Most Important Temples to Visit in China (IV): Labrang Monastery

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Most Important Temples to Visit in China (IV): Labrang Monastery

Most Important Temples to visit in China: Labrang Monastery

 

The largest Tibetan lamasery outside of Tibet proper, Labrang Monastery is also the most important in Amdo (northern Tibet). Founded in 1709, it is renowned as both an important pilgrimage site and a monastic university. In total, the monastery is comprised of 18 main halls, six colleges, dormitories and even a printing press; it was once home to several thousand monks, though today the number is believed to be closer to 1,000. 

 

Walking the nearly two-mile (3km) pilgrimage circuit (kora) and spinning the countless prayer wheels along the way together with sweet old grandmothers, rough-looking nomads and monks in fuchsia-colored robes is an experience you won't soon forget. Some buildings are open to visit, but for access to most, you'll need to join a tour. 

 

Labrang is located in the town of Xiahe, which has always been a cultural crossroads. Even today, the area is a mix of Tibetans, Chinese and Hui (Chinese Muslims). 

 

A popular half-day trip from Xiahe is to the Ganjia Grasslands, where there are grazing yaks, a few villages, and two monasteries. 

 

Most Important Temples to visit in China: Labrang Monastery – Headaches

 

Unfortunately, Xiahe is not always open to foreign travelers; you should check up on the current situation before you go. Chances are, if there is unrest elsewhere in Tibet or a major political anniversary of some sort, it will be closed.

 

Most Important Temples to visit in China: Labrang MonasteryHow do I get here?

 

Buses run between Xiahe and Lanzhou (the capital of Gansu province) throughout the day. Depending on whether or not the bus is full, it can take anywhere from 4.5 to six hours. There is an onward connection to the town of Langmusi on the Sichuan border.

 

Most Important Temples to Visit in China (V)

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Le Shan

 

Le Shan is the home of the world's largest Buddha, an incredible 233 feet (71m) high. Carved out of a cliff at the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers, the statue depicts a seated Maitreya (future) Buddha; It was started by the monk Haitang in 713. 

 

Haitang began the project to subdue the currents where the rivers met and reputedly gouged out one (or both) of his eyes in order to convince donors of his sincerity. The project was eventually finished in 803, after Haitang's death. 

 

You can also visit Wuyou Temple and an archeology museum here.

 

Buses run to Le Shan from Chengdu (two hours) and Emei Shan (one hour).

 

 

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Shuanglin Temple

 

A short bike ride (4.3 miles / 7km) away from Pingyao is this temple, most notable for its Song and Yuan dynasty statuary. In addition to all the bodhisattvas, arhats and guardians, there are also unusual statues here depicting common worshippers. 

 

The temple was originally founded in the 6th century; most of the buildings now date from the 16th century or later.

Best Cities to Visit in China (X): Xi’an

Best Cities to Visit in China: Xi'an

 

Xi'an is China's Rome, an ancient city where the empire was originally founded and which ruled over two separate golden ages in Chinese history. 

 

Established in 200 BCE as Chang'an (Eternal Peace), the city served as the capital of the Middle Kingdom for over a millennia and was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. At its height during the Tang dynasty (618–907), it was the largest city in the world with one of the most diverse populations, attracting traders, religious missionaries, musicians, craftsmen and thinkers from across Central Asia, India and beyond. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Xi'an

 

What's here? There is little that remains of this extraordinary era above ground, but the imperial tombs outside the city have yielded some extraordinary finds, the most famous of which is the Terracotta Army. Equally intriguing is the little-known tomb of Emperor Jing, who ruled soon after and yet left an entirely different legacy. 

 

Wider ranges of artifacts are on display in the provincial and city museums, but if you prefer activities, there's nothing like a bike ride around the massive city wall. Stroll through the old Muslim Quarter for a meal, some souvenir shopping, and a visit to China's oldest mosque.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Xi'an

 

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Best Cities to Visit in China (IX): Suzhou

Best Cities to Visit in China: Suzhou

 

"The city is very great, as large as 60 square miles. It contains merchants of great wealth and an incalculable number of people. Indeed, if the men of this city and of the rest of the country had the spirit of soldiers they would conquer the world; but they are not soldiers at all, only accomplished traders and most skilled craftsmen. There are also in this city many great philosophers and others who do not appear to work." – Marco Polo, "On the Noble City of Soochow"

 

One of China's most famous and prosperous cities throughout the centuries, Suzhou is above all famous for two things: silk and gardens. The nearby Grand Canal, completed in 609 CE, facilitated trade with north China, helping to bring in wealth, craftsmen, merchants and increasing numbers of officials as Suzhou became one of the Middle Kingdom's most important centers of commerce and shipping. 

 

To be sure, this is no "Venice of the East" – much of the city's postcard charm has eroded with development – but nevertheless, an effort has been made to restore certain important cultural sites and develop others. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Suzhou

 

What's Here?

Suzhou's greatest legacy is its private gardens, many of which are centuries old. These gardens were attached to the residences of wealthy merchants or officials and offer insight not just into landscape design but Chinese aesthetics, architecture and philosophy as a whole. There were once as many as 200 gardens here, but now only about 16 are open to the public. Since most are relatively small, they tend to get crowded very fast – start your visits at 7:30am. 

