Posted by: CS
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

Urban planning may not sound the most exciting subject for a China vacation but it might be. If you want to connect with China's amazing growth during your China tour there's probably no better place to witness it than at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. If your trip provides you with a chance to visit China's largest city then you might just want to travel to this museum to see what all the fuss is about.

What's at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center?

Shanghai wants to be a global contender. The city missed out on the Olympics to the capital city but has already held a World Expo. This has made people aware of the possibilities of China travel and trade. However, what the Shanghainese really want is for it to become the world's number one finance center and that means displacing the upstart offshore; Hong Kong.

You might think that this is a bit of a pipe dream if you see both cities during your China tour but the joy of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center is the ability to see how far China has come in an extremely short period of time.

Old Maps and Photographs

We think it's best to start at the beginning and your tour of China's biggest city's heritage should begin with the old city. Here you can witness how insignificant Shanghai was to the world prior to pseudo-colonization by the European powers. You can catch hints of how romantic a China vacation back then would have been. You can almost hear the sounds and catch the smells of traditional China and then slowly watch it be replaced by a modern, busy, but uniquely Chinese and charming mega-city.

The Building Itself

You'll also want to check out the building itself. It was designed by one of China's best known architects and provides the backdrop for awesome photographs. It's located in what used to be the Shanghai Race Course and the space around it may be the largest open space in the city. If you want to catch your breath during your travel – the park is a good place to do so.

The Whole City

The best part of a visit to the museum is the absolutely amazing scale model of the city which includes all proposed buildings up to the year 2020. It is the best view you will ever get of Shanghai from there unless you're lucky enough to travel into space. Don't miss the 360 degree tour of the model playing in the cinema by the side of it. It's an astonishing breath taking journey that feels like you're flying through the future of China.

More of the Future

The urban planning department is based in the building too and that means there are often exhibits of new buildings in the proposal stage. These will go beyond the model city and into a future where Chinese architecture gets better and better and where Shanghai might achieve its' dream of becoming the world's financial center.

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Posted by: CS
Say it isn't so; Myth busting in China

We know that some people are a little worried about booking a China tour – they've heard things about China that put them off travel to the country. We think it's a good idea to know the facts about China before you take the leap and book your vacation. So, this week we're going to put some of those myths to bed so you can take a China trip with peace of mind.

  • I'll be the only person in China who doesn't speak Mandarin Chinese! No, you won't. It might surprise you to know that many Chinese people don't speak Mandarin. In fact as you'll see on your vacation even when they do speak Mandarin they may not be mutually compatible. Accentual variation can make two native speakers unable to communicate. This is good news because everyone knows how to communicate through mime when language fails.

  • They'll make me eat dog! Actually, it's very unlikely that dog would be on the menu in a tourist location – the business savvy Chinese are well aware of Western prejudices on the matter. If you travel into the “real China” part of any city you may find dog on the menu (though it is getting much rarer) but no-one will make you eat it.

  • They can tunnel through the earth in China and come up in the United States. We're pretty certain that the Chinese aren't planning an invasion by moving through the earth shifting hundreds of trillions of tons of rock and it would be impossible even if they were – they'd come out in the wrong place.

  • You can see the Great Wall from outer space. We've said this before and we'll say it again – no you can't. As you'll see if you take a trip to China's most famous landmark – it is very long, but it's also not very wide without increasing the width by a factor of 100 or more you'd never be able to see it from space.

  • Pollution in Beijing is equivalent to smoking x packs of cigarettes a day. Actually, it isn't. We won't deny that the pollution in the capital can be a little unpleasant on some occasions but at its worst the effect on the body is less than that of smoking a single cigarette. Travel round China's biggest city is perfectly safe in the short time it takes to visit.

  • China owns America. Actually China's holdings of US treasury bonds do not make the country owners of the United States nor is the Chinese share equivalent to the share held by US institutions. In fact the Chinese invest in US treasury bonds simply because they are seen as safe and the Chinese are nothing if not cautious with money. So don't worry you won't find your China vacation turning into a "you have arrived in the United States of China" moment.

  • Well if the food is bad, I can live on fortune cookies! Sorry you can't. In fact the fortune cookie wasn't even invented in China and has never really been seen in a Chinese restaurant. In fact you might have to bring them with you if you must have them on your China tour as they are a completely American invention.

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Posted by: CS
Vietnamese Food: The Means of Delivery

The Vietnamese are generally light eaters. Most meals are based around rice or noodles, served in communal portions with a side of herbs, soups, small meat/seafood dishes and vegetables. For the hearty eaters who are used to large portions of heavy meats and carbohydrates, you may have to eat a few different plates to get full here. But despite the small portions and light meals, there somehow always seems to be food floating around the streets. Whether you're up before the sun or a long time after it's gone down- you shouldn't have a hard time finding something to eat. From the usual restaurants and street vendors to the pick-up stalls and motorbike chefs, there's always some form of food that can be purchased.

