China has fascinated the western world in a most compelling way since the time of Marco Polo.
The country’s immense size, almost unimaginable wealth and other worldly culture have woven an intoxicating and quite irresistible spell. As the world’s fourth largest country and its most populated nation, China offers a vast and spectacular range of natural and cultural landscapes as well as captivating ancient traditions.
Ever-growing cities, where futuristic skyscrapers brush shoulders with colonial architecture and seemingly ageless remnants, reflect the nation’s rapidly expanding economy but still hold Eastern charm for its discerning visitors.
Formally known as Peking, Beijing has served as China’s capital for more than 800 years and is the country’s political, economic and cultural centre. At the heart of Beijing lies the spectacular Imperial Palace. It was here that emperors issued decrees to kneeling dignitaries for hundreds of years. It is known as the ‘Forbidden City’ and contains a staggering 9,999 rooms adorned with typically Chinese paintings of dragons and phoenixes.
Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest plaza and final resting place of Chairman Mao, holds a staggering 600,000 people. The beautiful Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven are stunning in their simplicity and laden with symbolism.
Tour old Beijing’s historic quarters by cycle rickshaw and experience the ‘Hutongs’ (alleyways ) which consist of traditional one-storey houses built around historic courtyards. Still housing 20 per cent of Beijing’s residents, it is a fast-disappearing way of life in the modern city.
Beyond the city lies the snaking Great Wall of China; the largest structure ever built by man and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Shanghai is the essence of cosmopolitan China, from the elegant ‘Paris of the East’ to towering skyscrapers. China’s past, present, and future feature in one amazing metropolis and the nation’s largest city has a huge influence on the modern culture of China.
One can enjoy a leisurely walk through the former French Concession and admire the pre-war neo-classical mansions or browse for big-name brands along Nanjing Road. You can also visit the nearby village of Zhujajiao. With its numerous criss-crossed canals, it has survived the upheavals of the last century and is now the quintessential Chinese ‘water village’, full of traditional shop-houses, cobbled streets, and ancient arched bridges.
Stretching 3,964 miles from the Tibetan Plateau down to Shanghai where it flows into the East China Sea, the Yangtze River with its spectacular natural scenery has been used for water, irrigation, industry, and transportation, and is the inspiration for many poets and artists. One can experience this majestic river on a cruise which makes its way through the breath-taking three gorges – Quatang, Wu, and Xling.
The home of giant pandas and a plethora of natural riches, affluent Chengdu still retains much of its historic charm. Referred to as the “land of plenty”, its deep-rooted culture and contrasting landscapes prove just as much an attraction as Sichuan’s most famous inhabitant, the panda.
Spread across 200 acres, the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre has been beautifully landscaped with bamboo-shaded pathways leading to the large panda enclosures. It is the largest such centre in China and houses more than a hundred of these wonderfully photogenic creatures. Enjoy meeting these lovable animals up close and discover this laid-back city.
Longshen Rice Terraces
For hundreds of years the ethnic Yao tribes have carved thousands of rice terraces into the steep hills, covering every fold of the landscape. A visit to this man-made wonder will give you get a fascinating glimpse into the real China of yesteryear and incredible stunning views. As well as its amazing scenery, Longji is also the area to visit to experience China’s ethnic minorities’ culture. The Zhuang and the Yao nationalities live here, though mainly it is the Zhuang people.
Li River cruise
The world-famous Li River is surrounded by thousands of shimmering limestone peaks. Majestically rising from the flat rice paddies surrounding the river are thousands of conical-shaped limestone peaks and pinnacles covered in verdant tropical forests. There is something interesting around every bend - you will see farmers tending their fields, swaying bamboo groves, and water buffalo cooling off in the river.
Located in the far south west of China, bordering Burma, Laos, and Vietnam, Yunnan Province is one of China’s most diverse regions. The area boasts a rich diversity of people and landscapes, including snow-capped mountains, rice terraces, lakes, and forests. It contains the most minority groups in China, making it a truly fascinating and colourful place to visit. This is an ideal destination for anyone planning a second visit to China.
The Yuanyang Rice Terraces are recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. This watery expanse is a sight to behold as the setting sun turns the terraces into a kaleidoscope of colours.
The old town of Lijang is one of the best preserved in China. With its jumble of cobbled streets, wooden buildings, and rustic stone bridges, it will give you an authentic insight of a bygone era in China’s history.
China is home to one of the world’s great cuisines – with the ubiquitous Peking Duck from the north, chillies from the west, and fruit and carp from the sub-tropical climate of the south. Real Chinese food is both a revelation and a gourmet paradise. There are many holiday packages and tailormade tours available with current discounts for September, October, and November.
Why not check out an unforgettable trip to fascinating China with Grenham Travel. Call (090 ) 6492028 or visit Grenham Travel’s office at 1-3 Connaught Street, Athlone. Alternatively, email [email protected] or visit www.grenhamtravel.ie for more details.