About China Including Hong Kong and Taiwan Travel
Beijing: This mammoth city has uncounted stories to tell. The mythical Forbidden City is the largest imperial palace complex in the world, and has 9,999 rooms – one room short of the number that ancient Chinese believed represented ‘Divine Perfection.’ For 500 years, the palace was the administrative center of the country and the residence of emperors and empresses of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Also built on an imposing scale, Tiananmen Square is said to be able to hold one million people. The Great Wall snakes through five provinces, a distance of 4,163 kilometers/2,587 miles. Beijing’s historic temples include the 16th-century Temple of Heaven, Temple of Confucius, Great Bell Temple, Niujie (Ox Street) Mosque – built in 996 CE – and Yonghe Monastery. The Summer Palace is a classic garden of serene beauty.
Dunhuang: Dunhuang sits west of Xian, a former dynastic capital of China. It skirts the Taklamakan Desert. Two branches of the famous Silk Road trade route met in the city for the final leg to China’s capital. Its fame stems from 492 Mogao Grottos. This phenomenal site features about 44,995 square kilometers/17,373 square miles of frescos, 2,415 painted statues, paintings, and about 50,000 Buddhist scriptures, textiles and historic documents. The murals and stucco sculptures were created over a span of nearly a thousand years.
Guilin: The city has long been renowned for its unique setting surrounded by hills. Two rivers, Li and Taohua, run through Guilin. A short cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo navigates through a countryside layered with folk tales and legends, past valleys, bamboo groves, limestone pinnacles and rock formations. Jingjiang Princes’ City is a famous walled city within Guilin, dating from the Ming Dynasty. It once served as an ‘inner city’ occupied by princes and their families. The area has fascinating formations such as Seven Star Cave, Ludi (Reed-Flute) Cave, Camel Mountain and Elephant Trunk Hill.
Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s story is unique in China. Under British control for more than 150 years, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 and remains one of two special administrative regions that operate under the “one country, two systems” policy. The Chinese government is responsible for the territory’s defense and foreign affairs, but Hong Kong maintains its own legal system, police force, currency, customs and immigration policies. Hong Kong emerged as a leading financial center in the late 20th century. The area, including the New Territories and Macau, is an intriguing destination. Victoria Peak, reached by a tram, offers panoramic views of the famous harbor. Ocean Park is one of top theme parks and aquariums in Southeast Asia. Aberdeen Harbor is home to hundreds of trawlers on which generations of fishermen and their families have lived. From the Hong Kong Disneyland to the traditional Po Lin Monastery, from Big Buddha to high-fashion shops, Hong Kong is a destination of delightful eccentricities.
Pingyao: Pingyao’s history dates back some 2,700 years, and is renowned for its ancient walled city. This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Shanxi Province dates back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1054-771 BCE). Strategically located on the old trade route between Beijing and Xi’an, Pingyao was particularly important in the medieval period for banking and money exchange. More than 300 sites in or near the city have ancient ruins, and the city has preserved Ming- and Qing-style residences that number close to 4,000. In 1986, China designated Pingyao as one of the Chinese Historic and Cultural Cities.
Shanghai: This modern international metropolis is never motionless as it strives to balance its rich heritage with its future dreams. The Bund on the waterfront is a mix of building styles from Art Deco to ultra-modern. The more than 600 boutiques and shops that line Nanjing Road draw buyers from around the globe. The Shanghai Museum houses art, pottery, paintings and calligraphies. Jade Buddha Temple features white jade Buddha statues imported from Burma in the 19th century. Jin Mao Tower in the financial district in Pudong is the world’s third tallest building.
Shanxi Province: In addition to being home to the city of Pingyao, the province is called the coal belt because of the number of coal mines located within this province. In Datong, Yungang Grottos encompass a series of 53 Chinese Buddhist temple grottos, dating from 460-494 CE. Taiyuan is known for its phenomenal hanging temples, about 1,400 years old, which seem to hang precariously from cliffs.
