally smoking in huge braziers, don't breathe too deeply though especially if you have asthma. Please remember to kick of your shoes before going inside any of the buildings, it's a little rude otherwise.
Vegetarians should have this trip highlighted in their calendar. It's one of the few places in China that has a restaurant that's completely meat-free. Carnivores will have to content themselves with a cup of some of Sichuan's finest tea and eat a little later in the day.
The Green Goat Temple (Qingyang Gong)
You'll find this temple lurking in Wenhua Park and it's the largest center of Taoism in Chengdu. We've always found it to be one of the quieter spots in the city and while it's not quite as visually appealing as Wenshu, it's very much worth including on your temple tour. We also recommend it for the pleasant nearby lake which is perfect for an impromptu picnic.
One of the nicest aspects of Green Goat is that it's a fully functioning place of worship today and sometimes these can be hard to find in China. Take a little time to talk to some of the locals, who are bound to be curious when they come in contact with foreigners and find out more about this peaceful faith.
This temple was dedicated to Zhuge Liang, a long since departed senior minister of the Shu period. If you've read the Chinese book; “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” he's a major character in it, if you haven't his name won't mean much and you won't be much wiser about him after visiting the temple.
Take a trip round the gardens which are really nice and not so big that you'll lose a day wandering around them. For some reason this isn't one of China's tourist hot spots so you'll have more room than in most places on your tour to appreciate your surroundings.
There's a strange collection of statures that are all kept behind glass and while the figures they represent tend to be obscure historical faces from China's distant past there's something quite charming about them all the same.
Jinsha Archaeological Site
OK, this isn't precisely a temple but it's worth a trip anyway. This is a fairly recent dig so nobody's quite sure what it was but the relics here are among the oldest in China. There are exposed foundations, pottery, weapons, jade and gold that are over 3,000 years old. It's a little pricey at 80 RMB but completely unique, so if you can fit it in during the day it's probably worth it.
Your China vacation can really be enhanced with a wander round Chengdu's historical sites. You can rub shoulders with the locals and see a side to China that many visitors overlook in their rush to tick off the "big ticket items" like the Great Wall and the Bund.
If the Great Wall is the manmade object that people most associated with China, then the panda is the nature's most recognized contribution to China's image abroad. China travel that leaves you without a view of this fantastic animal is barely worth thinking about. If your tour incorporates a visit to Chengdu then you can take a trip to see the bears in their natural habitat.
Chengdu Panda Base
The Chengdu Panda Sanctuary, is known as the Panda Base, every year it welcomes thousands of visitors who want to get right up close and personal with a bear.
Before we talk about Panda Base we'd like to point out that pandas really are bears. That means that despite their docile image and wonderfully cute looks they are still very dangerous. We've heard that some visitors take crazy risks to try and grab that perfect photo alongside the object of their affections. If you like having all your limbs we'd recommend that you stay at a safe distance, otherwise your next China travel experience may very well be a trip to the local hospital – this will not be fun.
The full name of China's best loved nature reserve is The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and that's exactly why it was formed. Back in 1987 scientists were allowed to "rescue" half a dozen wild pandas. In 2012 that initial population, through sustained breeding programs, has increased to 83 animals. Don't worry this isn't a result of inbreeding, there's a lot of genetic material imported from other breeding programs so genetic diversity is fully respected.
The efforts aren't limited to giant pandas either, and you'll find several other endangered species being looked after within the realms of the park. You should be able to include red pandas and golden monkeys at a minimum in your vacation photography sessions. The grounds are going to double in size over the next few years to support further conservation efforts.
Highlight of the Tour
If you're lucky and there's been a recent birth at the Panda Base, you'll be able to have your photograph taken with a baby panda. Please don't interfere with the person holding it and remember once again that it's bear and not a stuffed toy. This is a major China travel highlight and we know it's one that will stay with you long after your China vacation is over.
In addition to the wildlife there's a massive education base that's been established on the grounds. In addition to representing the best of China's conservation efforts there's a major international presence and the whole compound was designed in the United States. Take some time to browse the research programs on show during your visit.
The main focus of the research in the Panda Base (other than breeding programs) is the long-term reintroduction of the endangered species back into their natural habitat. China's rapid development has taken a major toll on its animal species and some of the money you spend during your trip will be funneled into trying to rectify the problem.
