China’s Cultural Treasures

China’s Cultural Treasures

My fascination with China began when my daughter, Paige, moved to Beijing in 1996. She made this her home for the next 18 years! That is when it all began…

My first trip was in 1997–just a short stay, only experiencing Beijing and Hong Kong. This opened a desire to see more and more of this ancient county.  I have traveled from the amazing Cities of Beijing and Shanghai, to the remote villages in Yunnan Provence, to the ancient villages near the Huangshan Mountains, and to the Tibetan plateau.

The capital city of Beijing is a treasure of spectacular monuments, including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. The Forbidden City, with its 8,886 bays of rooms not including the antechambers, is so vast it can confuse any visitor. When traveling from Beijing to the Great Wall, it is so important to travel out to an area less visited. Jinshanling is my favorite part of the Great Wall. Though the ride out is 2 hours, it is so worth the time.  There are few visitors, and it has views that are amazing. Once there you can hike between Jinshanling and Simatai. The distance between Jinshanling  and Simatia is only 6 miles, but the walk can take up to 4 hours. This is not for the faint of heart, as sections of this part of the wall can be very steep.

Left: Pearl Tower in Shanghai. Right: Somewhere in China– yes, they still use these!

Shanghai is a city of the future. Each time I have visited (eight times so far!)  I am still amazed. The view of the Bund, from the Park Hyatt is one of the most incredible I have ever seen. Looking across the Huangpu River from Pudong to the neo classical building, brings you back to a time long gone by. Shanghai has a rich history, and is creating more and more as each year goes by.

Along with the modern architecture of today’s Shanghai, you can also experience “old Shanghai.”  One way is to travel in the side car of a vintage motor cycle. There are still alleyways of old Shanghai, where people live their lives as they did for many, many years. As you travel these alleyways you will see noodle vendors, chickens cooking on open air grills, women washing clothing in communal sinks, and life going on…

Zhongdian, now called Shangri-La.

Rural China is a must on any China journey. You haven’t truly experienced the country until you get away from the major cities. Yunnan Provence, with Dali, Erhai Lake, Lijiang, Stone Drum Town, Zhongdian (now renamed Shangri La), and so many more. Yunnan is the area of the Minority Tribes of China. Jade Snow Mountain towers over Lijiang at 18,000 ft. and is snow-covered much of the year. It watches down on the Naxi Peoples, one of these tribes. Old- town Lijiang with its 800 years of history is fun to wander, see the women dressed in the traditional costumes and at times you may catch a glimpse of them singing and  dancing. Lijiang has been named a UNESCO World Heritage sight, and that has brought in many tourists. If you walk the streets early in the morning you will get a feeling of time gone by.

Tibetan merchants, Zhongdian

Zhongdian on the Tibetan plateau is as close to Tibet as you can get in China, and if you drive from Lijiang to Zhongdian, it will be a journey not forgotten. You will travel on a rural road, passing the first turn on the Yangtze River, and the gorges, through villages like Stone Drum Town and other small villages. En route you may stop for your first Tibetan meal, which will always include Yak butter tea – not my favorite! You’ll see the black-hatted women riding their horses across the fields to their villages, living just as they have for many, many years.

A few more travel tips for China:

  • If you want luxury, you can choose to stay at the Banyan Tree, built from actual Tibetan homes. The setting is calming and beautiful, looking over fields with water buffalo wandering along.
  • While you are in Shangri La, visit the Monastery of Songzanlin, a 300-year-old complex situated about 1 hour from town.  This is a magical site, and though not a Palace in Tibet, is worthy of a visit.
  • If you arrive in mid-June, although the weather can be hot, you will be able to experience the Horse Festival, with singing, dancing and of course horse racing.
  • China has different climates in the various regions, but is normally not visited much in the winter. Autumn, and spring are the favorite times of the year to experience this vibrant nation.

This is my China in a nutshell! When you are thinking about travel, do place China at the top of your list.

By Karin Hansen