 

The most famous gardens include: the Master of Nets (the smallest and most exquisite), the Humble Administrator's Garden (the largest and most impressive), the Pavilion of the Waves (featured briefly in Shen Fu's Six Records of a Floating Life), the Lions' Grove (built by a Buddhist monk), and the charming Garden to Linger In.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Suzhou

 

After the gardens, the next big sight is the striking Suzhou Museum, designed by native son I. M. Pei. The museum has a large and diverse collection, ranging from local artifacts and textiles to Chinese paintings and porcelain, a reproduction of a Ming dynasty scholar's study and temporary modern art exhibits. 

 

Another popular visit is the Silk Museum, which introduces the ancient textile industry that made the city famous. A few other scattered temples and opera and storytelling museums ensure that you will have plenty to keep you busy over a two-day visit.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China (VIII): Shanghai

Best Cities to Visit in China: Shanghai

 

"No other city fell to communism in so feverish a whirl of pleasure, dissoluteness, rapacity, and squalor…those who witnessed it will almost certainly never see its like again." – Pan Ling, In Search of Old Shanghai

 

If Beijing pulls the country's strings, Shanghai is surely the locomotive, propelling the country ahead with its financial clout and designer lifestyle. Back when the rest of the China was still regarding the outside world with a mix of aloofness and distrust, Shanghai was already eagerly importing the foreign ideas and trends that would go on to shape the country in the 20th century. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Shanghai

 

Vestiges of the Shanghai myth – the one-time "Whore of the Orient" renowned for crime, decadence, and outright exploitation – still form some visitors' expectations, but if one thing has changed, it's that Shanghai today is much more interested in hard work than instant gratification. 

 

After you've peered into the infinite horizon of China's past in Beijing, it's time to visit Shanghai to get a genuine glimpse of what lies ahead.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Shanghai

 

What's here? Stroll the Bund, peer out at the world from the top of a skyscraper, wander the former French Concession for a round of shopping or visit the Old Town for more of the same. Wherever you go in Shanghai, eating is of utmost importance, but don't be surprised if you find yourself admiring art here as well – places like the Shanghai Museum are on a par with anything you'll see in Beijing.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Shanghai

 

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Best regards, Twisted Perfectionism

Best Cities to Visit in China: Kunming

 

The capital of Yunnan province, Kunming is often dubbed "the city of eternal spring". Sitting at an altitude of 6207 feet (1892m) and ideally situated between the jungles of Southeast Asia and the Tibetan Himalayas, it is an excellent base for those looking for a variety of adventure.

 

Up until Kublai Khan swept through the area in the 13th century, Kunming was for all intents and purposes beyond the reach of the Chinese empire, subject instead to the powerful kingdoms in Dali during the Tang and Song dynasties. Today home to 25 different ethnic groups, it remains a cultural crossroads and is considerably more relaxed than most other Chinese cities.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Kunming

 

What's here? Kunming isn't worth a huge amount of time, but there are a few places to visit in between onward connections. The Yunnan Provincial Museum has exhibitions related to Yunnan's extraordinary ethnic mosaic, while the Yuantong Temple is the city's oldest and largest Buddhist temple. Outside of town is the enormous Dian Lake, where you can hike and temple hop in the Western Hills (Xi Shan). Also near Kunming is the Bamboo Temple, filled with 500 extraordinary Buddhist sculptures. 

 

Don't miss out on the cuisine here – the most famous dish is "across-the-bridge noodles," a type of rice-noodle dish made with chicken stock, eggs, chili and chicken and ham. Fresh fruit, mushrooms and chili sauce are in abundance. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Kunming

 

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Best Cities to Visit in China (VI): Hong Kong

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hong Kong

 

What Hong Kong lacks in size it makes up for with sheer sophistication. There's nowhere in China that comes close to matching the territory's cosmopolitan population or luxurious modernity. Incredibly dense and urban and yet with moments of unexpected natural beauty, the territory is a proudly unique space in the otherwise vast expanse of the PRC.

 

But the former British colony is part of China all the same, albeit with entirely different economic, legal and education systems. Because of this, visiting Hong Kong is bound to be a very different experience than visiting the mainland; indeed, for first timers it will probably be much easier to navigate.

 

But don't let this seeming familiarity fool you into thinking there's nothing left to discover here – Hong Kong still has plenty of stones waiting to be turned over. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hong Kong

 

What's here? Hong Kong is immediately associated with shopping; browse through the numerous shops in Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Causeway Bay. On the southeastern side of Hong Kong Island is Stanley Market, a good place to pick up tourist knick-knacks. In terms of activities, taking the tram up Victoria Peak and the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour are certainly on the must-do list.