China travel can often leave the visitor confused. The mad rush to modernity in the nation is overwhelming at times. The Panda Base is a wonderful break from that and a superb way to get in touch with the natural side of Chinese life. It's truly unforgettable.
Hanzhou is truly famous for the West Lake but an intrepid traveller might want to grasp the opportunity of hiking in China's most breath taking mountain landscape. The Yellow Mountain is considered by many to be the most well-known mountain in all of China. You should have enough time on your China travels to appreciate the majesty of the Yellow Mountain even if you can't squeeze in all of the hundreds of peaks in the vicinity.
The Yellow Mountain
The best time to take a trip up the mountain is either at sunrise or sunset, that's because the light creates some fantastic interplay not just with the scenery but also with the clouds. You'll find that as the sun gets stronger or weaker you'll see hues of every kind of red and purple decorating the skies.
Check out the "strange pines" as they really are quite odd. Thanks to the difficult terrain and rock layers, pine trees find it very difficult to grow up straight on the mountain side. Instead they dip from side-to-side and some even grow down rather than up. Try not to cause any damage to the trees though, as it takes nearly a century for them to grow just 3 meters taller.
If you have an English speaking China tour guide available get them to walk you through the history of all the absurd looking rocks too. Each one has a story associated with it, and it can make for a memorable trip, filled with laughter, to have them related to you.
Don't forget to look up either. One of the best things about the Yellow Mountain is the ocean of clouds that come rushing up as you near the peak, and then once you're through the cloud layer – look down and appreciate the light, fluffy carpet that they present. The clouds are best in Winter, but wrap up warm as it can get cold at higher altitudes.
For something comforting after a long hike check out the hot springs and take a bath where China's founder, a gentleman called Huang Di, is reputed to have spent 49 days relaxing before ascending to heaven and his immortality.
The name is pronounced just like the little characters from the Star Wars movies, "Jawa". This mountain is key to the Buddhist faith in the region. It is one of the four sacred sites to the faith in China.
It's one of those vacation spots that you'll absolutely love if temples are your thing as there are over 90 of them in the area. Huacheng Temple is the oldest of them and you'll find that behind its solemn exterior it's a warm and bright place with plenty of art and engravings to keep your attention.
If you're visiting in September then there's a temple fair on the mountain that's dedicated to providing tourists with all the area's history. It also attracts more than its fair share of Buddhist pilgrims so be prepared for some crowding.
You'll need to take a trip out of Huangshan to visit this place, which is a little over 30 kilometres to the West. However, there's no denying that it's worth it. The mountain is sacred to the Tao faith and it's one of the best preserved examples of Taoism in all of China.
It's a very welcoming place and the views are spectacular, better still it doesn't attract anywhere near as many visitors as the other two famous mountains, so you can have it all to yourself at times.
The scenery in the mountains of Huangshan is perhaps the most "traditional" experience of a China tour. You'll take one look over the view and start thinking; "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" country.
Hangzhou's West Lake is generally considered to be one of the most arresting sights in China. A China travel package that doesn't include a trip to its shores is really missing out. The lake began life as an inlet from the sea, but over a period of time silt deposits built up so much that it became a lake.
The History of the West Lake
Tourism in Hanzhou was a very early industry. There's strong evidence that it became popular in the Sui Dynasty back in the 6th century A.D. These cunning engineers developed the Jiangan Canal, which linked up all of China's major rivers (the Hai river, the Yellow river, the Huai river, the Qiantang river and of course, the Yangtze) enabling easy transportation to the city from all over the country.
There's not much to see from that time period at the lake though and the first dynasty to leave a lasting mark on the area was the Tang dynasty. You can find the Xiangguo Well to the West of the Jinting bridge, if you're interested.
The real development of the area began in the 9th century A.D. when the Wuyue Kingdom and Song Dynasties began to develop the area as a Buddhist center. They built many of the temples and pagoda which can be found in the area, and also began a program of dredging to maintain the lake's natural beauty.
When Marco Polo arrived during the period of the Yuan Dynasty he described Hangzhou as; “the most splendid and heavenly city in the world”. The area remained well maintained under the succeeding Ming and Qing rules.
