If you're going to travel to China you might as well book a side trip to China's best loved former colony too. Hong Kong's a bit chalk and cheese to mainland China and it makes travel that much more interesting to compare the two. One of the things that might surprise you is how much green space there is in Hong Kong outside of the main city areas. So when you do take your China tour you might want to check out some of these awesome parks in Hong Kong:
Tai Mo Shan
Tai Mo Shan's one of the most beautiful places in China. Travel out to the highest mountain in Hong Kong and enjoy the atmosphere; it's best on cold days when the night skies are clear and you're far enough away from the bright lights of the city to see the stars. You can find Long Falls during your tour of the park the largest waterfall in this part of China too. Wear solid boots for walking though as there are quite a lot of snakes lurking underfoot. Don't forget to admire the butterflies if they're in season there are more than 100 species of them there.
Kam Shan Country Park
If you like monkeys then you may love China's Kam Shan Country Park; you certainly won't see more monkeys anywhere else on your vacation. But be warned as with monkeys everywhere the little blighters are accomplished thieves. Don't spoil your trip by losing your camera to one of the macaques. Most importantly, be aware that it is against the law to feed them and you won't be let off with a warning for being a tourist (as you perhaps would in Mainland China) if you get caught doing so.
Lantau South Country Park
While Lantau is justly famous for its beaches; there's another side to this little island and it's well worth making a trip to the country park. Climb the peak just before dawn to get one of the best sunrises in Hong Kong and enjoy the wild natural beauty that unfolds around you. Take a picnic for breakfast and then take a slow stroll back down the peak.
Let's be fair, green is nice and all but sometimes you want something just a touch more dramatic. High Island is one of the best collections of rock formations that you can see on your trip to China. It's almost like a giant reached out smashed the land into shape. You'll get some of the best photos of your China vacation at High Island.
Hong Kong Wetland Park
Set in the New Territories this park is simply fabulous and Hong Kong's tribute to eco-tourism and conservation principles. It's also one of the finest places to do a bit of bird watching so don't forget your binoculars when you visit. Check out the fish pond and enjoy some unusual tropical fish. If you have kids there's a lot of excellent educational material available to better understand the local wildlife too.
When you plan your China vacation make sure you include a trip from Mainland China to Hong Kong. You don't want to miss the chance to travel in China's most famous special administrative region. While you're there you might want to take a tour of China's most interesting markets and pick up some souvenirs from your visit:
It's not just for the ladies but the Ladies Market is perhaps China's most popular market and people regularly make a day trip from Mainland China to travel the streets which are packed with products of every description. Be warned much of the merchandise on show is fake and prices should reflect that. Don't get carried away and overpay for something that has been churned out of one of China's factories for 1/100th of the price of the original. Bargaining is very much expected and as with much of China – you can drive prices down to as low as 20-25% of the starting price if you keep your cool and enjoy the game.
Temple Street Night Market
This vacation favourite can be found in Kowloon near Jordan and Yau Ma Tei. It's the biggest and best flea market in the former British colony. Tour the stalls and enjoy the wonderful and eccentric mix of offerings. Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of market life and keep your eyes peeled for a genuine bargain. You should always take a little time to evaluate a product for authenticity and value before you commit to haggling – once you've started it's a little impolite to walk away unless the vendor won't budge reasonably on the price.
Fa Yuen Street Market
If you'd prefer to go somewhere less crowded and more in with the local crowd then you can't beat Fa Yuen. It's near the Mong Kok MTR Station and it's very similar to the ladies market. Space is, like everywhere in Hong Kong, at a premium here and it's popular to stack goods to the skies on long poles and then pull them down for interested customers – so don't forget to look up as well as at these stalls.
The Jade Market
Near Nathan Road you'll find China's busiest jade market. This green stone is sacred in China and makes for the perfect vacation souvenir. Don't spend too much unless you really know your jade well try and pick something in a reasonable price range that appeals to the eye instead.
Yuen Po Bird, Flower and Goldfish Market
This is China at its finest. Take a trip through this busy market selling live birds, beautiful flowers and yes… goldfish too. Get there early and enjoy the bird song as you gently wander the stalls. Please don't buy a bird or a fish though – you won't be allowed to take it on the plane when it's time to go home. We like the scents of the flower markets particularly and there's never a bad time to visit this fantastic market.