One of the most famous sounds for people when they visit Vietnam is hearing the motorbikes with loudspeakers shouting some strange, distorted words. There will be some contraption setup on the back of the slow moving bike, sometimes steaming and other times smoking from an actual open fire. These vendors sell anything from corn (bap) to steamed buns filled with meats, mushrooms and quail eggs. When you hear someone (or something) shouting 'Banh Bao đay!'- flag them over to get a real taste of Vietnam.

If the motorbike food vendors are a bit too rough for you, there are still plenty of other options to choose from. Banh mi (baguette sandwich), pho (Vietnam's famous soup), Chao (rice porridge) and Com (rice) stands are dotted all over the country, and generally from 5 am to 11 pm you'll be able to pull up or take away from these ever-present street stalls. Even after midnight, you can still find some vendors who are selling hot, hygienic and delicious food well into the early hours of the morning. It's not unheard of to pick up a bowl of mì hoanh thanh (wanton noodle soup) at 2-3 in the morning, or even waiting until 4-5 for the breakfast crowd to re-appear.

If you're looking for the more traditional means of eating, Vietnam is also (naturally) filled with traditional sit-down restaurants- serving up both local and western favorite dishes. The more touristic the destination, the more 'western' style eateries there will be; but beware: many of them are nothing to write home about. So if you're planning on eating at a sit down restaurant, do your research to make sure it's worth your while (and the extra price they'll have the food charged at). A good medium between the street food experience and the western-style eating can be found in the local markets. Most markets (in the more populated towns of Vietnam) have a food corner in them, where both tourists and locals can gather to eat hot, fresh meals. Going by the rule of thumb (always following the crowds), you are able to enjoy a covered setting with seats, tables and beverages, while still getting the 'street food' experience. If there are locals there, chances are it's probably good (and safe) food.

So despite being light eaters, the Vietnamese love to eat at all times of the day. So whether you're flagging down the shouting motorbike man, sitting street side to a famous local meal or getting served (not as fun) at a traditional restaurant- you'll be able to find a way to keep your stomach and taste buds satisfied.

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Posted by: CS
Dancing in Tibet

When your China tour passes through Tibet you’ll want to get in touch with the cultural aspects of the region. The influence of Buddhism is stronger here than anywhere else you will visit on your China vacation. That means during your trip you’ll have the chance to encounter wonders that you simply can't find anywhere else in the world. One of the best things you might see during your Tibet travel is the local dancing which is truly unique and extremely enjoyable.

Diuxie

Since the 17th century when the Dalai Lama decreed that Lhasa should hold a festival in June and July each year there has been fierce contest to see which Tibetan group can make the festival the most joyous ever. The Dui group of Tibet travel to Lhasa to demonstrate their musical and dancing talents for the Sholdon Festival and have done since the festival began.

It's a form of tap dancing and one that you might want to practice in secret unless you want to trip over your own feet if you join in. The secret is to begin on the second and not the first beat. Then change your movement every third step after that. It is accompanied by string instruments imported from China and you’ll also find bells and dulcimers. Don’t be fooled though the Diuxie starts slow but quickly picks up pace. If you find Diuxie performed anywhere else in Tibet or China during your tour – you’ll find that the rules are quite different from place to place and it may be the 5th, 7th or 9th beat where the step changes.

Guozhuang

This dance might seem more familiar to those from the Americas. It's a circular dance performed by farmers and herdsmen. It is very popular in the East of Tibet but can also be found in Lhasa on occasion. All participants sing the Guozhang as well as dance but you may be happy to find that the final lyric “Ya!” is one that even the crowd can join in with. Men form an outer circle and ladies an inner one and they travel in opposite directions beginning slowly but rapidly picking up pace. Look out for the cowboy like chaps that the men wear though they are often decorated with rather un-cowboy like feathers.

Qamo

This is the dance that was used to meld the original Tibetan religion (the Bon-Po) with the Buddhist faith that came after it. It’s used to calm the evil spirits and satisfied adherents of both faiths that proper protections for people’s souls were in place. You’ll be best placed to watch this dance at a monastery during your Tibet tour as these places require the most spiritual protection. The dances are very animist in nature and participants use animal-mimicry for much of the display so be prepared for oxen, deer and then demons and skeletons too. This may be the dance highlight of vacation in Tibet as it’s so varied and intricate that you can’t help but be impressed by the skills of the participants.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts About Macau

Macau makes for a great side trip on your China vacation particularly if you're passing through Hong Kong during your China tour. We’ve found that a lot of people are curious about Macau and would like to know a little more before their China trip. We’ve put together a few interesting facts about Macau to help make your China travel experience a little more fascinating:

  • If you visit a beach during your China vacation then the Hac Sa Beach in Macau is one of the best places to lie out and catch a few rays. It’s also home to an archaeological dig which has found many pieces of pottery dating back over 4,000 years!
  • The reason that so many Chinese people travel to Macau is simple. It’s the only place in China where you can gamble legally. Macau’s casinos are more profitable than Las Vegas.
  • $1 in every $2 spent in Macau is spent in a casino. 1 in every 5 people working in Macau works in a casino.
  • There are 4 gambling tables for every hospital bed in Macau.
  • The acropolis is not just in Greece. In Macau it’s also the alternative name for the Cathedral of St. Paul which was built in the 16th century and was the largest church in the whole of East Asia at that time.
  • While Putonghua (Mandarin) is now the official language of Macau the locals mainly speak a Portuguese dialect called Macanese Portuguese. There’s also a creole tongue commonly spoken in Macau called Patua.
  • Whilst Macau has a fine Christian heritage you’ll find during your China tour that over half of the people living on the island are now Buddhist.
  • In 2012 Macau broke an international record. As you’ll see during your trip it’s now the most crowded place in both China and the world with over 20,000 inhabitants for every square kilometer of land.
  • To further that record Macau also has the world’s fastest growing economy.
  • However, things may go off the rails in 2050 as the country also has one of the fastest ageing population rates in the world. By then there will 8 people not working in Macau for every 10 people that are working. In fact the people of Macau have the 2nd highest life expectancy in the world and can expect to live to nearly 85 years of age.
  • The first Western-style University in all of Asia can be found in Macau. St. Paul’s college prepared Catholic missionaries to visit the whole of the continent.
  • Macau was the first Asian colony for the Portuguese. It was also Portugal’s last colony in Asia and was handed back to China in 1999.
  • The most ancient part of Macau is the A-Ma Temple which was built before the city even existed in 1488.
  • In 2011 there were nearly 30 million visitors who took in Macau on their China vacations – that’s more than the number of people who live in Australia!
  • A car parking space in Macau would cost more than $100,000!
  • If you’d like to see the Macau Grand Prix on your China Tour you should know that the circuit was originally designed to be a treasure hunt for local residents and that the car race came later.

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Posted by: CS
Hell can be Heaven in China – Fengdu Ghost City

One of the great things about a China vacation is the chance to catch a glimpse of the truly unique. If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise then you're going to spend some time in Chongqing one of China's largest cities. While you're there you'll have the chance to take a trip to China's Ghost City, Fengdu. It's in Fengdu that you'll have the chance to travel to Hell without the fear of not coming back and that's got to make for one of the most interesting experiences you can have in China.

The City on the Mountain

As your Yangtze River Cruise passes the Ming Mountain you'll want to look up and see if you can spy your first glimpse of the city of Fengdu. It has always been a tourist attraction of sorts with over 2,000 years of history and may be the first "theme park" the world has ever known. If you take a virtual tour of China through its literature you'll find many references to Fengdu in China's greatest works such as Journey to the West and the Apotheosis of Heroes.

Fengdu began life during the period of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Two court officials were tasked with visiting Ming Mountain and preaching their Daoist faith to those nearby. It's said that they were so successful that they were rewarded with immortality for their devotion. Sadly their surnames "Yin" and "Wang" when combined are rather less pleasant; "Yinwang" means the "Lord of Hell" in Mandarin.

It was this legacy that inspired builders during the Tang Dynasty to erect a monument to Hell. It is possible that this was one of the first Chinese representations of evildoers being punished and tortured for their actions in life. It also reinforced that good people's souls in China would not make the trip to Hell but rather be rewarded in their afterlife by being granted admittance to Heaven.

Your tour of China's Hell begins with three locations at which souls must be tested before being condemned. The "Nothing-to-be-done" Bridge is made up of 3 stone archways and the one in the center was the scene of a soul's test. Specific protocols must be followed by the soul to cross and those that are found to be less than virtuous will fall from the bridge into the pools beneath. If you meet any Chinese people here they will encourage you to travel over the bridge as the locals believe that this will bring you good luck.

The next place is "Ghost Torturing" pass where the demonic sculptures are said to ward the trial of the soul by China's Lord of Hell himself; known as Yama. The final test is in the Tianzi Palace where a penitent soul is said to have been able to stand on one foot on the large stone that is placed outside of the gate for at least 3 minutes in order to free themselves from Hell. If they failed they would remain in Hell for eternity. Once you've take your Yangtze River Cruise to Chongqing you absolutely have to visit Fengdu Ghost City – it may be the only time that Hell feels like Heaven for any of us.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts about Xi'an

One of the places you're sure to want to visit on a China vacation is the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an. In fact they're such a big deal that many people assume that's the only reason that a China tour stops in the city. There's quite a bit more to Xi'an as you'll discover on your China travel and before you make the trip to one of China's most interesting cities we thought we'd share some interesting facts about it with you:

  • Xi'an is one of the most ancient cities in China. It's been there for nearly 3,100 years and was once known as Chang'an.

  • Xi'an is also one of the "Four Great Ancient Capitals of China" and was the home of the Imperial Courts of the Han, Sui, Qin, Zhou and Tang.

  • If you fancy travel in the footsteps of one of the world's greatest explorers, Marco Polo, then your trip to Xi'an offers exactly that opportunity. The city is the Eastern most point on the Great Silk Road considered to be one of the great journeys of mankind as it passes through all of Northern China and much of Central Asia.

  • It's not just ancient secrets that lie locked within Xi'an's heart but the city is currently the home of China's space program. So if you see something racing towards the heavens during your vacation – don't panic, it's probably another rocket launch for the space station.