Many parts of China would suffer under the early post-revolution leadership but Hangzhou was considered a key center of Chinese beauty and millions of Chinese and overseas travelers have been encouraged to travel to the area. This led to the redevelopment of the parks, and huge investments in the surrounding gardens which are said to have inspired much of Chinese horticulture.
What to see at the West Lake
Most China tours don't offer unlimited time at any destination so it's worth picking the best places to see and making the most of them. As with any popular destination in China these can get very crowded at times, so keep an eye on your belongings in case of any pickpockets working the area.
The West Lake Museum's nice enough though it's exceedingly modern. We'd suggest a quick trip round it just to get a feel for the history and to see some of the art the area has inspired but don't spend the whole day.
The Yue Fei Temple is a nice point to stop for some Song Dynasty architecture and if you're into the mausoleums of obscure Chinese generals, you'll find Yue Fei's inside. He had a sad ending to his life when he was executed for crimes he didn't commit. He was exonerated and exhumed 21 years later and moved to his final resting place inside the temple.
Then there's the Lingyin Temple which is perhaps the richest Buddhist temple in China. You'll find rock carvings, grottos, and history in abundance here. The surrounding mountains offer the chance for even more sightseeing, but don't be fooled – climbing can be exhausting particularly in the summer.
In general we tend to think of manmade items as secondary to natural ones. When people wax lyrical on China's heritage the only works of man that come in for praise tend to be historic rather than modern. Well, there's one stop on your China tour that's a complete break from the factory town images of working China and that's the Longsheng Rice Terraces.
The Dragon's Backbone
You'll need to take a trip up a mountain to make the most of the scenery here. The reason the area is known as the “dragon's backbone” becomes immediately apparent when you're gazing down from the peaks on to the rice terraces. Their unique layered form looks like the scales on the back of a dragon. If you're an early riser the best time of day to reach the top is at sunrise as the mist rolls off the mountain for the day ahead.
The terraces themselves seem to go on forever, and that's because they are huge covering an area of over 16,000 acres! The highest point is about 1,100 meters above sea level though most people don't go past 800 meters as you can get a great view from there without tiring yourself out too much.
The time of year very much affects the view, in the spring the fields are irrigated for the new crop and the blue water appears to be a ribbon threading through the entire landscape. In summer as the crop begins to grow, you'll see green waves gently blowing across the hills. As autumn arrives, the rice matures and golden yellow is the theme of hills. In winter there are no crops, but the snow on the landscape makes for a striking visual nonetheless if you're prepared to put up with the cold.
The People of Longsheng
There's another great reason to visit Longsheng, on your China tour, in addition to the terraces. That's the local people. These are not Han Chinese, but rather members of the Yao minority. Their homes tend to be simple affairs made from wood or bamboo.
The local religion is known as lu-Mien, and is perhaps equivalent to a variant of Taoism from medieval China. While many Yao speak Mandarin, many do not and speak their own tongue instead this is distinctly dissimilar to Putonghua and budding linguists may enjoy trying to pick up a few words as they travel through the region.
You'll find that traditionally many of the women grow their hair very long, though it may be hard to tell as most Yao wear extravagant head coverings too.
If that wasn't enough, your China vacation will be further enriched by the presence of another distinct Chinese minority, the Zhuang. You may find it easier to meet these folks in Guilin, but you'll find that out in the country you'll get a better appreciation for their traditional costumes and work habits.
The dragon's backbone may be the world's most beautiful example of man and nature working together in harmony. No China tour is complete without a visit to these striking rice terraces.
Not far from the busy tourist destinations of Yangshou and Guilin, you can find Xingping. Xingping has great Karst scenery like the other two but it's a much less travelled place. That means if you can squeeze it into your China tour, you can get away from the crowds and have the place all to yourself.
Getting to Xingping
The cheapest way to get there is to hop on a bus from Yangshuo, but it's not the nicest way to do it as you'll miss much of the scenery. You can get a boat trip down stream if you'd like to glide through the scenery accompanied only by the squawking of other tourists. The nicest way to do it is to walk by the side of the Li River but 27 kilometers is a bit of a hike and your China tour might not allow the time to do this.