If you're going to include Hong Kong on your China vacation; it's a short side trip from Mainland China itself and you can travel to the Special Administrative Region easily and enjoy a completely different side of Chinese life. While China is up and coming; Hong Kong has already arrived. Here's what you might want to see during your China tour's time in Hong Kong:
The Avenue of Stars
OK, apart from Bruce Lee and maybe another name or two you won't recognize as many of China's stars as you might at its American equivalent but The Avenue of Stars is fantastic all the same. Travel at a slow walking pace down the waterfront from Tsim Sha Tsui and enjoy a celebration of China's rich movie heritage. The view over the water is pretty spectacular too. It's a great place to see early in the day on your tour in the summer particularly when the weather is just about perfect.
Ngong Ping 360
Then take a trip on China's safest cable car and travel over the Ngong Ping ecological park and on to Lantau Island. Spend some time checking out the Tian Tan Buddha Statue the world's biggest outdoor bronze statue. Then wander down to the Po Lin Monastery and see how Buddhism integrates with modern, vibrant Hong Kong's culture.
China and pirates may be synonymous today but the pirates here were of the “shiver me timbers” variety rather than the cheap copy DVD variety. Back in the 19th century the British fought and repulsed (hence the name) the pirate hordes. Now, it's a pretty and highly luxurious place with some seriously impressive homes. Wander down the beach and imagine what life was like 200 years ago and enjoy some of the best seafood in Hong Kong.
Lan Kwai Fong
China's not the best country for partying until dawn because of the insistence of nightclubs and bars on playing music overly loud for their sound systems capacity. Distortion and too much bass can drive even the heaviest party goer to bed. Lan Kwai Fong is different; it's much more Westernized in nature and you can always find people having a good time every single day of the week. There are some great restaurants in the area too. If you want to dance the night away on your vacation you can't miss Lan Kwai Fong.
If you'd prefer to shop until you drop – then head to Hollywood Road the most eclectic collection of shops selling curios and antiques in China. Take a tour of the streets and enjoy the crazy collection of lamps, Mao memorabilia and ancient Chinese furniture. When you're done with the shopping – why not visit the Man Mo Temple perhaps the only temple you'll ever see that is dedicated to literature (Man is the God of Literature) and umm...War (which is Mo's bag). Inhale the incense and enjoy a break from the thronging and crowded streets in peace.
Tibet's many people's dream vacation. Your tour of China can also take you on a side trip to Tibet if you want and there are many great reasons to travel to Tibet and the rooftop of the world. Here are 5 great reasons to visit Lhasa in Tibet.
The first thing you will notice on your Tibet tour is the pervasive spirituality of the nation in the form of Buddhism. One of the most sincere forms of worship in Tibet is to undertake a pilgrimage; monks travel the length and breadth of the country carrying out all sorts of onerous tasks to improve their karma. However, in Barkhor Street you can see not just monks but thousands of ordinary Tibetans conducting their own miniature pilgrimages. In addition the street is also home to one of the busiest and most exciting markets in the whole country. It's an incredible sight to behold.
The Treasure Park of the Summer Palace is simply stunning. The garden is nearly 400,000 square meters alone; that makes it the largest garden in the country by some measure. This Tibet vacation favourite was built in honour of the 7th Dalai Lama. There are several palaces on the site and you'll need to spend a good chunk of a day at Norbulingka to get the most form a trip round the grounds. This is one of the most stunning places in the whole of Tibet.
What better way to take a tour of Buddhism than by visiting a working monastery? It helps of course that Sera is one of the 3 most important monasteries in Tibet. It was built back in the days of the Ming Dynasty and is set in a sprawl of 28 acres of land. Please be respectful of the monks and Buddhists present and ladies please remember not to touch a monk. Wander the grounds and lose yourself in contemplation.
The Potala Palace is the most famous destination in Tibet apart from, perhaps, Mount Everest. This incredible place is carved into the side of the mountain and dominates the view below. You'll need to get up at the crack of dawn to get the most out of your trip to the Potala Palace; it gets very, very busy nearly every day and the queues for latecomers can be overwhelming. This is the center of Buddhist power in the nation.
