Best Cities to Visit in China (III): Datong

Tag: China

Best Cities to Visit in China (III): Datong

Best Cities to Visit in China: Datong


A modern-day coal-mining town, Datong may not be the prettiest place you'll ever see, but its strategic importance over the centuries has left behind some major sights in the surrounding area, including the sublime Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Monastery. 


Near China's northern frontier, Datong has long been a frontier town just inside the sweep of the Great Wall (which even doubled back in some centuries to protect southern and western access as well). As such, invaders from the north have occasionally moved in following an imperial collapse and made it their own. 


Best Cities to Visit in China: Datong


The most famous examples of this were the Tuoba, who arrived in the 4th century CE and ruled over the Northern Wei dynasty, and the Khitan, who arrived in 905 CE and ruled over the Liao dynasty (907 to 1125). 


The Khitan were a continuous threat to China's borders, and the Chinese finally conspired to form an alliance with another northern nation, the Jin, to drive them out once and for all. Once this happened, however, the Jin proceeded to drive out the Chinese as well and wound up ruling over an even larger part of north China than the Khitan ever had.


Best Cities to Visit in China: Datong


What's here? There's not much to see in town except for a gorgeous Nine Dragon Screen – all that remains of a Ming dynasty palace – and the two main temples: the Huayan Temple, which was built by the Khitan, and the smaller Shanhua Temple, which was renovated under the Jin. Most sightseeing is outside of town. Talk to CITS in the train station to arrange guided tours of the surrounding sights in English.


Best Cities to Visit in China – Datong


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Best Cities to Visit in China (II): Chengdu

Best Cities to Visit in China: Chengdu


If you could sum up Chengdu in three words, it would be tea, pandas and cuisine. The capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu is the most important city in western China and the obvious place from which to explore the surrounding mountains and wildlife reserves. The capital of the ancient kingdom of Shu, Chengdu also has some excellent museums.


Best Cities to Visit in China: Chengdu


What's here? Pandas are certainly Chengdu's biggest draw, and you can see them outside town in the Breeding Research Base. If you'd rather see them in their natural environment, visit the Bifengxia Panda Base, which is about two hours away. Note that the Wolong Panda Center was damaged in the 2008 earthquake and has not yet reopened.


The ancient kingdom of Shu is also a hallmark of Chengdu and there are two excellent archeological museums nearby: the Sanxingdui Museum north of the city, which contains gorgeous Bronze Age artifacts from the 13th century BCE, and the Jinsha Site Museum, which is located in Chengdu itself and contains artifacts that date from 1200–600 BCE.


Best Cities to Visit in China: Chengdu


Cuisine and tea: It's impossible to miss out on Sichuan (formerly spelled "Szechuan") cuisine, arguably China's most accessible cooking style. Foreign favorites like kungpao (gongbao) chicken and mapo tofu are only the tip of the iceberg – hotpot restaurants, dan dan mian (担担面; Sichuan noodles) and other street snacks (小吃) are also an excellent introduction to this incredibly rich (and spicy!) culinary tradition. 


The city is also known for its many teahouses; try out the most famous, Heming Teahouse, in People's Park, or the Shufeng Yayun Teahouse in Culture Park, which stages evening performances. For something a little more low key head to Wenshu Temple, which has an attached teahouse; outside the temple is a renovated old part of town, which is an enjoyable place to stroll. Another site worth visiting is the Taoist Green Ram Temple.


Best Cities to Visit in China: Chengdu


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Most Important Historic Sights in China (III)- Bund

Most Important Historic Sights in China: Bund


For foreigners arriving in Shanghai in the early 20th century, the first sight would have been the busy waterfront known as the Bund, where the city's main banks, hotels and trading houses were located. It was an impressive, if thoroughly un-Chinese, sight, but this was to be expected in a city such as Shanghai, which emerged as a foreign concession port after China's stinging defeat in the first Opium War (1839–42). 


While the concession ports were an affront to Chinese pride and traditional values, they nonetheless paved the way for important developments in the country's modernization process. If you were a young person looking for opportunity at the turn of the 20th century – whether in business, literature, technology or art – chances were that you'd end up in Shanghai at some point.


After the Communists took power, the Bund, with its obvious associations with unadulterated capitalism, went into deep freeze, only beginning to reemerge in the 1990s. Today, like in the past, it's often the first thing visitors to Shanghai see, though these days most have their view set on the massive skyscrapers on the other side of the Huangpu River.