Once you're there though, walking is always the best option Xingping is flat and fairly (for China) small. It's about 15 minutes from one edge of the town to the other, which is no real hardship. We'd advise that you skip the bike rental shops unless you're feeling particularly masochistic. That's because most of them are in terrible shape and will need constant maintenance even on a short journey.
What to See in Xingping
The streets themselves are a fantastic view of a less developed China and many people enjoy an hour or so travel around the town with no particular destination in mind.
Once you've had your fill of photographing the locals at work and play, then it's time to check out the Bird's View Pavilion. This is right on the waterfront of the Li River perched on top of a Karst peak. Be warned, it's not an easy climb so do it early or late in the day as you will be sweating otherwise. There are nearly 1,200 stairs going up and the last couple of hundred are seriously challenging. It's worth it. Once you get to the top you have perhaps the best view of the town and the river below. Don't try and get round the back of the pavilion for a better view of the rest of the river, it's really slippery there and you don't want to spend any of your China tour taking a trip to hospital.
Now get the money out of your wallet and have a look at the 20 RMB note. If you'd like to see this exact scene it's a 5 minute walk outside of the town and it's known locally as the Yuan 20 Point. Have a photo taken there holding the note in the exact same spot as it was taken from.
Then take a little ferry across the Li river to the Dahebei Village. This is a superb slice of rural life and you can enjoy a walk round the local orchards (and sample the fruit). It's a nice way to enjoy nature at her finest and the people here are extremely friendly.
Finish your time in Xingping by picking up some bargains at the market stalls. Because this isn't on most China travel routes you can pick up souvenirs much more cheaply than in Yangshou or Guilin. However, to get the best pricing you really need to get your haggle on. You can consider yourself on par with a local if you pay between 20-30% of the original asking price.
Guilin is often said to be apart from the rest of China. It's nestled in the heart of Guangxi province and its natural beauty is a major feature on many China tours. The city center lies between two beautiful rivers, and is edged by four lakes. The Nan mountain range peers over the top of everything in a warm and welcoming fashion.
One of the best things about Guilin is that the whole city focuses on tourism (though mainly domestic tourism) and thus it escapes much of the air pollution of other decent sized Chinese cities.
The town has been around since the 1st century BC and was a major inland trade center thanks to its position on the banks of the Kuei and Xi River. Thanks to a canal that was made back in the 3rd century BC there was also an easy connection with the Yangtze and this brought a lot of trade from elsewhere in China.
Sadly, during the 2nd Word War Guilin was nearly completely destroyed. Initially it was redeveloped as a center of the chemical industry but luckily for your vacation these industries are now gone.
As you travel China one of the strangest things you notice is how dominant the Han people are. There's very little (if any) ethnic diversity in most towns and cities. Yet, Guilin is altogether different. It's home to 12 other ethnic groups, in fact Guangxi province is technically an autonomous region for the Zhuang people, the largest minority group in China of 18 million people.
Another well represented group locally is the Dong people, and your trip to Guilin may be one of the last chances to visit this culture. That's because in general they have been enthusiastically integrating into Han Chinese society and there's some concern their culture may disappear completely.
Natural and Man Made Beauty
Everyone who makes it to Guilin has to take a trip on the river. It's a real highlight of any China tour. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can either take a slow boat downstream or take a shorter trip round the city and the lakes. This is the best way to appreciate the splendor of the scenery. If you're really lucky you might get to watch some traditional cormorant fishing. Night time trips are fine too as the most impressive scenery is flood lit.
There's a miniature Forbidden City hiding in the city center in the form of Jinjiang Prince City which is a nicely preserved museum today. The city square is huge but is only really notable for the giant map of the world decorating the floor, and the fake waterfall display in the evenings.
The Moon and Sun Pagoda is also nothing special but it offers a nice escape from the noise of the rest of the city. You do however get a great view of one of the lakes from here.
The Black Hill Botanical Garden is worth a visit though. It's open 24 hours a day but we do recommend you go during daylight hours. It's one of the oldest gardens in China and has a wide variety of interesting flora.
We've never met anyone who went to Guilin on China tour and regretted it. The amazing scenery combined with the quiet, reflective atmosphere is unforgettable.