Officially included in the UNESCO world heritage listing for the Potala Palace; Jokhang is one of the largest temples anywhere and takes up over 6 acres of space. It is sacred in Tibet as the final destination for many of the most arduous pilgrimages. The most striking feature of Jokhang is the gold adorned roof but there's plenty more to discover including some of the most interesting statues in the nation and a guide on how to cure smallpox (before vaccination) which makes for a fascinating viewing.
If you'd like to try a few drinks during your China vacation then you'll find plenty of choice. Wherever you travel in China you'll be able to grab a nice cold drink at the end of your day's tour. China has been producing alcohol for thousands of years now. As you'll discover during your China trip that has led to plenty of variety in drinks and here's what you might want to look out for:
If you do decide to go with Chinese liquor during your China trip; be warned it can leave you with an incredible hangover the next day. Maotai is the most famous brand of Baijiu that you'll encounter on your tour. It's a sorghum based spirit with a taste that is very much an acquired one. It's expected that you will drink it in small glasses and toast with the words “gan bei” (literally “finish glass”). Once you've toasted and clinked glasses you are then expected to down the whole glass in one gulp – before refilling it and starting again.
There's no set recipe in China for Yellow Wine but it's made using a combination of sugars, rice and sticky rice. You can find it everywhere on your vacation in the country but the best known rice wine is Shaoxing which hails from Zhejiang Province. They've been making Yellow Wine in China for more than 5 Millennia so it has some serious history. You're most likely to encounter Yellow Wine in cooking during your tour as it's nowhere near as popular as Maotai for drinking.
Fruit Based Wines
China's native reds still need a lot of work; the near ubiquitous Great Wall is served wherever you can travel in China and it's a little rough round the edges. However, grapes are not the only fruits used in Chinese wine making and you might find that you prefer something made from pears or lychees instead.
Alternative Medicine Style Alcohol
These tend to be based on a traditional Chinese alcoholic drink and then have other ingredients added after fermentation is complete. These are incredibly random and the added ingredients may or may not be the kind of things that you'd actually want to drink. You probably won't do yourself any harm drinking these alcoholic beverages but you should go easy if you're offered them. You will only normally be offered these at a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner's office anyway.
The Chinese have been making beer for over 3,000 years and you'll find that nearly every town and city makes at least one beer of its own. The one you're most likely to recognize is Tsing Tao (from the town of Qingdao) which is exported all over the world from China. However, you might want to sample the local brew in each place that you travel to as some of the local beers are very, very good. Others are not so good but given that a beer in China often costs $1-$2 you can always change your choice if it's not your ideal taste.
If you're going to travel to Tibet you may be wondering how you should prepare for your trip. As Tibet is the highest destination in the world; a vacation in Tibet presents some unique challenges that you are less likely to face in the rest of China. So to help you get ready to for your tour of Tibet we've got some simple advice.
Wrap Up Warm
For the best part of the year it's cold in Tibet and even in the peak season; it's not that warm. It will be a huge challenge to find clothes in Western larger sizes when you travel in China and in some cases (such as Size 12 feet) it may impossible to find clothing anywhere on your vacation. So pack wisely for Tibet; jackets, hats, jumpers, vests, etc. are all recommended.
And Prepare For the Sun...
Yes, it sounds silly but it's really not. Much of Tibet is covered in snow and when the sun shines even if it's not that warm – there is a real chance of getting sunburned or even sun stroke. So before your trip begins make sure you have high UV factor sunscreen (and pay attention to suitable protection for your lips too – you can get a combination wind and sun protection chap stick). Sunglasses should be high quality and also protect against UV; it is not enough to darken your eyes you must protect the retinas from UV damage. You don't want to come back from your Tibet tour with eye problems.
Altitude Sickness is a Possibility
The higher you are on earth; the more likely it is you will get altitude sickness. We take all possible measures to help you acclimatize to the height but there is still a possibility that you may find it difficult when you arrive. It is worth noting that your levels of fitness have no influence over altitude sickness and someone who runs marathons in their spare time is as likely to be affected as someone who does minimal exercise. If you do find yourself struggling for breath or feeling unwell during your Tibet tour please speak to the guide who will help you get oxygen treatment (this is available in most hotels as standard) and take any additional measures necessary. If the problem becomes particularly severe you may need to travel downhill until it alleviates.