  • Xi'an is home to roughly 8 million souls and is considered to be one of the 13 cities in China most likely to become a mega-city (more than 10 million) by 2025. You might want to travel now to beat the extra queues at every attraction!

  • The city of Xi'an is the only walled city in China where the entire wall is still present. So don't forget to take a tour round the walls when you're there.

  • The Lantian Man which was discovered only a few miles to the South East is one of the earliest concrete proofs of civilization in China 500,000 years ago.

  • In 1965 a full Neolithic Village was found just outside the city limits. You can take a trip out to see this and find out what life in China 6,500 years ago was like.

  • Xi'an is also the center of time for China as the National Time Service Centre is based in the city and it is thus also considered to be the center of China as well. Interestingly for such a large country; all of China uses the same time zone and you should set your watch to CST (Chinese Standard Time) when you get off the plane and then no matter where you go – you'll have the right time.

  • Qingqiang (The Voice of the Qin) opera originates in Xi'an and it is perhaps the most extensive form of the art anywhere in China.

  • There's an art district where you can go and observe 40 or more painters at work. You'll find it in "Textile Town".

  • Xi'an has been trying to emulate America's Silicon Valley though a computer science graduate can look forward to a salary of only $200 a month!

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Posted by: CS
The Four Great Inventions of China

One of things you'll certainly already know about China is that it has a great history. Many people want to find out a little more about China's contribution to the world before they come on their China vacation. They find that a China tour is a bit more enjoyable when they can talk with the locals about the things which they are most proud of. So before you travel we think we should take a quick trip round the four greatest inventions that demonstrate China's contribution to the world around them.

Invention Number 1 – The Compass

The original Chinese compass is not one that you could traditionally carry in your pocket for use during your China vacation. Instead it was based on the use of floating a magnetized needle in a bowl of water. It was almost certainly invented during the 10th century A.D. though there are references in Chinese literature that suggest that the magnetic properties of iron were well understood back in the 4th century BC.

This led to an improvement for travel in the year 1088 when the suspended dry compass was invented. It was a little less practical than the European model which would become popular in China during the 16th century but it was several hundred years ahead of its competitor too.

Invention Number 2 – Gunpowder

Discovered in the 9th century gunpowder is an invention that you will be lucky enough to see in action if your trip to China coincides with the Spring Festival. That's because its primary use in modern China is for fireworks. It's a common myth that it was never used in weaponry in China – in fact from the 11th century onwards the Chinese were experimenting with firearms. However, it came at quite a price and in 1280 A.D. a gunpowder warehouse exploded killing over 100 people in an instant.

Invention Number 3 – Paper Making

While it's the Egyptians who hog all the credit for inventing paper; it's actually the Chinese who invented it. The Egyptians used a precursor of paper called papyrus instead. It was in the year 100 A.D. when Cai Lun a Chinese functionary at the Han Dynasty Court invented paper formally. Though, he may actually have re-invented it as there is evidence that paper was in use in the Gansu province back in the 8th century BC. Whichever is the case don't forget when you send a postcard home on your China tour that the reason you can send it is all down to Chinese ingenuity.

Invention Number 4 – Printing

It's Westerners who get the nod for inventing printing but once again it was the Chinese who got there first. In fact they invented movable type in the 9th century A.D. but quickly abandoned it in favor of woodblock printing which is simply much better suited to the huge range of Chinese characters available.

The Chinese would have been creating travel guides, religious works, etc. in mass produced form from the 11th century onwards if paper hadn't been so expensive. As is most print editions were limited to only a few thousand copies. It's one of the true wonders of China's manufacturing history. It's certainly an invention that people would be happy to discuss on your China vacation.

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Posted by: CS
The Daming Palace – Xi'an

When your China tour takes you to Xi'an you'll want to see all there is to see. One great place to see on your China vacation there which takes you a little "off the beaten path" is the Daming Palace. It's worth the trip and is considered to be a national heritage site of China. It was once the imperial palace of the Tang Dynasty and you won't have to travel very far to come into contact with one of China's most famous imperial legacies.

About the Daming Palace

As with many ancient places in China this one has had a few name changes over the years. It was originally called the Yong'an Palace and then had a name change to Daming Palace a few years after it was constructed. It then became the Penglai Palace and the Hanyuan Palace in quick succession. However, those names didn't stick and in 701 the name reverted to Daming Palace for good.

There was an older Tang Palace but this fell out of favor when the court physician decided that it was too damp and too hot to live in and the retired Emperor Gaozu was instructed to make a trip to the other side of the city and build a palace there. In the end it was his son Emperor Taizong who would build the palace to make amends after falling out with his father. Sadly for China's retired emperor, he died before it was completed and his son abandoned the project.

The Empress Wu then recommenced the project after a tour from the court architect of the site revealed it to be a favorable place for a better home for her entourage. She too died before it was completed and the Emperor Gaozong would finish the work in the year 663 A.D.

The Daming Palace is a big place and if you visit it during your China vacation you'll want to take comfortable shoes for walking round it. The layout includes three great halls around a single axis and access is granted through the Danfeng Gate which consists of 5 separate doorways. The outer court is nearly 700 meters across and borders on Hanyuan Hall. It is in this hall that affairs of state would be conducted and folk would travel across China to attend diplomatic meetings within its walls.

