China Travel Guide
Tianjin City Center
- Ancient Culture Street (1)
- Antique Market (8)
- Confucius Temple (3)
- Dabei Monastery (5)
- Jiefang Bei Lu (7)
- Qingzhen Si Mosque (6)
- Tianhou Temple (2)
- Wang Hai Lou Cathedral (4)
- Xi Kai Cathedral (9)
Hebei’s former capital, the municipality of Tianjin is China’s fourth largest city and a major seaport. The city’s appeal lies in its Western Concession architecture, a legacy of its past as a foreign trading post since 1858. The former powers, led by Britain and France, and followed by Japan, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy, and Russia, built schools, banks, and churches.
In the north of town, the Ancient Culture Street is a recreation of an ancient Chinese street. The Tianhou Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, is on the street’s west side. To the southwest, close to the Old Chinese Town, the Confucius Temple was damaged during the Cultural Revolution, and restored in 1993. About a mile (0.6 km) northeast across the River Hai is the gaunt Wang Hai Lou Cathedral (Wang Hail Lou Jiao Tang). Outside, a plaque in Chinese relates the church’s turbulent history. It was destroyed by a mob in 1870, and again during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. The 1976 Tang Shan earthquake damaged it for the third time, and it was repaired in 1983. North of the cathedral, the Qing-era Dabei Monastery is reached via a colorful market selling incense sticks and Buddhist talismans. People pay their respects to Milefo (the Laughing Buddha) at the entrance and to Guanyin in her own hall. To the west is the Chinese-style mosque Qingzhen Si. This is not open to the public, but suitably dressed visitors may ask to be admitted. On Jiefang Bei Lu are many of Tianjin’s colonial buildings, including the Astor Hotel, whose guests included China’s last emperor, Pu Yi. The excellent Antique Market on Shenyang Dao is a riveting sprawl of collectibles. Among the most interesting items on sale are Communist regalia including pin badges, portraits, and frayed photographs adorned with Chairman Mao’s image. To the south, at the end of Binjiang Dao, Tianjin’s biggest thoroughfare and shopping area, are the three green domes of the French-built Xi Kai Cathedral (Xi Kai Jiao Tang), open on Sundays.
- 186 miles (300 km) E of Beijing
- to Qinhuangdao, 9 miles (15 km) NE of Beidaihe, then express bus
Despite its immense coastline, China has very few good quality beaches, except perhaps in Hainan Island in the south. Nevertheless, the coastal town of Beidaihe, North China’s breezy seaside retreat, is a pleasant enough escape from Beijing’s intolerable summer heat. Discovered in the 19th century by British railway engineers, it soon became popular with foreign nationals from Tianjin, and villas, summer holiday homes, and golf courses soon sprang up. These were later taken over by Chinese Communist Party cadres, and party leaders still gather in Beidaihe for their annual conference in August.
China’s premier resorts
Sadly, many of the elegant European-style villas are now obscured by garish modern seafront properties. During summer (April–October), Beidaihe’s beaches are packed with hawkers and domestic holiday-makers. The best way to spend one’s time is to sample the array of seafood, or hire a bike or tandem from one of the outlets on Zhonghaitan Lu for panoramic rides along the coast. The hilly Lianfengshan Park in the west of town is covered in cypresses and pines, and its hilltop Sea-Viewing Pavilion provides a good vantage point for views of the coast. The restored Guanyin Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of Compassion, is also located here. Beidaihe’s three beaches are dotted with statues of revolutionary workers. Middle Beach is the most popular, while West Beach is quieter. Nearby, Tiger Rocks is a popular spot to watch the sunrise. East Beach, 4 miles (6 km) northeast of Beidaihe, gets covered in seaweed and shells at low tide.