Yangshuo is just up the road from Guilin and an essential top on a sightseeing tour of China. Most folks arrive by boat and enjoy the best of the scenery on the way in. The trip on the water takes you through some of the best Karst landscapes in the world.
What are Karst Landscapes?
Karst Mountains are the striking formations of several millions of years' worth of chemistry. The simple explanation is that mildly acidic rain (nothing to do with industry) falls on the area for a long period of time. This dissolves some of the rocks and exposes rather incredibly attractive insoluble rock formations in its wake.
In most cases the “Karstification” of a landscape leaves behind a series of small scale features, like those found in the limestone pavements of Dent de Crolles in France. However, on the river trip between Guilin and Yangshuo nature wasn't holding back at all. The result is massive and unique rock formations reaching out for the skies.
The good news is that China hasn't spoiled the area. In fact in a series of minor miracles all the heavy industry in the area failed and was moved elsewhere. So not only are the Karst landscapes attractive, the air is beautifully clean and refreshing too.
If you're wondering where you've seen the area before, it was probably in the recent “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” movie.
What to do in the Karst mountains
If you'd like to get “up close and personal” with a Karst mountain then one of the best places to visit in Yangshuo is Moon Hill. In typical China style it's called this because there's a hole in the hall that's shaped like the moon. Avoid the hawkers at the bottom and the abysmal food stores and go for a trip up the hill instead. It's best to bring your own drinks in order to avoid being gouged for water too.
If you have the time on your China tour, then you might want to see the inside of a Karst cave (the same chemical principles apply to the formation of the cave as the mountain). There's a lovely place known as Assembling Dragon Cave only a little way to the South of the town. The bad news is that it has been developed by the local tourist board and while the light show inside is pleasant enough, the music can start to drive you mad by the end of your tour. Grin and bear it though and the stalagmite and stalactite collection is worth the effort. Don't feel obliged to visit “The Magical Stone Palace” next door, it's just a great big room full of stones to sell to tourists.
Yangshou's Karst landscape offers one more unique moment on a China vacation; rock climbing. Be warned though that safety standards may not be perfect and you're best off working with one of the more reputable climbing agencies in town.
You can also cycle through the landscape on your China tour, but we'll be honest you need to be fairly fit to make the most of this and you might be better off taking the Yangdi-Xingping walking tour instead for a less strenuous way to enjoy the majesty of China's countryside.
Hong Kong's so different from the mainland that you'll feel like your China tour is taking in another country completely. It's the most populous city in the world, in that there are more people per square mile than anywhere else. That means it's always busy and always alive. You'll enjoy the bustle of streets as city executives rub shoulders with market traders and everyone in between. Most of all, you'll love shopping in Hong Kong. The low taxes combined with the extraordinary level of choice make it the best place to pick up a bargain in the Far East.
If your trip to China has left you exhausted; you might want to take a relaxing stroll around some of the swanky malls that Hong Kong has to offer.
We'd recommend the Landmark at Central station. It's got a wonderful mix of designer gear and high-end electronics. Better still, when you're done, you can head up to the roof and grab a drink at one of the restaurants and cafes that look out over the harbor. Considering the station is one of the busiest venues in Hong Kong, the mall is absolutely chilled out once you move away from the entrance.
If you're all about the best brands then Harbour City in Tsim Tsa Tsui is the way forward. Be prepared for some serious queues though, in particular at LV, Chanel, and Gucci. It's a huge magnet for mainland tourists who want to buy the genuine article in Hong Kong. So be aware that some of China's wealthiest people will travel a long way to wait in a long line in eager anticipation of a handbag.
When your preference is for value, then the Pacific Place mall at Admiralty might be the best place to stop in at. It's the best organized shopping mall in Hong Kong, with each floor offering distinct types of goods. It's also near the embassies, so it's an ideal stop if you're processing a visa or waiting for a passport extension. There's a huge escalator running up the side of the mall that comes out by the Shangri-La, the Mariott and the Conrad if you fancy a little luxury dining after you finish shopping.
If you're looking for a more authentic shopping experience on your China tour, why not head out to the markets instead of the malls?