The middle court (Xuanzheng Hall) is another 300 meters further inside the compound. It would have once been home to the administrative team that helped run the empire. It is probably where much of the real decision making of the Tang Dynasty would have taken place.

The inner court (or Zichen Hall) was the home of the central government and the imperial family and there are pools and several small halls to explore here.

The Daming Palace was only discovered back in 1957 and excavation work began in 1959. UNESCO has been involved with the conservation work for nearly 20 years and it's one of the more unusual UNESCO heritage sites that you might see during your China tour. The heritage park that showcases the Daming Palace has only been open to the public for 3 years and that means you might be one of the first Westerners to make the trip and see China's imperial heritage in all its' glory.

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Posted by: CS
The Biggest Celebrity in China

Just like in America, China has its love for celebrity. A little understanding of who's who can make for some great conversations on a China vacation. So before you make your trip to China we thought it might be nice to introduce you to China's number one superstar. The good news is that unlike with many of China's most famous people – there are plenty of English language versions of his work you can enjoy before you travel. You can then enjoy talking to the locals during your tour and sharing their delight in his work.

So Who is the Biggest Celebrity in China?

Andy Lau is the best known and almost certainly best paid Chinese superstar. He's a multi-talented chap; he's well known for his canto-pop (as a singer song-writer he's best loved in Southern China), his acting and his movie direction. He clears over $20 million USD a year.

Andy's career began in 1981. He took up an apprenticeship with TVB (Television Broadcasts Limited). His first starring role was as the lead in a very popular TV series called; The Emissary. His career with TVB was a spectacular success and he would soon travel to Korea and Japan to represent China as one of the "all-stars" of Asian TV. However, when TVB tried to strong arm him into an exclusive 5 year-deal which would have required him to give up all other interests – he took a permanent vacation and decided to concentrate on a film career elsewhere in China.

Andy Lau and the Movies

His first appearance in a film was as a guest in a music video for Susanna Kwan. He would double up his TV work with some fairly ordinary performances in movies from 1981 to 1988. In 1988 he began to become better respected thanks to his performance in a serious drama called; "The Truth". This role brought him to the attention of many of China's young directors and for a while it looked like he would become typecast as a "heroic gangster" during the late 80's and early 90's. His films would tour China near endlessly for the next 10 years where he gained popularity more for his attractive looks than his talent.

In the early 2000's he began to break type and finally win some respect for his acting too. He won the Golden Bauhinia for his role in "A Fighter's Blues". Then as began to travel regularly to Hong Kong cinema he starred in "Running Out of Time" and won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor. This would enable him to win more prodigious roles – including his best known performance for Western audiences in the sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" – "The House of Flying Daggers".

Andy Lau as a Singer

Andy's current career sees him make regular tours of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong as a live performer. However, he started badly and his first album "Only Know that I Still Love You" released in 1985 was scorned by critics and the public alike. In 1990 he made the breakthrough to mainstream popularity in China and for the next 17 years he would release one of the Top 10 Gold Songs of China – you'll be guaranteed to hear one of these songs during your China vacation as they're played just about everywhere in the country. Andy has also been running his own production company and won the "Asian Filmaker of the Year" award in Pusan back in 2006. His film "Made in Hong Kong" is well respected globally and has won dozens of awards.

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Posted by: CS
Pilgrims and Postcards in Lhasa

When your China tour stops in Lhasa, you'll want to get the most out of every minute you spend there. Tibet's one of the most fascinating places on a China vacation itinerary and travel to China's highest province is a rare opportunity for most of us. One place you'll definitely want to see during your trip is Barkhor Street. It's where all the madness of a typical China market meets the holiness of the Tibetan pilgrimage.

Barkhor Street - True Spirituality at Work

The Barkhor Street circuit is a circular one that moves around the famous Jokhang Temple. Tibetan lore says that the very first Tibetan King (Songtsen Gampo) built the temple in order to encourage faithfulness among his people. People would travel from all over the world and China to make a sincere Buddhist pilgrimage to the temple. This caused a queue of thousands waiting to enter the temple every day. This queue would tour the circular streets of Lhasa patiently waiting for admission and over time they left a permanent trodden path in their wake. It's a path that is still visible nearly 1,500 years later. It's now one of the holiest places in all of China.

During your China vacation you will see that this pilgrimage is still as popular as ever today. Pilgrims will clutch prayer wheels (small wooden wheels filled with written prayers - enabling the pilgrim to offer up thousands or more prayers in a minute). They will then walk clockwise around Barkhor Street from sunup until sunset spinning their prayer wheels. Many of them will have made a trip across China from many thousands of miles away - most of them will have made the journey to Lhasa on foot. The most committed will lie on their faces and complete their tour by pulling their bodies along the ground.

Barkhor Street - China's Tibetan Market

Given the spiritual significance of this area you may be surprised to discover that it is also a center of commerce. Given that Tibet is still a remarkably impoverished country and that the Jokhang Temple is on every visitor's itinerary it perhaps shouldn't be so surprising. The route is lined with hundreds of shops and market stalls and it may be the best place to buy a souvenir of Tibet during your whole China vacation.