Most Important Historic Sights in China: Bund – What’s here?


All of the Bund's original buildings still line today's promenade, including standouts like the Peace Hotel (1929), Bank of China (1941) and the Custom House (1925). With each passing year, another edifice is tastefully renovated as a lifestyle destination replete with many of China's most luxurious shops, restaurants and bars. The first to make the leap was 3 on the Bund. 


Most Important Historic Sights in China: Bund – Tip


Although you can pop into a few buildings during the day to see the interior, make sure to return at night, when both banks of the river are illuminated. Alternatively, take a river cruise from the docks south of the Bund for a deck-side view. 


Most Important Historic Sights in China: Bund – How to get there?


Metro: East Nanjing Rd


Most Important Historic Sights in China (II)

Most Important Historic Sights in China: Dunhuang


The ancient oasis town of Dunhuang lies near the spot where the Silk Road once frayed apart into a handful of different routes that skirted the foreboding Taklamakan Desert to the west. The remains of two Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) watchtowers – Jade Pass and South Pass – lie to the west, but it's the nearby megadunes and Mogao Caves that have made Dunhuang particularly famous. 


Dunhuang (Blazing Beacon) was originally founded in 117 BCE as a garrison town and a crucial node in a series of beacon towers that stretched along the Hexi Corridor and out into the desert. As the last major caravan stop before the massive Taklamakan, Dunhuang quickly became an important center of not only trade, but also the new Buddhist religion.


What's here? The sights are all out of town, but Dunhuang itself is a pleasant enough place to relax during the hottest moments of the day. After the Mogao Caves, the main sight is the sand dunes at Singing Sands Mountain and Crescent Moon Lake. Whether you want to arrange overnight camel rides out here (check with the cafés in town) or simply climb up along the continually shifting ridges and listen to the desert's silence, you won't be disappointed.


Most Important Historic Sights in China: Dunhuang – How do I get here?


A handful of trains are supposed to serve Dunhuang directly, but it's just as likely that you'll need to go through the main train station at Liuyuan, which is a good two hours away by bus. 


Dunhuang is connected to some other Silk Road towns by bus, but it can be a long haul.



Most Important Historic Sights in China: Xi'an City Walls


The largest surviving city walls in China, Xi’an’s fortifications date from the Ming dynasty and have a circumference of 8.5 miles (13.7km). They’re actually built atop the former Inner City Walls of Chang’an (the original capital of China), which should give you some idea as to the city’s massive expanse during its heyday in the Tang dynasty (618–907). The Outer City Walls enclosed an area seven times the size of the Inner City.


Enormously thick at the top (up to 45 feet or 14m across), not only can you stroll along the wall for a bird’s-eye view of the city, but you can even rent a bike and cycle the entire length.


Most Important Historic Sights in China (I)

Most Important Historic Sights in China: Nanjing Road


Formerly known as Nanking Road, this was the street that ushered in the era of modern consumerism in China, with its department stores, display windows, and mass-produced goods. Although it's often referred to as China's "number one shopping street," the truth is, that was back then, not now. Which isn't to say it isn't packed with shoppers – it's often a madhouse – it's just that the best shopping in the city these days is in the French Concession and its western extension, Xujiahui.


Most Important Historic Sights in China: Nanjing Road – What's here?


You come here mainly for the experience and the swirl of neon lights at night. It's partly pedestrianized and a handy way to get from the Bund to People's Square, so if you're going between the two you may as well walk it or hop on the mini train that shuttles along its upper half. 


If anyone invites you to a tea ceremony here, ignore them: it's a scam.


Metro: East Nanjing Road, People's Square



Most Important Historic Sights in China: Pingyao


One of the few walled towns in China left standing in its entirety, Pingyao is without a doubt a unique. Few places provide such insight into life during imperial times, from the Confucian Temple that served as a school to local government offices, tiny dilapidated shrines to ward off evil spirits and the luxurious traditional courtyard residences of local merchants. 


Surrounded by a huge wall upon which you can stroll – each watchtower has an inscribed excerpt from the Art of War – Pingyao fulfills many travelers' expectations of a trip to China. If you take the time to spend the night in a historic residence (try Jing's Residence or the Harmony Guesthouse), you probably won't mind that there are so many other visitors here besides you. 


Most Important Historic Sights in China: Pingyao – What's here?