Silk Road: Extending some 6,500 kilometers/4,000 miles, the Silk Road was begun in the second century BCE. Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the growth of the civilizations of China, India, Persia and Arabia. Stations along its route became towns, then cities such as Kashgar, the last station in China. It was the center point for routes coming from China, departing south to India and west to Tashkent and Samarkand. Sights here include the Abakh Hoja Tomb, the Id Kah Mosque and the famous Sunday Bazaar, where thousands come every Sunday as they have for centuries to trade. Kucha or Kuche was an ancient Buddhist kingdom located on the branch of the Silk Road that ran along the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert. In Kucha, the city of Kuqa is the site of the Tang Dynasty Kezil Thousand Buddha Caves that are said to be the earliest major Buddhist cave complex in China. Kucha’s 112 surviving cave temples date from the fifth century to the 11th century, when they were abandoned. While this site is not open to the public, Big Five has arranged for private VIP access. Gaochang, the old Uyghur village of Tuyuk, was built in the first century. Once an important trading center, it was destroyed in wars during the 14th century. The ruins are 30 kilometers/19 miles southeast of modern Turpan. Other sights in the region include the red sandstone hills of the Flaming Mountains, the Bezeklik Buddhist Caves and the fortress town of Jiao He with its local bazaar. Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, is also home to the noted Mogao Grottos, dating from the fourth century. Big Five has also arranged for a special VIP visit to two of the caves that are closed to the general public.
Taiwan: Taiwan is surprisingly diverse and features a range of nature-based activities – mountain biking, climbing, rafting, scuba diving, sailing and more. Geothermal hot springs are spread across Taiwan. The country’s 14 aboriginal tribes include Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Saisiyat, Tsou, Kavalan, Truku, Yami and Sakizaya. Traditional societies have been greatly influenced by the predominant Chinese culture of the island. The country is home to more than 5,000 temples, ranging in size from single room shrines to vast multi-story complexes. They are not simply museums or relics of bygone era, but active places of worship and blend Buddhist and Taoist belief. Simpler Confucius temples are also found. Geographically separated from Mainland China, Taiwan is a rare tropical mountain-island, two thirds of which is covered with high mountain ranges. The most famous mountain, Ali Mountain, is the symbol of this charming island. The eastern mountains are heavily forested and home to a diverse range of wildlife. At 300 years old, Taipei is the capital city and has seen Chinese, Japanese and Western influences in its food, culture, folk arts and architecture. It has Minnan-style temples beautified with unique decorative arts, gourmet cafes and boutique centers, buzzing neighborhoods and neon nightlife. National Palace Museum has collections of cultural relics from the Palace Museum in Beijing, Shenyang Imperial Palace in Liaoning and Rehe Imperial Palace in Hebei. Majestic mountains, green forests, a beautiful seacoast, and splendid cultural and historical sights blend with modern Taiwan and its friendly people.
Water Towns of the Grand Canal: In this area, the fabled Yangtze River begins to spread out into tributaries. Jiangnan means “South of the Yangtze,” and usually refers to the area between Shanghai and its two neighboring provinces: Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The longest canal in the world today is China’s ancient Grand Canal. Begun in 605, it is 1,794 kilometers/1,115 miles long, and was originally built to carry the Emperor Yang Guang between Beijing and Hangzhou. Along the way, the ancient canal system intermingled with natural rivers and lakes along the way. Much of the canal is not functioning now, but the canal around Jiangnan is still heavily trafficked. A spate of ancient water towns are sprinkled along the way such as Zhouzhuang, Luzhi, and Tongli near Suzhou, and Xitang and Wuzhen near Hangzhou. Each town has a distinct personality that can be seen in its arched bridges, waterside teahouses, whitewashed Ming- and Qing-era homes, black-awning boats, and beautiful landscapes. These water towns recall images of lovely Chinese silk paintings.
Xian: Serving as the capital through 11 dynasties, Xian exemplifies the extraordinary continuity of Chinese civilization. The phenomenal Terra Cotta Warriors were discovered here. Life-size warriors that guarded the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (246-209 BCE). More than 7,000 soldiers, horses, chariots and weapons have been unearthed at this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banpo Village, the remains of which are also in Xian, was a settlement of the earliest inhabitants and is typical of the Neolithic Yangshao culture. At Banpo, archaeologists have recovered nearly 10,000 tools, 45 houses, 200 cellars, pottery kilns and burial sites.