You can pick up your own prayer wheel (number of prayers by negotiation) if you'd like. Non-believers are welcome to buy these and no offence will be taken. You could go for a "chuba" which is a long-sleeved flowing robe that is the most traditional form of Tibetan dress. You can also pick up ceremonial knives but please think twice about where you pack these before you go back to the airport - no airline in the world will allow you to take them on in hand-luggage.

One really nice souvenir options is to get a "Thangka" this is a painting on a scroll and you can find representations of history, religion, literature, etc.

You can also find goods from China, India and even Nepal in the market and there's plenty for everyone on Barkhor Street.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts about Tibet

Tibet's such a mysterious place that many people can't wait to include it on their China tour. The memories of a trip to Tibet in China can last for a lifetime. We think your China vacation will be that bit more special if you know a little about the kingdom on the roof of the world. So to help your understanding before you travel to China, here's a collection of interesting facts about Tibet:

  • The airport in Lhasa is the highest in the world and makes for a dramatic start to your China vacation in Tibet

  • Tibetans do not bury their dead nor do they cremate them. Instead they use "sky burial" a practice where the body is left out to be consumed by vultures. If you do see this on your China tour be very respectful as it is an occasion normally only witnessed by locals.

  • Tibet is one of the very few places in the world where polyandry (the habit of a woman having multiple husbands) is practiced legally and traditionally. This is to preserve land allocations within a family and typically all the husbands will be brothers or close relations.

  • It is the only place you'll visit on your China trip where they consider it lucky for a dog to leave its "business" on their front door step. In fact it is said to symbolize good luck for the whole day. So tread carefully...

  • It is traditional for those under the age of 10 or those who are not practicing Buddhists to receive a special blessing at Tibetan temples. This is normally given by a monk in the form of black ghee being rubbed onto the visitor's nose.

  • You'll see plenty of Yaks during your Tibet travel. They have been domesticated in the country for over 4,000 years. They can carry up to 50 kilos on their backs at altitudes of up to 5,000 meters. The Yak is quite comfortable in temperatures as low as minus 30 (centigrade)! They are used extensively throughout the country for food, clothing, dairy and as beasts of burden.

  • The Himalayas are the famous mountain range that makes up Tibet's Southern Border. However, there's another mighty range on the Northern Border – The Kunlun Mountains and if you were to cross them into Mainland China you'd find Xinjiang.

  • It may be a long way from home but it is said that the Tibetan people are most similar to Native Americans in terms of their physique. You should also be able to catch another area of striking similarity between the two peoples on your China vacation – their dance. Dance rituals are used to display emotion or tell folk tales.

  • At some point during your China tour of Tibet you are likely to find that you are greeted by a local and have a scarf placed around your neck. This scarf is called, the Kata, and is a traditional gift for visitors though it may also be used to congratulate actors or musical performers on a job well done.

  • Tibetan writing bears no similarity to Mandarin Chinese. It has its roots in India and is in fact a form of Hindu script. The spoken language on the other hand is very similar to Burmese.

  • The word for "Tibet" in the local language is "Bod".

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Posted by: CS
What to eat in Guilin

One of the best things about a China vacation is the amount of new food you'll be exposed to. A China tour ensures that you get to try something from every school of cookery in the country, from Sichuan to Cantonese and Beijing to Hunan – there's something for everyone. When you travel to Guilin, you'll find that all of China's food cultures come together to create an interesting fusion to delight the palate. Guilin is one of China's most beautiful cities and a trip to its restaurants can be made all the better if you know what to watch out for on the menu so you can try all the local specialties.

Street Vendors and Snack Food

As you tour the streets of Guilin you'll find hundreds of small vendors operating from carts on the road side. Our advice is not to be afraid of trying China's street cuisine but make sure you choose a vendor who is popular with the locals. That's the best indication that the food is safe to eat and that you won't be interrupting your China vacation by dashing to the toilet after you've eaten. These vendors dispense snack food at an extraordinary rate and you'll want to keep an eye out for the local rice noodles (better known as "mifen"), the chestnut flavored rice dumplings and several varieties of duck including stewed with ginko, wrapped in lotus leaves and stewed with ginger. The locals believe that Guilin duck is good for problems with your lungs but we can't confirm if there's any truth in that.

At the Restaurant

Watch out for taro pork during your travel in Guilin. This brings together locally preserved bean curds with cubes of taro and pork which are then blended skillfully with diced vegetables. This dish is a firm favorite with those who subscribe to China's traditional medicine because it is believed to cut down on inflammation of any kind as well as eliminating acne.

You also want to keep your eyes peeled for a mixed chicken and clam dish. This is prepared over hours gently stewing in pot and the flavors of the meat and seafood are blended with ham, longan and vegetables to produce a gentle, delicate flavor that often becomes a firm China vacation favorite with those who can find it.

Then there's the Lo Han Chicken which is a boiled dish where the chicken is combined with many local herbs to provide a clean, fresh broth that is also rumored to lower your blood pressure. It's uite delicious.