You should bring any medication you need to Tibet on your vacation. Health services are improving in Tibet but are generally ultra-basic. You should check with your physician to ensure that any medication you bring with you is legal in China (some drugs and particularly anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication may require a doctor's certificate before you can bring them – and that certificate may need to be translated into Chinese). In general most visits to Tibet are problem free but you should ensure that you have an appropriate level of travel insurance in case there is an emergency particularly as you may need to be evacuated for decent treatment which is expensive.
You can't travel anywhere in China without encountering dragon imagery. It's a common question on a China vacation as to why the dragon appears everywhere. After all if your tour were in the United Kingdom rather than China; the dragon would be a symbol of evil (England's St.George is famous for his dragon slaying exploits after all). As you'll discover on your China trip this is not the case in China and the dragon is well regarded both as a force for good and justice as well as for its majesty and dignity.
Early Dragon Mythology in China
If you took a trip back into the dim and distant past in China; you would find that people had already decided that the dragon was a powerful and valuable ally. The dragon would travel through the skies of the nation, supposedly, and had the power to bless the people below. China was a warlike collection of states back then and military tours wreaked havoc upon many parts of the country. Then China was finally united; under the banner of the dragon.
There was no vacation time for the dragon back then – people decided it was responsible for the rains, the thunder, the stars and even rainbows. As a heavily agriculturally based society; China was dependent on the weather. The Chinese themselves would travel miles to worship the dragon in rituals designed to bring a sense of unity and to preserve the peace of the nation and the health and welfare of that year's harvest.
As the years went by, China gave the dragon even more power. It became the creature that could bring joy to the people on its trip through the sky or even bless the people below with miracles. Then royalty decided that they'd like a slice of the dragon's pie. The Chinese emperors began to compare themselves to dragons and it became an offense for the common man to think of himself as being touched by the dragon. The penalties for this crime were appallingly harsh and people would be executed for misspeaking about dragons.
In the times of the Han Dynasty about 2 centuries B.C. the dragon was represented as a ferocious and frightening creature. By the time the Tang Dynasty finally took centre stage; the dragon had been transformed into a beautiful and mythic creature. Finally, in the years around 1000 A.D. the dragon completed its transition into a delicate, graceful, creature.
The most important dragon of them all was the yellow dragon, which was intimately connected to the imperial line. However, dragons of all colours are depicted in Chinese art.
Today the dragon is commonly found at major celebrations in China. Dragon dancing is something that you will probably see during your tour of China and it's a wonderful energetic performance that includes some stunning acrobatics.
You may also be lucky enough to time your China vacation to catch the dragon boat racing in Hong Kong or on the mainland. This too is a tribute to China's best loved mythical creature.
As you'll probably know before you book your China tour; China is the world's most populous country. It's perfectly possible to take a vacation in China and travel widely and come to the conclusion that the country is ethnically homogenous. However, if your China trip takes you a little farther from the beaten path – you'll soon discover that it is not.
China – The Basics
If anyone tells you that they know how many people are in China; they're probably not being completely honest with themselves. In a country with an emerging infrastructure it can take a long time for census data to travel to Beijing and even then no-one is going to trip over themselves to process it. The best estimate is that there are 1.3 billion people in China (give or take a hundred million or so).
The majority of people you will meet on your vacation will be Han Chinese. Around 93-94% of Chinese people are from this group. The Han are descended, supposedly, from the Kings Yan Di and Huang Di who are reputed to have ruled China back in the 3rd millennium B.C.
Not all Han Chinese speak the same language; the majority language in the North (and where most of your tour will take place) is Mandarin (or Putonghua) though there are many dialects of Mandarin and they are not always mutually intelligible. However, if you head to Southern China or Hong Kong then the majority language is Cantonese which is very different from Mandarin and the spoken variants are not particularly compatible with each other. Shenzhen is the exception; most people who live in Shenzhen travel to work for most of the year from Northern China and Putonghua is more common than Cantonese in that city.