Just outside of town are several possible daytrips, including Shuanglin Temple and the Wang Family Compound.


Most Important Temples to Visit in China (II)

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Hanging Monastery


Built into the side of a cliff nearly 250 feet (75m) above the ground, the Hanging Monastery has a spectacular setting that conjures up visions of esoteric monks who have cut all ties with the world, or perhaps a secret brotherhood of staff-wielding adepts who went into hiding.


The real story behind the temple's spectacular location, however, was the sporadic flooding of the nearby river (now dammed), which forced the monks to raise the buildings far off the valley floor, supported by long stilts propped up against the cliff face.


Although it's about halfway between Datong and Wutai Shan, there's no place to store luggage, so it's best visited as a day trip from Datong. You can also visit the nearby Wooden Pagoda at the same time, which was built in 1056 without a single nail and which has survived numerous earthquakes. Unfortunately, for the time being you can no longer climb the pagoda.



Most Important Temples to visit in China: Jade Buddha Temple


As far as Chinese temples go, this is a relative newcomer. It wasn't completed until the late 19th century, after five jade Buddhas were brought back from Burma by the monk Hui Gen, and it was later moved in the early 20th century.


Hui, originally from the sacred island of Putuoshan (off the coast south of Shanghai), had earlier gone on a pilgrimage, traveling from the two Buddhist mountains of Wutai Shan and Emei Shan to Tibet and then on to Burma. There, he met an overseas Chinese by the name of Chen Jun-Pu, who donated the statues. 


Today, the temple houses two of the original five jade Buddhas. After your visit, stop by the temple's vegetarian restaurant around the corner. 


Address: 170 Anyuan Rd (安远路170号)


Metro: Changshou Rd


Most Important Temples to Visit in China (I)- Confucius Temple

Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Confucius Temple


Although Confucianism served as the intellectual and moral backbone of China – indeed, much of East Asia – for over two millennia, you can't really call it a religion. Yet, despite its marked absence of otherworldly speculation, Confucian temples have always existed. 


The primary function of these temples was to pay homage to the spirit of Confucius and other great teachers in the tradition, a practice closely related to everyday ancestor worship. Although you'll sometimes come across statues of Confucius such as in Beijing, most places simply used plain spirit tablets (an upright wooden board with a name written on it) to represent those worshiped.


Most Important Temples to Visit in China: Confucius Temple


Fittingly, Confucian temples were almost always built within or next to a school; in some cases they even served as the school itself. Official rituals and sacrifices – usually conducted by the state (which was run by Confucian bureaucrats) – were also held at Confucian temples.


Beijing's Confucian Temple is the second largest in China and dates back to 1306. Like other Confucian temples, it's a pretty subdued place, with the swaying of old cypress trees in the breeze providing the most action. To the rear of the temple are stelae (stone tablets) upon which are engraved the 13 Confucian classics and the names of successful imperial examination candidates.


West of the temple is the Imperial Academy (Guozijian), which was the top school in imperial China. 


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


Address: 13 Guozijian Jie (国子监街13号)


Metro: Lama Temple


Best Cities to Visit in China (I)- Beijing

Best Cities to Visit in China – Beijing


"Urbanity, courtesy, a manner at once smiling and restrained; a preference for the pleasant tastes, sounds and colors that money could buy rather than for wealth itself; an instinctive appreciation of beauty in art and nature–all these were commonly found in every level of society [of Beijing]." – John Blofeld, City of Lingering Splendour


Center of the known universe, Beijing elicits a range of emotions that run the spectrum from uncontainable excitement to moments of utter bafflement. It's been capital of the country since Kublai Khan set up shop in 1271 and the echoes of the imperial dynasties that followed still resonate in peerless sights such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. 


Best Cities to Visit in China – Beijing


Over the centuries Beijing has always attracted China's brightest minds and best talent, and even if the capital today is a thoroughly modern place, regardless of your interest – art, cuisine, politics, history, well being, or language – it still holds the keys that will get you started on your journey.


You could fill a library with books about Beijing, so we will simply say this: all roads in China eventually lead here.