For something a little more unusual keep your eye out for "meat floss" which is a strange, very finely shredded offering served with sweet osmanthus. You'll probably want a decent glass of wine to combat the heady scent of the dish.

If you'd prefer to stick to the seafood then the "sour fried and dried fish" is perhaps the best option on the menu. You won't find anything like it elsewhere on your China tour. The fish is left to dry in the sun after it has been slowly smoked over a mixture of fruit peel. It is then stir-fried with bamboo shoots and a dash of local wine and pepper. It is then served with as many spicy side dishes as possible including many that rely heavily on the garlic – so be warned.

Guilin's a great place to include in your China trip and eating out can be a wonderful experience here. Make sure you get to enjoy all the local delicacies!

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Posted by: CS
Twelve Fun Facts about China

Before you head off on your China vacation we thought we’d share a few interesting facts about the country as a whole. We think it’s nice to have a few piece of cool trivia to tell your friends as you get ready for your China tour. China travel is one of the most exciting things most of us get to do in our lifetimes and it’s really great to bring your friends and family into the experience with a bit of fun knowledge.

  • We’ve often been asked where the name "China" comes from during our tours. The truth is that nobody knows but the best guess is that it comes from the Qin Dynasty which was the first dynasty to unify the whole country under a single imperial rule.

  • Chinese civilization is said to be the oldest continuous civilization in history. You could travel back as far as 6,000 B.C. to find early China being formed. That also means that Mandarin Chinese is the longest used written language of any nation too.

  • China is a big place. In fact only the U.S.A., Russia and Canada are bigger. Your vacation can only take in a tiny slice of the 3.8 million square miles of the mainland.

  • One thing you’ll be relieved to find in China is toilet paper. It was invented here back in the 1300’s but back then you wouldn’t have found it on your travels because it was only permitted for Imperial use.

  • The most popular sport in China is Ping-Pong and the Chinese have long dominated the international scene but strangely it’s not a Chinese sport. It was actually invented in the UK and was introduced to the mainland relatively recently.

  • The three gorges dam which you might encounter on a Yangtze River cruise is the largest dam in the world.

  • If you enjoy pork as part of your dinner then you’ll never run short during your China tour. That’s because the country is home to more than half of the world’s pigs.

  • You’ll probably never run short of goat either (though it’s not all that common to find it on the dining table in major cities) because China is home to over 170 million goats making it the largest producer of goat meat in the world too.

  • If you think everyone back home is addicted to the internet just wait until your China vacation; there are more broadband users in China than there are anywhere else in the world. This means that there are plenty of free wi-fi connections in every big city.

  • On a slightly less pleasant note it’s been calculated that the Chinese smoke 1 in every 3 cigarettes consumed around the globe too.
  • China is considered to be responsible for four of the greatest inventions of all time. The compass, writing paper, printing and gun powder.

  • The Chinese were the first people to adopt the decimal system – approximately 2,000 years before their peers in Europe. Interestingly they were also the first people to recognize the concept of zero.

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Posted by: CS
Traditional Chinese Dancing

When you take your China vacation you’ll get to see many different aspects of life in China. Your tour will take you throughout the most populous nation on earth and you’ll be able to enjoy the local culture. One thing many people enjoy during their China travel is traditional dancing. It’s nice to take a trip to see some of the locals getting together and having a good time wherever you are in China. We’ve put together a quick guide to some of the most popular dances in China so you can keep an eye out for them.

Dragon and Lion Dancing

Though both dragon and lion dancing are associated with Chinese New Year, the good news is that your China tour won’t have to coincide with the Spring Festival to catch a performance. Because both types of dance are associated with luck and power, they can be found at opening ceremonies and major events anywhere in China at any time of the year. You should ask your guide or in your hotel where you might travel to enjoy this.

Dragon dancing involves athletes with either a dragon costume or a dragon mounted on poles performing daring feats of acrobatics whilst keeping the dragon in motion. Up to 50 athletes may be involved in moving a single dragon. There are even competitive events when many dragons appear at once.

Lion dancing involves either 2 or 4 athletes in costume and if you though dragon dancing was impressive then a trip to see China’s favorite dance will blow your mind. The lion will normally perform on a series of strategically placed vertical poles and the acrobatics are simply amazing. We’ve found that lion dancing is often the cultural highlight of a China vacation for many travelers.

Ethnic Dances

There are over 50 ethnic minorities in China and during your trip you’ll meet many of them. Each minority has its own special dance and you’ll find that these dances are performed throughout the year in many places. Though it’s worth noting that some are only performed at particular festivals (which may not match the official Chinese festival calendar) so if there’s something you really want to see you’ll need to plan your China vacation carefully.

Or you could just cheat and go and watch the China National Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble in Beijing during your China tour. This troupe consists of members of 36 different minority groups and performs over 100 times each year in the capital city.

Imperial Court Dancing

In Xi’an, one of the destinations on many tours of China, there’s a show dedicated to the Tang Dynasty period’s songs and dancing. The Nishang Yuyi (literally “The song of enduring sorrows”) was created back in the 7th century and is very popular with audiences from everywhere. It is about an Emperor who visits the moon in his dreams and dances in the skies. When he awakens he tells his concubine about it and she does everything she can to recreate the dance on earth. The feathery costumes are extremely ornate in this performance.

