When it comes to sheer size, China tips the scales. Just think of it: in all the world, it boasts the longest man-made structure, the greatest concentration of skyscrapers, the largest hydroelectric dam, the vastest public square. To say nothing of a palace complex of 9,000 rooms!
China is one of the most captivating and compelling places on Earth. Gate 1 Travel helps you get to the heart of its history, its traditions and its people – and, yes, its epic architectural achievements.
You’ll stroll the quiet lanes of Beijing’s ancient hutong neighbourhoods. Walk Shanghai’s historic Bund, with colonial edifices to one side and the futuristic skyline of the Pudong on the other. Sail the magnificent Yangtze River through its three famously scenic gorges. Gaze in awe at the forest of skyscrapers that is Hong Kong. And so much more. All with Gate 1’s expert guides who know the nation they call home like no one else.
To gain an understanding of how China’s past, present and future are interwoven, a good place to begin – or three good places – would be its dominant cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, each of which has its own character and story to tell.
Beijing is monumental, literally. The city is home to 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among them some of the world’s greatest treasures. The Forbidden City is no longer forbidden to anyone: after 500 years of turning guests away from the world’s largest palace complex, China now invites all to see the wonders of the stunning 178-acre complex encircled by two miles of fortified wall. Over time, 24 emperors lived in these 90 palaces, composed of 980 buildings and almost 9,000 rooms. As if that weren’t enough to boggle the mind, it rests on the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen, a massive acreage that salutes the grandiosity of China’s past and present.
The little sibling to that royal complex is the Summer Palace, built for the hottest months when the Forbidden City complex felt too stifling. A small pond and reservoir were joined, widened and dredged, yielding a sparkling 540-acre lake big enough for royal navy vessels to run drills upon. The dredged soil from the lake was used to make the adjacent Longevity Hill, a 200-foot slope crowned with palaces, pavilions, temples and gardens. To this day, it remains, as intended, one of Beijing’s loveliest locales, a brilliant collaboration of man, nature and time.
Just a short drive outside the city, the Great Wall undulates over sloping hills like a serpent. It is the longest man-made structure in the world and, though claims that it can be seen from space are debatable, its imposing ramparts will surely impress you as much as the ancient marauders it was intended to keep out.
Whereas Beijing calls to mind the glories of the past, Shanghai is decidedly a snapshot of the future. While the city is certainly known for its gems that date back to previous eras – such as the verdant Yuyuan Garden from the Ming Dynasty and the elegant colonial architecture of the Bund – it is Shanghai’s jaw-dropping new skyline that may leave you speechless.
Viewed across the Huangpu River, the Pudong neighbourhood boasts a dizzying array of striking, colourful towers. Shanghai Tower, the biggest of the lot, is the second tallest skyscraper on earth. But height is only one way that this metropolis dazzles: The Orient Pearl looks like a stacking toy of ever-smaller glass beads, while the sinuous Financial Centre is a modernist masterwork; even the low-slung Ocean Aquarium impresses passers-by with its flamboyant shark-fin wings.
Hong Kong knows a thing or two about showing off its skyline too: more buildings scrape the sky here than in any other city on earth, with more than 270 rising 500 feet or more. Within those glittering towers are some of the world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, 64 of which have Michelin stars, and bespoke tailors fitting the fashionistas of Asia and beyond. But it is not all city here. Hong Kong means ‘fragrant harbour’, a reminder that nature – not metropolitan life – still holds the upper hand. More than 70% of Hong Kong is comprised of islands, mountains, parks and caves. No matter where you are in the city proper, you’re just a tram ride away from a daylong hike in a green parkland with ocean views.
Inland Treasures and a Spellbinding River
Xian was the final stop on the Silk Road and China’s capital for 12 dynasties, including the Ming era, which gave the city its still-standing fortified walls. But the single most powerful draw for visitors is its immobilised army of 8,000 Terra Cotta soldiers and horses. Crafted by hand, this vast military consort attended the final resting place of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Arrayed in neat rows, these enigmatic soldiers remained underground from the 3rd century until their excavation in 1974. Remarkably, each one was carved with a distinct expression, hairstyle, armour and footwear. They have captured the global imagination, eclipsing the fame of the ruler they were meant to honour.
The stars of Chengdu are less numerous but perhaps even more beloved. The 80 pandas at the Giant Panda Research Centre have become envoys for China, a source of pride as well as concern as the worldwide population of wild pandas has fallen to under 2,000. While visitors also absorb the fascinating architecture of Qin Dynasty-era Jinli Street and marvel at the 213-foot stone Buddha in nearby Leshan, it is these endangered ambassadors of the mountains which have become the face not only of Chengdu, but of China.
The nation’s life blood is the Yangtze River, the world’s third-longest river. Navigating the east-flowing ribbon of water on a river cruise is the only way to truly experience the legendary, dramatic scenery that unfolds around its banks. As you sail through the three mesmerising gorges of Xiling, Wu and Qutang, watched over by the fabled Twelve Peaks and fantastic rock formations towering above, you’ll wind past tiny villages, soaring cliffs, verdant groves and terraced hillsides. It is hard not to fall under the timeless spell of the slow-moving current and the ethereal, embracing landscapes that guide it.
The Yangtze, though a beloved symbol of China, was often prone to massive flooding. Through the ages, thousands lost their lives and their villages to a seasonal deluge. Today, the waters are tamed by the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam project, a fascinating highlight of cruising this incredible river.
Resting easy in China
No one does China like Gate 1. Our knowledgeable guides use their longtime contacts to open doors to you that other travellers miss and introduce you to China’s most remarkable resource: its people. We’ve handpicked the best local accommodations for your journey to ensure your comfort. And our Yangtze River cruise unfolds aboard a five-star cruise ship purpose-built for the river, boasting roomy cabins and impeccable service. Best of all, we take care of all the details every step of the way, so you can leave the logistics to us and spend your time uncovering the compelling mysteries of this enigmatic nation.
Follow this link to our exciting China Tours. Or call to find out more, 1300 653 618!