Beijing has been taking action to try and unify the language in the country; with varying degrees of success. The Beijing dialect of Putonghua is the one you are most likely to learn at a language school in China or on an audio learning program. Television and Radio programs are required to be broadcast in Mandarin; this has upset some Chinese speakers particularly those in the South. It makes sense for a nation to speak a single language but there are thousands of years of cultural tradition providing resistance to this change.
However, the Han Chinese are not the only peoples in China. In fact if you could take a tour of every nook and cranny in the country you would discover an additional 55 official ethnic groups and others that aren't included in the official count (due to population size mainly). Many of these groups don't speak Chinese as a first language at all. They have their own languages and to add to the complexity; some of the larger groups also have major dialect variations between each other too.
As such it is difficult to agree on a true ethnic identity for the Chinese; it's best to take each person as they are rather than get hung up on exactly how they define themselves.
China, as you'll soon see on a vacation there, is an incredibly lovely country. Your China tour can take you to some of the most beautiful places in China and you won't believe the contrast between the industrialization of the cities and the country itself. You'll travel to at least one of these places on your China trip and possibly more; it,s always up to you to choose what you want to see:
The Potala Palace, Tibet
Your China tour can always include a trip to Tibet. What makes Tibet such a magical experience is its isolation for the world nested within the Himalayas. Centuries of tradition and Buddhist spirituality are everywhere in Tibet but without a doubt; the most stunning sight in the country is The Potala Palace. It sits carved into the side of a mountain looking down on the city of Lhasa and was once home to the Dalai Lama. Today, Tibet is slowly merging with modern China but this spectacle will remain forever unspoiled in tribute to the nation.
The Li River, Guilin
There may be no more iconic vision of China than the Karst scenery on the Li River near Guilin. Spend some vacation time here and you'll be able to see why the Chinese print this place on the 20 RMB banknote. Wander the old and charming city of Guilin and the travel down river to Yangshuo. CNN Travel voted this stretch of the Li River one of the best 15 river spots in the world not just in China. The only thing to watch about this place, is that you won't want to leave when the time comes.
The Dragon Terraces, Longsheng
The man made and the natural combine in Longsheng to deliver one of China's most famous and best-loved vistas. The Dragon Terraces are rice fields that are gently cut into the surrounding hillside. It's best to make your trip here a walking one and enjoy the local people and their culture whilst breathing in the freshest air and marvelling at the location. The Dragon Terraces justly deserve their international reputation.
The Gardens of Suzhou, Suzhou
Suzhou's gardens are a UNESCO world heritage site and are the finest examples of Chinese horticulture in the world. The city itself is one of the most charming in China and offers a wonderful mix of classic Chinese architecture. If your vacation is to include Shanghai then a trip to Suzhou is an absolute must as it's not very far from China's biggest city.
The Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River
The majesty of the world's largest dam can't be understated. This masterpiece of engineering on Asia's longest river is simply incredible to behold. You'll take a Yangtze River Cruise all the way to the dam and see it in action as thousands of tons of water crash from the top to the bottom. It's one of China's modern wonders and a wonderful experience. You'll never forget the roar of the dam in contrast with the striking setting.
If you’ve booked a Yangtze River Cruise or if you're ready to see a Giant Panda on your China tour then there’s no doubt that your China vacation will be spent, at least in part, in Sichuan. This means that you can include some incredible places to visit on your China trip. Here’s what we recommend you might do while you travel this exquisite part of China:
You’ll have to travel a long way and make a detour from a standard China tour itinerary to visit China’s Jiuzhaigou Valley but it’s worth it. This may be the most spectacularly beautiful part of what is an incredibly beautiful country. It is in the Min Mountains as it abuts the Tibetan Plateau and covers nearly 200,000 acres.
It is both a UNESCO heritage site AND a World Biosphere Reserve. Less than 3,000 foreigners a year visit the site and yet, it remains one of the best places to meet Sichuan’s ethnic minorities and to appreciate the glacial valleys of the park.
Mount Emei’s also a bit farther out of the way than the average China vacation can stretch to but it is one of the four sacred mountains of Buddhism in China. It’s very much worth a trip to see the incredible monasteries on the mountain. This is where the Kung Fu (or Wu Shu if you prefer the Southern China term) originates from and the earliest references to Shaolin originate on Mount Emei.