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Posted by: CS
The Double Seventh (Qixi) Festival in China

If the rapid industrialization of China makes you think that the Chinese have lost their sense of romance during your China tour – the Double Seventh might help convince you otherwise. If your China vacation coincides with the 13th of August, 2013 then you might find a lot of love in the air. You see whilst the 14th of February has survived the travel to China and been adopted with a certain amount of enthusiasm, the real Valentine's Day comes during the Qixi festival. It's the day when young (and not so young) lovers trip the light fantastic and show their affection throughout the nation.

About the Double Seventh

The festival is the "double seventh" because it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Being a lunar calendar the date of the holiday is somewhat flexible compared to the standard Western calendar so if you really want to be involved in Qixi check the dates of your China vacation carefully.

As with Valentine's days throughout the world it's women and girls who are key to this festival and whilst men have their part to play – the ladies are the ones who are supposed to feel special for it.

The Legend of the Qixi Festival

The double seventh is a celebration of a mythical Chinese love story. A young man, Niu Lang, was a good strong-hearted and kind fellow who made his living as a Chinese cowboy. Despite his warm nature he was regularly abused by his brothers at home. In the end their abuse drove him from his home and his life and he was forced to travel China doing odd jobs on farms.

Then one day as he passed through a particularly rough part of China he met an old man (who was in fact an angel in disguise) who asked him to take care of his sick cattle. When Niu Lang agreed he was taken on a trip to heaven. He took his duties seriously and under his loving care the cows recovered.

During this time he fell in love with a fairy Zhi Nu and when he Niu Lang made the trip back down to China she followed him. They founded their own farm, got married, and had children. But as with many folk tales their happy ending was only temporary. The God of Heaven found out about his fairy's defection to the mortal plane and ordered her to return. The Queen Mother of the Western Heavens went to earth and snatched Zhi Nu. Niu Lang called upon the celestial cattle and they took him for another tour of China's celestial realm. He nearly caught up with his bride but the Queen Mother cast a spell separating the two by a magic river. The lovers were left to weep on either side of the river forever.

However, their love wasn't unnoticed and the magpies of heaven were so impressed by the lovers that they came to build a bridge of magpies once a year on the 7th of the 7th.

Qixi Customs

If you're passing through rural China during your vacation then you may say the weaving and sewing competitions between young women on this day. In the evenings they make offerings to the Niu Lang of exquisite fruits. There may also be a story-telling recounting the tale of Zhi Niu and Niu Lang.

In the cities things tend to be rather simpler. If you're wondering what to buy your valentine during your China tour; flowers, chocolates and perfume have all become a firm favorite of China's urban population.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts about the Yangtze River

A Yangtze River Cruise is a great part of many vacations in China and we've found that many people would like to know a little more before they begin their China tour. So to help you get up to speed with the Yangtze and all it has to offer before you travel to China we've got a whole host of interesting facts about the river to share with you.

Interesting Facts about the Yangtze River

  • Your Yangtze River Cruise can only take in a tiny fraction of the whole river as it's nearly 4,000 miles long. The good news is that the part we've chosen for your China tour package is the most exciting visually and geographically.

  • A trip down the Yangtze means travelling on the third largest river in the world. It's also the largest in Asia. Only the Amazon and the Nile are longer.

  • The real name of the Yangtze is the Chang Chiang River. Originally the word Yangtze was only used to refer to the part of the river that cut through the fiefdom of Yang one of China's old feudal territories. However, a misunderstanding by a visiting British missionary led to the wide-scale adoption of the name Yangtze.

  • There are more than 700 tributaries that travel from all over China to terminate in the Yangtze. It would take dozens of years to traverse them all. You certainly won't have time to visit them during your China vacation.

  • You may see many different types of wildlife during your Yangtze River Cruise though it's unlikely that you'll see the Chinese Alligator, the Yangtze Dolphin, the Yangtze Finless Porpoise or the Paddlefish as they're all critically endangered.

  • The water of the Yangtze is not blue. It's more of a deep brown color. While some of this can probably be attributed to pollution this is the natural color of the river as it churns up the mud flats below the surface.

  • The Yangtze's total river water network covers around 700,000 square miles of land that's nearly 19% of the whole of China. The vast majority of this network can be found in the drainage basin.

  • Today there are over 50 bridges across the Yangtze River. However, they're all very new and they were all built in the years following 1957. That was the year that the Wuhan Yangtze Bridge was constructed and became the very first ever bridge over the river. Up to that time the only way across the river was by ferry.

  • The last time the riverbed became visible because of drought conditions in China was January 13th, 1954. Previous to that you'd have had to go back to 1342 to find an occasion when you could see the bottom of the Yangtze.

  • More than 50% of the nation's food supply depends on water from the Yangtze. 70% of the crops grown along the banks are rice crops.

  • Despite beginning in the icy peaks of the Himalayas the Yangtze has never iced over.

  • The Yangtze passes through 11 provinces on its way to the sea.

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