Yangshuo, Longsheng, Kunming and Lijiang: This region is known for its extravagant scenery of jagged mountains, lovely rivers and charming towns. The Li River is one of the few places to see a traditional fishing method whereby fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in the rivers. Historically, cormorant fishing dates back to 960 CE. Yangshuo, a small town that can be explored on foot or by bicycle. The road to Longsheng passes by the dramatic ‘Dragon’s Backbone’ rice terraces, where farmers have grown rice the same way since the 13th century. Here, too, are several Chinese ethnic minorities such as Zhuang, Miao, Yao and Dong. Kunming is a political, economic and cultural center and its old city, once walled, coexists with modern commercial districts, universities and an astronomical observatory. About 121 kilometers/75 miles from Kunming is Yunnan Stone Forest, a fantasy forest of karst formations covering more than 2,985 hectares/115 square miles. More than 200 million years old, thousands of limestone rock peaks, pillars, and stalagmites rise abruptly out of the earth. The small but famous town of Lijiang is home to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a holy place for the Naxi people, which looks like a gigantic dragon clad in coat of white snow. The landscape includes Shanzidou, the main peak of the mountain, which is about 5,486 kilometers/18,000 feet high. Access to the mountain is by cable car lift to Dragon Spruce Meadow, halfway to the Glacier Peak. The view of the massif from the gardens at the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang is said to be one of China’s finest views. Lijiang is a well-preserved old city of ethnic minorities. Its history dates back more than 800 years and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Suggested China Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Beijing, China
Beijing is the nation’s capital and offers more treasures than most people have time to explore.
Days 2-3: Beijing
The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and the legendary Sacred Walk of Statues are just a part of the Beijing experience.
Day 4: Beijing / Xian
Xian is the gateway to the ancient Silk Road and was the ruling city for 11 dynasties.
Day 5: Xian
Xian is the site of the spectacular archaeological site: the famed Terracotta Army near Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum.
Day 6: Xian / Guilin / Yangshuo
Guilin is China’s great scenic city on the poetic Li River.
Day 7: Yangshuo
One of the delights of the area is a bamboo raft on the Li River where fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in the rivers.
Day 8: Yangshuo / Lonhsheng / Shanghai
Breathtaking scenery, centuries-old rice terraces and some of China’s ethnic minorities compose a unique story here.
Day 9: Shanghai
Modern Shanghai – a city of skyscrapers and high technology – is also home to its celebrated Art Deco waterfront, Yu Yuan Garden, Jade Buddha Temple and bustling Old Quarter.
Day 10: Shanghai / Suzhou / Shanghai
Suzhou, an ancient cultural city built 2,500 years ago in the Yangtze River Region, features grand canals and private gardens, which date from the Song Dynasty.
Day 11: Shanghai / Depart
Custom China Travel Options
Dunhuang (3 days)
Here, two branches of the famous Silk Road Trade Route converge. Mogao Grottos house 492 caves with more than 2,415 painted statues, paintings and more.
Hong Kong (3 days)
This is quintessential East meets West, where ancient monasteries mix with fashionable, exclusive boutiques and traditional street opera complements the classic Hong Kong ballet.
Lijiang (2 days)
This small town is known as the home to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a holy place for the Naxi people, and for its well-preserved, 800-year-old city.
Pingyao (2 days)
Ancient Pingyao’s history stretches back over some 2,700 years; and the city has preserved thousands of Ming- and Qing-style residences.
Shanxi Province (Coal Belt) (3 days)
One of the gems of this area are the amazing Yungang Grottos, a series of 53 Chinese Buddhist temple grottos, which date from 460-494 CE.
Silk Road (8 days)
The Silk Road conjures up images of camel caravans, nomads and traders; however, goods were not the only items for trade. This ancient route provided opportunities for the exchange of ideas, technologies, religions and philosophies.
South China (8 days)
Kunming, Lijiang and Yangshuo, like Guilin, are noted for striking scenery, including the serrated Yunnan Stone Forest, and some of the region’s fascinating ethnic Chinese minorities.
Taiwan (3 days)
This island is surprisingly diverse and contains a range of nature-based activities, 5,000 temples and a rich cultural that encompasses the history of 14 aboriginal tribes.
Water Towns of Grand Canal (4 days)
Jiangnan means “South of the Yangtze.” This area is home to charming old water towns with canals and arched bridges – a tranquil contrast to the not-too-distant, electric Shanghai.
Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$400 per person per day