It is also an incredibly attractive setting in its own right. The sunrise is famous for the different colours of light that diffract and paint the whole mountainside in glorious hues.
Leshan Giant Buddha
The Leshan Giant Buddha is carved from a cliff face near Mount Emei and is considered to be the largest pre-modern statue anywhere in the world. It took nearly 100 years for the Buddha to be carved from the rock back in the 8th and 9th centuries. It incorporates a technologically advanced drainage system which still operates perfectly today. Sadly, the Leshan Buddha is slowly being eroded by modern pollution. You might want to visit it sooner rather than later because of this.
Dujiangyan Irrigation System
Irrigation systems aren’t generally the most exciting of subjects. In fact, normally we’d walk a long way to avoid them, but Dujiangyan is different. It covers an area of over 5,000 square kilometres and was built 300 years B.C!
It is one of the greatest feats of engineering ever performed by a pre-industrial society and is still in wide use today. There are also two famous temples; the Two Kings Temple (Qing Dynasty) and the Dragon-Taming Temple (East Han Dynasty) that are immaculate examples of their period. In the case of the latter it is one of the oldest working temples in China and you won’t see anything older on your China vacation (it opened in 300 B.C. too!). The whole area is also very visually appealing.
There are things that everyone wants to see on their China vacation. Places like the Forbidden City or the Terracotta Warriors are the reason people book a China tour. Yet, there are other – less famous – places in China that you really should see on your trip. Before you travel to China; you might want to add these places to your itinerary:
Wangjiang Tower Park, Chengdu
Once you’ve taken your Yangtze River Cruise and popped in on the Giant Pandas; you might want to take a break from the city and head to the Wangjiang Tower Park on the banks of the Jinjiang River. Set in a beautiful and distinctly Chinese bamboo forest this lovely park offers pavilions, temples, bridges, towers and more. Don’t forget to climb the Chongli Tower which offers a spectacular view of the surrounding Chinese countryside.
Fengdu Ghost City, Chongqing
Travel in China often involves a few spiritual encounters but there are very few places you can see on your China tour that let you get up close and personal with spirits. The Fengdu Ghost City is where the souls of the dead are said to congregate as the Netherworld touches this world. It’s part park, part palace, and there are temples and bridges too. This is one of the nicest natural features of one of China’s largest cities.
The Jewish Refugees Museum, Shanghai
Your China vacation will take in plenty of museums but this nearly undiscovered gem in China’s largest city is very much worth a little side trip to see. It contains the site of one of the only synagogues in Shanghai and one of very few in China. It was built to commemorate the dead in the 2nd World War. Many people are unaware that Shanghai was one of the very few places to offer refuge to Jews fleeing the persecution of Hitler. The museum is a tribute from the 20,000 souls whose lives were saved by the Chinese offer of sanctuary.
Lantau Island, Hong Kong
You’d be forgiven for thinking Hong Kong was nothing but urban sprawl and busy streets but if you get outside of the city and onto the islands; you’ll discover a near unspoiled and very affordable tropical paradise. Lantau is a great place to soak up some rays and relax after braving one of the world’s busiest and most densely populated places. Grab a surfboard and catch some waves.
Taipa Village, Macau
If you’re going to include Macau on your China trip then you simple have to visit this old school mix of Chinese and Portugeuse cultures. There are temples and colonial buildings rubbing shoulders with authentically Chinese shops and galleries. It’s one of the best spots to grab a bite to eat in Macau due to the miraculously low pricing and high quality of food stuffs on offer. The best way to treat Taipa Village is just to get lost in it. Taxi fares to get back when you’re done are minimal and always charged on the meter.
If you're going on a China vacation and you're wondering what to do when your China tour reaches Sichuan; don't worry. There are very few places you can travel in China with as much to do and as many places to see. You could, if you were feeling very ambitious, see more UNESCO heritage sites in China on a trip to Sichuan than you could see in the whole of South East Asia. Here are some of the highlights:
The Dazu Rock Carvings
You might need to plan a trip to the Dazu Rock Carvings carefully; there are over 75 sites that make up the collection and there's a lot of travel required to get to all of them. This is China's answer to Bamiyan in Afghanistan. There are over 50,000 statues and 100,000 inscriptions to be found at Dazu.