 

Less known but equally appealing are the Museum of History, the various Buddhist and Taoist temples, and the hiking trails scattered across the islands and New Territories. And, of course, no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a taste of dim sum.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hong Kong

 

Practicalities: Unlike the PRC, most visitors will not need a visa for a short-term stay. Remember that Hong Kong has its own currency, the Hong Kong dollar.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hong Kong

 

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Most Important Temples to Visit in China (III): Lama Temple

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Lama Temple

 

Given today's frosty relations between Beijing and the 14th Dalai Lama, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism served as China's official state religion not just once, but twice. The first time was under Kublai Khan and the Mongols in the 13th century. While the legendary leader was an immediate convert, the rest of the Mongol people would only follow suite much later in the 16th century. 

 

The second time was under the Manchus of the Qing dynasty, who sponsored the development of the religion not because of any deep-seated beliefs, but rather, as one emperor put it, in order to "pacify the Mongols."

 

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Lama Temple

 

This explains the existence of the prominent Lama Temple (Yunhe Gong) in Beijing – and, what's more, its close ties to the royal family. The complex was first built in the early 18th century (Qing dynasty) when it was used as a residence for court eunuchs and the future Yongzheng emperor. In 1722, half of the complex was converted into a lamasery; the other half remained a court residence. The temple was granted imperial status after Yongzheng died in 1735. 

 

The five main halls here remain one of the most active places of worship in Beijing and contain some notable statuary inside, including a 60-foot-high representation of the Maitreya (Future) Buddha and some esoteric tantric figures. 

 

Yongzheng lived in the Hall of Everlasting Protection as a prince; his coffin was later placed here after death. 

 

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Lama Temple – How do I get there?

 

Address: 28 Yonghegong Avenue (雍和宮大街28号)

 

Metro: Lama Temple

 

Best Cities to Visit in China (V): Hangzhou

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

"Green mountains surround on all sides the still waters of the lake. Pavilions and towers in hues of gold and azure rise here and there. One would say a landscape composed by a painter. Only towards the east, where there are no hills, does the land open out, and there sparkle, like fishes' scales, the bright coloured tiles of a thousand roofs." – From Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276

 

Hangzhou tends to elicit hyperbole. Chinese writers on up to the Qianlong emperor have been praising the city's scenic spots for centuries now and as a result Hangzhou is one of the most popular attractions in the country. That said, the star attraction here, West Lake, really is lovely; if you have a taste for classical Chinese landscapes, you'll almost certainly want to spend a day or two here. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

Like nearby Suzhou, Hangzhou began to prosper enormously after it was linked to northern China via the Grand Canal in 609. In the Song dynasty, the Jurchen of Manchuria pushed the Chinese so far south that Hangzhou wound up as the country's capital in 1127 (at which point it was renamed Lin'an). 

 

Although China's military reach was at a low point, commerce, technology, and culture were thriving as never before and it's estimated that after Hangzhou became the capital it grew to become the world's largest city. This was a title it held for the next two centuries – even after Kublai Khan captured it in 1276.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

What's here? West Lake, for starters. It's perfect for strolling, biking, and even boating – none of its sights are absolute must-sees, but exploring the surroundings makes for a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, or even an entire day. There's a fantastic performance here in the evening.

 

A little over a mile west of the lake is the Zen Lingyin Temple, which was originally founded in the 4th century CE by the Indian monk Hui Li. It's most famous for the Buddhist carvings in the surrounding cliff sides, some of which are over 1000 years old. 

 

The rolling hills south of the lake (a great place to go for a bike ride) are carpeted with fields of tea. The China Tea Museum here is a must for tea aficionados – exhibits range from tea cultivation to tea ware, and you might get to observe a tea ceremony. The nearby Longjing village is the origin of China's famous Dragon Well (Longjing) green tea.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

If you're feeling more urban, head to Qinghefang Old Street, a good place to browse for souvenirs and snacks or visit a traditional medicine shop. 

 

Foodies will also want to spend some extra time in Hangzhou, as it has a distinctive regional cuisine: look for dishes such as Dongpo pork, Longjing shrimp, and beggar's chicken.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China (IV): Guilin

Best Cities to Visit in China: Guilin

 

Located in the southern province of Guangxi, Guilin is generally considered no more than a stopover on the way to more bucolic and scenic spots such as Yangshuo or the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. Despite the urban setting, however, it's still a fantastical place with its distinctive limestone hills emerging above city's otherwise faceless apartments blocks. 

 

Aside from its scenery, Guilin is most well known outside China through Amy Tan's description in The Joy Luck Club – during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), over one million refugees took shelter in the city and its caves; the Japanese finally took control of Guilin in 1944. Its name (Forest of Osmanthus) derives from the fragrant osmanthus trees that grow here. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Guilin

 

If you have some time to spend while waiting for onward transportation, visit one of several parks and peaks in the area, such as Seven Stars Park (七星公园), Elephant Trunk Hill (象鼻山), Solitary Beauty Peak (独秀峰), Wave Subduing Hill (伏波山), or Folded Brocade Hill (叠彩山). There are also a few caves located here, though they tend to be somewhat cheesy.

 

One of the most popular ways to head south to Yangshuo is via river cruise, but take note – the boats are large and generally crowed; you won't necessarily see the best of the river scenery this way. Some hostels and hotels in Yangshuo can arrange smaller boat trips ahead of time, which may be preferable.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Guilin

 

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