Beijing is a great city, famous Tiananmen Square is big enough to hold one million people, while the historic Forbidden City is home to thousands of imperial rooms and Beijing is still growing. The capital has witnessed the emergence of more and higher rising towers, new restaurants and see-and-be-seen nightclubs. But at the same time, the city has managed to retain its very individual charm. The small tea houses in the backyards, the traditional fabric shops, the old temples and the noisy street restaurants make this city special.
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Welcome to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, where giant pandas delight tourists at the Chengdu Breeding Research Base and artisans create porcelains at the People’s Garden. Though a modern city, life in Chengdu takes place on the back streets where crowds are waiting outside hot-pot restaurants and tea houses are abuzz with mahjong players and their noisy tile-shuffling game. This is a city that once inspired the great Tang dynasty poet Dufu, whose residence still stands and today it continues to celebrate one of its greatest military strategist Zhugeliang, at the famous Wuhou Shrine.
Chongqing is China’s fourth municipality after Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. It is a cultural and historical city of many unique traits. Apart from being blessed with water on three sides, its buildings have also been constructed against the mountains on the last side. This is generating different layers to the city appearance that has become hallmark of Chongqing, giving it the nickname “Mountain city”. And what would a Chinese city be without a famous dish? Chongqing’s is the numbingly spicy hotpot, a daredevil culinary adventure.
Unlike most of China, Guangzhou is not likely to elicit the level of curiosity that can be a bit overwhelming in other parts of the mainland. This is mainly because long before Marco Polo shipped up in the port of Canton (as it was then known during the 14th century), Guangzhou had a well-defined foreign quarter that has by and large remained a constant through the centuries. Spoiled by its lush Pearl Delta location, Cantonese cuisine offers a choice and variety of food that is a world away from its pale western imitations. With a vibrant, rocking nightlife and an array of shopping options around the city, it has everything you could desire for a few days stopover.
Guilin has been a favourite for a long time amongst travellers to China. This compact city is most famous for the green mountains, crystal clear waters, unique caves and the beautiful cliffs around it. The karst peaks and the surrounding area is world renowned for its beautiful scenery. Yet it is not only this stunning landscape that draws visitors to Guilin, its unique folk customs are also unforgettable experiences in themselves.
Like Yin and Yang, Hangzhou, the capital city of the Zhejiang Province, has two sides. This historic city is a showcase for traditional medicine, religion and art as well as an example of China’s rapid economic development. Combining idyllic natural beauty, a grand heritage through the ages and an air of affluence, Hangzhou is one of the country’s most pleasant cities to linger in.
The provincial capital of Jiangsu, Nanjing, has served as the country’s capital for six dynasties and has long occupied a prominent place in Chinese history and culture. The overwhelming neon lights along Qinhuai River, the abundance of greenery in Zhongshan Mountain Tourist Resort and the remnant architecture from the time of the fledgling republic are all facets of the richness of various stages in Nanjing’s development.
Ningbo is the birthplace of the Hemudu culture, which dates back over seven thousand years. This makes the city one of the oldest in China. Known in Mandarin as “Serene Waves”, it is located at the shores of Hangzhou Bay as a long-established international port and trading post. But with the Hangzhou Bridge, the longest trans-oceanic link in the world, Ningbo is now directly connected to Shanghai and already a commercial power in its own, it looks set to give her northern neighbour a run for its money.
If it was a picture, Qingdao would be painted with blue sea and azure sky, red-roofed residences and green trees. Qingdao means “Green Island” in Chinese. The name is a perfect match. This is possibly the most beautiful coastal city of China, famous for the comfortable weather, the large number of beaches and the delicious seafood. Being a former German concession has also provided it with attractive European style buildings and one of the best brews in Asia, the famous Qingdao Beer. It has long been a favourite escape for Chinese holidaymakers and after having its profile raised when hosting of the 29th Sailing Regatta during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it will undoubtedly come under the radar of foreign visitors as well.
Shanghai is the shiniest gem in modern China’s jewel box. It’s a hip, contemporary city that’s charging into the future with all the slick energy of its famous Maglev train. Yet if you veer away from the sleek highways and glitzy shopping streets you can still stumble upon a more traditional Shanghai, with all its character and aromas. In the tiny back streets, wet-market vendors peddle their wares - buckets of bright green vegetables, fish flapping in shallow plastic bowls and heaps of crayfish crawling over each other. In the parks at dawn, hordes of locals practice t’ai chi, sword movements and ballroom dancing.
Dynamic Shenzhen is an apt symbol of China’s impressive if sometimes uneven rush to embrace wealth. From humble village to bold metropolis in under 30 years, the city’s journey has been brash, dramatic and magnificent. With its natural blend of Chinese frontier spirit and frenetic entrepreneurialism, it has also become home to some of the most diverse and succulent cuisine you’ll find anywhere in China. And for the cash-strapped, the short hop across the border from Hong Kong at the Luohu crossing provides a gateway to China that is easily accessible and offers saving of at least 30% on international air taxes.
This is a city almost unique in China and has been recently voted the prettiest and cleanest city in the country. Xiamen is certainly amongst the most pleasant places in China, with a fine mix of city, cultural and beach attractions. Located on the south coast in Fujian Province, Xiamen is built on an island almost opposite Taiwan. With origins dating back 5,000 years, trade has been the lifeblood of Xiamen and the city has grown on the commerce from merchants, both Chinese and European, who used Xiamen as their “Gateway to China”.
Xi’an, once called Chang’an, the City of Long-lasting Peace, tops the list of Chinese six ancient cities. The world-renowned ancient Silk Road starts here. To stand on this land is to be on the very soil where merchants from empires long relegated to the annals of history once moved, and many facets of its past as a trading post still live on in various forms. The variety of folk handicrafts that greets the visitor is bewildering. Just outside the city is the steepest mountain in the world’, Hua Mountain. Here is where the pre-historic Lantian man was found, proving that human existence here dates back 500,000 years. With all this heritage behind it, Xi’an stands proud even in the face of its modernization, a spectacular testament of the magnificent legacy the Chinese are so proud of.