Markets in Hong Kong
The Ladies Market dominates Tung Choi Street in Mongkok. If you decide to take a trip here, you'll experience shopping China style. It's a mess of fake designer gear and genuine (non-designer) articles. Whether it's a new pair of shoes, a football shirt or a camera, you'll find it here. It is extremely popular at all times of the day so be prepared for the crowds. There are plenty of Cantonese food options in the area and if you want a taste of Hong Kong this is a great place to have a snack.
Stanley Market on the other hand is a little more relaxed but a lot further out of the main part of Hong Kong. If you're feeling flush it's best to take a taxi out there as the buses can be a bit of a squash. If the weather's right combine your visit with a trip to the beach there, and if not you could investigate the Hong Kong Maritime Museum instead. You'll discover all sorts of shops in Stanley Market, "antique stores" (be warned not all antiques are authentic), linen stores, watches and electronics, clothes stores, and more. Stanley is also the best place to shop if you're of a larger than Asian-sized figure as there are several stores that cater to European and American large sizes.
Hong Kong really is a great place to stop on a China tour. It's genuinely famous for its shopping and you'll have a blast hunting for bargains or status symbols alike.
Macao, like Hong Kong, is a very different place from China proper. If you're taking a day out to explore Macao on your China tour, you'll want to see as much as you can. So it's worth knowing about the two sides of life in the city.
Big, Brash and Glitzy
Macao is famous around the world for its gambling and casino lifestyle. The Venetian is the largest casino in the world and is said to be the 6th largest building in the world, period. People travel from all over China to spend a few hours (or days or even weeks) at its gaming tables. However, be warned it's not quite Las Vegas. Chinese people take their gambling seriously and while there are plenty of ways to win and lose a fortune, the atmosphere is a little more subdued than you might expect.
The Venetian is endlessly impressive though and you'll enjoy the spectacle of its themed rooms . There are some interesting shows on most days too if you'd rather not lose your wallet on the gaming tables. If you do decide to play then the big game is baccarat and while you'll be welcome to play, the free drinks are all cups of tea and not beer.
One of the big advantages of the city being dominated by the casino industry is that you don't have to walk very far in Macao. All the casinos offer free bus services with pickups all over the city, so you're better off leaving a casino trip to the latter half of the day.
Beautiful, Ornate and Quiet
Gambling completely overshadows the best of Macao. As a former Portuguese colony, Macao offers a unique distinct style of architecture from the rest of China. It's this part of Macao life that really makes the city worth a day out on your China tour.
The old Macao is so quiet and relaxed that the best way to see the place is on foot. The nicest way to spend a day is to take a walk on the Macao Heritage Trail. This takes in a large part of the UNESCO world heritage area and showcases 25 of the most important sites of cultural and historical significance. The Sao Paulo Cathedral, the Macao Museum and the Macao Fort are all within the area covered by the tour too. So getting all the main sights in is easy.
While the shopping in the area isn't quite up to the glamor of Hong Kong, there are some nice items to be had. Be aware that unlike in the rest of China, haggling isn't really the done thing here. If you do haggle; it's normally done by making a considering humming sound, following an initial price, and letting the shop keeper step in with a reduced offer.
The food is amazing in Macao, the blend of Portuguese and Chinese cuisine is simply unique. Macao makes much of the best cheese in the whole region and you can find some fantastic delicatessens on the city's streets. Things to look out for when you travel the streets include "a Pork chop bun", it's the local equivalent of a burger but watch out for little bits of bone in the meat which can decidedly spoil the experience. The custard tarts are justly famous throughout China and you have to have some, even if you save them to eat on your onward journey.
A trip to Macao is a once in a lifetime chance to appreciate the subtler sides of an old colony. If you must spend your time in the casinos, leave it until after you've had a chance to appreciate the quiet beauty of the blend of Portugal and China.
Kowloon is often the first place that springs to mind when people think of Hong Kong. It's a heady mix of old China and modernity. There's a constant flow of people, traffic, ideas and things to see. It's the perfect destination to take a long walk on your China tour and drink in the exotic sights and sounds of this former British colony.
What is there to do in Kowloon?