The carvings began in the early 7th century, though the majority were made a couple of hundred years later during the reign Wui Junjing in Changzhou. It is one of the most spectacular Buddhist tributes in the world. Until 1980 no foreigners were allowed to visit Dazu at all so you might want to include them in your China vacation plans just because they've had relatively few visitors from the outside world. We say that they're among the most exciting carvings in China and you should go if you can.
Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area
You may need to plan a special section of your China tour to take in Huanglong; it's part of the Minshan mountain range and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The majority of the site lies on the path of an ancient mountain glacier (long since melted) which carved valleys and mountains into the terrain. It is home to some of the rarest species in all of China; the Giant Panda is unlikely to be seen on a trip to Huanglong but the Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey can be found with a little careful hunting.
Make sure to check out the endless series of pools that are formed of the purest turquoise water you have ever seen in your life.
China is home to many religions but two of them are uniquely Chinese. The first, Confucianism, has become engrained in the culture and has become the Chinese way of life and is no longer widely practiced as a religion. The second is Daoism, which has much in common with Buddhism but has long been preferred in China because it is a local creation.
Mount Qingcheng is one of the most important Daoist sites in the world not just China. If you travel to the mountain you can find a multitude of incredible Daoist temples. If that's no enough; you will also discover the old town of Tai An, which is rarely visited by Westerners, as well as some incredible ranges of waterfalls which break up the 36 peaks of the region. This is an awesome insight into Chinese culture and natural beauty.
Macau's becoming more and more popular for people taking a China vacation. The Portuguese influence on the colony makes the trip from China's mainland more than worthwhile. You need to ensure you have a multi-entry visa for China before you travel though because as a special administrative region – Macau has its own visas and entry system. When you've done taking a tour of the casinos and old town; you might want to try some of this special part of China's excellent restaurants.
Seng Cheong Restaurant (Taipa Village)
OK, it's not the prettiest of restaurants in the world with a very much basic interior. But you don't travel all the way to China just to admire the wallpaper in a restaurant; you take a vacation in China for the food. Seng Cheong excels there. The food is somewhat anglicised and more similar to the Chinese food that you eat at home; though it's definitely authentic as they've been in business for a long time. The house specialty is frogs' legs in various forms and you won't break the bank eating here either.
Wong Chi Kei (Senado Square)
Wong Chi Kei's a little bit more upmarket and has been in business since the dying days of the Second World War. It's very popular in the evenings and you may have to queue a little for a seat; we'd prefer to go for lunch when things are a little calmer. Their most famous dish is their Braised Egg Noodles with Shrimp Roe and it is genuinely excellent. It's also one of the best places to get dumplings on your China tour.
Tim's Kitchen (Hotel Lisboa)
Things are rather more expensive at Tim's Kitchen but the Michelin star they claim to is a good indicator of what you get for your money. If you want to eat local food on your China trip and you'd like it to be made of the finest ingredients possible; Tim's Kitchen is the place to do it. The Crystal King Prawns are particularly good.
Il Vida Rica (Mandarin Oriental)
The Mandarin Oriental in China is not a famous as its Bangkok equivalent but it's very much worth a trip to enjoy the incredible view over the South China Sea as it is for its immaculate hospitability. The food here is experimental fusion style stuff and the menu is constantly changing with the seasons to reflect the breadth of choice that fresh produce can provide.
IFT Educational Restaurant (Calina de Mong-Ha)
If you'd like to do some good on your China vacation; why not volunteer to be a guinea pig for the next generation of chefs? This spectacular restaurant offers some of the finest food in the nation at a very reasonable price. It's where they train the most promising of the country's chefs before they are fully qualified. Unusually for China, there's a strong emphasis on organic food here and if that's important to you IFT Educational Restaurant should definitely be on your agenda.
If you’re taking a China vacation and particularly if you’re including a Yangtze River Cruise on your China trip; then you’ll most likely be visiting Sichuan. If Chengdu or Chongqing is on your tour itinerary; then you’ll be visiting China’s largest and most exciting province as a guarantee. Here’s a very quick guide to Sichuan to help make your China travel even more enjoyable.