Best Cities to Visit in China – Beijing


What's here? Wander through the Forbidden City for a taste of imperial splendor before you pop into a tiny eatery for some simple, freshly made dumplings. Compare the timeless artwork of the past with the enigmatic creations of the present. Pick up a few tai chi tips at dawn before you head off to stretch your legs at the Great Wall


Best Cities to Visit in China – Beijing


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Most Expensive Places in the World

Everyone needs a place to stay. Billionaires seem to need more than one place, and buy residences in the most expensive locations around the world for very high prices. Here are the most expensive places in the world:


1. Paterson Hill, Singapore

It’s a residential area very nearby Orchard Street, wich is well known for its shops and restaurants. The most exquisite apartment here is the Marq. Its design was entirely made by Hermes.

Average price per square meter: $42.500.

Who lives here: Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, former Miss Singapore Rachel Kum.


2. Avenue Général de Gaulle, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, France

Located on the Mediterranean Cote d’Azur, this exclusive peninsula is among the most expensive places in the world.  Avenue Général de Gaulle, in particular, has numerous seafront villas.

Average price per square meter: $79.000

Who lives here: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Paul Allen, Charlie Chaplin (before his death in 1977)


3. Avenue Princess Grace, Monaco

Every year during the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Monaco is crowded with billionaires, but numerous wealthy folks live here throughout the rest of the year. The street named after the Princess of Monaco is among the most expensive places in the world and in Monaco. Odeon Tour, a luxurious apartment of 167 square meters, is currently under construction, but it will be the main real estate attraction next year, when it will be completed.

Average price per square meter: $86,000.

Who lives here: Andrea Bocelli, Roger Moore, Lewis Hamilton, Helena Christensen.


4. Kensington Palace Gardens, London

Although the most prominent residents of the area are William and Kate, Kensington Palace Gardens is home to many embassies, including those of Russia and Japan. It‘s known as the "billionaires' street” for a clear reason.

Average price per square meter: $107,000.

Who lives here: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince George), Lakshmi Mittal, Roman Abramovich, Tamara Ecclestone.


5. Pollock's Path, The Peak, Hong Kong

Located at the top of a mountain and considered some sort of paradise for billionaires in Hong Kong, the most expensive street in the world has an amazing view from above the city. The real estate skyrocketing market in Hong Kong developed during 2011, when an apartment from the Sky High complex, numbers 10-19, was sold for 103 million dollars. Pollock's Path is the last and most exquisite entry on our most expensive places in the world list.

Average price per square meter: $120,000.

Who lives here: Stephen Chow, HSBC executives.

Most Amazing Places Carved in Stone (II)

Today’s world is full of vibrant cities: Tokyo, Chicago, New York and Dubai, to name but a few. However, great cities and great civilizations existed thousands of years ago, whether they were based around religion or were bases of political power. Now we are left with only the ruins of these incredible cities, exhibiting unique architecture and some of history's finest craftsmanship. Let us conclude our series of the most amazing places carved in stone:


6. Abu Simbel

In the 13th century BC, Pharaoh Ramesses II built the temple Abu Simbel as a monument dedicated to him and his wife. In 1968, the whole structure was moved on an artificial hill, in order to eliminate the risk of flooding. Besides being one of the most amazing places carved in stone, Abu Simbel remains one of the main destinations of Egypt.


7. Petra

Built in the year 312 BC the city of Petra was carved in stone. In addition to the ornate carvings, locals have managed to build a system composed of tanks that allowed them to settle in such an arid area. Al Khazneh is the most developed of all the buildings at Petra. It was a temple, clearly influenced by the ancient Greek architecture. Petra truly deserves its reputation for beauty, being one of the most amazing places carved in stone we have ever reviewed.


8. The Longmen Caves

This place is home to tens of thousands (some say 100,000) statues of Buddha and his disciples. They are carved in the rocks and cave walls of Xiangshan and Longmenshan in China. The first statues were made between the years 400 and 1100, and were paid with donations from the rich families, Royal Court and religious groups. UNESCO called them "an incredible manifestation of artistic human creativity." We call it one of the most amazing places carved in stone.


9. The Ajanta Caves

Located in Maharashtra, India, this place emerged by compressing 30 Budha statues. What make them truly unique and beautiful are the paintings, which represent perfect examples of the Indian art of the 2nd century BC.


10. Ellora

Is an indian site, considered a world heritage, which has the most imposing construction ever carved in stone, outshining even the constructions from Petra, Jordan. The temples are built according to the traditions of Hindu, Buddhist and Jainism. They were built between the 5th and 10th centuries, each with its specific beauty. Ellora is definitely one of the most amazing places carved in stone, which is worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.