A nice but slightly peculiar place to start is with a stroll down the Avenue of Stars. This is the local equivalent of Hollywood's rather more famous Walk of Fame. As in Hollywood the actors and actresses of China's and Hong Kong's blockbusters have left their mark in wet concrete. You'll also find plenty of Bruce Lee tributes and merchandise to distract you. It's not so much the walk way itself that's interesting as the wonderful harbor front that lies on one side of it. You can see over to Hong Kong island and you can take a ferry to travel there from the Star Ferry pier at the end of the Avenue of Stars.
A good time to go is in the evening as there's a major light show (no admission fee required) held over the harbor from 8 p.m. onwards.
We'd recommend that you skip the Space Museum by the ferry terminal. It's disappointingly brief in content and there are better ways to spend your time in Kowloon. Instead try, Dialogue in the Dark, near the Household Center on Nob Hill. It's a strange exhibition that's held completely in pitch black, so you have to rely on your other senses to make sense of it.
The Hong Kong Museum of Art is on Salisbury Road and you'll be able to enjoy the juxtaposition of traditional Chinese art with contemporary Hong Kong artists' work. You'll also be able to get one of the best views of Hong Kong island here, as there's a spectacular panoramic window on the first floor.
Take a break in your trip, for an afternoon tea at Hong Kong's most famous hotel, The Peninsula. It's a real throwback to the days of colony. You'll need to be reasonably smartly turned out to get in, but it's not ridiculously expensive when you do. Once inside, you'll witness how the well-to-do expatriate once lived in China.
Travel on from there up Shanghai Street (just off Nathan road) for a very different China. Don't be camera shy; this little warren of slowly decaying tenements is a great place for a photo.
If you'd like a little nature between the urban landscapes then try venturing out to the Flower Market and its neighboring Bird Garden. Don't forget that you shouldn't buy anything in these places as you won't be permitted to take fauna or flora anywhere else on your China tour.
Round the day of with a wander through Kowloon Park, it's a pleasant mix of gardens, museums and people getting rid of the stress of daily life.
Kowloon is an essential stop on a China tour. It's the "real" Hong Kong that people come from thousands of miles away to see. You can shop, sight see and dine in comfort. Unlike much of China, it's also a very easy place to walk around as the former British influence extended to big, comfortable walkways and sensible pedestrian crossings.
Some days there's nothing better than messing about on a river. Zhujiajiao is one of Shanghai's better kept secrets. That's almost certainly because there's so much to do on a vacation in China's largest city that even big, beautiful townships can get lost.
If you've got time on your China tour, then Zhujiajiao's well worth a visit. To get there you'll either need to grab a cab or take a trip on a bus from People's Square. The former is a little bit pricey at 200 RMB each way but it's rather less stressful than the latter which will set you back less than 30 RMB for the round trip.
What's in Zhujiajiao?
Zhujiajiao is an old river town. Back in the days of China's Ming dynasty it became a wealthy town doing a brisk trade in both rice and cloth. The freight would come in from upriver, and then the local merchants would send it off round the country for sale.
Today it is remarkably well preserved for a Chinese river town and much of the original architecture is still in place. There's supposed to be a 10 RMB entry fee for the town but no-one ever seems to get asked to pay it. You might want to stop near the main district entrance and buy tickets for some of the old buildings you'll encounter on a walking tour. (It shouldn't take more than two hours to stroll round everything).
Look out for the Kezhi Yuan Gardens these are only 100 years old but given the enormous amount of money paid to build them and the intricate blend of Chinese and European influences, they're well worth a stop on your trip.
If you'd like to see the oldest post office in China, then it's here you'll find it. There's a Qing Dynasty post office on Xihu Street. You can check out some seriously old postcards from China's past as well as letters that were written directly onto bamboo scrolls.
There's also a practicing Daoist temple in the town, Chenghuangmiao. Don't be surprised if the monks ham it up a little for the tourists present but it's still one of the more unusual sights in China. It's officially dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin.
As you might expect from a river town the star attractions are the waterways and the bridges. The best known bridge is Fansheng which spans 5 symmetrical archways. Be warned because of its views the area is rife with beggars so keep a few coins handy. Don't miss the relief of dragons on the central arch.
If you'd prefer not to have to fight your way through the crowds an easy way to complete your China tour of Zhujiajiao is to take a boat ride on the river, or a larger boat out to the nearby lake and take your photos from there instead.