Sichuan lies to the West of China and borders Tibet. It’s a big favourite for China tours because of the huge variety of things to do and see and because it has some of the best food in China. It is the fourth most populous province in the nation with over 100 million people calling Sichuan home.
While the majority of people, like nearly everywhere you go on your China vacation, are Han Chinese there are many ethnic minorities living in the province and these draw from Tibetans, Eastern Lipo, Yi, Lisu and A-Hmao peoples being particularly well represented.
The most common language to be encountered in Sichuan is a dialect of Mandarin known as Sichuanese. Unfortunately, pronunciation and grammar and vocabulary are significantly different from the kind of Mandarin spoken in Beijing and even if you speak Chinese you may find that you struggle to make yourself understood. As always patience and smiles go a long way to making communication easier.
In the regions near the Tibet border you will also find that Tibetan languages are commonly spoken and they are quite a few of these. In addition if you want to take a trip towards the China-Burma border the Yi language is also spoken and it is much closer to Burmese than to Mandarin.
One thing you’ll want to do on your China travels is take in the local food and Sichuanese cookery is considered to be amongst the best in China. It is very peppery and it can take a little getting used to but don’t be afraid to ask them to tone down the spice if you can't handle it. The Chinese love to get their hospitality just right and won’t be put out by the request.
The geography of Sichuan is unusual; take a trip to the East of the province and you’ll find green, fertile land and an incredible amount of farming and rural life takes place here. Head West and you’ll see the Hengduan and Daxue mountains. These are of course much smaller than the Himalayan mountains that they lead to but they aren’t small compared to most mountains in the world and offer incredible opportunities for pictures of a side of China most people are completely unaware of.
The biggest exports of Sichuan are pork, silkworms, rare minerals, iron and natural gas. It is also a region undergoing deep industrialization and you might want to travel to China sooner rather than later if you want to enjoy the province as it once was. In the long run, there will be more factories in Sichuan than in the rest of the world combined.
Hong Kong's an addition to a China tour that you will never forget. It's the most luxurious destination on a China vacation and once you've taken a trip round the peculiar fusion of China and Britain that makes up this special administrative region; you'll be ready to travel to one of the best spas in China and be pampered until you are completely relaxed.
The Ritz Carlton Hotel Spa
This is the highest spa in China and in the world. It is 116 floors up from the ground and the view from the massage chair is unbeatable. Travel another couple of floors up after you've had your treatment and you can also squeeze China's highest bar into the trip. There's an emphasis on Western quality and cleanliness but with a heady mix of Eastern therapies thrown into the bargain. The sauna facility is excellent. As you'd expect – a day's pampering doesn't come cheap at the Ritz but it's worth every penny.
For a slight more affordable spa on your China vacation you might want to check out Spa L'Occitane. It's also a high-end luxury spa but without the hotel brand to support. You'll be treated very well as you take a tour of China's best massage therapies. The welcoming petit fours are a nice touch too. For the ladies there's a reinvigorating treatment that is said to take years off of you.
The Mandarin Spa
You're on vacation and sometimes you just want to go places that say “authentic China”. Look no farther than The Mandarin Spa. This is modelled on pre-2nd World War Shanghai and sits in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The emphasis is on Eastern therapies (though not just from China) and you can choose from a very large menu of choices. The steam room is exceptional. It's also worth noting that the best barber money can buy is probably the one working in the Mandarin.
Another more reasonably priced offering is the Hermitage Spa. You won't be disappointed if you take a trip here to chill out. The place is superlatively decorated with its own traditional Chinese style. The signature facial range is reputed to be one of the best in the city. It's a lovely place to spend some time and our preference is for a foot massage; that's something done best in China compared to anywhere else in the region.
If you've never spent the night in a spa; then this might be the place to do it. It's very much a tradition in China for you to just fall asleep following your massage and for them to leave you undisturbed until such a time as you awaken. This luxury spa in the Langham Palace hotel is perfectly appointed for you to do just that. There are over 60 therapies to choose from on their menu; so it might take a while to decide what you want but rest assured that you won't be disappointed whatever you choose.