China is much more than the Great Wall or cheap clothes that are sold around the world. In my stories I will share my experiences and knowledge of this unique land as I have lived there and plan to go there as much as I can during my lifetime. I consider it as my second home. China cannot be described in one word, it is simply one big whole, an eternity that is composed of two sides: one that always moves and changes very fast, and one that always remains unchanged. Learning and discovering China is a life-long journey.
A single life is not enough to visit its every corner and know everything about it. Coming to China as a tourist, you will learn something about it. Living there, you will learn much more. However, not many people a have chance to visit China. Today’s modern technology and the Internet provide a great opportunity to learn something about China without going there. Unfortunately mass media doesn’t speak about the about beautiful side of China, they speak about pollution and smog. But don’t believe everything they write. I want to give you a window into China, and I will give you a trip to China with words and photos. My stories will start in cities, since trips usually start in cities when you land at airports. You will meet several mostly modern Chinese cities, with large contrasts as you compare the appearance of modern neighborhoods with modern lifestyles with old city lifestyles, and all that in one city. You will read how easy it is to move from old, narrow streets to broad avenues lined with skyscrapers. Also you will meet the rich culture of the Chinese, their history, their varied cuisines, and the things that make them famous. After that we will continue to travel in time, and I will introduce you to rural areas in which time has stopped – villages with faded facades, unchanged lifestyles, and old traditions. From the villages you will go to the Venices of China and discover their rich and important history, gardens, and architecture.
I am sure that after reading my series you will have a totally different opinion of China.
Large Cities of China
Beijing – city of contrasts
It has been the capital of China since the XIII century. Despite rapid development and the spread of modern urban realities, the historic areas are very well preserved.
What to visit?
Hutongs – the reality that dominates the scenes of old Beijing. Hutongs are so-called narrow alleys of old houses with inner courtyards that are typical of old Beijing, and the oldest of them date from the XVII century. The Hutong area isn’t small, so to see as much as possible it is best to take a rickshaw. The driver will take you through so many narrow streets that you may feel lost as all the streets are very similar. Hutongs are good places for meeting the local people who still lead the old Beijing lifestyle. Here you will see many cheerful old people eating noodles on the street, drinking beer together, and laughing loudly.
The Forbidden City – A must-see place – the imperial residence of Chinese emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties. As its name suggests, this large palace and the daily lives of its emperors were a mystery for more than five centuries as they were surrounded by high, red walls, and ordinary Chinese were not allowed to enter. Today you have a chance to see this magnificent complex of buildings, and the large spaces that will make you feel small.
The Temple of Heaven – The largest temple in Beijing, dating from the XV century. In the past it was the place to pray and worship heaven as a part of Chinese spirituality. You will see here a pagoda (stupa) which seems actually to touch the sky, and a marble altar in which every sound echoes.
Beihai Park – The oldest park in Beijing dates from the XII century. Actually it is my favorite park in Beijing. It has a large lake, and in the middle of lake there is an island with a Buddhist Temple and a white pagoda. This is a perfect place to escape the noise of the city and relax in a large pavilion, among trees and next to a lake. It is also a good place for meeting friendly locals who usually practice tai chi here. Don’t miss Beihai Park.
Jingshan Park – An interesting park with a hill in the middle. Climb up the hill and take in a breathtaking view over both old and new Beijing. Just one look will show that Beijing is a city of two worlds.
Sanlitun – A large area composed of tall skyscrapers, pedestrian areas, and shopping centers. At Sanlitun you will feel the modern city atmosphere – people in a hurry, the sound of cars, and you will see many well-dressed young people who will make you feel that you are in some other world compared to the hutongs. If you like shopping, Sanlitun is the perfect place for you. You can find here all the world-famous brands such as Addidas, H&M, Nike, Gucci, Armani…
Wangfujing Street – It is largest pedestrian street in Beijing, also famous for shopping as well. Here you can find the largest Apple store in the world, which has three floors. In Wangfujing Street there are juice stands that offer fresh juice from more than 20 different fruits. Just imagine, I tried there fresh, natural watermelon juice with pieces of watermelon inside the glass.
The Place – A large square with fountains and coffee-shops. The main attraction here is the largest LCD screen in the world. The screen is 150 meters long and shows videos in 3D around the clock.
What to eat?