- 218 miles (350 km) E of Beijing
- to Qinhuangdao, 8 miles (13 km) SW of Shanhaiguan, then express bus
A short hop up along the coast from Beidaihe, Shanhaiguan (The Pass Between the Mountain and the Sea) is where the Great Wall meets the sea. Although less affluent than Beidaihe, the town is steeped in history and is fortified by a Ming-era wall. The charming area within the walls is segmented by hutong (historic alleys), and serviced by a few hotels.
where the Great Wall reaches the sea
Shanhaiguan promotes its Great Wall links. The First Pass Under Heaven in the east of town is a formidable section of wall attached to a huge gatehouse. The Manchus overcame half-hearted resistance here and headed for Beijing to establish the Qing dynasty. Visitors can climb up on the ramparts, or access its tower, which displays Qing weapons and costumes. To the south is the Great Wall Museum, worth visiting for its photographs and models of the wall. Also on display are tools that were used to build it, as well as the various weapons that were used in its defense. There are some English captions, and the exhibits are well displayed.
A more stirring section of the wall lies 2 miles (3 km) north of town at Jiao Shan, where bracing climbs can be made up its steep incline – or take a cable car. Lao Long Tou (Old Dragon Head) marks the end of the Great Wall at the sea, 3 miles (4 km) south of town. This part of the wall has been completely reconstructed and, despite the tour buses, is worth visiting. Visitors can head west along the beach to explore Haishen Miao (Temple of the Sea God).
The capital of Hebei often suffers from unfair comparisons to both Beijing and the former provincial capital, Tianjin. An industrial town dating from the modern railway age, Shijiazhuang has just a few sights including the Hebei Provincial Museum in the east of town, which displays musical instruments that are over 2,300 years old, historical relics such as a jade burial suit, and an entire miniature terracotta army. To the west along Zhongshan Lu is the Martyrs’ Memorial, a park which honors two doctors as Heroes of the Revolution. Both men, a Canadian named Norman Bethune and an Indian named Dwarkanath Kotnis, served the Communist Party in the early 20th century.
Hebei Provincial Museum
- 9am–5pm Tue–Sun
Most of the area’s main sights lie outside Shijiazhuang, and are easily accessed by train, bus, or minibus. Lying a short train or bus journey 9 miles (15 km) north of town, the ancient walled town of Zhengding is known for its temples and pagodas. The most renowned is Dafo Si (Great Buddha Temple), also known as Longxing Si. Its highlight is the gargantuan 69-ft (21-m) high bronze statue of Guanyin (the Goddess of Compassion) that stands in the Dabei Ge (Pavilion of Great Mercy). Fashioned over 1,000 years ago during the Song dynasty, the multi-armed statue is a riveting sight. Visitors can climb the gallery surrounding the statue for a closer look.
West of Dafo Si, the 135 ft (41 m) Lingxiao Ta (Lingxing Pagoda) in Tianning Si is a restored Tang dynasty structure built from wood and brick, while Kaiyuan Si’s Tang-dynasty pagoda rises up just off Yanzhao Dajie, Zhengding’s main street. Also situated here is China’s sole surviving Tang dynasty Bell Tower (Zhong Lou). Dotted around Zhengding are several temples and pagodas, including the Confucian Temple, Chengling Ta (Chengling Pagoda) at Linji Si, and the Hua Ta (Hua Pagoda) at Guanghui Si, with its many intriguing motifs that represent the Buddhas, elephants, and whales.
(Hanging Palace), Cangyang Shan
About 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Shijiazhuang, near Zhaoxian town, the 1,400-year old Zhaozhou Bridge (Zhaozhou Qiao) is a graceful feat of engineering. Built over ten years by the mason Li Chun and completed in AD 605, the 167-ft (51-m) long bridge satisfied several requirements. The gentle bow had to be level enough to convey imperial soldiers, yet high enough to evade flood waters, while relying on the soft riverbanks for support. The main arch (forming an arc rather than a semicircle) is an effortless span of 28 stone blocks. Supported on each end of the arch are two smaller ones that are designed to lighten the structure of the bridge and allow the passage of flood waters.
About 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Shijiazhuang is a surprising group of monasteries and pagodas tucked away among the cypresses and sheer drops of Cangyan Shan (Cangyan Mountains). The Cangyan Shan Si also known as the Hanging Palace, situated hundreds of steps up the mountainside, dates from the Sui dynasty. One hall, the Qiao Lou, is spectacularly slung between two cliffs, suspended on a bridge over the void. In the valleys and on the slopes beyond, the trail continues to explore the dramatic landscape, passing several shrines.
- 8am–5pm daily
- from Shijiazhuang