Beijing is a paradise for lovers of Chinese food. I would specially recommend trying bao zi – a kind of dumpling filled with meat and vegetables. It is perfect. Also you cannot overlook Beijing duck – a famous Beijing specialty. I warmly recommend visiting the Xiao Wang Fu restaurant, located in Ritan Park. You will enjoy whatever you order there.
Beijing is the top city in China when it comes to nightlife. It is a city that never sleeps. The famous Sanlitun area offers amazing nightlife thanks to its large choice of pubs and clubs. Don’t skip the opportunity to experience a nightlife scene full of young people, beer, good music, and a very friendly and lively atmosphere. I recommend First Floor Bar. Don’t skip the shore of Schichihai Lake, either – it is so romantic when you sit next to the lake to watch the moon and the red lanterns that are hanging from the eaves of the tea houses.
- The Great Wall is located just 80km from the city center, so don’t forget to visit it.
- If you like hiking you can visit Xiangshan hill, located only 20km from Beijing.
Shanghai – The New York of China
This city can be literally called the New York of China. It is the financial center of the country and its most modern city. It is a symbol of the new China and the economic boom that occurred in the last few decades.
What to do?
Visit – The Bund, a large square on the shore that provides a view of the whole Pudong business area and its skyscrapers. It has three times more skyscrapers than New York, many of them housing multi-national companies. Pay particular attention to the city’s tallest skyscraper, the uniquely-designed Shanghai Tower, which is 632m tall and is the second tallest building in world after Burj Al Khalifa (828m tall) in Dubai. The Bund mostly gives you an overview of a new, modern, strong, and prosperous China. Just take a look at the photos that compare the view Shanghai’s Pudong district and Bund Square in 1990 with the same scene in 2015 and you will see drastic change.
Boat tour – Take a boat tour. Boat cruising lasts for one hour and will provide you a view of both sides of the city. You will see both modern skyscrapers and also the European-style buildings that were built by British and French colonial authorities at the beginning of the XX century.
Climb up – Pearl Tower. It is 468m tall and not a place for those who are afraid of heights. On the top there is a glass floor, and when you are there it seems that you are standing on air above the whole city.
Walk – Nanjing Road, one of the main streets in Shanghai, where you will feel a real cosmopolitan atmosphere, with new buildings, new cars, pedestrian areas, well dressed people … You will also see Shanghai’s hectic lifestyle here: you will see how most of the people on the street are hurrying somewhere – to the job, the school, to the subway. Even during lunch break they do not really have a rest, they finish the noonday meal as fast as possible and go back to the job.
Eat – Shanghai cuisine is mostly composed of seafood (squid and shrimp), which you should try. I recommend the Xiao Hei Hao Qing restaurant, which isn’t expensive but has good food.
In the evening. The best choice is to go to cozy cocktail bars with open balconies. Here you can enjoy calm atmosphere, amazing cocktails, and great views of shining skyscrapers in many different colors.
Where to sleep? Hao Du Hotel, Shijia Inn, Home Inn – reasonable prices and good locations.
Chengdu – a city of pandas, spicy food, and beautiful girls
Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan province. It has a history of more than 2000 years. But it is also the most developed city in Southwestern China. Chengdu is full of new buildings and new avenues that were built in the last 10 years.
The top four things that make Chengdu famous
Giant Pandas – Sichuan province is home to these cute, almost extinct creatures. In the suburbs of Chengdu there is a large Panda Base where specialists take care of them. Visitors are welcome, so you can see pandas almost in their natural habitat.
Jinli – a small historical area with narrow streets, surrounded by modern buildings and often called Chengdu in Chengdu. In this area you can find many souvenirs such as carved figurines, jade bracelets and necklaces, paintings, and teapots. Jinli offers a few temples as well. In the evening you can enjoy wonderful, pure tea in local teahouses.
Spicy Food – Sichuanese food is famous for being extremely spicy as the Sichuanese combine almost any kind of meat such as pork, chicken, beef, lamb, and duck with large amounts of garlic and chili peppers. If you are a great fan of spicy food, Chengdu will be a paradise for you; but if you are not sure, don’t risk trying it as Sichuanese food really burns you. I call it “dare to try”. The best option for Sichuanese food is any restaurant in Jinli and also street food in the Yangxi line.
Beautiful Girls – Tastes differ but Chinese people consider Sichuanese girls as real beauties. Aside from their beauty they are famously warm-natured and hot-tempered. The Chinese sometimes speculate whether they are like that because of the spicy food or the quite hot temperatures in this province.